As they released me from the squad car, I breathed out and entered what would become my Living Nightmare.
They took my name and asked me to sit on an electronic chair that looks through your body to make sure nothing is in there; drugs or weapons or what have you.
I hadn't noticed that the Port Authority officers had left, and I was now Essex County Jail's property.
Immediately the way I was talked to, looked at and treated was very different.
The guards lead me over to the female intake area, then left me there with a woman who handed me an itchy blanket and brought me to a cell with 2 women curled up; one on the ground, the other on a thin long metal bench.
The cell door loudly being locked shut only awoke them for a moment- yet they remained completely hidden under their blankets for warmth in the damp and cold cell.
I sat down on the the thin metal bench, trying to be quiet, pinching myself to stop from crying.
I debated between lying on the dirty floor, which smelled like piss and were definite homes to a minimum of 2 cockroaches; or the thin metal bench.
I wrapped the blanket around myself and laid on the floor.
The floor was colder and dirtier than I expected, so I quietly moved back up to the bench.
I laid facing the wall and felt the tears coming.
I took my lace-less sneakers off, pulling off my socks to muffle the sounds of my crying.
I prayed "Our Father's" and "Hail Mary's" to calm my body down from shaking.
I must have only drifted off when the hidden body on the bench began to cough and slowly reveal herself.
I snapped my eyes shut and pretended to be asleep as she got up to pee.
When she flushed, it was impossible to act like I could have slept through the loud noise.
I began to stir and sit-up, acting as though the fluorescent lights above were bright and bothersome from being 'asleep'.
The other hidden body on the floor began to stir as well; her chattering teeth followed by her cursing about the cold.
The two of them analyzed and stared at me for what seemed like minutes before asking me anything.
We were all able to get a good look at one another.
We exchanged lock-up stories; each more different than the next.
One had gotten pulled over driving home from her nursing job, when they ran her name and discovered a warrant.
She was still in her scrubs.
The other, who had been laying on the cold floor, had been out working the streets for drugs and got arrested.
She still had on her synthetic weave and short skirt.
The early arriving shit change of Correctional Officers ("C.O.'s") gave us Bologna and cheese sandwich's for breakfast.
The 3 of us silently ate, then tried to get warm and sleep the time away until we got processed (photos, fingerprints and a nurse visit).
Then the C.O.'s would individually make us squat and cough, shower and change into orange jumpsuits.
When it was my turn I squatted and coughed with my blue pubes with pride.
As the C.O. laughed, I chuckled with her at her own sad life.
The nurse then informed they would not give me my prescribed medication.
Without my medication, I go a little nuts.
Being the over dramatic female I am, I began to argue with the nurse.
Without thinking I stupidly said, "I'll kill myself without my meds."
Which, of course, they had to take very seriously.
So now, I had to go up to the Medical Ward and be examined mentally before going to General Population.
I knew enough people who had been in Jail that they put crazy people in a 'turtle suit'.
(The suit that straps your arms across your body and wraps around your back.)
They can keep you in the suit for 72 hours or MORE.
'This is all temporary' I reminded myself. A saying I had loved from the TV series 'Orange Is The New Black'.
But, this wasn't Orange is the New Black.
This was County Jail.
If you are reading this imagining it being similar to the TV show, get that image out of your head.
I wish it was like that... instead, it was like the SHU (Solitary Housing Unit).
I explained to both the social worker and Medical staff that I would never kill myself, but that I went into a panic mode.
With enough eye contact and the use of big words, they dismissed my stupid remark; sending me to General Population finally.
Being escorted by a random available C.O. throughout the old maze of the jail, I tried to remain calm.
The maze of hallways lead to an octagon opening.
In the center of the octagon, was a security post that went 3 stories high; filled with video monitors and controls for the electronic doors stationed everywhere.
The outskirts of the octagon had multiple units all leading off.
I believe I counted 4 units.
Once the security guard at the post saw my wristband, which had my inmate number and photo ID, they opened the doors and lead me to my unit.
I exhaled deeply, fumbling with the pile of random items they give you; soap, a small towel, underwear, toothbrush, toothpaste that was more like glue, and a thin itchy blanket- made out of synthetic wool.
The final door was buzzed open and I was shocked to see no inmates walking around; instead every cell window had a face peering out of it.
The C.O. on shift for the woman's unit assigned me to my cell B2- the top bunk.
I stood in front of the numbered cell and it opened.
I stepped in and the cell door screeched closed, which woke up my new cellmate.
Outside the door of the cell, the C.O. ordered her to take one of the 2 mattresses she was sleeping on and return it to the top bunk.
As she began to un-make her bed she introduced herself right away as Shay.
She was 3 years older than myself; slim, petite, black and had very short hair.
At first glance I assumed she was a lesbian.
I was glad to be "bunkies" with someone close to my age.
She then began to reveal to me that the whole jail was on lock-down, and we were only allowed out at 8 PM for 10 minutes, ONCE A DAY.
You then had to choose between either a shower or making a phone call, never allowed to split your time.
To put the cherry on top of all this; it would continue on lock down for another 3 WEEKS!
None of the inmates on our Unit seemed to know why it was happening.
And, the C.O.'s claimed Administration hadn't given them any explanation either.
The Jail held both female and male prisoners.
The octagon I had passed was home to General Population for men and women.
I learned there were many other octagons,
and the color of your jumpsuit said it all.
Orange = You are new and being quarantined.
Pink = Girls in General Population.
Green = Both men and women there for drug crimes.
Yellow= Federal crimes.
White shirt and beige Khaki pants= Illegal immigrants.
I got really lucky being stuck in a cell with Shay.
She was so open and sexual like me; she soon opened up about her boyfriend and her 6 year old son.
She also warned me that I might hear her masturbating, A LOT.
I busted out laughing before replying, "SAME!"
She had gotten arrested for shoplifting, and this whole situation was an eye-opener for her.
She was ready to turn her life around, or so she said.
Shay knew most of the girls on our Unit.
A girl who went by the name "Philly", because she is from Philly, had been there about 9 months still waiting for proper sentencing for credit card fraud.
The girls who had been there long were allowed out during this lock-down because they all had various jobs around the jail all day; cleaning, Kitchen duty, handing out food through the slot in the cell doors etc.
As the rest of us remained locked in our cells ALL DAY,
they got to roam around and eat snacks from commissary.
Shay spotted Philly and called her over to our cell window to introduce us.
She was from North Philly; and after I named a few street names she would know, she could tell I knew the area.
She then ran back to her cell to get me a book- thank God.
But, it was a Tween book, written all in this email format.
Shay had been alone, locked up, all day- for days.
I could tell she was so happy to have someone, anyone to talk to.
She continued to stand and pace the small cell area and talk, even when it got to the point where I closed my eyes to hint that I wanted to sleep.
Extradition Court wasn't until Friday, so I was told.
All I wanted was to sleep the hours away until I had court and would hopefully, be released.
Lights went out at 10 PM and Shay finally retreated to her bunk to masturbate.
I managed to fall asleep without even cumming.
At 4 AM the small speaker built into the wall of the cell, went off.
I heard my name, but ignored it.
The new shift, a male, C.O. came over and began banging on the window telling me I had Extradition court.
I leaped out of the high top bunk, almost breaking my ankle.
I didn't think court was until tomorrow!
Hopefully, I'd get out today!
A few others were awoken and we were all brought back down to the same cell I slept in when I first got there, in the female intake.
From 4 AM - 8 AM we all sat there, freezing and waiting.
Too cold to sleep and the metal benches too uncomfortable to lay on.
We kept moving around the holding cell, avoiding the vents blowing the coldest air, hoping to find a warm spot.
All of us pulled our arms into our jumpsuit, so our arms were against our warm bodies.
Among this small group of ladies, only one really stayed to herself and never talked.
She was older, in her mid-fifties.
The crack-head among us was this sassy black girl who had tons of bullshit to say, loudly.
The other, a woman from the Dominacan Republic who owed her bank 500$ from her overdraft; but then moved houses, so never received any letters from the bank.
The 2 talkative women eventually talked themselves to sleep and were keeping together for warmth.
I took the opportunity to begin to speak to the older woman.
She began explaining to me that she had been living in Texas 2 years ago and her daughters boyfriend was hitting her daughter.
So, she went over with a gun, to scare him, but he thought she was bluffing- so she shot him.
He lived, and she robbed him as well.
So, now she was waiting for Texas to come get her.
She said something that really stuck with me,
"You always say you would go to jail for your kids, but now that I'm here, I don't know what the fuck I was thinking."
She began to cry, yet hold it back.
The other 2 women were snoring so I began hugging her, letting her muffle the sounds of sobbing into my shoulder.
"I can't let anyone see me cry!" She snapped, as she quickly pulled away to wipe away her tears.
"No, you can't" I confirmed. "But, late at night, we all do. You did the RIGHT thing by protecting your daughter! Fuck- I probably would have killed him!" I added re-reassuringly.
"OH- I wanted to, trust me, now I realize I may as well have! I just cant handle all these girls. They are all so tough, loud and scary. I don't think I can do this...." She admitted, the look of defeat clear upon he face.
"This is just temporary." I shared my chant from 'Orange is the New Black' with her. "Look, I'll work on getting you a book, it will help." I told her.
"REALLY?! You know someone?" She asked, so excited.
"Don't worry, I got you!" I winked.
As if on que, the C.O.'s came in ready to get us ready for transport to the courthouse.
We were joined by 4 additional women, all in green jumpsuits.
Then ordered to stand along the wall as the guards shackled us all together.
We all awkwardly walked towards the outdoor world.
The heat hit us all instantly.
They kept the jail so cold, I assumed to stop the spread of germs and infections.
We all enjoyed the sunlight for a moment and then male inmates appeared.
To the right of me was a young, white, blonde, blue eyed and pretty girl.
Between her and I, we got all the cat calls;
"I love your blue hair baby!"
"Blondie! You look like a Becky"
The C.O.'s loaded the men in first, then the woman.
The van was set up so that we could not see the men, but only hear them.
I quickly made friends with "Becky" which the males explained by shouting in the van, that Becky was a white girl who gave a great blowjob.
Becky was going to a separate court, and it wasn't looking good.
She got caught with over 100 bags of heroin and was looking at a year with her previous record.
I soon noticed her arms had been cut with razor blades so badly, it covered every visible part of her arms.
I couldn't help but bring it up and start an in depth conversation.
Until, the ol' crackhead announced, "Shiiiiiit, Little Mermaid and Becky are talking some bullshit. Y'all need to be quiet!"
But, Becky just kept on talking, rolling her eyes at any remark.
The boys continued to holler at us ladies the entire length of the drive, but we ignored them.
When we finally arrived at the courthouse, the men were released from the van and brought in separately before releasing us women.
Once we reached the holding cell, the C.O.'s un-cuffed our shackles and lead us into the most disgusting holding cell I had seen yet.
It reeked of piss and vomit.
The inmates who had been in and out of jails, including this one, informed us that we would sit in this cell from now, 8:30 AM to 4 PM this evening.
Everyone would have court before any of us would get to leave, so it would keep the trip back to just one.
The ladies in the green jumpsuits were louder than the 2 I had been dealing with all morning.
Becky and I kept to the side, talking and exchanging stories.
Really, we were just glad to get out of our cells and talk to another human being besides our cell mate.
Soon, one by one we began having our court sessions.
Not long after it began, I was called, along with the Dominican girl and the older woman who I had spoke with before.
All 3 of us were waiting for different States to come pick us up.
We were shackled together and lead down into the court room.
This beautiful, massive and clean courtroom- while the holding cells out of sight were so disgusting.
A Public Defender came over and had us sign the papers asking the State our warrant was in to come get us.
He explained it would be very straight-forward.
"Whew!" I thought to myself.
Until, he revealed they had 10-30 days to come get us.
I began to panic.
I would miss my Grandmothers funeral.
I would be stuck.
I am fucked.
I stood in front of the Judge, being polite as possible.
He just went over the paper I signed, asking that I understood the document, which I did.
He then repeated that they had 10-30 days to come get me.
I am fucked.
When I got back to the court holding cell, Becky was gone, taken to the other court house.
I knew, there would be a slim chance I'd ever get to see her again, which I found sad.
I never did see her again...
It was only 10 AM and my court date was finished, the thought of sitting there until 4 PM made me angry and upset.
As if someone read my mind, the C.O.'s appeared announcing anyone done with court was going back early.
Good, now I can get back to sleeping my life away.............
After the return strip search and squat and cough, I was lead back to my Unit and my cell.
Shay awoke as I slammed the cell shut, a noise so loud and disturbing, it's impossible to sleep through.
She expected me to get out today, as did I.
I could see a smile on her face; but before I could ask what could possibly have her smiling in here, she shouted it out.
"I HAD T.V. COURT AND THE JUDGE GAVE ME R.O.R. SO I CAN LEAVE WITH NO BAIL!!"
I wanted to be happy for her, but I wasn't.
I was angry.
But I did what was right- and hugged her.
Shay hugged me back, squeezing me, which made me cry.
"10-30 days..." was all I could think.
She just held me.
This human, who barely knew me, cared enough to hold me.
I managed to stop crying after a minute, and pull myself together.
All I wanted to do was use the phone to call my Dad and see what could be done about this situation, but phones were off and I to be locked in here until 8 PM.
I buried my nose into the Tween book I had, and tried to drift off.
I awoke at what must have been 4 PM, to dinner trays being shoved through the slot in the cell door.
Shay woke up with me and we groggily sifted through the disgusting blobs of brown and yellow, for anything edible.
I gave up on the inedible mess, taking the 2 stale cookies for desert into my bunk with me.
Shay and I remained quiet.
She was waiting to be released any minute.
All that was to be said, had been said.
Either of us said nothing, because the only things we wanted to say were dark, depressing and negative things.
I stared at the ceiling and wall for 4 hours.
Finally, at 8 PM, we were the second cell allowed to use the phones.
Each cell was let out one at a time to either shower or use the phone.
However, my commissary account wasn't active, therefore I had no money to make a call.
Even though I had not been given Bail by the Court, my only option to get a hold of my Father was to call a Bail Bondsman and have him 3 way call my Dad.
When my Dad answered, I couldn't help but get choked up.
"Don't worry, I'm working on it Sweetie!" He began.
"Listen Dad, I only have 5 minutes to talk. I had Court and Pennsylvania has 10-30 days to come get me. I just want to prepare you for the idea of me being in here for a while.."
As I said the words aloud, I realized I wasn't trying to comfort him, I was trying to comfort myself.
"-- I'll get you out WAY before then!" He interrupted.
The Bail Bondsman kept trying to cut in, saying he could pay my bail and get me out, we went along with him, since it was the only way to speak- yet no amount of money could get me out.
"I'm so sorry Dad. I don't think I'm going to make it to the funeral, I'm sorry." I began to cry.
"No... I'm Sorry." My father was now crying as well. "It's my fault. I asked you to come back."
"I would have come no matter what Dad."
The C.O. was yelling at me to end my phone call.
I said my said good-byes and went back to my cell.
Shay had made her call to the outside world as well, and now it haunted us as we sat there, flooded in the fluorescent lights with nothing but the synthetic wool blanket to comfort ourselves with.
Shay was anxiously standing up to check out the cell window for a sign she might be called to leave this hell hole; then she would sit back down for another few minutes and repeat.
That night, I forced myself to masturbate and cum so I could feel some sort of pleasure.
The feeling was so good, I continued to rub my clit until my hand was tired and my body was sore.
Then I slept like a baby.
It was now Friday morning and the weekend scared me.
Not only that, but Shay was still in the bunk below me and had not gotten out.
If I didn't get out today, I would be here all weekend, stuck in that tiny cell.
I knew that where my warrant was for, was a small and quiet area; the cops would have nothing better to do but to come and get me.
It wasn't like I was waiting for Texas, I was waiting for a town that was a 45 minute drive away!
When Shay opened her eyes and realized she was still here, she freaked out.
She jumped out of her bed and began furiously banging on the cell window- something that was NOT allowed.
Along with the banging she began screaming and shouting for a guard.
It couldn't have been later than 6 AM and girls began screaming for Shay to, 'SHUT THE FUCK UP!'
The C.O. on shift came over to the window and began scolding Shay.
"NO! AW HELL NAW!" The female C.O. began. "NOW CUZ YOU BANGED ON THAT WINDOW, I DON'T GIVE A FUCK WHAT YOU WANT. I JUST GOT ON SHIFT, I'M BUSY AND WHEN I FIND TIME FOR YOUR OBNOXIOUS ASS, I'LL COME BACK."
"PLEASE MA'AM!" Shay pleaded. "I'm just so frustrated! I got R.O.R. yesterday and...."
"I DON'T GIVE A FUCK-- I'M BUSY!" and the C.O. stormed off.
Shay dragged her feet back across the small cell to the wall.
I remained in the top bunk, having sat up to watch the drama unfold.
I tried to think of what to say to comfort her.
But, I couldn't think of anything.
Shay began punching the wall, the cement wall, with her bare knuckles.
I jumped out of the bunk, almost breaking my ankle, yet again.
I held her from behind and grabbed her wrists.
I folded her arms across her chest and just held her, like she held me yesterday.
"Everything is going to be O.K." I re-assured her. "You WILL get out today. You HAVE to get out today, trust me. Just calm down Shay, breathe."
She broke down and continued to cry; while I continued to hold her.
The most disgusting, inedible grits and plain stale sliced white bread was served on trays into our cell slots for breakfast.
We both didn't touch it.
I tried to act positive for Shay.
I kept reminding her she WAS going home while I was stuck waiting.
But, she didn't respond.
She just stared at the wall, all puffy eyed from crying.
Eventually the female C.O. came back around to see what Shay needed... 4 hours later.
"I'm so sorry for the way I acted earlier," Shay began by apologizing. "I'm just so frustrated being in here while my son needs me out there. I was told I would be getting out yesterday, so when I woke up here- I lost it. Can you please tell me if I am being released today?"
"All I know is that there is 2 people leaving at 3 PM, whether your one of 'em, I don't know." She responded before walking away.
It didn't change Shay's mood.
"Don't worry, you WILL be one of them!" I told her.
Shay remained silent for hours, we both did.
I kept reading my tween book, which I had now gotten into.
All of a sudden the C.O. was back at our window, but this time knocking on it herself.
"Both of you are leaving. Pack up."
"Both of us?!" I asked in shock.
"Yeah- you got bail and she is R.O.R." she answered before going back to sit on her ass.
Shay and I both had our jaws completely dropped when we turned towards each other.
Then we began jumping up and down, hugging and giggling like little school girls!
After the few seconds of joy, Shay began stripping her bed.
"Wait!" I exclaimed. "I DON'T have bail. They didn't give me any!"
"Maybe Pennsylvania is here!" Shay suggested.
"Yeah, it has to be. I'm just going to another jail." The excitement began to fade.
I guess Shay could see it on my face because she came over put her hand on my shoulder and said, "At least it's not this jail."
She was right.
The jail I was headed to was in a nice County and one of the nicer jails.
The thought of edible food got me excited again.
I still had not had any American food since landing!
We both stripped our bed and packed up our shit SO fast.
We banged on the cell window, this time being allowed, to tell them we were packed.
Now all that was left was waiting for an available guard to come escort us to get changed into our clothes we came in with, get our belongings and sign THE papers.
We sat and waited, but our knees bounced up and down in anticipation.
After 20 more minutes of waiting the C.O. arrived.
When we were buzzed out of our cell, you could see all the faces in all the cell windows staring at us with our stuff in our hands, taking our dirty sheets to the disposal bin.
Even thought I was walking away, all these ladies would still be stuck here.
Shay began shouting and waving goodbye to the few people she got close to in here, then we were lead off into the maze of cold hallways.
The C.O. ordered us to stay to the right of the hallway while we walked.
I could see he had some papers in his hands so I decided to ask if he knew my situation.
"Excuse me, do you know if PA is here to get me?" I asked nervously and politely.
He looked down at the papers in his hand.
"No. It says here someone paid your bail."
I looked to Shay with complete confusion.
Maybe they messed up, I thought to myself.
But, if they did mess up, they would probably find out before letting me leave and I'd be stuck here.
The Judge specifically gave me no bail, what else could this be besides a mistake?
We arrived back at female intake and brought into the very same cell I had come into when I first arrived.
The same cell I waited to go to court in.
And now, the cell I would get dressed to leave in.
They handed us our clothes and made us dispose of our undergarments, shoes and jumpsuits they had given us to wear.
Usually the discharge process takes hours, yet ours seemed to be going quite fast.
Next they returned our belongings.
Somehow 50 dollars was missing from my stuff and no one knew where it could have gone.
I didn't care though.
If that's the price I have to pay to get out, I would have happily paid it.
Finally, the paperwork.
Everything had gone so smooth.
They were bound to realize their mistake here.
When they look at my paperwork they will see NO BAIL and make me change back into the jumpsuit and go back into the cell.
But no.... they let me go.
They let US go.
Once the papers were signed, they pointed us towards the 'Exit' and we both looked at each other, these beaming smiles on our faces- and then we ran to the door.
The sun hit us in full force.
Shay was in black combat boots, shorts and a crop top.
She had big sunglasses and looked so different with no jumpsuit on.
She was beautiful.
She threw her hands out and pointed her face to the sun before twirling in circles, laughing.
I couldn't help but do the same.
We didn't even care that next to the jail was a Sanitation factory, and in 90 degree weather it creates a smell like pure death.
To us, the world, the fresh air, the feeling of the sun, all of it- was beautiful.
We were free.
We knew how many women were still stuck in there, in jails and prisons all over the world, craving sun.
We would never take it for granted again.
*End Note* Turns out with a good lawyer, you can get around no bail.