The bail bondsman isn’t there when Margaret, the officer and I arrive at the jail. I heed my mother’s advice to take care of Margaret and plead with the officer not to put her behind bars, insisting (lying) that the bondsman is on his way. It doesn’t work. He tells Margaret to give me her jewelry.
I don’t know how I know to ask him if Margaret will be put in gen pop or solitary. Maybe criminal justice class? (I did want to be a lawyer for a while.) The officer says for the first 24 hours Margaret will have her own cell. After that—Jesus!—she will be with the other women. There’s no way we’ll be here that long… is there?
I wait in the visitor’s area, seated in front of a row of counters that look kind of like what you see at the bank. The glass here is bullet proof too. There are phones on each side of the glass. Wow. Just like TV.
Margaret is processed in the back. I know from the one time in high school where my civics class went on a “field trip” to the country jail* that she’s being finger printed and her mug shot taken. I wonder if they’ll make her put on different clothes.
I check my watch. It’s inching up to 5AM. The bail bondsman should have been here by now.
I hear a knock and look up to see Margaret standing at the window, on the other side of the bulletproof glass. I run up to the window and yell, “Are you ok?”
She points to the phone on her side of the glass. I pick it up and yell again, “ARE YOU OK?”
“You don’t have to yell,” she says, laughing at me. She has on the same clothes. Her elbow is casually rested on the counter, her hand up to her mouth which is slightly open. She is what we call back home, blown.
“What. The. Fuck, Meach?” she asks. “What. The. Fuck?”
“I—“ I don’t know what to say. “I don’t even know, Mar.”
“I need a cigarette,” she says.
“Should I put money in your commissary?” I joke.
She tells me that her cell is small, but clean, and affirms that she is alone. “Jail is nothing like Oz,” she says. “Go figure.”
I tell her I talked to her mother, that she actually didn’t freak out, and that a bail bondsman is (allegedly) on the way. We debate how once we get home, how long it will be before either of us are allowed to drive again.
“Weeks?” she asks.
“At least a month,” I counter.
“You think? That means they’ll have to drive us where we need to go like we’re in high school.”
“Dude, once they drop us back at campus, they’re not coming to get us until the semester’s over.”
“Shit. You’re right.”
At some point we do Celie and Nettie’s patty cake routine from “The Color Purple” through the glass because we’re assholes and if we don’t keep laughing, we’ll start crying.
Eventually, a guard comes to tell Margaret that she has to go back to her cell. I knock on the glass to tell him that the bail bondsman is real close and if could just wait… Either he can’t hear me, he ignores me or both. He says something stern to Margaret (I can tell by his body language). She hangs up the phone and waves “goodbye.” At least she doesn’t look nervous.
I slump back in my seat and reach for my phone to call my Mom again and ask if she can call the bail bondsman to find out where he is. As I fumble around in my bag, the Exit door squeaks open. It’s a portly Black man in a suit like the ones Steve Harvey wears on “Showtime At the Apollo” and a hat like this. I can’t tell if he’s a preacher or a pimp. Sometimes they wear the clothes.
“You Deme-trah?” the man asks, mispronouncing my name.
I don’t correct him. I do nod.
“Girl, your Daddy sent me. I’m Mr. Francis.”
AKA The bail bondsman.
Mr. Francis tells me to stay put—like I was going anywhere—and heads into the back office, greeting the staff like he works there. In a way, I guess he does. He’s gone about 10 minutes, and when he comes back, Margaret is with him. Her eyes are wide and her face reads, “WTF?” I know she has commentary on Mr. Francis. I ignore that and hug her like I’m Celie and she’s Nettie.
We follow Mr. Francis out to the parking lot, and I want to tie up the loose ends before we head back to Maryland. I pause at the exit door to ask Mr. Francis if he needs anything else and if my Dad took care of everything because we’re about to get on the road.
“Girl, where you think you going?” Mr. Francis laughs and literally his belly shakes. “You’re staying in Virginia tonight.”
The reasoning is that 1) it’s too late (or early, depending on how you look at it) to drive; 2) we haven’t slept all night; and 3) Mr. Francis’s neighbor told him to take care of Margaret and I like we were Mr. Francis’s daughters. That means Mr. Francis is putting us up in a hotel and we can leave after a good night’s rest.
There’s more to it, of course. Mr. Francis is taking care of us because the wire transfer into his bank account takes a few hours to clear. Normally, he wouldn’t have put up any money until the money was in his account, but his neighbor has vouched for my Dad, and Margaret and I. But Mr. Francis, whether he’s a pimp or preacher, is clearly a man about his motherf***in money. If this situation were to be taken out of context, Margaret and I are being held for ransom until Mr. Francis is paid.
Mr. Francis says he’s taking us to a hotel, and directs us to follow him in our car. “Do you think you can stay within the speed limit, ladies?” he jokes and chuckles to himself. We had that one coming.
Margaret and I watch from the steps in front of the jail as Mr. Francis gets into his Lexus. The car sinks when he does.
Margaret waits for his door to close before she says anything, then finally, “Meach?”
“You know your father sent a pimp to bail me out of jail, right?”
Part 5: Monday. (It's written.)
*Quick story: I went to a mostly white school. My 10th grade Civics teacher decided a trip to jail would be a great way to see the penal system at work. Me and my Black classmate —a Kool Aid drinking type —are the only Black people. I do NOT want to go on this trip for the obvious reason, Black people don’t visit jail for amusement. Anyway, get to the jail, go in the guard’s room that overlooks an indoor recreation area. There are 300 Black men of varying adult ages behind thick glass. Maybe 5 Latinos, no white men or Asian men.
They can see us. We can see them. The adult men start hooting and hollering, gesturing at us, mostly girls, all of us between the ages of 14-15. The white chicks in my class are visibly TERRIFIED, despite the glass, despite the guards. Our teacher picks up on this quickly, hustles us out the room.
In the van on the way back to school, one of the girls asks me, “weren’t you scared?” I wasn’t actually. One, because there was bullet proof glass. Two, at 14-15 being objectified and harassed by older Black men from 18-70, even in groups, is like, normal. Because of the glass, I felt safer in jail than on the street.