New York City Jail

They stripped me naked and searched me, ugly cops, hoping they’d find a million dollar bag of heroin hidden in my private parts, or in my armpits, or in my nostrils. Too bad, they were wrong – they couldn’t have been more unkind to me even if they’d found a big stash.

Next they took my property claiming I’d get it back once I was out of Central Booking, but I knew for sure that my purple purse–with two Chanel lipsticks and a deck of Tarot cards–was gone forever. They allowed me to keep my money while giving fair warning that I’d better hide it in my underwear, because some of the ‘bigger whores’ would certainly snatch it.

Then they took me to a tiny cell where there were nine other women – mostly ugly prostitutes picked up at the corner of Park and 23rd or in the Fashion District along Seventh Avenue. They had all been working at the time, slaving for their “men” – that’s how they refer to their beloved pimps – these men don’t really force them to work, as I originally thought in my naivete.

In this stinky cell with a toilet sort of in the middle, the most powerful women occupy two benches close to the entrance of this hell where they sit or sleep. Ignorant as I was, as soon as I entered I tried to sit down on one of these benches, but a huge black tornado stopped me. “Are you from Mars or the planet of Assholes or something?” she yelled at me as loudly as she could. In an even angrier tone she continued, “Who gave you permission to sit your motherfucker of a white ass on my bench!?” And then she laughed at her own words and added, “It belongs to me, naturally!” this greatly amused her friends, who had been arrested with her, and who also broke out in laughter. As soon as she finished mouthing off, she fell asleep – her head lovingly placed on another inmate’s huge lap. Another woman who looked like she was already half asleep suddenly woke up and whispered to me in a friendly voice, “Don’t blame her, she had a bad day – she has two small children to support and this is the tenth day in a row that she got picked up by the cops. And those guys out there (the cops) are really mean”.

“Don’t your men protect you from the cops?”, I ask a fake blond with a torn stocking and long polished nails. She seemed, perhaps, too knowledgeable in regards to the place and was sort of coaching me about the rules of behavior.

“It all depends on the man,” she says, “and the thing between you – some bitches slave for them day and night, but the guy is never satisfied – and you know WHY? Because he don’t love her!”

“So, what happened to you?”, I ask her, assuming she has a lot to say. “My man wouldn’t protect me, so he allowed my ‘wife-in-law’ (that is, her man’s other working lady, who at this point is sitting across from us) and me to get arrested.” She is angry and almost furious, but soon falls asleep, partly scared of getting beaten up by a huge Puertorican woman, who judging by her butch get-up and crudeness would make a better man but for the fact that God gave her a pussy instead of a cock. The Puertorican man/woman lies down and starts howling at the employees of the social system which locked her up, and the policewoman who shows up every ten minutes now to quiet her down.

Time drags on. I got in at 7:30 p.m. and now it’s only eleven. They say, if we’re lucky, we’ll see a judge tomorrow morning around 9a.m., 10a.m.,11 a.m., or 2 p.m. This leaves us a lot of time to kill . Some of the women try to sleep on the floor. Most of us are in withdrawal and just sit clattering our teeth. Some whores are engaged in a “my-man-is-best competition, the one who has “the best man” works the least. Many work for the same pimp – they all love the sleazy bastard nonetheless.

Come to think of it, I’ve also worked very hard for some of my men in order to support their artistic activities, but they never called themselves ‘pimps’ : only poor, starving artists.

And because of one of them I’m in jail right now – I tried to steal a shirt for him. Tomorrow’s  his birthday and I saw this lovely shirt in a store but, being out of shape, the security guard caught me.

My boyfriend is an Ecstasy dealer so at least I know he’ll make me happy when I get out. He’ll make love to me for three days once I’m out of this pad, if I ever get out.

The door opens and a very young, European-looking lady comes in–she shakes and trembles in despair– it is truly amazing the effect that innocence has on all of these confused women–now three of them stand up to let her sit down; it is at this point that I realize I’ve definitively lost my innocence, but I don’t regret it. This perception, this overwhelming burden of seeing things too clearly has been ruining my life for quite some time. Now I’ve finally lost my innocence: perhaps the only time I try to retrieve it is when I write, but I can’t even write now, although I did smuggle in a pencil and a notebook! The new lady sits down next to me and starts asking me questions in a thick German accent: “I tried to steal a candy from a Woolworth store. What will happen to me now?”

I assure her that since it’s her first time, at least in New York, the judge will let her go. She doesn’t seem satisfied though, and her inquisitive German spirit pushes her to keep on questioning me: “And what if a judge does not listen to me? What if he sends me to Sing Sing, a big-time jail?”

I reassure her in all my friendliness that none of that will happen–she should know better, coming from Hamburg, even though it’s her first time in New York City, nothing serious will happen. Big, blond, blue-eyed , she came here to work, to earn some money during the recession, even though everyone everywhere knew it was impossible to find a job anywhere in the Western hemisphere. Well, I guess she didn’t know the facts.

I didn’t either. I came here out of instinct. This same intuition was enabling me to understand these women. This very morning, before I was arrested, I was watching a Japanese family eat in the Zen Cafe: a father, a two-year old boy dressed in a tiny kimono, and a young mother at breakfast. Well, I must say that I knew nothing about human happiness and motherhood in particular until I saw this woman feeding her child. First she’d take a small bite and then give some food from her chopsticks to the child. This revealed a power of GREAT love to me as much as this flea-bitten cell full of rats, shit, and piss revealed women’s great obsession with men.These were all discoveries and I had to think about them for a while, freezing my ass off on this cold dungeon floor. Because of that, I didn’t regret being there–until another Puertorican whore, this one thin, entered our cage slamming the door behind her and cursing the cops, her future judges, and all of us. She took off her high heels and started beating up everyone around her. She cut a chunk of cheek out of the fat Puertorican man/woman with their razorblade­sharp stilettos, leaving two parallel incisions, so that if you stitched one up the other would still be left open and bleeding. I was lucky, she hit me on the head with the toe of the shoe and left no cuts or bruises.

Though I thought at first I couldn’t dare call the guard, I ended up doing it anyway, in fact I was screaming and it was the cruel policewoman who heard me.

When she came to transfer me to another cell – also surely full of rats but at least safer – I heard the German woman crying softly in her corner and the Puertorican bulldyke squealing. When I got to the other cell I noticed that the fifty dollars I had so carefully stashed in my pussy was missing. Someone stole it while I was napping, but Jesus, I felt safe. And soon enough another policeman/woman arrived to tell me my case was up.


Nina Zivancevic

Graphic: Mike Lesser


By Nina Zivancevic

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