Chained to a Madman: Charged With Grand Larceny at 19

Eventually Steve Jaeger got himself on the right path, but not before he was shackled to a deranged prisoner who thought there was a witch inside of him.

The detective led/pushed me into the magistrates office of the old Fairfax jail to be booked. It was a small room painted hospital green. The magistrate sat behind a wooden counter with two sheriff’s deputies. The room smelled like old paint, sweat, and tobacco. My hands were bound up behind me in metal handcuffs and I wanted a cigarette more than just about anything I had ever wanted. On the way in I’d asked the detective if I could stop and get some, and he told me I could buy some at the jail, “They’ll be cheaper there anyway.” There were two other guys in front of me as we went in. The magistrate barely looked up as he reeled off his questions to the first guy,

“Ever been arrested before?” “Yes Sir”, the guy answered in a flat voice. “Where was that?” the magistrate asked. “Rochester, New York”, said the guy, but it sounded like “Raaaahchesterrr.” The magistrate scribbled for a second or two and then asked, “Ever been fingerprinted before?” Yes sir” “Where was that?” “Rochester, New York” Another few seconds of scribbling and then, “Do you understand the charges against you?” The guy nods and says miserably, “Yes sir.” The magistrate then tells the deputy to take the guy to the cells.

The next guy is called, and he’s a little dude, no more than about five-six, and he’s got a greasy head of hair that back then screamed, “Redneck!” The magistrate asks, “Have you ever been arrested before?” The little dude juts his chin out and says, “Well, that’s for me to know and for you to fuckin’ find out!” Before he had even finished the two deputies were coming over the counter, and they worked this little fucker over with their night sticks and feet until he was a bloody pile on the floor. The detective had grabbed my cuffed arms and pulled me roughly out of the way, and I barely felt the pain I was so horrified by what was going on in front of me. A stretcher was brought in and the little guy was lifted none too gently on to it and then chained down for his ride to the hospital. One of the deputies asked, “Ready to go?” This tough little bastard looked up through a swollen eye and said, “I ain’t got much fuckin’ choice, now do I?” One of the deputies gave his a whack across the thighs with his nightstick for good measure, and they wheeled him out.

My name was called, and I carefully sidestepped the blood on the floor and answered all of the questions like my life depended on it. I was then led off to the cells by a deputy. The cuffs were removed, and as I was being pushed in I asked if there was somewhere I could get some cigarettes. “Yeah, 7-11″ the guy snorted and pushed me in.

♦◊♦

I was put into a cell that was designed to hold four people, and there were now at least 16 guys in there. Five of them had all come in on the same drug bust. One guy named Terry was being extradited to Pittsburgh for non-payment of child support. Me and another guy were in on separate charges of Grand Larceny (I was innocent I tell you, innocent!), some other nickel and dime shit, and then there was Eddie. He was a big black dude who, in the middle of a sentence, would suddenly blurt out a string of unintelligible noises and then say, “That the witch inside me, tryin’ to git out!” He seemed harmless enough, but it was a small crowded cell, and Eddie was all over the place.

It was impossible to sleep or even rest. The four “bunks” were bare steel perforated planks. The lights were on all night, but it was the deputies who made it impossible. All night long it was them and not the inmates who howled like monkeys. They ran their nightsticks along the bars and screamed curses at us. I guess they figured that if they were stuck there all night without sleep, nobody was getting any. At one point, I said screw it and laid down on one of the cold metal bunks with a roll of toilet paper for a pillow. Eddie who had just had a shower under the weak nozzle in the corner came in and sat naked on my bunk and began to rub my back. I decided that sleep wasn’t gonna happen.

At about 6 a.m. the shifts changed, and we got some real human beings for deputies. One guy actually went and got me a pack of smokes, and when I told him why I’d been arrested (I was innocent I tell you) he clucked and said, “Now that’s just stupid!” I asked him about Eddie and he said, “About every six months they let him out of the State Hospital, and then he goes on a tear and we have to ship him back. I don’t think they’ll let him out again though.” I was only 19 at the time and still wet behind the ears, but in my expert opinion I agreed completely. I had another cathartic moment shortly after that. Our breakfast of powdered eggs and corned beef hash with pre-sweetened coffee was served. I was so hungry I wolfed half of it down before I realized just how fucking awful it tasted. I stood up and gazed out of the bars, out into the outside world and thought, “Holy shit, I can’t leave! I am in jail!” It was right then and there that I decided that I was through acting like an idiot. I would be walking the straight and narrow from then on.

Later that morning, the deputies came in and told us we were due in court for our arraignment. We were shackled together in pairs and two guesses who I drew, Eddie. He had been getting weirder as the night went on. Like the rest of us, he had not slept and his sentences grew more punctuated with garbled outbursts as the witch tried to emerge. He was twitching and jumping, and as I was chained to him, I was going up and down with him.

♦◊♦

We were led into the courtroom and put into a boxed off area. As we were led in, there was a skinny unkempt redneck woman explaining herself to the judge. “You see Judge, I didn’t do nuthin’. I was at my house mindin’ my own business and that’s when that bitch come on my property and started yellin’ and…” The judge held up his hand and asked, “Were you or were you not intoxicated?” The woman held up her hand like she was trying to stop a car. “That’s what I’m tryin’ to explain Judge! That bitch come on my property..” The judge stopped her again and said, “This other person is not the issue here. The issue is that you were drunk in public! How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?” “Well that’s what I’m tryin’ to explain, Judge!”

At this moment Eddie jumped up and shouted, “Buurummpleeed!!” And of course as he went up so did I. Everyone in the courtroom stopped dead and turned to look at us. I sat down quickly and pulled Eddie down with me. “Eddie!”, The judge said, “Behave yourself, NOW!” He went back to trying to get a plea from the agitated redneck woman.  “Ahhmaaahoowaahhh,” Eddie shouted and leapt to his feet, bringing me along for the ride. “Eddie”, the judge said, “I told you to behave.” Eddie looked shame faced and said, “I’m sorry Judge but I have this problem!” The judge replied, “Well you’re going to have a much bigger problem if you don’t keep quiet!” Eddie said in a quiet voice, Ain’t me, it’s the witch!” The judge said, “Tell her to be quiet until we’re done here!”

The judge finally finished with the woman and started with all of us. My trial date was set and Eddie was referred to the state for “evaluation”. I felt like giving the Commonwealth’s Attorney my number in case they were in need of expert opinion. I eventually had the charges dropped (I told you I was INNOCENT!), and I did walk a straight and narrow path from that point on. Well kinda, sorta. I never got arrested again, anyway.

Originally appeared at OpenSalon.

—Photo ~ I P O X s t u d i o s ~/Flickr

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About Steve Jaeger

Steve Jaeger grew up in suburban New York but has lived in the Washington, DC area since his teens. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and worked as a chef for more than thirty years. He is an avid baseball fan, history buff and never misses Curb Your Enthusiasm. He lives in Arlington, VA with three children and a cat.

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