Retro Reflections: Part 3
Why is it that getting into a cop car feels like climbing into a dark cave without a flashlight? You crawl in, certain that the spiders are hanging in the corners ready to strike, and wonder how you got yourself into this predicament. In fact, riding in the back of a cop car, with its metal barrier between front and back seats, isn’t so different from getting a ride in an old-style New York yellow cab.
As a kid, I remember riding in those taxis. Some had two additional seats that sprang up from the floor so that six people could crowd into the back of a cab. This was before seatbelts became the law, before smoking was rightfully pushed to street corners, before America became obese. It was a time of family doctors, playing baseball in the park, of gettoblasters — the now politically ugly term for the old-style boomboxes certain young men used to carry on their shoulders while dancing/walking down the street.
Oddly, like the disappearance of family doctors and gettoblasters, it seems much of my memory of the drive from Heathrow to jail has disappeared. I can’t recall whether the cop car had seatbelts or not. Did I strap myself in? Did I talk to Bobby, who sat at the wheel? I think I did, but I can’t be sure. However, this I am sure of: I was shaking.
It must have crossed my mind that something really bad could happen to me. After all, bad stuff happens. (In fact, recently a young British woman was raped and killed by a Bobby who falsely arrested her during lockdown. Such horrors have always shaken those of us who seek peace.) And then, I faced another problem: I had no direct contacts in the U.K. — other than Cherry, a Benny Hill bunny, and her son, the D.J. Nor did I have any understanding of the British justice system. My position was vulnerable, no question.
At the station, which was located within a short distance of Heathrow, a female Bobby — Bobbyetta? — directed me into a white room where she patted me down, grilled me about my background, searched my luggage, and then photographed and fingerprinted me. Instead of sitting on an airplane and watching an inflight movie about cops chasing keychain killers, I was shivering under fluorescent light. My heart wanted to stomp through my chest, a huge boot banging against my ribcage. By the time I’d made my single phone call to my mother, I could think of nothing but a lifetime behind bars, all possibilities for a future of any kind shut down, flushed away because of a keychain that was now called a knuckle duster.
Bobbyetta led me to a holding cell. This fluorescent lit space held a slab bed with a thin mattress, no sheet, dirty as the street, an open toilet, no sink, and a door that slammed shut like a vault. A window the size of a CD case appeared to have triple layers of bullet-proof glass. It left me with even less hope. I shrank. I melted. I was washed away.
At some point, a Bobby offered me something to eat: a tray of sweet-baked beans, some kind of gravy-covered meat, and something I didn’t recognize as food. A vegan, I felt a fist slam into my stomach.
There was a small cup of water. I drank it. Everything else froze on the tray, sorry to have been created, sorry to be left alone.
It’s hard to know how long I sat there, though I remember taking comfort in the fact that I could rest with my suitcase. Somehow, my personal items had joined me in detention. I could pull out a sweater or a fresh pair of underwear. I could even look at my sad face in a mirror. This was strange because in movies personal items were never allowed in jails.
Maybe I am misremembering everything, but at some point a Bobby told me I could wash up at a sink outside the cell. I took out my face soap and began washing. Soon, I was given more news. It seemed my mother had worked some genius moves from her New York apartment. A friend was close to a House of Commons MP. This connection somehow changed everything. Soon, the Bobbys began apologizing. They talked about how sorry they were about the business of having to put people like me in jail for a keychain — no longer a knuckle duster. This was privilege. This was what connections could do. This was also what added up to wrongful arrest. I had been profiled; I was a potential danger. This was the end of a certain kind of virginity, the kind that believed in justice. My cherry had been popped. The irony of this is not lost to me now.
Soon, a Bobby told me I was free to spend the rest of the night at a local motel. I could even get a ride over in a cop car. Of course, I’d have to pay for the motel, but no big deal. The Bobbys would make the call and set everything up. All I had to do was rest my head against a pillow and show up at court the next morning even though I had no idea where this mystery courthouse was located or how I would get there, never mind that I didn’t have a single bit of British currency left to my name.
To find out what happened, please see Retro Reflections: Part 4. It’s coming soon.