Today I am posting the first chapter of my book, “Jew in Jail,” to give all of my readers a glimpse into how my world came crashing down right before my eyes on Saturday, June 13, 1998.
I am doing this for two reasons:
1)To show everyone how alcohol, drugs and gambling can destroy a person, no matter their gender, age, color, educational background, family structure, or location.
2)To, more importantly, demonstrate that the above does not have to be permanent, and that anyone, with the proper help and perseverance, can overcome anything, and go on to lead a happy, healthy life, and help others in the same situation recover as well.
I truly hope that, by reading this, you take away the fact that at any given moment, any single one of us can fall victim to the disease of addiction, but that by sharing our experiences, strengths and hopes, we can all help each other become better people living quality lives.
1. THE DAY THIS WHOLE NIGHTMARE BEGAN
My mother had asked me, the night before, what I was doing with that toy gun. She noticed it on the foot of the extra bed in my room, and I told her that I was going to give it to my friend Alan’s son as a birthday present. I lied to her. The truth of the matter was that I was an alcoholic, a drug addict, and a compulsive gambler, and I was planning to go into Manhattan the next day in order to rob a few dry cleaning stores.
I had thought about doing this before, but this time, I had to go through with it—I already owed the bookmaker six hundred and forty dollars for the week that was about to end, and not only was I unlikely to get even, but I didn’t have the cash in my house. I gave my sister and her husband about ten thousand dollars of my money several months earlier to hold on to, and I was tired of calling and asking for some of it back, a little bit at a time, which I had been doing for a while now. Besides, what could go wrong? I was smart, and knew that all dry cleaning stores have old-fashioned cash registers, no video cameras, and are run either by women or Chinese people, and I would be in and out in no time at all. And once I stole enough money to pay off my debt, I would stop gambling for good. So there was no harm in doing this at all, right?
I woke up bright and early that next morning, which was Saturday, June 13, 1998 (I actually don’t remember sleeping at all the night before), and had breakfast: three Valium, three Tylenol #4 with Codeine, and a bottle of Heineken beer. Then I got dressed and hopped on the D train to Manhattan. I brought another Heineken along with me for the ride, but finished it before the train even departed the Brighton Beach station.
After transferring to two more trains, I finally arrived at my destination: the east side of Manhattan—First Avenue in the 60s, where there were as many dry cleaning stores around as any good thief could want. So I proceeded to walk up First, looking into each dry cleaning establishment I passed, until I found one that was empty and had a woman working behind the counter. I had a plan but needed a rehearsal, so I went into dry cleaning store number one on First Avenue and 67th Street.
“Good morning,” the woman behind the counter cheerfully said to me. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, could you please tell me how much it would cost to clean and press these dungarees that I am wearing?” I asked so innocently.
“Three dollars and fifty cents,” the shopkeeper replied, anxiously awaiting my decision.
“Oh, okay, maybe I’ll be back later,” I responded as I walked out the door, knowing very well that I had no intention of returning.
Still not feeling comfortable with my game plan, I went through my practice run at another place.
Then, after having swallowed my fourth and fifth Valium and Tylenol #4 with Codeine, and washing that down with yet another Heineken, my third of the morning (it was still only 8:25 AM), I conjured up enough courage and felt the time was right to go to work.
So I entered the next dry cleaning store that suited my needs. After asking my “how much” question, I allowed the woman behind the counter to start her answer before I began what later would be the biggest mistake of my thirty-six-year life to that point. She was Indian or Pakistani, just the kind of foreigner who would easily comply with my demands, I remember thinking at the time. As we made eye contact while she was telling me the price to clean and press my dungarees, I nonchalantly lifted up my shirt, thereby exposing the toy gun that was tucked neatly under my waistband, and calmly and methodically ordered, “Empty the money out of the cash register or I’ll blow your fucking brains out!”
I remembered the terror in her eyes later on while I was in my jail cell at the 17th Precinct, wondering how I could have done this to another human being, not once, but three times in all. This, after all, was the kind of thing that you only read about in newspapers or see on the news. But I was desperate. I was in debt to my bookie and was feeling nice from the pills and beer. Besides, I rationalized, I absolutely had no intentions of hurting anybody. Little did I realize at the time that the tables could have been turned, and I could have been blown away myself, with there being no repercussions at all to the store owner. However, my plan had worked like a charm, and I grabbed the loot off the counter and scurried outside to hail a cab.
I told the cabbie to drive straight down First Avenue and I’d let him know when to let me out. Being a neat freak, I began to straighten out the money, which I had balled up in my hand, and when it was finally arranged the way I liked it and safe in my pocket, I instructed the cab driver to pull over and let me out. “Two-seventy-five,” he said to me, as we approached the curb. “Here, keep the change,” I replied, as I handed him a five-dollar bill, feeling like a real big shot.
I got out of the cab and stood on the corner of First Avenue and 51st Street for a few minutes in order to psych myself up for my next robbery. Being intoxicated and high from the pills, I never stopped to think for a moment that the woman I just ripped off a few minutes earlier might have called the police, and that they were looking for me right now. I was only about fifteen blocks away from the first robbery, but we crooks are smarter than the cops anyway. We have to be!
I set my game plan into motion again, an exact replica of the first. And the results were the same as well. So I figured I’d try it one more time and that would be it. After all, I had to make sure that I got back home in time to study the baseball lines (odds) in the newspaper and call my bookmaker. Then I was going to take my radio and lie on the beach, it being a beautiful sunny day and all. You see, I was planning on making a whole day of it: the robberies in the morning, lying in the sun all afternoon, and then going over to O.T.B. that night to bet on the horses at Yonkers Raceway. This is what I had been doing pretty much every day (except for the robberies) since I was fired six months earlier for drinking on the job at Phoenix Communications (Major League Baseball Productions).
I continued to walk down First Avenue, this time oblivious to everything else around me, until I found another dry cleaning store that I felt could provide me with another success story. I stumbled (literally) onto a small mom-and-pop operation and went inside. There, I found the cutest little old Chinese man and woman going about their business, and by now, after having accomplished two robberies with relative ease, I felt like a seasoned pro on top of his game. So, again I went through my shtick of asking the price to clean and press my pants, but this time, I couldn’t wait. I immediately displayed the (toy) gun in my waistband and demanded the cash. Appearing frightened out of his wits, the elderly gentleman placed the cigar box he and his wife used as a cash register on top of the counter while his wife remained behind her husband for protection, and like a little kid rifling through the cookie jar, I grabbed its contents and fled.
Not knowing exactly how much money I had accumulated, I said to myself that three robberies were enough. But I wasn’t ready to head home just yet. Not until I had another beer or two. This was another of the many mistakes I made that day.
I began walking again until I came upon a little delicatessen that sold beer, not even grasping the fact that I had just committed three “armed” robberies, and that the police were probably hot on my trail at that very moment. But, hey, I earned this break for myself. I justified. I had just worked up quite a thirst, pulling off three robberies in the previous thirty minutes.
I went into the deli and grabbed an ice cold Heineken from out of the freezer and asked the owner what the price was, like any good Jew would have done. Then I walked out and proceeded to drink my beer as I leisurely strolled down the street. After downing it in no time flat and letting out a healthy belch, I remember saying to myself that one more cold one was in order before heading home. After all, my mission had been accomplished, and I was now hungry and tired. So I looked for another deli, all the while not caring one iota about the lowlife things I had just done to these innocent and hardworking shopkeepers.
It being Manhattan, there were many delis to choose from, and I decided to cut over to Second Avenue for a change of scenery. I found a store to my liking near the strip club Scores on 60th Street and took the Heineken out of the freezer and over to the counter. When the woman who worked there told me that I owed her two-seventy-five, I became enraged. “I just paid one-fifty two blocks away,” I shouted, as a small crowd began to form at the counter. After getting nowhere with my efforts at haggling, I paid her “extortion money” and walked out, slamming the door behind me.
I crossed the street and found a cozy corner in which to drink my beer before calling it a morning (it was still only nine-fifteen, and I wasn’t ready to “escape” into the subway system just yet). All of a sudden, from seemingly out of nowhere and coming from every direction, were the police. Before I knew what hit me, one cop tackled me hard to the sidewalk, knocking my bottle of beer high into the air; it came crashing down to the pavement.
“Where’s the gun?” the flatfoot demanded.
“What gun?” I asked, as he took the fake weapon from out of my pocket.
He then pulled me up off the ground and brought me over to one of the many squad cars that were now on the scene.
“We got him. We got Woody Allen,” the officer chirped as he handcuffed and handed me over to another of New York’s finest. “Don’t move an inch, you piece of shit,” the second officer ordered, as I finally realized the magnitude of what I had done, although still not believing that all of these cops had come just for little old me with the balding head and thick prescription eyeglasses.
After being positively identified right there in the street by my last victim, the elderly Chinese man, I was placed into the police car and taken over to the 17th Precinct, without even having had my rights read to me.
At the police station, I was immediately processed (photographed and fingerprinted), and then thrown into a filthy, stinking cell. Oh, yeah, and my money and pills were taken from me, presumably to be held as evidence.
“Now I’ve really done it,” I remember mumbling to myself, as the gravity of the entire situation began to completely sink in. Then, after lingering in my cell for over an hour, two sharply dressed detectives came to pay me a visit.
“How ya’ doing, Gary? I’m Detective Burns and this is my partner, Detective Foley,” the older of the two announced.
“Can I please have my medication back?” I asked. “I’m not feeling well, and my back hurts.” (I have scoliosis and a slipped disc, among other problems with my back, which is why I began taking these pills in the first place many years earlier.)
“We want to talk to you first,” Detective Foley responded, as he began to open up my cell.
I was then brought upstairs to the squad room and handed a cup of water as I took a seat in Detective Burns’ office. But my one free telephone call was still not forthcoming.
“You know, Gary, those were very nice people you robbed today,” Burns offered.
“Can I please have some of my medication back?” I tried again. “I’m suffering from withdrawal symptoms and need some of my Valium and Tylenol #4 with Codeine because my back hurts.”
Although the Tylenol #4 with Codeine was indeed prescribed for my back pain by my personal physician, Dr. Gencer Filiz, and the Valium for my nerves, due to my anxiety, at this point in my life I was merely only taking these pills to get high because I was an addict.
“Gary, you tell us what happened, and we’ll give you back some of your medication,” Foley guaranteed.
“What happened?” I asked, as if I had no idea of what Burns and Foley were inquiring about.
“Look, Gary,” Burns said, “we were out there in our car and we saw you darting across First Avenue. You almost got yourself run over, you know. But we don’t want you…we want the bigger fish out there. You tell us what we want to hear, and then we’ll speak to the assistant district attorney, whom we are good friends with, and we promise that she will let you go home today and you won’t even be prosecuted.”
“Can I have some of my pills back first?” I bargained yet again. “I’m a drug addict and I need to take the edge off.”
Detective Foley removed three Tylenol #4 with Codeine and three Valium from my pill bottle, which he now had in his possession, and gave them to me. I quickly threw all six pills into my mouth and washed them down with a big gulp of water before Burns and Foley could change their minds.
“Now step up to the plate and be a man,” Burns implored of me, in a slight variation of the normal good cop/bad cop routine. “Tell me what happened from the very beginning.”
As I began spilling my guts, I noticed Burns was writing everything down like a secretary taking dictation from her boss. And whenever I got stuck or was unsure about some of the details of my crime, Burns didn’t hesitate to put his two cents in and volunteer information.
When my statement was complete, Foley told me to sign it at the bottom, and I complied, without hesitation. After all, he and Burns promised that I would be back home by the end of the day, and when you are as high and drunk as I was, you tend to believe the words of two experienced detectives. Another of my many mistakes on that fateful day.
But the deal wasn’t completed yet. Not by a longshot. I was then taken by another detective, Hackett, to the 19th Squad, where I was to give another statement, this one written by me. Detective Hackett, on the car ride over to the 19th Squad, told me that after I write this second statement, using my “own words,” I should add a paragraph or two explaining how sorry and remorseful I was for what I had done, and that he would see to it that I was placed into an inpatient drug treatment program to get the help I needed. That all sounded good to me, since I really did want to get my life straightened out once and for all, so I did exactly as he instructed.
In all honesty, and even looking back at it now, although he lied and set me up like the rest of them, Hackett really wasn’t a bad guy. He did feed me McDonald’s after I completed that second written statement, which was more than Burns, Foley, or anyone else did for me.
I still had one more confession to give, and it was a big one. Alan Daab, who was the arresting officer, then took me over to One Hogan Place, where Assistant District Attorney Lois Booker-Williams was waiting.
In the squad car, Daab said to me, “Gary Goldstein, what’s a nice Jewish guy like you committing robberies for?”
“I don’t know. I’m a drug addict and a gambler,” I answered, as if he even gave a damn. I then asked him if I could use the telephone to call Sportsphone when we arrived at our destination, because I needed to double check the scores of the previous night’s ballgames, and he very patronizingly said that I could.
The woman, who I was led to believe was eventually going to send me home as if nothing had ever happened, had Room 1209 all set up for me to give a videotaped confession.
By now, it was 1:15 PM, and I was no longer drunk or high, but very, very tired. I just wanted to get this whole thing over with, and presumably go home. So, after receiving my Miranda warnings for the very first time, I looked straight ahead (the camera was behind a one-way mirror) and, in essence, hung myself out to dry. When Lois Booker-Williams had what she needed, she stopped the tape and nodded at Daab.
“Let’s go, you piece of shit,” Daab ordered.
“What about that phone call I need to make?” I inquired.
“They’ll let you call after you’ve been processed at Central Booking,” Daab said.
“But Detectives Burns, Foley, and Hackett all told me that I would be going home after I confessed,” I insisted. “Can I talk to you, Ms. Booker-Williams?”
“I said let’s go, and I don’t want to hear another word out of your mouth until we get to Central Booking,” said Daab.
When we arrived at Central Booking, it finally began to sink in that I was tricked, manipulated, and used. After processing was completed, which included removing my shoelaces to prevent suicide, I was permitted to call my mother and father.
I told them everything that had happened, and that I was sorry. It was yet another case of my causing my parents so much unnecessary pain and aggravation. After telling them that I would call again the next day, when I knew more of what was going on, I curled up like a fetus, and went to sleep on my part of the bench in the cell that I had to share with eleven other guys.