Over Christmas break, a friend of mine was arrested. He was kind enough to recount the tale of his one night in county lock up (hopefully his first and last) and all of the lasting connections he made with regulars.

Note: Names and charges have been changed to preserve confidentiality, duh.

Another note: I do not think that committing a crime is joke. This is a commentary about a night in jail. Many readers, Legality staff included, have never been to jail despite the fact that our future profession is pervasively intertwined with correctional facilities. Hopefully, my commentary on the issue will help to enlighten some readers to the realities of state prison.

My friend, Ryan, had the pleasure of being arrested in Coconino County, Arizona on New Year’s Eve. The charges? Extremely flimsy accusations stemming from lighting fireworks in the backyard of a home in a rural area. After detaining Ryan, the officer gave me his camera and forced me to figure out how to take off his pricey watch that was now entangled in his Smith and Wesson handcuffs. I must say, those handcuffs live in the handcuff equivalent of a day spa; they were shiny, polished, and any scratches or wrist blood that may have interfered with their pristine condition had been buffed out of sight. Once the officer whisked Ryan off, I hurried to the house to call his parents, incoherently ramble about Miranda, and find the Yellow Pages attorney most like Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad. Little did I know that my night of searching for Arizona criminal statutes on an iPhone with Edge reception was nothing compared to what Ryan saw while ringing in the New Year.

Arrested at 12:00 pm, he was sitting in the intake cell after a 45 minute drive with the arresting officer to Flagstaff (or as the court officials called it: “Flag city”… Flag city, flag, flag city, bittt…nevermind). Ryan said the officer softened from bad cop to good cop during the drive asking Ryan “how could you not love country music being from LA??” Um. No comment. While waiting to be processed, an officer threw Ryan into a cell with two other men, both completely drunk. The floors were solid cement, no chairs to sit on (except the toilet, but c’mon) and the room was freezing. Ryan said his first source of misery was his “butt-bones” (he is a twig!) hurting after sitting on the ice slab of cement. After an hour, a jailhouse regular, Thomas, joined the party.

After a good fifteen minutes of pacing back and forth and cursing the cops and the jail, Thomas, an American-Indian/Chinese-American 20-year-old who stood not an inch over 5’2”, finally relaxed and sought out the only other sober person to chat with. Thomas told Ryan that he violated his probation and was picked up when he went to meet with his probation officer. He told Ryan that he would not be in jail tonight if he had been thinking with the correct part of his body, as the only reason he went to his PO’s was to ask her out for the hundredth time.

As Thomas was telling Ryan just how hot this PO was (his words, not mine), another man was tossed into the cell, completely toasted. He sat catatonic for a few minutes and then started screaming, “ Where am I??!” Thomas popped up in his face and said, “You’re in jail, dude!!” in a tone that was more appropriate for saying, “You’re at Disneyland, pal!” The guy plopped down on the floor and then just began muttering, “Ive gone way past stupidity this time”… over and over again. It was just the five of them for the next several hours until the dinner crowd rolled in.

For dinner, served on a plastic tray with no plates or utensils (Hey, this isn’t the Ritz, bud!) the newest version of O-Town ate a chicken patty (no bun or ranch to dip it in… the nerve!), some watery green jell-o, and a baked potato. Since Ryan has been out, I have heard about this baked potato several times. He said that the potato was so over baked that even though while it was on the tray and looked huge, when he picked it up it was all a lie. The brown skin was the size of a large potato, but the inside was the size and density of a golf ball. That sounds so weird that I want one. Ryan and friends ate this, still sitting in street clothes in a freezing room.

Right after dinner, an officer offered Ryan a new outfit and a phone call. As payment for the goods, the officer asked Ryan to strip, hold and cough, and, wait for it, squat and cough. (Editor: I have no idea what any of this means, so please direct all technical clarifications at Ms. Klimczak). To add insult to injury, the week before the trip, I convinced Ryan to get a pedicure and have Rasta-colored snowflake designs painted on his toenails. Officer Gomez thought they were a real treat. Ryan was given a navy blue, button-up, collared jumpsuit (way classier than the teal, oversized v-neck nurse’s scrubs given out at Lane County!), socks with orange rubber sandal-clogs, and a large wool blanket. He was able to make a thirty-second phone call that I commandeered by just repeating everything that Saul Goodman told me to tell him, including avoiding spooning with his bunkmate.

In Flagstaff on New Year’s Eve, there is a tradition called the “Great Pine Cone Drop” where Flag City drops a huge pinecone in lieu of a crystal ball. The event is well attended by the 15-30 year old crowd, so, naturally, cops on horseback patrol in great numbers (similar to that scene in Planet of the Apes). Apparently, the event can get pretty gnarly due to the high number of out-of-control drunks wreaking havoc by fighting or driving. After 11:00pm, Ryan’s community cell was inundated with these types. Several times throughout the night, the drunks urinated in the middle of the room and/or projectile vomited anywhere but the toilet. At one point, one the urinators, a youngish guy, was thrown into the cell bars by a much larger American-Indian man who was screaming to the guards that if they did not get the young guy out of there that he was going to kill him. The guards promptly removed the urinator. Who would have thought that threatening crimes while in prison was a way to get what you want? Ryan should have threatened to kill someone to get some condiments for his chicken patty… hindsight is 20/20.

At some point during the night, a woman was brought into the jail and housed in the women’s community cell. From the second she entered the building, she was screaming at the top of her lungs, again and again, “I have Lou Gehrig’s disease and that means that I cannot go for three hours without seeing my kid!” Logic, folks. Finally, the big, threatening American-Indian man screamed, “You better not let me out of here or I will kill her!” Just like last time, he got what he asked for. The woman screamed herself to sleep at around 3:00 am.

Another noteworthy visitor was named Julius. Julius came in wearing a suit donned for NYE celebratin’ with the pinecone. He came in, drunk, after being picked up for violating his probation…you know, for being drunk. His first and only words were, “S***, I’m goin’ back to the pen!” and then he plopped down on the floor and almost immediately began snoring. Ah, the blissful sleep of someone who has been-there-and-done-that.

Julius, like many of the other men arrested at the Cone Drop, blamed his girlfriend for his misfortune. Some of the colorful narratives orated by Ryan’s new buddies included, “Ho, was actin’ way too drunk,” and “She can’t hold her liquor and its all her fault.” Shockingly, their girlfriends were also arrested. Another colorful gentleman had come down from Scottsdale (a two-hour journey) for the festivities, where he somehow became blackout drunk. The last thing he remembered was mixing it up with a cop on horseback (those nets are tough to dodge). He chuckled to Ryan that he had no idea how his girlfriend was getting home before adding that his aunt was an elected official in Arizona who had helped him “get out” of his last DUI. His phone call was likely more helpful than Ryan’s.

After not sleeping at all, officers escorted Ryan to the jailhouse courtroom at 8:00 am for his initial appearance that was transmitted by video to a court in downtown Flagstaff. Because it was a holiday, we had to fight to witness the proceeding. There on a snow vacation, the only “court appropriate” clothes we had were Ugg boots, leggings, and North Face coats. Ryan asked the judge to be released on his own recognizance despite living in California and listed all of his positive attributes (per Saul Goodman’s advice) to demonstrate that he was not going to flee to Mexico. Before making her decision, she asked if one of his friends would like to say something on his behalf. In between choking back tears (the jumpsuit and cuffs were not a good look for him), I was thrust up to the bench to speak. After some time as judicial extern for a criminal judge, I thought that speaking on behalf of a friend or family member to a judge should be easy. Wrong. The emotions of the situation (possibly not being released until his arraignment late in January, his future on the line, his pale, sad face looking back at me from a TV screen, etc) made me sound like a complete moron. I stammered, I stuttered, but I got the job done. Ryan was released that afternoon on his own recognizance.

After picking him up and driving him back to the house, while hearing all about his night in county, Ryan took a scalding shower, then a bath where he scrubbed himself raw with a loofa brush, and then a shower again. I sat him down and had him retell everything that he could remember while I took notes. At this point in time, there have been no charges filed and Ryan’s next court appearance has been cancelled. He is tentatively optimistic that this whole thing was an attempt to “scare him straight.” Boy, did it work.