The Magic of Jail for Young Ladies and Gents
When young people rioted in Jacksonville, FL, in the summer of 2020 to declare that black lives matter, it was like everywhere else—a cop was stabbed, a cruiser torched, the courthouse almost set alight. What happened next was not.
Instead of trying to disperse the crowd, the cops tackled and arrested them—at once. The sixty-six detainees were shocked to discover that, unlike in Portland, Seattle, Washington and New York, they would not be given the canary copy of a Notice to Appear and released immediately in a blaze of publicity, but instead sent to jail.
Once there they discovered surprising things about pre-trial detention in the Bold New City of the South:
1. When you’re booked after 4 p.m., you don’t get dinner or snacks.
2. You get a free phone call to a bond agent, but nobody else.
3. You’re housed in a dormitory with dozens of other criminals, some of whom will not be violent.
4. Using the bathroom may require you to pay off the Guardian of the Toilet, usually with your next meal. There’s another guy, alas, in charge of the toilet paper.
5. No coffee, no cigarettes.
6. The jail is freezing, maintained at a teeth-chattering temperature to discourage fighting and certain personal activities that cause problems with the laundry.
7. Nine a.m. court appearances start with a 5 a.m. wakeup, so no breakfast, just four hours jammed into a holding pen with dozens of other defendants, most of whom will be sane.
8. You appear before the judge with legs shackled and hands cuffed and chained to the waist. You can clench your fist but not raise it in solidarity, protest, or for any other reason.
9. If you have to wee-wee, you must let fly into your jail-issue, “super soaker” underwear. As to that other bodily function, a modest silence is appropriate.
10. Your court-appointed attorney will do an in-depth investigation (“How do you spell your name?”) and offer sage legal advice (“I’ll talk to the judge. You shut the f*#k up.”)
The surprises continued in court. A county judge remanded the arsonist and knife stabber back to the lockup. They’re looking at sentences that will be less than those for second-degree murder, but not by much. For the less-violent rioters, the judge politely declined to hear motions for release on recognizance and offered a deal—five days in stir or bail of $1,503 with trial later. The defendants, most young and without priors, pleaded piteously for release, unaware that when the bail is $1,503, the bond is $151.50, chump change in the criminal justice system.
For the young ladies and gentlemen, all with modest or no jobs, odd educations and righteous anger stirred by bumper-sticker slogans and tweets, the shock was salutary. They were stopped cold before they developed the taste for violence and cruelty that has led some Antifa fighters to segue into classic thuggery—armed robberies, beatings for hire and extortion.
For two weeks after the riot, protests continued every day, all without violence or intervention by police. I attended several because I sympathize with some of the grievances. Violence was quashed; liberty preserved.
The protesters learned by experience that they have a right peaceably to assemble and petition government for a redress of their grievances. I doubt that they realized that this right was an amendment to a document signed in 1787 by people they never heard of, but maybe one day they will read it.
I am reliably informed that it is on the Internet.
Wes Denham spent years as a criminal defense investigator and Spanish translator in Florida and Georgia jails and prisons. He is the author of Arrested, a consumer guide to criminal defense, and Arrest-Proof Yourself, a guide to avoiding unnecessary arrest. He is a graduate of Princeton University.