Thursday, April 30, 2015
Baltimore Police Van - 1986
This is an excerpt from “It’s Only Me”, a memoir I wrote back in 2009. It concerns my time in ta Police Van in Baltimore. With that subject being so much in the news this past week I thought I would share my own experience with the subject.
To begin with I had no idea what "minimum wage" was. It had been awhile since I made $2.50 an hour in the paint factory, and being a Merchant Marine had spoiled me in that regard. It was now 11 years later and the minimum wage was only $3.35 per hour! So I started at a Royal Farms Convenience Store as a clerk, working nights and waiting for a better job to rear its head. It took 5 days.
The donut delivery guy came every evening at 7PM and the donuts were fresh. They were made at Donut Delite on the site of the present day Camden Yard Stadium in Baltimore. We were horizontal to Babe Ruth's birthplace. Nearby was where the circus train unloaded the elephants each year and I would re-arrange my whole day to go and see them walk to the Arena.
Anyway, back to the donut guy. He was paying $5 an hour for a 6 hour day which beat what I was making in 8 hours. So I got hired on and assigned to a route that took me through 3 counties. It was at this job that I learned all the back roads of the adjacent counties. I had a lot of freedom and all the donuts I could eat. It was 7 days a week with no holidays off.
Donnie Laws was the boss. He owned several routes and had vans for each one. They were specially fitted with racks for the donut trays to slide in and out easily. My job was to deliver the fresh donuts and remove the "day olds." Everything was done by Invoice, so we carried no cash.
Each day at 2 PM I would load up at Donut Delite and head out for my deliveries. Donnie was the type of guy who would think nothing of sending you out in a truck with no gas and a broken gas gauge. This was a constant source of irritation. Well; that and the fact that he constantly referred to me as "that New York Jew boy" behind my back.
At the end of each day I would return the "day old" donuts to a trash bin located outside Donut Delite and across Martin Luther King Blvd. from the "projects." The kids who lived there had drug addicted parents and didn't get much in the way of treats. So each evening when I returned there was a crowd of kids waiting to ask for some of the "day olds." I would always give some away and throw the damaged ones in the trash bin. This bin would get picked up every two days and transported to the rail yard where it was shipped out to somewhere as "hog feed." When Donnie would catch me giving donuts away he would climb up on the dumpster and piss all over everything so that the kids would not get any treats. This was yet another sore point between us.
I was paid each Friday with a personal check- I was collecting Unemployment out of New York at the time. One Friday I was forewarned by another driver that Donnie was going to lay me off the following week on Wednesday. His brother in law needed the job. Then he was going to stiff me for the 3 days pay, knowing that I couldn't file a complaint due to the Unemployment issue. He was right about that, but there are other ways to skin a cat.
Taking his check over to his bank I cashed it. Getting back in the van I thought to myself, "How can I hurt this guy?" Inspiration came in a flash as I realized that I had about $1,500 worth of fresh donuts. And I was now also one day AHEAD in pay. Driving around in the city a bit I noticed that there were a lot of people sitting out on porches after the long winter had finally broken. It was now late April.
I pulled the truck up on a street that ran adjacent to North Avenue, in one of the poorer areas of the city. Stepping out into the early spring sun I shouted out, "Donuts, free donuts, fresh and warm!"
It was like a scene out of one of those jungle movies where the natives swamp the plane with arms outstretched for food. The trays were flying out faster than I could count and people were shoving bills in my hand, although I had not asked for any money!
Within minutes the van was stripped bare of donuts and I had to jump back in and race off. The rear doors were swinging wildly to shouts of, "Jack it up- get the wheels!"
I now had about $60 and 2 trays of donuts that I had stashed up front. I took these to Keiths Cub Scout Troop which was meeting nearby at the Harborplace that day. I was a hero to the kids as I handed out the donuts. I then parked the truck outside Donnie’s as usual, placing the keys in his mailbox and got in my car and drove home.
The next morning the phone rang and it was Donnie. He wanted to know where the donuts were. I feigned ignorance and then he let fly with what a donut stealing Jew boy I was and how he was gonna get me. I told him that I had no idea what he was talking about and not to call me anymore. I hung up, thinking that was the end of it. Sometimes you can be so wrong...
2 weeks later, on Mother’s day, I was out front washing the car when a police car passed up and then down the street in front of our house. This was very unusual and should have clued me in, but it didn't.
Stepping out of the patrol car I was approached by an officer who asked me if I was "Bob" Williams. This should also have clued me in as everyone ashore called me Robert. But I answered yes and then was asked to step away from my vehicle. This guy was going to cuff me for something but I had no idea what! He explained that Donnie had filed a complaint and though the warrant was not in the officer’s possession he had the right to detain me while the warrant was delivered. I was able to talk him out of doing the handcuffs in front of the neighbors and kids and then got in the back of the car and was taken away. Around the corner he stopped and handcuffed me.
We arrived at the local county station house to await the warrant. I was placed in a common holding area which had 6 bunks and 7 inmates- my addition bought the total to 8. There was a phone, which I was not allowed to use, on the wall just outside of the cell. It was very strange being locked up but I knew that things would work out. It was really a question of how long I was going to be here. To make it worse, I was scheduled to start working on a horse farm in Elkridge the next morning at 8 AM. So I was a little worried about making it there on time. It was now 7 PM on Sunday.
I was the only white prisoner and thinking of the movie "Hard Times" with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor; particularly the "I'm bad" scene. Just then the biggest black guy in there comes up to me and asks, "What'd you do?" I replied that I had stolen some donuts. This produced some laughter and a scornful "We got us a creampuff motherfucker!" There were now some suggestions being tossed about concerning what could be done with a creampuff when the oldest guy in there, who had been snoozing on heroin, came to life. He explained that "The white boy ain't no fool- them donuts be worth duckies!" Then he went back to sleep.
The dynamics immediately changed with everyone wanting to know how the donut thing worked and could they get in on it? I explained that Donnie went to the Royal Farms store on Security Blvd and Forest Park Drive every night at 7 PM. I also added that he carried a lot of cash. You can imagine my joy when 3 weeks later Donnie was beaten and robbed at that location by a "big black guy."
Now that we were all friends they showed me how to use the phone. I had been calling out "Guard, Guard" and alternating that with "Officer, Officer" to no avail. The big black guy started to laugh and said, "Man, you new to this- you gotta do this to get the phone." He took his shoe of and started beating it against the wall while shouting "MOTHERFUCKER!!!" loudly over and over. This bought several guards. My new friend told the guard that "White bread needs to use the phone." The receiver was passed through the bars to me and the guard dialed O for Operator, instructing me to leave the receiver dangling when I was through. Prison Etiquette 101.
I called Sue, who was very upset, and explained that I would undoubtedly be late that night so don't wait up. I would call her when I knew something.
Shortly after this call the Warrant arrived and I was transported, again in handcuffs, to a Paddy Wagon and driven down to Baltimore City and the Southwest Precinct. This was a very old jail on Ostend Street which has since been razed. I was placed in a private cell next door to the only other prisoner that day- a drunk who had been urinating in public- at Harborplace on Mother’s Day- in full view of everyone there. He had been arrested by a female officer and was highly intoxicated and pissed off. So it was going to be a lonely night.
Around 1 AM on Monday morning I heard the cell block gate open and someone was at the cell next to mine asking the drunk some questions. He began by introducing himself as the "Pretrial Release Officer." I could tell by his voice that he was black and educated. He began asking the other prisoner questions, like his name and contact info. For every question asked he received a scathing racist reply. For instance, to the question "What is your address?" he replied, "I ain't telling nothing to no nigger so he can go up my house and rob it." The Pretrial Release Officer went from question to question without pause and never reacted to the abuse being heaped upon him.
When he came to my cell I was on my feet, and at attention. I answered everything with "Yes, sir." This really surprised him and he started to leaf through my charging documents. He looked at me and asked for some contact info. I gave him Sue's number and address and told him he could also call Military Sealift Command in Bayonne, New Jersey to verify my identity. Although I was no longer an employee my security clearance was valid for 2 more years and I figured it couldn't hurt. He was impressed with my bearing as well as my response. He told me that the warrant should never have been issued as it didn't satisfy the “who, what, when, where and why” required by the law. He could not dismiss the Warrant but could get me out without bail if my responses were all correct and could be verified at this hour. He left promising to return shortly.
About an hour later he came back with a guard and my cell was unlocked. I was taken to the Magistrates Office where I was told that I had been unjustly confined but that I still needed to go to trial. Advising me to seek counsel I was then released at 3 AM.
For the full chapter hit this link;