Monday, January 25, 2010

A Tale of Two Jails

Click-clack click-clack click-clack: The sound of a prisoner walking…

in cycling cleats.

The unusual sound caught everyone’s attention. Bright clothes and black tights. There was going to be no blending in for me!

Waxahachie is the county seat, and this was a large facility in the midst of becoming bigger. Construction activity was evident everywhere. Booking was going slower because of it. Entry doors that could previously be operated electronically and remotely were having to be operated manually, tasking an officer to deal with it and reducing the personnel available for processing.

In-cell intercoms were likewise not working, and more officers had to be assigned to stand outside some “remote” cells for prisoners protection. Should there be a medical crisis, let’s say, the prisoner would be unable to communicate his distress. Fewer officers again for processing.

My handcuffs were immediately removed. “Sit on that bench;” the officer pointed down a passageway. I was determined to follow directions as closely as possible. I would just quietly blend into the background, that was my plan.

Click-clack click-clack click-clack, I noisily walk over to the bench.

I am in a good mood. I in no way feel I am in legal peril. As an adult, my clean living has never occasioned a trip to jail, and I was fortunate to avoid police contact in my youth. (When I may have deserved some jail time.) So it is in a spirit of adventure and discovery that I am approaching this.

If you, my dear reader, find my dreary blog interesting, you likewise must be living the healthy but mundane life of a law abiding citizen. No wild and reckless behavior from you! You don’t run with a shady crowd. As a pillar of your community, you are no doubt a stranger to your local constabulary, instead of a first name familiarity like a scofflaw like me! I am therefore confident that my jailhouse experience will be both of interest and foreign to you.

I soon discover that there are two classes of prisoners, and which class you fall into will determine to a great extent your treatment. The dividing line is 24 hours.

For those who are unable to arrange bail, or are charged with a more serious crime where they are likely to be held longer than 24 hours, and those who are doing time rather than paying fines- they are one class.

They are held in mysterious cells upstairs and they have been issued striped uniforms.
My cell mates are nearly all to be held for less than 24 hours. They have in some way come in contact with police and been found to have warrants issued for their failure to respond to some traffic ticket in their past.

We have our own clothes but our shoes are taken from us, and we are given Groks to wear. Perhaps now I can blend into the background! (Why do they call me twinkle toes? Haven’t they seen a man in tights before?)

In my cycling clothes, the halls are a wee bit cool for me, especially because of my crampy legs. The cells were comfortably warm for me, but for me alone. Other prisoners complained about it.
During booking I was told that my bicycle was at “station 2”. I was told this a few times. It turns out that my bicycle was not handled in a standard way. I was also told that the charges against me had been changed to “operating a bicycle on the roadway”. It is Saturday as I write this, and I still find that charge astonishing.

Booking is going slow. First priority is inventorying property. I suppose it needs to be done in the prisoners presence. Once that is done, I am taken to a drunk tank cell. It is clear later why. It is big and it has a phone available to use. Most cell phone numbers are accessible for free. I haven’t memorized a cell phone number, ever! If you expect to be thrown in jail later, try to remember to write critical phone numbers on your arm in indelible ink before you leave home. (This is really good advice. You may want to take a moment to write that down.)

Everything in the cell is cement. The walls, the benches. There is a stainless steel sink and free-standing toilet. I keep reminding myself that most jails other countries are far more harsh than this, and I am again glad to be an American. We have been given a “mattress” and a wool blanket. Both make the hard cell easy to tolerate. I’ve had worse when camping in the woods.

This is a cell that needs a jailer to keep a vigil on, but it is really temporary for all of us. We are brought out one at a time to get our fingerprints and photograph taken. I ask how I can get a copy for the blog. That was a first for that officer. Alas, they don’t want to share. Considering the charges leveled against me, I am sympathetic to their position. I was then returned to the cell.

I had overheard talk of a nurse coming in. There was one guy who had been injured earlier that day, and another guy was clearly not feeling well. I had assumed they were why a nurse would be needed.

Each of us had to be interviewed in turn by this nurse. I enjoyed that part. As I said, I was in a up mood. But one of my life philosophies is that I have a duty to my community to be cheerful. We all have troubles and difficulties, and being sour and complaining does nothing to brighten a space shared by others, whether it be at the office, during mass transit or in the county jail. If I am down and out of sorts, bringing others down won’t make it better, and I have a duty to act in ways I may not feel at the time.

So here is this nurse. Her interaction with prisoners is different than the jailers, and serving us is likely a an excursion away from a local hospital. She wasn’t used to happy prisoners and she didn’t have the automatic barrier the jailers must have to perform their duty. She asked a bunch of medical history questions and gave us a TB test injection. (ChipSeal carefully examines his arm. Nope, no reaction.)

“Do you have any sexually transmitted disease?”, She asks. “No”, I say; “Do you know where I can get one?”

“Have you hit your head recently?”

“No, but a lot of people have suggested that I have it examined!” That is sort of how it went.

I am returned to the large holding cell. There are seven of us in there. Three respond to me, three keep to themselves.

Was it Bella?

One guy is injured. His story remained consistent, but the size of the dog changed over time. Here is his story: He and his girlfriend decide to walk down to the park. On the way, walking in the roadway, they are attacked by a dog. His injuries are more severe because he was concerned about protecting his girlfriend.

The dog has bitten him severely on both hands. One bite has opened a vein and he is bleeding, but he is able to control it with direct pressure. He walks a half mile or so to a hospital for treatment.

Because it is a dog bite, the authorities are required to be notified. The police show up to write a report. They run his name and discover there is a traffic ticket warrant for his arrest!

He moans that taking a walk turned out to be a lousy idea. We decide he was actually “bitten” three times. And we nicknamed him “lucky”.

We are trooped out as a group, and are randomly put in smaller holding cells. (“First three in this cell.”) I am pleased to discover that none of the introverted guys are with me. It is a smaller cell, and quieter, warmer. Room for three on the floor. Our conversation winds down and I am left to my thoughts while they sleep.

I spend my time carefully going over all of the events of the day. I am determined to get some good blog posts out of this. Not realizing I would be spending time in the Ennis city jail, I am glad I did. I doubt I would’ve remembered the guy parked on the sidewalk or Trooper Jackson’s name and our conversation.

We are served breakfast at four in the morning. Good. I hadn’t eaten since noon the previous day. A single serving package of Frosted Flakes and a small carton of low fat milk! A total of 230 calories. I decide to count blessings rather than sheep as I drift to sleep.

Nothing notable happens until the judge arrives. Those of us arrested on something other than traffic ticket warrants are brought to the bench I was first instructed to sit on. Seven of us wait for the eighth prisoner to be brought to us. After a bit we proceed without him.

The Judge merandizes us as a group, then brings us forward one at a time to hear our plea, and the setting of a bond etc. Those of us waiting are close enough to hear most of what is said.

When I approach his raised dais, he opens a folder, and then looks up in surprise. He says; “Are they serious? Operating a bicycle on the roadway?”

“Yes sir”, I say, “It is akin to be charged for walking on a sidewalk.”

The other prisoners and two of the jailers standing by laugh and comment at this point. The judge leaves for a few minutes. When he returns he has more information.

“You were on Hwy 287?” “Yes sir” “How do you plead, son?” I say; “I am not sure how to plead. The charge is a description. I was operating on the roadway, but it is not illegal to do so. I intend to fight it though.” “Well son, I don’t blame you.”

He started the process for me to be released on my own recognizance.

Lunch too!

This was “served” at about 11 o’clock. It was more substantial, two sandwiches of baloney, cheese and mustard. It was food, and I suppose nutritious, but they wouldn’t be able to price it low enough to sell them at a profit in the real world, if you get my drift. There was an 8 ounce cup of punch. I give my oatmeal bar to Lucky.

Soon they come to process me out. I sign forms about receiving back my stuff . I sign a form releasing them from indemnity if the food makes me sick. (I’m kidding about that!) I am given a pink carbon copy of a form with instructions to call a particular court to get a trial scheduled.

I am told to get my shoes on. I am thinking of the “slippers” I have in my back-pack that I wear in stores and such, but they didn’t want me to do that. It will be back to clickity-clack for an exit.

I don’t have any pockets on my person. I set my pink paper down and get to putting my cycling shoes on. There are eight people who will be going out the door in a group, and they are waiting for me. I am feeling a bit rushed. I get it together, grab my bag, and I clatter off to freedom.

Where is Station 2?

We are led to an exit into a underground parking lot that is under construction. I spot a bench near the door and I head that way. I want to get out of my cycling shoes.

There is a distinguished guy there finishing a smoke. He is in his mid-fifties. I ask, “Is that a public bench?”

“Sit down”, he said heartily. As I dig my slippers out of my bag and put on my spare sweater, I ask him where Station 2 is. He gives me a funny look. I tell him they took my bicycle there.

“Why that’s over near Maypearl, you won’t be able to walk all that way! Hold on a minute.” He gives me instructions to walk around the building, go in the front door and to talk to a secretary there.

I put my gaiter neck scarf on and follow his directions. Maypearl! That’s eight miles in the wrong direction! Nuts.

There is a light mist falling, but it is around 55 degrees, so I am thankful for that. I open the front door to the sheriff’s office.

The guy who directed me here is standing in the middle of the lobby, talking on the phone. It turns out he is Sheriff Johnny Brown! The top dog in the organization! The elected lawman himself! He is stomping around the office, trying to find out about my bicycle, barking orders into a cell phone!

The Sheriff Brown tells me that they will be bringing my bicycle to me. “Be here in about twenty minutes!” he barks. I wonder whether I voted for him.

I begin to sort through my stuff more carefully, and I realize I left my pink paper inside the jail. Nuts. I reckon it would probably take twenty minutes just to get a unit to Station 2, and about the same just to load my bike into it. I decided I had about an hour to wait. I’ll go back and see if a jailer would get my pink paper for me now.

He did, and he even smiled when I thanked him. (It had been rumored that they were not allowed to do that.) This is another example of one of the many courtesies that were extended to me. I am thankful for all of them.

Safely secured in my backpack, I become concerned about it and the other documents (like my ticket) surviving a rain swept trip home. When I get back to the front office, I request a waste basket liner. It is Sheriff Brown himself who brings me one. I am astonished.

A uniformed deputy walks in. “Are you Mr. Bates?” I allow that I am. He explains that he was the lieutenant on duty the previous night, and that he intervened to have my bicycle taken to Station 2 rather than the vehicle impound lot. He thought it would be taken better care of in his men’s care at Station 2, and I was spared any impound fees. I am very grateful.

A pickup, with a bed cover, pulls up outside with my bicycle. This is some guy’s personal vehicle! They tried to put the front wheel back on, but the brake pads thwarted them. Flip that brake release when you are arrested! My bike is unharmed. I sign a property release form.

This narrative will now skip to my arrival at the Ennis city jail.

Inside the Ennis City Jail

Once down the stairs, Officer Watson removes one half of my handcuffs and secures me to a ring in the wall.

Sgt. Sifuentes brings my bicycle in and stows it in a small room off to the side. I sincerely thank him for being careful with my bicycle, but he is unresponsive. Did he think I was being sarcastic?

My property is inventoried, and no steroids were found.

My mug shot is taken. I hold a message board up to my chest. I again ask to have a copy for my blog. He takes away the message board and says he will take another picture. I turn to give my right profile, as was done in County lockup, and he tells me to face the camera. Huh? No profile shot? I teasingly accuse Officer Watson of taking an extra picture so he can display it on his blog!

Officer Watson carefully erased the information on the message board before turning to the task of taking my fingerprints.

With that it was time to remove all I was wearing save my base-layer shirt, tights and socks. Even my glasses. I worry some that I will be warm.

In the next room, they have a three cell jail. I am given a “mattress” and a wool blanket, and placed in the last cell. It was about eight feet wide, perhaps twelve feet deep and a high ceiling. There was a two and a half foot wide bench extending front to back on the left, and a free standing toilet. There was no sink or water in the cell, which is different than the county lock-up.

There was a phone in the back of the cell, but alas, the phone numbers I wanted to call were in the property room. And it was plenty warm, but not hot.

As their only prisoner, it was very quiet. I assume I was monitored, but without my glasses I had no way to scope out a camera.

I spend the hours thinking out my legal defense, going over the events to help remember them for my dear reader’s benefit. I also “write” the outlines of some blog posts. It is in that cell I decide to write that teaser post.

Between October and Christmas, I developed a list of questions to ask Officer Watson when given the opportunity to question my accuser. With those questions in mind, I consider how I would change them for my stops on Hwy 287. (The October ticket was on the 30 MPH four-lane in town.)

I am very familiar with not only chapter 551 Operation of Bicycles Mopeds and Play Vehicles, but also most of chapter 545 Operation and Movement of Vehicles and some of chapter 541 Definitions. I thought a lot about what they say. My confidence in my legal standing grows.


Lost in thought, I am startled when keys rattle in the lock on my cell door. I hadn’t heard the officer approach.

He hands me a Burger King double cheeseburger from their dollar menu, and asks if I would like some water. He brings me an 8 ounce cup of water, locks the door and retreats out of sight.
I like the food in Ennis’s jail better.

After thoroughly enjoying the hamburger, I return to my meditations and sleep lightly.

I am surprised again by an officer bringing me breakfast. A Burger King biscuit and sausage sandwich and a cup of water. I ate it slowly, savoring it as well. The officer told me a judge would see me in a few hours. I wondered what the weather was like outside.

The judge, when he came, came in a rush. He seemed agitated. I think he was rushed for time. Perhaps I managed to annoy yet one more person!

He releases me on my own recognizance, with my promise to see him in the coming week. I am eager to do so.

Processing out goes quickly, and I had the happy surprise of the return of my cycling cap as described earlier.

My bicycle and I are brought upstairs to sign release of property forms, and I am released. I take the opportunity to take Wednesday’s ticket to the court clerk and enter a plea of not guilty, as long as I am right there.

I then done my clothes and pack my stuff inside a plastic bag inside my back-pack. I belatedly notice that I don’t have my cycling shoes with me. I petition a passing Ennis police detective if he could retrieve them for me. He cheerfully did. Again I am thankful.

Never was I treated in any way by any officer in any capacity in a harsh manner. These officers are doing most things very well, and they are to be commended. Other than this little slow moving vehicle dispute, they have acted in an exemplary manner.


  1. I am trying to figure out sir, why would you continue doing this activity when you know you are going to be arrested or cited for it? What are you trying to prove?

  2. @Anonymous: Why? Because A)he needs to get somewhere, B) he doesn't have a car and uses a bicycle for transportation, C) under Texas law (the Transportation Code), a bicycle is a legal vehicle, and the operator of a bicycle shall be granted all rights, and be subject to all duties, applicable to the driver of a motor vehicle.

  3. Wow!
    This has been a grand adventure indeed!
    On one hand, I'm glad that you were treated with care in your incaceration(s).
    On the other hand, I don't think I could be as rational being confronted for doing that which is completely legal AND being hauled off to jail.
    I hope the Judge(s) find you innocent (or would that be guilty?) of your legal actions.
    I have to shut up now as the semantics aree starting to give me a headache.
    (This is JTGYK over at bike forums...for some reason Blogspot doesn't like me commenting under AIM)

  4. jtgyk again

    Note that I was not the first Annonymus commenter nor do I share his views

  5. Your conversation with the jail-house nurse reminded me of Stripes, "Are either of you homosexual?" "No, but we are willing to learn".

    I can't believe it took me this long to discover your blog. I must be more dense than the officers who continue to harass you to have missed this excellent forum.

    Since my traffic stops were dismissed without ever going to court, and certainly without being thrown in the hoosegow (!), the local constabulary tend to pay no attention to me.

    This sort of thing is a travesty of common justice. Have you considered to drop a line to Carlos Miller? He runs Photography is not a Crime, but also champions the rights of the ordinary citizen and may find your arrests to be suitable material for his grist mill. His blog is

  6. "operating a bicycle on the roadway"! Unbelievable. Here's hoping the judges hearing your case show the same sense as the first one you mentioned in this post.

    Carry on! You continue to impress me with your civil writing about being treated so unfairly.

  7. This is quite the serial you have posted! If you have to establish the "ChipSeal Bicycling Legal Defense Fund," I'll be happy to contribute . . .

    As a fellow bicycling Texan, thank you for standing up for our legal right to be "granted all rights, and be subject to all duties, applicable to the driver of a motor vehicle." While I'm proud of your conviction (pun unintended), I'm saddened by the necessity of it.

  8. Well Chipper this is not good, but it seems like you are making the best of the BS.

    I like the Judge's comments: “Are they serious? Operating a bicycle on the roadway?” and “Well son, I don’t blame you.”

  9. If you really think your rights were violated shouldn't you report that to a federal agency like the FBI?

  10. Get a lawyer. Somebody's head has to roll for this kind of blatant abuse of police power.

    When you're told what the charge is, the reasonable expectation is that it be a violation of some law. If there is no legal violation, that's unlawful arrest!

  11. PP, I do not think it was a blatant abuse of power. Rather, it seems more to have been a blatant display of stupidity.

  12. Arresting someone and keeping him in jail for a charge of "riding a bicycle on a roadway", or even for "impeding traffic", is certainly stupid, but it's also abuse of power, and it seems blatant to me, especially the obviously trumped up first charge.

    Arresting someone must be taken very seriously - a free society cannot tolerate unlawful arrests, and the only recourse is to have serious repercussions (like getting fired) for anyone who abuses the extraordinary legal power of arrest.

    The ACLU might be interested in this case.

  13. I think it is time for a critical mass ride on 287 in Ennis - anyone else interested?