To read the first part of this series: What Not To Wear When Going To Prison: or, How One Bad Decision and Three Loose Pills Sent Me To The Slammer For Three Days with Eyeliner and Crimped Hair, Part One
The first time in the police van was just me and the dealer, but the second time it was fifteen or twenty criminals in a paddy wagon and li’l ol’ me. It was still oppressively hot and the stench of a van-load of filthy convicts was overwhelming, making me feel woozy (but not in a good way). Being in such close proximity to such an odiferous, rag tag bunch of creeps didn’t help what might best be described as my escalating state of panic, which now bore down on me as heavily as the compartment’s blanket of perspiration and fetid air. Luckily, there was a transvestite prostitute in the group who inadvertently did a yeoman’s job of diverting attention away from me, working the van like a low comedian in a crowded nightclub, sitting on laps and flinging come-ons like an old pro and enabling me to focus on remaining conscious. Toward that end, I took advantage of my proximity to a cluster of perforated air holes in the back door of the vehicle, my lips pressed tightly against the metal, trailing over the tiny holes like a mine sweeper, feebly slurping for any whisps of fresh, outside air while simultaneously trying to be as invisible as I possibly could, given the fact I resembled no one as much as Rosanna Arquette in Desperately Seeking Susan. Now lost in a sort of parallel reality where goodhearted people are snatched out of their lives, I seriously worried for the first time about the implications of my predicament. Appropriately, I noticed that the breezy film-noir patter of my phone call to Elisa just minutes before had now transmuted into a grotesque mash-up of Susan Hayward’s most desperate moments from I Want To Live!
When the van stopped, which felt like years later, we were in midtown, where we disembarked to the proud Midtown North Precinct. I felt a moment of levity during the perp walk, imagining photographers that weren’t there, but it was probably just the rush of oxygen to my brain after being stuffed into a death car and crawling though midtown traffic in 100-degree heat. Once inside the precinct, my daydream was interrupted by yet another nasty cop—a different version of the last one—who, ignoring the perverse comedic logic of his query, bellowed, “are you a homo?” Though I privately questioned the basis of his uncertainty, I dared not risk offering an untruthful “no,” especially with what seemed to be a surfeit of available evidence to the contrary. I chose instead to make no choice with a sheepish, noncommittal “is that really so important?” With his face dripping with disdain, the cop seethed, “it’s for your own protection!” At that moment, I took a quick look at my peer group, who were practically perspiring hatred and offered a succinct, parched “yes, sir.” “Okay,” he barked to the C.O., “throw this one in the homo bin! Anyone else a homo?,” he spat, particularly seeming to enjoy the vituperative possibilities of the word “homo.” The transvestite prostitute nodded “yes” without any elaboration, thus ensuring that I would have company, which is a good thing, because I’ve always maintained there is simply nothing sadder than cooling your heels in a homo bin with no one to share the love.
Once removed to “the bin,” I began to completely lose track of time as I tied myself up in knots of anxiety. Why am I being held? How long will I be here? Will I get out in time for therapy? Why did I waste my one call on Elisa? I was a mess: pacing back and forth like a caged, tie-dyed polar bear in a zoo, dragging my unlaced sneakers across the filthy floor of the cell and holding my unsecured shorts up with my hand so they wouldn’t fall off leaving me in nothing but psychedelic leggings and a ladies’ tank top. And, brother, was that homo bin ever uncomfortable: cold, dirty, and discouraging in its minimalism, bereft of a single accoutrement that one might expect from a gay-oriented destination spot: bench, urinal, toilet (with no enclosure for privacy) and, of course, lots of thick steel bars. The space was grimy and grim, and I had only one transvestite prostitute, a few random cockroaches, and the occasional rodent for company. There was one tiny window across the corridor that let me know that the sun was setting, ushering in what was to be my first of two long nights in the clinker. Occasionally a matron would come by and I would try to strike up a conversation or shill for an encouraging word, but they were implacable in their disinterest and institutionalized emotional disconnection. My therapist was going to get an earful!
I sulked and made small talk with my cellmate, who unlike the C.O.s, was more than willing to give me her opinion about a variety of subjects. She told me the story of her life over dinner: a cheese sandwich on stale bread with a cup of hot tea. At least by engaging with her I was able to distract myself and help the time pass until the next morning, when a matron came and hit the bars with her baton (yes, they really do that!). I rallied, once again feeling sure that I was about to be released. My enthusiasm was unrewarded when they chained me to my cellmate and, like Groundhog’s Day, led us into yet another van for yet another trip to a yet unspecified location.
Our next stop was Manhattan Central booking at 100 Centre Street, which I later found out is known as “The Tombs.” Though I didn’t know it, I was slowly moving through the system and “The Tombs,” located under the courthouse where I would eventually go to see the judge, was to be my last stop. But not before they held me for another day and a half! These holding cells made my last two jails seem like finishing school because this hub of misery, as I soon learned, was where they brought hardened criminals—real felons— from Rykers Island for sentencing. This realization gave me a tremendous new regard for the relatively tranquil homo bin and I felt chastened in my gratitude.
But I also felt something else: deja-vu. Something about this new jail environment felt vaguely familiar but I was flummoxed as to how that could be, having never been previously incarcerated. Fortunately, I was in possession of a great deal of excess time to think about it. At some point later that evening, in an epiphany that threw my present situation into sharp, sardonic relief, I realized that I had been here before because these exact holding cells had been meticulously recreated, bar for bar, on a Warner Bros. soundstage by production designer J0el Schiller, the man who was responsible for getting me hired as a production assistant on Nuts just months before! I had stared at drawings and models of these cells for months in the art department as they were being constructed, and then spent many days watching Streisand shoot her scenes in the exact same setting (sans the homo bin, naturally), only unlike Barbra, I knew that neither Richard Dreyfus nor any other person was coming to my rescue because I had fucking wasted my one call pretending I was Humphrey Bogart! Oh how far I’d fallen in so short a time!
Back in the homo bin, I spent an entire day contemplating the bitter irony of being imprisoned and stripped of my dignity (and my drawstrings) in the very same space that I had glamorously toiled just months before as a promising upstart in Hollywood. And for what? One joint? It’s still illegal?? Sometime during the evening of my second day in jail, I began to feel like I was losing my mind: being held without any legal counsel in an increasingly hopeless and unrelentingly bleak jail was breaking me down. I had missed therapy and missed work. People might be worried about me by now. I began to understand how Barbra, as prostitute Claudia Draper, had become so angry confined to the very same cell that I now occupied. I now knew something I’d never bothered to think about before: being in jail can really piss you off.
I was startled out of my daydream by the sound of footsteps growing louder. Throughout the previous hours there had been the occasional coming and going of other visitors to the homo bin: trannies, addicts, and petty thieves, my new peer group. But now I observed the C.O. approach with something heretofore unseen by me since I’d gotten to jail: an absolutely beautiful young man. She found the key on a huge ring, just like in the movies, and threw him into the cell with the rest of us and I didn’t mind at all, for this one was stunning: blonde hair, fine features, tattoos on his muscular arms, and angry tears in his eyes. He couldn’t have been more than twenty or twenty-one and I was instantly, utterly smitten. My thug prince charming had finally come! I just never thought to look for him in prison!
Suddenly jail wasn’t so bad, because in the moment of Mike’s arrival I had ceased to actually be there but had, instead, stepped into a porn fantasy of jail, which is something altogether different. It was just like in a movie: Mike and I started talking and with each word, I cared more for him and knew this was more than me, or him, or just being in the clinker. After fifteen minutes, he told me he felt the same way I did. In an hour’s time, he lay with his head in my lap while I stroked his flaxen hair, rocking him gently and reassuring him that everything would be okay from now on, because, after all, now we had each other. He told me his story through his tears. He’d had a hard life: been on his own since his mid-teens, having been abandoned by his drug addict mother. He had been making a go of it on his own, but in a bit of bad luck, he had been evicted from his apartment a few days before and got picked up for vagrancy. I believed him, feeling certain that Mike was simply misunderstood and would flourish if he could only grasp the precious thing that had been missing in his sad, short life: the love of a good man who believed in him. I was that man and I knew I could fix him.
Mike and I talked for hours. It is astonishing how people can connect in stressful circumstances. With our open hearts beating ever quicker, we fomented a plan to meet up when we got out and try to make a go of it! Jail was turning out to be the very best thing that had ever happened to me because now I had handsome, sweet, Mike, my own personal rebel without a cause! Our plan was both practical and utterly romantic: whoever got out first would wait for the other at Julius’ gay bar in the West Village until the other arrived, no matter how long it took! And so, with my beautiful, wounded man cradled in my lap, certain that I had, at last, found true love in Mike, I succeeded in finally falling into a deep slumber.
My idyll was smashed by screams slashing through my sleep: “LET ME OUT, LET ME OUT OF THIS FUCKIN’ CELL,” Mike screamed as he banged his head on the bars, blood spurting like a geyser from his forehead. I jumped up, disoriented and terrified. “Mike, Mike, what are you doing?, don’t do this, Mike, please,” I implored him, don’t leave me here! What about our plan? Don’t hurt yourself, Mike!” But it was no use. Mike had flipped out and was bleeding all over our cell and, clearly, in no mood to brook the desperate entreaties of a lonely boy who couldn’t discern the difference between reality and a Roger Corman film. The C.O. came at once, cuffed him and took my lock-up lothario off to a hospital or wherever it is they take inmates on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
And that was it: jilted in the jailhouse. I despondently stared at Mike’s blood on the floor in disbelief, the only remaining evidence of the love we shared, however brief, and a stinging reminder of the consequences of believing that deep, emotional connections can manifest themselves instantaneously, like the wave a wand, or the thump of a matron’s stick.
After Mike’s sudden departure, jail was never the same. I contemplated waiting for him at Julius’ when I got to the outside, but even I could not convince myself that he would ever come.
Late that morning, a full two days after the arrest, I was finally called before the judge. His verdict was very anti-climactic: he sentenced me to nothing, saying something about “time served.” Ironically, I later learned from Ruth Pickholtz, a public defender and the technical advisor on Nuts (and the person that I should have called instead of Elisa), that it was the pills that slowed my paperwork down—they had to be sent to the lab to be analyzed. So who knew you had to carry pills in their vials? I mean, doesn’t that make lovely, decorative pill boxes a superfluous liability?
That night, after a much needed bath and meal, I contemplated going to Julius’ and waiting for Mike, but, in a rare example of restraint, I decided that I just didn’t have enough emotional capital left to risk after being abandoned. Plus, I felt more than annoyed that I had been robbed of my only real chance to tell people for the rest of my life, “well, it may seem hard to believe, but we actually met in prison!” Perhaps some things are better left to memory where they can ripen undisturbed for, after all, how can reality ever compete with the exquisite perfection of our imaginations?
In case Governor Cuomo fails to modify the current policies, may I suggest that my gay brothers take advantage of my youthful misstep and keep the following rules in mind when considering activities that could result in imprisonment:
- Regarding attire, it is best to avoid gender confusion or any choices that would impede blending. If you are constitutionally incapable of blending (as I was), try to refrain from illegal activities whenever possible until which time blending can be achieved.
- Do wear loafers or footwear with velcro closures and pants that button-up or zip, as shoelaces or drawstring waistbands will be confiscated. You will not find your captors sympathetic to commonsense protestations about your pants falling down. They are completely desensitized and don’t give a shit.
- Do not carry loose narcotics even if they are prescribed and medically indicated. In my experience, I found that for some reason, police officers are suspicious by nature and simply will not take your word for it!
- Do not squander you one phone call acting out a scene from In A Lonely Place or your favorite film-noir. Definitely call someone who can help you, like a lawyer or your publicist (if you have one).
- If romance blossoms while in prison, do not under any circumstances be lulled into a false sense of security that Mr. James Dean is as sincere as you are and, remember, as nice as it would be to fall in love in jail, you may in reality just have those sweet moments you are together behind bars to take with you if you post bail or are otherwise sprung.
- Above all, always opt for a designated homo bin. I simply cannot stress this enough! If that option is not offered to you, take the initiative of politely inquiring after one. If you are someplace where a homo bin is not de rigeur, do not be downhearted but, instead, tell the C.O. or matron that you are gay and that prison is a bit outside of your purview and request appropriate protections.