Today, I bring you the third chapter of my book, “Jew in Jail.”
Although these events occurred nearly 15 years ago, they will always remain fresh in my mind.
I hope you all can get something out of reading this, as far as understanding how the correction system in New York City works, should you know anyone in the same position needing help.
3. GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL
There was no way I was going to get out on bail. My parents didn’t have ten grand and even if they would try to borrow it from my sister and her husband, I wouldn’t allow them to. Maybe it was better that I sat in jail for a while to learn my lesson the hard way. Besides, in the back of my mind, I still believed that in the end, everything would work itself out and I would come home as if none of this had ever happened. Plus, I kept thinking to myself that Jews don’t go to jail anyway, so I was safe, right?
But I still was puzzled as to what took place in the courtroom at that sidebar conference. Surely, I reasoned to myself, Mr. Jankowitz would have come back to the bullpen to speak to me and explain what had happened. The bottom line, however, is that, in this world, you get what you pay for, and in Mr. Jankowitz, that meant not very much at all.
From the bullpen outside the courtroom, I had now been transferred to the Manhattan Detention Complex (“The Tombs”), which, like Central Booking, was also part of the criminal court building. There were guys here who had been locked up for months, and not just for the first time, so I figured I had better just keep my eyes open and my mouth shut.
It was now 11:30 AM and I wanted to call my parents very badly, but before I got settled into where I would be staying, I had to be processed with dozens of other guys. There were six bullpens filled with detainees and bench room was at a premium. I was tired, however, and, more importantly, have a bad back, so I had to find a way to sit down. I attempted to squeeze between two guys, one of whom was lying down and taking up three spots all by himself.
“Yo, man, ain’t no room here for you,” Rip Van Winkle said. His breath reached me before his words did.
Realizing that, as a white man, I was in the minority here, but also knowing that you can’t let yourself get intimidated or pushed around in jail, the Brooklyn in me came out.
“Oh, yeah, there is, so just move the fuck over and there’ll be plenty of room,” I ordered.
With that, a fight ensued, albeit briefly. Being that the bullpen was packed like a can of sardines, not much happened as far as punches being thrown. The C.O.s quickly came in and broke it up then separated the two of us by putting me into another bullpen. This is one little white guy who’s not going to get pushed around, I thought to myself, as I took a seat in my new cell, almost daring somebody else to try their luck with me next.
It was time for lunch and I was starving. The meatballs were hard, the spaghetti watery, and the bread stale, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get to my cell already and call my parents, who I knew were worrying about me.
After lunch was over and the bullpens all cleaned, processing began. If there’s anything more degrading than what took place next, I don’t know that it exists.
To begin with, you had to have your mug shot taken in order to receive an I.D. card. Then you had to be strip-searched, which included bending over and squatting to make sure you weren’t hiding anything up your ass. Finally, you had to take a shower with five or six other guys, provided you didn’t vomit from the overriding stench that permeated the area. And all the while, you had to put up with the ridicule and nasty dispositions of the C.O.s, who treated the inmates as second-class citizens. I remember thinking, Who the hell do these people think they are? Some of them aren’t even my age, yet I have to listen to them and do everything they say. But I also knew that I brought this entire thing on myself, and since I made my bed, I had to sleep in it.
When processing was completed, I was escorted to Housing Unit 6 West, which was to be my new home, at least for the time being. After cleaning my cell until I was satisfied I had removed every last germ brought on by its previous inhabitant, and taking a long, hot shower to try in some way to rid myself of the morning’s events, I finally called my parents.
I was surprised at how calm and concerned my parents, Irving and Judy Goldstein, were on the telephone.
“I’m so glad you called,” my mother said. “Your father and I have been sitting by the phone waiting to hear from you.”
“Please don’t be mad at me,” I squirmed like a coward. “This is the worst thing I have ever done in my life and I’m so sorry.”
“We just want you to know how much we both love you,” my father assured me. I lost all composure and broke down.
“I’m so sorry for doing this to you two, and I know now that I need help with my drug problem,” I admitted.
“Just take it easy, Gary, everything is going to be alright,” my father pleaded, the pain and hurt obvious in his voice.
After telling my parents what I had known up until that point, including the fiasco in court regarding Jankowitz and my ten thousand-dollar bail, I told them that I would call again that night, using my second of the two local free phone calls all inmates are allotted each day.
For the time being, however, I just wanted to lie in my cell and be by myself with my thoughts. Words alone could not express my disgust, embarrassment, shame, and disappointment with myself for what I had done. It was bad enough to put myself in this predicament, but to make my parents, not to mention my victims, go through such aggravation and heartache yet again was totally inexcusable. After torturing myself for over an hour, I was finally able to fall asleep.
“On the chow,” the C.O. from 6 West screamed a short time later, an expression I would be hearing three times a day from then on, which indicated that it was time to eat.
The food isn’t brought to our cell, I remember thinking, as I must have mistakenly thought I was at the Waldorf Astoria rather than behind bars.
With that announcement, the C.O. unlocked all the cell doors with the flip of a switch, and we all converged on the gallery area, complete with tables, chairs, and color television, to eat our dinner.
Religious meals were served first, so being the only Jew at 6 West, I received my kosher tray at the same time the Muslims got their halal meal.
I had never been locked up for more than just one night before, and knew that since this was how my life was going to be played out on a daily basis, at least for a while, I had better try to get used to it.
But sitting at a table with total strangers, most of whom had never graduated from high school, held an honest job, or had all of their own teeth, was quite humiliating and extremely degrading. So I quickly finished eating and went straight back to my cell in order to be by myself again.
For the next two hours, I just lay in my bed and stared at the ceiling, crying and wishing that I could turn back the clock and erase what had happened.
“Yo, Goldstein, you aw-right?” asked the guy in the cell next to mine, remembering my name after having heard the C.O. say it earlier.
“Yeah,” I shouted back, as I quickly came to my cell door and wiped away the tears.
“What are you in here for, man?” my neighbor asked.
“Robbery,” I responded. I kept my answers brief and didn’t return the question, hoping that the conversation would come to an end.
“What’s a Jewish guy like you doing robbing somebody?” he chuckled, which was a question I was sure to hear over and over again in the days and months ahead.
“I really don’t want to talk about it,” I sternly replied, as I went back to lie down, knowing that I had finally put a halt to our discussion.
With that, I was able to resume my misery until eight o’clock arrived, which was time to call my parents again.
This time, things were different on the telephone. I don’t know what it was, but my mother and father weren’t as calm and reassuring as they had been earlier. Maybe because they had some time to absorb the gravity of the situation, or maybe because they were emotionally drained from the roller-coaster ride I had put them on, but in any event, what happened next was something that I had never experienced before.
For the very first time in my thirty-six years, I heard my father cry. After I told him that I was doing alright and explained that I was in my own cell and that everything would work itself out, Irving Goldstein broke down and let it all out.
“Gary, how could you do this to me and your mother? We have always given you everything you ever wanted,” he said, and his words made me lose it as well.
“I know, I know,” I responded. “I’m so sorry. I’m no good. But don’t cry, everything will be alright, you’ll see.”
“Gary, why did you lie to me?” my mother asked, referring to the night when she saw that toy gun on the bed in my room and I told her that I was giving it to my friend’s son as a birthday present.
“I don’t know,” I offered. “I was all messed up on drugs.”
After a few more minutes of give and take, my parents and I said our goodbyes, but not before I tried to reassure them once again that this ordeal of mine would work itself out, which was really how I felt.
So I decided to call it a night. I was very tired and knew that I could count on the C.O. to wake me up for breakfast in the morning!