Today, I bring to you the second chapter of my book, “Jew in Jail,” in order to bring you into my world of what I was going through back in the summer of 1998, after I was arrested and about to see the judge for the first time.
It is my sincere hope that, by reading this and the previous chapter, you, my readers, will gain insight into the way the criminal justice system operates in New York State, and also specifically learn about what I went through with regards to my past addictions and feelings of low self-esteem, so that you could help others who might be headed down that same road of self-destructive behavior themselves.
2. MY ARRAIGNMENT
I didn’t sleep very well that night, and who could blame me? I kept playing back what I had done, and saying to myself, “I’m really in trouble now. I’m going to prison.”
The correction officers (C.O.s) came around and woke everybody up at 6:00 AM to get us ready to see the judge for arraignment. Breakfast was a small box of cereal and a container of milk. For those who were unlucky enough to have to take a crap, they had to do it in front of everybody else on a filthy, germ-laden toilet. And good luck trying to get toilet paper from the C.O.s. If they were in a decent mood, maybe you had a chance. Otherwise, you were better off trying to hold it in until we got upstairs near the courtroom.
Central Booking itself is part of the criminal court building. It’s the bowels (no pun intended!) of the building, located in the basement. By 7:30 AM, after the C.O.s called the first twenty names (I was one of them), we were transferred upstairs to another large cell, the “bullpen,” and the next stop would be to finally see the judge for arraignment.
But that was still two hours away. So it was either back to sleep, or begin staring at everyone else. I did the latter because I don’t enjoy lying on a bench or the floor with cockroaches and mice sharing my sleeping quarters.
In jail, there are always guys who know each other from the same neighborhood, and you could always count on them to share “war stories.” They seem to enjoy going through the “system,” and for them, it’s sort of a time to get together with old acquaintances and reminisce about the past.
“What’s up, son?” one black kid, himself not over twenty-three years of age, said to his brother.
“Ain’t nutin’,” the other responded. “These motherfuckers got me here off of a ‘sweep’ (a drug sweep in the neighborhood), but I was just hangin’ out with my man, and wasn’t doing shit.”
“No doubt, no doubt,” the first one acknowledged.
“Yo, Giuliani is off the hook,” chimed in Julio, a Puerto Rican with his name tattooed on his right arm, who, in his own eloquent way, was referring to how the mayor of New York City was seriously cracking down on crime.
From there, the bullpen became like a cocktail party, with guys sharing their views on everything from crime in the Big Apple, to the Mets and Yankees, to how the female C.O. who brought us upstairs had a nice ass. All the while, however, I just sat observing it all without uttering a single word. I kept pondering how I could have done this to myself, getting mixed up with these lowlifes. But the truth of the matter was that as much as I tried to deny it, I had become one myself. I was no better or no worse than Julio, or any of the guys I was sharing the bullpen with.
As the conversations continued, and loudly at that, I began to think how my life was ruined and where it was that I went bad. After all, I graduated from Long Island University, with a BA in journalism, and had worked for such prestigious companies as CBS-TV, NBC-TV, The New York Post, Madison Square Garden, and Major League Baseball Productions, just to name a few. But now, I had really sunk to rock bottom, and knew that I was going to have to pay the price.
All that talking that went on in the bullpen, as pretentious as it was, did succeed, however, to pass the time quickly. It was now 9:45 AM and the court-appointed attorneys had arrived, and began calling names. These lawyers are either from the Legal Aid Society, which means that they are totally paid by the state, or they are 18-B attorneys, private attorneys who take on some cases on behalf of the indigent, and whose fee is also paid by the state. Supposedly, the 18-B attorneys are better, but don’t ever cite my case as an example.
After about fifteen minutes, my name was called. I went into one of the three phone booth-type interview rooms that are set up for attorney-client meetings, which is the very last step before seeing the judge.
“Good morning, my name is Mark Jankowitz. I have been assigned to represent you,” the suit said, as he handed me his business card, which indicated that he was an 18-B attorney.
“Good morning,” I responded.
“Mr. Goldstein, if I were you, and had money, I would hire myself a private attorney,” Jankowitz offered, as this short, ruffled man with uncombed brown hair appeared to take pleasure in the fact that I was basically at his mercy as far as my eventual freedom was concerned.
But what was he saying? Was he hinting to me that he wanted some money under the table, or was he indicating that he just wasn’t a good enough attorney to handle my case?
“When we get into the courtroom, I’m going to ask the judge to release you on your own recognizance, or R.O.R. you,” Jankowitz said. “But since you confessed, there’s no way he’s going to go for it. Now, tell me what happened.”
Feeling a sense of urgency, and with my nerves doing the cha-cha throughout my body, I proceeded to tell my mouthpiece how, in the midst of a drug and alcohol binge, and feeling pressured to come up with the six hundred and forty dollars that I owed my bookmaker, I robbed three dry cleaning stores on the East Side of Manhattan.
“I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict, and a compulsive gambler, too,” I stated, as if he, the judge, and the assistant district attorney were simply going to excuse the whole incident as one big ill-advised act.
“But I see here from your rap sheet that you were convicted of robbery in the third degree in 1994,” Jankowitz replied. “That makes you a predicate.”
“What about the fact that Detectives Burns and Foley promised that if I confessed, they would see to it that I would go home and not be prosecuted?” I fired back.
“They’ll never admit in court to doing that,” Jankowitz answered. “I’ll see what I can do. But when we go into the courtroom, don’t say a word because you said enough already.”
. After having just referred to my loose-lipped confession, Jankowitz then turned and went back into the courtroom, as I departed the interview area to bury myself in my thoughts.
I remember hoping the judge was Jewish and a woman, just the type of mother-figure who could sympathize with my problems. And who knew? Maybe I would be released R.O.R. without having to post bail.
Minutes later, the C.O. opened the bullpen door and escorted me in handcuffs into the courtroom. Upon entering, I couldn’t help but feel that all eyes were on me, and how the judge, a man in his sixties, appeared to be in an unpleasant mood.
“Docket number 98N0639, the People of the State of New York versus Gary Goldstein,” the court clerk announced. “The charges are 160.10 (robbery in the second degree) and 205.30 (resisting arrest).”
“Resisting arrest?” I mumbled under my breath. “That cop tackled me and I didn’t resist at all. What’s going on here?”
“Mr. Goldstein, how do you plead?” Judge Kaufman asked. I had gotten at least one of my wishes granted.
As if I needed it, Jankowitz bent over and whispered in my ear, “Not guilty,” as I revealed the same out loud.
“Your Honor, the People ask for bail in the amount of ten thousand dollars,” Assistant District Attorney Lois Booker-Williams said.
“Judge, can we approach?” Jankowitz responded, as he, Booker-Williams, and Judge Kaufman huddled up for a sidebar conference, leaving me alone and in the dark as to what was being discussed.
When the meeting broke up and all the players were back in place, Judge Kaufman simply said, “The People’s bail request is granted in the amount of ten thousand dollars.”
“Step back,” the burly and well-armed court officer ordered, as he and his female partner escorted me out of the courtroom and into another bullpen, this one undoubtedly for those who weren’t going home straight from court.
As I was led away, I made eye contact with Mr. Jankowitz, but he didn’t say a word, and I wouldn’t see him anymore that day.
I felt a strong need to call my parents.