Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jail Bird (for the second time), St. Augustine, FL

My first trip to jail was much closer to home - DeSoto, Texas.  I was 15.  I played in a softball tournament that my boyfriend's roommate's girlfriend (got that?) was also playing in.  The boys moved to a new apartment that week and she offered to go check it out with me.

After the last game we get in her car with two other girls from her team and head out.  On the way to the highway, Lisa pulls into the parking lot of a pharmacy.  A car pulls in behind her.  It is an unmarked cop car.

The policeman flashes his lights and we stop.  Two officers walk up, one on each side of the car.  The one on the driver's side says, "Get out of the car."  We all get out.  He says, "Come to the back of the car, sit down on the ground, put your hands behind your back, you are under arrest."  No warning, no explanation.  They bind our hands with plastic zip ties.

We are being arrested for "criminal trespassing".  The pharmacy isn't open so we are not "authorized" to be in that parking lot.  They are also arresting 3 boys in a pickup truck in the same lot.  The pharmacy is on Hampton Road, a major cruising strip.

There is something I should mention.

I am still in my uniform after playing softball all day.  Not an attractive look.  I am the brunette leaning on the wall.

Ironically, I had cruised DeSoto before with a different friend.  I never had a problem until I tried to leave after a softball tournament.  Because I am 15, I am transferred to the local police station, the other three girls with me are all 17 and so they are sent to Dallas County Jail.  I cry on the way to the station.

At the police station, they cannot find the cutters to remove my zip ties.  They type my report (on a typewriter) and then call my parents.  They put me in a holding cell.  Soon, I am joined by a lot of other girls (boys are in a cell next door).  My parents come get me.  

Not a good day.  

Soon, the whole incident shows up on the local news and newspaper.  Lisa's family was not amused.  We were invited to the city for the tournament and then arrested for being there.  The city decided on that day for a cruising crackdown.  We were swept up in the sting.  

That last sentence makes it sound more exciting than it was.

My second jail booking is for a very different reason:  Lewdness.  Don't get too excited, I simply showed some skin in public violating the law.  That skin was on my ankle.

Driving away from the Fountain of Youth, I see a chain gang.

They are in front of the Historic St. John Jail breaking the same rocks I saw them working on when I drove by on my first day in town.

I park, there are several attractions here including the jail, a general store and Gator Bob's, a souviner shop with penny arcade games that cost $.25.  They also offer tram tours of the St. Augustine area.  In the time I have, I can either do the jail or the general store tour.  

I choose the jail.  Both have the same basic is 1908.  The employees act and dress as if this is the case.  This explains the problem with my pants.

One of the jail "trustees" comes up, dressed just like these "gardeners", and asks me, "Whatcha being booked for?"  He looks like Santa Claus if Santa was scheduled to be on a chain gang.  "Nothing I am going to confess to you," I tell him.  He says he already knows and points to my pants.  Women weren't allowed to have their ankles exposed in 1908.  I tell him if I could get away with it I wouldn't be wearing shoes either.

Santa asks me where I am from.  I tell him Texas and he gets excited, "Your guide Willie is from Texas too!".

Willie just moved here from Coppell, Texas, a city in the Dallas area, near where I live.  He said our last summer, the hottest on record, was the last straw.  The forecast for St. Augustine today is a high of 100.

It looked like I would be the only person on this tour - the first of the day.  I am getting the impression that not many of the people in St. Augustine were up for the sunrise like I was.  Willie and I walk around back to the Gallows when we are flagged down and a family of 4 runs up and joins us.

Willie's stories are so much better than those of Guido from the ghost tour.  Above, he is telling us about the last "official" hanging at the prison.  After the convicted man fainted, they strapped him to a board and hung him anyway.  But the rope snapped under the extra weight and he came down and then went face first on the ground, still strapped to the board.  He wasn't dead.  Another rope must be procured and the process tried again.  He dies in the over 20 minutes it takes waiting for them to return.

The view of the Gallows from the Death Row cell.  This cell housed multiple 
inmates if needed.  The main fainted in here...I can't imagine why.

The other woman and I are shown to our cell.  There are two cells in the front of the jail for women.  Willie explains that there are always women in the cells...otherwise who would do the washing and the cooking?  

Willie shows us our shared toilet, shown in this image of the inmate sleeping the sweetest of dreams, I am sure.  I tell him that this isn't going to work for me.  He is unmoved.

We are shown the kitchen and explained our duties here.  The jail is not air-conditioned and there are no windows so we will be sweating and swatting mosquitoes that could stand flat-footed naughty things to a turkey.

Our "booking" takes us through the sherriff's house, which is attached to the jail and then on to the main cells where the general population men are held.

The sheriff meets us here and he and Willie have a conversation. 

When the sheriff is done, the three prisoners start telling their stories.  

When the stories end, the sheriff takes pity on me and a pardon is arranged.  Just in the nick of time too, I have a plane to catch.

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