The most gruesome prison movie couldn’t depict daily life in L.A.’s Men’s Central Jail, where I was lost for months.
Kickoff article: L.A. Weekly
Everything about the L.A. Men’s Central Jail – and I mean everything, from the hand-picked Catholic chaplains pressured to keep quiet, infirmary services, kitchens, visiting policies, and all conditions upon which reviews or investigations of any sort may be conducted, all of it – upholds the most valuable media position the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has: We’ve looked into it; it’s not true; prisoners lie.
Now when I say I was “lost” in that jail, I mean I was literally lost on a prisoner roster of thousands. My name was rarely called; I was never asked who I was, what I was doing there, or when my next court appearance had been calendared. I was adrift in a sea of bodies. My family’s inquiries were ignored. Twice, when my full name was broadcast over the P.A. system, it turned out to be an agonizing coincidence: someone else entirely – with my full name.
Every single one of my attempts to alert the Sheriff’s Deputies to my housing misplacement failed. Deputies who work the jails don’t like it when prisoners “think they’re special,” and trying to talk to them is special. The reasons why are too numerous to comment on here, but they’re all a variation on, “because I was supposed to be in a goddamned patrol car already!” When I was lucky enough to get a Deputy to stand still for a minute so I could explain my situation, a mere shift change would wipe the progress gone, or apathy would prevail, or just, fuck you, criminal.
I got so desperate I took to writing a few simple details and my prisoner booking number on scraps of yellow legal paper and folding ‘em up. I’d carry several with me when called out of my assigned housing module (3400 y’all!), then step out of line during meal marches. I placed them in corridor control booth trays, suggestion boxes, and the Chaplin’s mail slot. I stuck ‘em on intra-office announcements and passageway signs and eventually just threw ‘em at the indifferent bastards themselves. Nothing worked. Not even when my father waited for hours to see me, while I was being escorted and in-processed for his visit, would anyone care to double check my status or my insistence that a Federal judge had ordered my transfer to U.S. Marshal custody. So I was left adrift in the County jail system for roughly nine months, mostly at Bauchet, in the dungeon itself.
On behalf of the L.A. Weekly, journalist Chris Vogel did a great job. His research is solid and his article is 100% accurate, hell yes. His coverage includes a variety of key players, from current L.A. Sheriff’s media spokesman Steve Whitmore to the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg and the usual list of poor fools that have gotten their heads kicked in inside – and now out of – MCJ. The day-to-day action in the jail is beyond anyone’s imagination. But what of the free-for-all in Housing Block 9000, or life on “The Freeway” (a stop-gap housing measure) in the cell modules? Depictions of those are only as accurate as the Sheriff’s Department will allow ‘em to be, and that’s where the Department’s tradition of conspiratorial secrecy should be taken into account.
I’ve survived the 9000 Block and The Freeway. They were ferocious, bleak and gory. Three deputies held my arms and legs to a laundry room wall while a fourth beat me limp for three straight minutes. Then they all stomped on me for a minute or so more, but these days I think, So what? It was boot camp. It strengthened me for the four years of State prison that lay ahead of me. And yet, compared to the custody of the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, it was a vile joke to discover how much more peaceful old Folsom Prison’s Level 4 Yard turned out to be, not to mention all of the other maximum security California prisons to which I was eventually transferred.
As for Gabriel Carrillo, the principal victim around whom The Weekly’s exposé is constructed, there’s only one thing I can say: You knew where you were. You knew the rules. Not the ones about cell phone possession or visiting, the ones concerning the Deputies. It’s tough you got beat on, but you got cocky. You’re the one who put the quarter in the machine and if I was sayin’ this to you in one of MCJ’s modules, no one there would disagree with me. I think you know that too.
But in case you don’t, I’ve written about what went down during those nine months at Men’s Central and much, much more in Where Excuses Go to Die, the manuscript I’m pushing to get published today and for which this blog serves as a web destination.
Tags: L.A. County Jail