Sartre Believes Hell to Be Other People

Doris welcomed conversation.  She took a moderately crooked, certainly not as direct as possible, route to what she advised me was Central City Jail.  I could not imagine such a legend, outside of fiction, had actually ever been inscribed above the doors of an official arm of the drive for Order so winningly limned by Hobbes; no I do not mean the stuffed tiger.  The reason for the indirect route may have involved an interest in my conversation, or a laid-back attitude toward what constitutes Transportation of the Prisoner, or perhaps her way of learning the layout of the City, but I cannot speculate on the weight of truth in any of them or others that may be operative.

But talk she did, and to the third of her essays — I believe she asked me where I was from — I replied that I had no objection to verbal exchange, so long as it was carried on in a — oops, I mean carried on on [no.  not Good English] the basis of reciprocity, and so (Hm.  the last part could not represent accurately what I actually said) I asked her whether she was a native Oregonian; to which she burbled like some sort of Chamber of Commerce representative.  When I further asked how long the ‘long’ of her statement “I’ve been working at this too long. . .” was, she did not go into it further.

We stopped a block away from the Central City Jail and parked while Doris, who had been keypunching constantly — ah, there’s the reason for the indirect route! — before then sat and typed and tapped for five minutes or so more.  I was in the so-called back seat, but it in present-day patrol cars is no longer a seat: it is a slot, metal in front and hard, thick plastic behind, into which the prisoner is worked, the proverbial room in which you cannot stand up nor sit down but must crouch in a condition of increasing pain.  During this last stop in the patrol car prayers went upwards in praise of the good Officer Brown; when I stepped out of that painful crouch with hands held in metal cuffs one knee collapsed underneath me, but I caught myself by shifting all weight to the one leg that still worked.

I gotta admit, all those cajillion dollars spent on the militarization of our police forces across the nation have resulted in medieval fortress entrances to jails.  It’s just a normal underground garage entrance until you come to the guardhouse, located at what would be the entrance to a parking garage, only the glass in front of this guy is bullet-proof.  To get through the gatehouse here, you have to put the tires of the car through some complex bump at virtually zero speed (again, thank you Officer Brown), for which bump Doris was kind enough to apologize to the Passenger.

Now entrances to all secure facilities operate on the basis of a space-lock door: that is, you step through one door into a small room and close the door behind your prior to the door in front of you being opened by the interior party.  But now at our own city jail, and I am not making this up, the whole friggin’ police car enters a space-lock.  Large automated metal doors enclose the police car front and back, and then the occupants emerge into an open patio leading to a pedestrian space-lock door.  High-tech, man.

Escorted by Doris, I was brought into the booking room.  In rapid-fire order, certain questions were asked.

“Are you diabetic?”

“In what country were you born?”

“Were you in a hospital during the last twenty-four hours?”

“Are you suicidal?”

To which I objected to the question about my national origin, which seemed to discriminate against naturalized American citizens.  The first, third, and fourth questions were prompted by unintended deaths in police custody of diabetic persons, or those facing mental challenges; the intent of asking the questions was clearly in order to give the Prisoner a chance to affirm his or her medical fragility.  But the second question was of a different order: I responded that my nativity was a matter of public record — as I think any self-respecting politician would have.  I declined on that basis to answer.

The officer in charge affected an outrage either feigned or sincere, in any case credible enough for Doris to protest, quite completely inaccurately, that this was my first arrest, at my stance.  He let me know I would do what he wanted while I was here; to which I responded, that he could torture me while I was in his custody but that I would decide what I would do.

That confrontation led to my isolation for the next (from 3 pm. until 2 am) nine hours in a sixty-degree holding cell, naked in my two pairs, outer and under, of shorts.  Sitting in a room that is at air-conditioned normal, so to speak, is a colder-feeling experience than walking around and doing things at that same temperature; and you cannot keep warm pacing in a small cell, where you’re already cold as it is, and pacing will only use up bodily heat faster.  After perhaps 30 minutes the shivering you experienced has progressed to trembling of major muscle masses; what happens next is in large measure mental.

I said I would get out soon.  I said I would endure this, even though each second was difficult I was reasonably certain I could endure without a heart attack, just because I am (at least now) not medically fragile.

The first chance I got I requested some toilet paper.  I got it.  Under detention all that time since 2:15 I had been, as I had from 11:45, when I left the house that morning, without any water.  There was water in my cell, and the technical expertise that had inserted a chamber to space-lock the entire police car had also designed newer spigots in police holding cells that are easier than the old ones to drink from.  So, you know, there was that: I was actually feeling a good bit of relief from the ingestion of water to a parched body, and although the following shit cooled my ass and balls it left the rest of my body feeling much better.

Hey, you get the whole story here.

When the nurse came by and asked what she could do for me, I requested a telephone call.  She said that she could do nothing for me, all that would be decided by “the officers,” and her job simply was to assess my mental stability.  Under those conditions, Gentle Reader, you can see another one of those Untruths: she didn’t want to know was there anything she could do for me, there was nothing in my case and most others, that she could do.  “The officers,” who kept me under surveillance, would decide any question regarding my incarceration, and the reason for her asking me whether there was anything she could do for me was to determine my mental state by virtue of my answer, not a particle of which would ever be acted upon by her.

So under those conditions I limited myself to repeating after her the words “mental stability”.  I imagine that may have indicated responsiveness.  She closed the curtain and I never heard from her again.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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