A Pleasantly Filled Dungeon in My Backyard: A Police State Update, Part I

Column by Kevin M. Patten.

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In existence, not 30 miles from my place of residence, is a modern day dungeon. For no mistake can be made in saying that the Los Angeles County Jail is an exemplary comparison of such in 21st Century America. On the 2200 floor, where I was recently housed for just over a week, a 24 hour lockdown was in effect; there was no mentionable selection of books or literature; little of food or hygiene; absolutely none of association; with three other grown men personally sharing this small, uncomfortable pit with me (up until recently a total of eight people had occupied of these three, double-manned bunked cells. Yes, the other two slept under the bunks); hundreds, if not thousands, right next to me, who, just like the anthropomorphic vendibles that they are, and with the help of California Assembly Bill: 109, experience a fate far worse than my own; and – last but never least – the primary entertainment as the endless howling and grunting and screaming that come from those many deranged minds, further lost and less hopeful than the writer’s. It should be stressed that the word “dungeon” is used not only because of these conditions, but moreover because they no longer house those waiting for trial, or those, like me, doing brief “county time.” It is now the final place one goes after falling victim to malum prohibitum. “State time in the county,” as it is axiomatically said.

I first discovered this dungeon eight years ago, on a much more serious crime. The misdemeanor that sent me back after this long duration has been argued by investigative journalist Radley Balko to be anachronous. That is, operating a motor vehicle with a license that has been temporarily suspended as a result of intoxicated steering. For this, the West Covina judge had given me two options: Either pay the court $1,100, or complete 154 hours of what has inappropriately been deemed “community service.” I chose the latter, believing the task involved picking up trash at the local park, or sweeping off the side of the freeway, or cleaning up the cages of traditionally defined animals. Certainly it wouldn’t require assisting any customers.

Although it can be said – and not argued sufficiently by one officer – that GoodWill is a “nonprofit charity,” and thus Mussolini’s classic (perhaps misattributed) definition of fascism cannot be applied to my situation. The official response to their “status” is: “As a unique hybrid called a social enterprise, we defy traditional distinctions. Instead of a single bottom line of profit, we hold ourselves accountable to a triple bottom line of people, planet, and performance." In that case, I’m a person. On this planet. And almost always giving a considerable performance. So I say bollucks! Activity that isn’t done via coercion is just that, but obeying the declarations of the statists who have sent me here is still a solidification of fascism. Besides, nothing agreed to with the State had stipulated me having to wear a bright smile for people who paid for stuff directly (I always did, but that isn’t the point!). The unenforceability of this would be true even if Goodwill did pay federal taxes, even if there was a public complaining about my bad habits, or even if that public didn’t become customers immediately upon entry of where they shopped for secondhand merchandise. As concerns that could never manifest alongside the 5 freeway, the lucid combination of State and Capital broke personal tolerance after only one unmemorable incident. Raul: the short, aging, smug-faced proprietor, supposedly coming after working 30 years at Vons, had run his shift with a very “managerially style,” as I thereafter said to him. Deciding I had not swept the floor to his satisfaction, he made a rather loud and embarrassing scene in front of the shoppers, exclaiming that he “wanted no excuses” and to “just have it done!” – a tirade one might expect to hear from an experienced manager. Taking these kinds of orders without a cent being given to me? With the only motivating factor to simply stay out of jail? In front of people who I opened bathrooms and changing rooms for? With a redly-hot forehead, perfused with angry beads of sweat, I reluctantly agreed to myself that I would just go to jail and serve what is widely thought to be a universal ten percent of sentenced LA county time. “If I’m going to take orders, it might as well be from the slave-master himself,” I said to my concerned family. Assuredly, I wrongly believed, at a 30-day sentence, it would be a mere seventy-two hours before I would be out.

Even then, my crime was considered so petty that the overcrowded jail didn’t even want my physical presence. Instead, it’s active service. Another “choice” was given to me on the “surrender date” of Friday, April 4th: work four weekends in the visiting area, both Saturday and Sunday, for eight to ten hours, sweeping the dirty floors and cleaning the impregnable windows. After all, I could still go home at the end of the day. “Guess I’ll just do that,” I said to the deputy, signing onto the State for yet another month. It was suggested that I go across the street and introduce myself, which I promptly did. “Make sure you come in at 7 AM tomorrow, sharp,” said Officer Bratsworth, the tall, lanky, baby-faced white man wearing both badge and gun that were much too big for him.

Beguilement struck me the following morning. Was I to go right up to the window of this building and get their attention? Or wait outside until someone opened the glass door? Deciding to act like the civilian that I still was, I waited with the patrons in the patio until such time. Terrible mistake. When the door eventually did swing open – ten minutes after seven – I walked in briskly, and was immediately greeted by a frustrated Officer Bratsworth, quickly putting my hands behind my back and escorting me out of the building, deciding to make an “example” of me in front of his gleaming comrades and in front of the horrified families. “I’m not your bro,” he asserted. It was anathema, something one could always throw at cops – just to hear them confirm your status with one another. Just then, I began to get loud, something never desired by fascists. “Do you want to go back to jail?” I said no, but the question was the final, final spark. “Tell you what you’re going to do,” he said, his voice displaying the undeniable joy he was having, “You’re going to work ten hours today.” 

Could I really work for these psychopaths for four weekends, knowing how they just got done treating me like an animal, and right in front of people already bereaved from being here? As I said to the other porter a half hour later, still trying to talk the rage out of me: “If I’m going to take orders, it might as well be the direct ones. You know: ‘In this holding tank, down this hall, in this cell, repeat.’” I went up to Bratsworth with the proposition. “You want to go to jail?” he said, completely stunned. No. But yes. “Keep working, I’ll let you know.” Not ten minutes later, cleaning windows, he storms in and again demands my hands behind my back. Taking me to his police car outside, I began to spew the regular law enforcement “niceties,” telling this cowardly punk that he was a member of an out-of-control Police State, and that “Stop and Frisk” was Nazism incarnate, and that he was overpaid and should be fired, and that it was a shame I had a son on the way who would eventually have to pick up the tab for it all. “It’s a family occupation,” he justified. Who cares? During the short drive across the street, almost by mistake, Bratsworth uttered the real pleasure he took: “I don’t even like working in the visiting center. I like driving around.” Pulling random people over, running their names, seeing who you can arrest? No response. Not for the singular time during this stint, I recommended Balko’s widely-praised best seller, Rise of the Warrior Cop, a book that I will employ for additional analysis.

But first, an overview of my week in jail…..

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