“Eric, let me get some of your piss,” said Flaco, holding a latex glove open as if he was asking for spare change in the subway. Naturally, I laughed at what I thought was one of his usual crude jokes. But he never changed his my-mother-just-died face, and I was horrified when I realized he wasn’t joking. “You gotta help me out. I’m goin’ on my first trailer [conjugal visit] soon, but I took a puff or two a few days ago.” Since we were both prisoners in a holding cell about to undergo urinalysis testing for drug consumption, his despair was justified.
Drugs in prison — like drugs in society — is made into a serious business. A first offense for dirty urine could get you ‘keep-locked’ for ninety days. A prisoner loses all his privileges: no phone, no commissary, and no recreation. For Flaco, it meant he would lose his first conjugal visit. Refusing the urinalysis test was considered an automatic admission of guilt.
Flaco was a Puerto Rican man in his mid-thirties, a jocular character, and very charismatic. He was a bit on the crazy side but in the kind of way that made him hilarious and popular. He had a habit of always charming his way out of whatever problem. But he also had a drug habit that had destroyed most of his adult life.
“I don’t know how they do it in Attica or Clinton, but in Sing Sing, you gotta show the officer your dick while you piss in that cup,” I said. “It ain’t like Riker’s Island where you can just bring a bottle of someone else’s piss into the booth.”
Flaco sat down on the bench and was lost in thought. I was able to sense the things going through his head. He was probably calculating all the losses he would have if they found the weed in his system.
“What the fuck, man,” said Flaco, while starting to pace around. “I haven’t gotten high in mad long — one little puff – and boom!” He stopped at the gate to see if there were any COs within earshot. “What if I just tell them that I can’t piss right now?”
“Then they’ll hold you here until you can.”
I stood up and walked over to the gate. “You see that water fountain over there? They’ll start asking you to drink as much water as you need, and then they’ll wait for as long as it’s necessary.”
The Disciplinary Room—where we were waiting—was one of the most feared areas of the prison; it was like the Room 101 of 1984. It was a long corridor with several hearing rooms, holding cells and a restroom. Besides serving as the place where urinalysis was conducted, the Disciplinary Room served as the place where all tickets and infractions were adjudicated by the administration. The clean and sterile look with the hospital-white walls only hid the fact that prisoners were figuratively sent to their deaths by Lieutenants and Captains, who sentenced people to anywhere from a few days locked in a cell, to months and even years in “the box” [solitary].
“What if I’m taking some sort of psych meds that give off a positive reading?”
“They consider that, too,” I quickly responded.
“Any medical condition that can give me a free pass?”
“Not that I’m aware.”
“And what if they call me on a visit right now?”
“I don’t think so. Listen, dude, that’s it,” I responded in frustration. “You wanted to get high, so you chose to put a rolled-up paper cock in your mouth over seeing your wife. Now you’re fucked.” I wanted to continue berating him, but I thought what good was it going to do.
I recognized that some humans were chemically-wired to get hooked easier. I just couldn’t buy the whole I-just-can’t-stop bullshit. My father was an alcoholic, and every weekend he would drink himself senseless and cry to himself the whole night. He always ignored my mother’s pleas for him to stop drinking and driving. What finally made him stop was a night in Central Bookings, the confiscation of his car, and the suspension of his license for DWI—all too costly for the cheapest man I know. Never again has he touched a bottle of liquor.
As if demon-possessed, Flaco ran to the comer of the holding cell and unzipped his pants.
“What the fuck you doing, man!?” I asked him in alarm. “You can’t piss in here, they’ll see the puddle and lock us both up!”
He turned around, and I saw the latex glove bloated with his urine. He looked at me with tears streaming down his cheeks. He brought the open side of the glove to his mouth, and with his hands trembling violently, squeezed the contents right down his esophagus. He dropped to the ground and laid in the fetal position.
Just as quickly as that yellow fluid went down, it came back up with whatever breakfast Flaco had that morning. The floor, the walls, and his clothes were filled with the stench of his innards. He couldn’t have looked any more dead than that.
“Scream for the CO, Dee, scream,” he said without moving.
“MAN DOWN! MAN DOWN!!! C.O., WE NEED A MEDIC HERE!!!”
Within a few seconds, the Disciplinary Room filled with officers and brass.
“You,” said a Sergeant, pointing at me. “Go get the stretcher from down the hall.”
When I came back with the stretcher, none of the officers was willing to go near Flaco, but a few other prisoners from the other holding cells volunteered to carry him. They laid him on the orange stretcher and lifted him up.
“Take that man to the infirmary,” the Sergeant said to the escorting officer and prisoners carrying Flaco. The prisoners marched out like pallbearers with a living corpse. Before being taken out of the Disciplinary Room, Flaco glanced at me from the stretcher — a grin and a wink was his goodbye.