“Be careful once you’re processed.” The officer glanced at Adrian in the rear-view mirror. “They’re going to throw you in the holding area with everyone else. Drunks, abusers, rapists, doesn’t matter. They’re all in the same pen. With you.”
The plastic seat was uncomfortable, made worse by the handcuffs that held Adrian’s arms behind his back. This cop drove like an asshole. He took turns too fast, swerved around other vehicles, and barely slowed down at stop signs. Abuse of power manifests itself in ways big and small, apparently.
“My advice is to keep your head down. Try not to be seen. Don’t talk to anyone. If someone asks you what you did, ignore them. Wait for your phone call and hope that no one decides to fuck with you.”
Adrian didn’t respond but was attentive. He was pissed about the whole situation. Ratted out—blackmailed, even—because he found the key to a room of unused laptops, borrowed a few for himself to do school work, and wouldn’t give the key to Dylan so he could sell them. When Adrian got back into school, if he got back into school, he’d give Dylan a real reason to call the cops on him.
“Point is, be careful. You don’t seem like a bad kid and I’d hate to see anything happen to you. Just survive the night, wait for your trial, and stay out of trouble. Things will work out alright if you can do that.”
Adrian wasn’t sure if the cop was trying to scare him or being sincere. Probably both. Adrian was scared. He didn’t know what to expect or how he would react. He’d been in fights at school, sure, but he didn’t like it. And he’d never had to defend himself against anyone much older or much bigger than him. There was no guarantee of that when stuck in a holding cell with who knows how many other men.
“If something does happen, like someone attacks me or something, won’t the cops in there break it up?” he asked.
The officer glanced at him in the rearview mirror again. The look on his face was different, as if he were trying to decide what sort of lie to tell him. “Yeah,” he said after a while, “But they don’t always get in there right away. To minimize danger to the officer no one is allowed to do anything without backup. They’ll get in there as fast as possible, but how fast that is depends on a lot of things. It’s best to avoid trouble.”
Or they didn’t give a shit if criminals hurt one another. That’s what he really meant. Adrian felt his gut tighten.
The officer pulled into the underground garage of a large, windowless building. They pulled up to a steel doorway that opened into a concrete room. The officer exited the vehicle, spoke with another cop, then opened the back passenger side door and motioned for Adrian to get out. With hesitance, Adrian complied. His handcuffs were undone and he was pointed toward the other cop.
“Follow him,” the officer said, then returned to his vehicle.
Adrian looked at the other cop. He was a tall, round black man. Adrian stepped into the small concrete room, where this new cop was putting on rubber gloves. Without looking at Adrian he said, “Take off your clothes.”
Adrian swallowed. “All of them?”
The cop looked at him. “You can keep your underwear on.”
It was only a minor relief to know that a cavity search wasn’t in store. Adrian stripped and stood in the freezing room while the cop ran his hands over Adrian’s body, including what felt like an unnecessarily hard grab where Adrian’s thighs met his crotch.
“Put your clothes back on and follow me,” the cop said when he was finished.
Adrian was led into a large, brightly lit room. In the middle of the room was a desk area with several police milling around behind it.
To Adrian’s left was the holding cell for women. There were only a few women in there and none took notice of him.
To his right the holding cell for men. Inside were a tall, thick white guy, a skinny white guy in a wifebeater that showed off his full sleeve of tattoos on each arm, and an older Latino man. They all stared right back. Adrian felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and he wondered if he looked at scared as he felt. He hoped not. Fear was weakness, and weakness was attractive to predators.
The cop pushed Adrian toward the desk. The clerk stepped forward. “Name?”
“Date of birth?”
The questioning went on for a while. The details of Adrian’s life were being refined until he was nothing but a number. In a weird way, he was offended. He wanted to scream out that he was more than just his birthdate and social security number, and that his reasons for being here were more complicated than simply being a common criminal. But he was also certain none of that mattered now.
The clerk pointed toward the wall next to the men’s holding cell. A white sheet hung from the low ceiling. “Stand in front of that wall.”
Adrian stood in front of the sheet and turned around to face a camera. His first instinct was to smile, but that didn’t feel right, so instead he squinted and tried to hold as neutral an expression as possible. If his mugshot was going to end up in papers, he didn’t want anyone to make any judgements based on his expression.
“Hold out your arm,” the clerk said after taking the photo. He wrapped a hard plastic bracelet around Adrian’s wrist. The bracelet had Adrian’s picture, date of birth, and other identifying information. He was pleased with the picture.
The clerk handed him a cold, pre-packaged meal—sandwich with deli meat and a water bottle. Then, he nodded to the cop that had brought Adrian into the room, and the cop waved him over while opening the holding cell door.
This was it. Adrian felt his muscles tighten as he walked toward the open door, the eyes of two of the trapped men already following him. The third, the skinny white guy with the arm tattoos, had dropped to the floor and was doing push-ups. Adrian took a deep breath and—
—was surprised to find that he felt nothing. No anxiety and no sense of fear. Nothing but readiness for whatever would happen. His brain ran through the worst-case scenario—being bumrushed, pushed into the corner, kicked until his body was a pile of mush against the wall—and he smiled as he realized that in this moment he wasn’t going down without a fight.
He stepped inside, leaving his stance open in case he needed to brace himself, and heard the door close behind him. The older Latino man stood to face him. They looked at one another, and the Latino man bent forward and slid the jacket he had lying on the bench toward him. “Have a seat,” he said.
The skinny, tattooed guy stood and came over to him. “How are ya, man? You gonna eat that? My ribs are sticking together.”
“Na, you can have it,” Adrian said, handing over his food. He wasn’t sure if that was a mistake or not, but he also knew that right now he wasn’t hungry.
“What are you in for?” the thick white guy asked.
Adrian considered him for a moment, remembering what the officer had told him on the ride over. Then Adrian thought that officer could go fuck himself. These guys didn’t seem so bad. “Stole some computers from school.”
The three men laughed. “Oh damn, you’re one of them nerdy criminals!” the tattooed guy said.
As the night went on, Adrian realized that the holding cell had a certain sense of camaraderie. The thick white guy—he called himself Pauly Big Nuts—spent much of his time ogling over the women in the holding cell across from them. The skinny tattooed guy sunk further into the corner of the holding cell as the day wore on and more people were thrown in. The older Latino guy—Raphaele—stuck near Adrian, maybe out of a sense of protection, and told him about his family. He got caught selling drugs, which he was doing to help pay for his baby’s daycare while his baby momma was at work. Shit’s expensive, apparently.
When Adrian was released to his mother the next day he felt a rush of pride and anger. He was adaptable and strong. That much of himself he knew. And in that sense, the ordeal had been worthwhile.