I arrived at Baltimore City Central Booking in a windowless white police van where my only view was of a closed-circuit video monitor used by the driver to keep an eye on the prisoners he was transporting. I was alone in the van but the image on the screen was of a stranger.
I was directed to a bench where I waited with my police escort for a CO to tag and bag my belongings. I didn't know that's what I was waiting for. No one explains anything, assuming either you've been through it before or don't deserve to know because you're a criminal. Was I a criminal? I asked my escort.
"Unfortunately, you're in a fingerprint and photograph situation," he told me after a pause.
I considered his answer: fingerprint and photograph situation. I knew the words, but not what they meant here. What made it a "situation"? Why was it "unfortunate"? I imagined other possible situations: Rubber hose and cavity search… Leg irons and jumpsuit… My situation was unfortunate, but not the least fortunate.
I was turned over to a female CO who had to inventory my possessions--all of them. While she tagged my phone I sorted through my coat pockets for crumpled gum wrappers and old tissues so she wouldn't have to touch them. But when reached toward the trash can she hissed at me. I froze, and then emptied my hands on her desk. I'd invited suspicion. Now she had to uncrumple every wrapper, every kleenex, to look for whatever evidence I'd been trying to destroy. I started to apologize again, but her face shamed me into silence. I'd wanted to help, but had made it worse.
I was placed on a mark in front of a camera. I considered making a cheeky face that showed (who?) that none of this was getting to me. But it was getting to me because I knew I belonged here. I wanted to feel righteous outrage—I knew how to tell that story—but my arrest was justified. Smiling for the camera would add "liar" to my list of crimes, but maybe that would be ok. Would that be the lie that saved me? The camera captured the question on my face. I spent the rest of the day trying to answer it. My photograph was printed onto a wristband placed around my wrist.
I was led to a small dim room by a CO whose job was to search me.
"Lift up your shirt, hold your bra away from your body, and shake your chest. Now unzip your pants. Ok, you good."
Perfunctory, visual; it could have been worse. Then she noticed my shirt was a hoodie and she looked at me like I was fucking with her on purpose. Hoodies are forbidden in jail, and I couldn't remove mine because I had only a bra on under it. She swore and sighed and clucked about the cops who’d let me dress this way. She should cut my hood off, she said. She stared at me. Was I supposed to beg her not to? I mean, I didn’t want her to. I loved that hoodie—teal, with a lotus flower embroidered on the back. But that wasn’t a reason. I stared back at her. She picked up scissors, paused, then put them down and reached for my neck.
"Here let me just tuck the hood inside. But if anyone asks you, I didn't say it was ok. You hid it yourself."
I knew this was a privilege I hadn't earned, its own kind of lie. But I was grateful for it.
...to be continued...