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Today, I bring you the sixth chapter of my book, "Jew in Jail."
By reading it, you will hopefully gain some insights into the insanity one deals with when he or she is a defendant going to court in the New York State judicial system.
Of course, had I not put myself in this predicament in the first place, none of this would have ever even taken place!
6. BACK TO COURT
Going to court from Rikers Island was an experience in itself. After attending my first two meetings in the S.A.I.D. Drug Program the day before, which consisted mainly of observing everything, and then going to bed at 9:00 PM, I was awakened at 4:30 AM by the C.O. to get ready for court on Monday, June 22, 1998. I had also spoken to my parents the night before and knew that they would be in court as well.
I shaved, took a shower, got dressed, and then went to the mess hall to eat breakfast. Then, everyone who was going to court was herded into the gymnasium, located inside the main building. One by one, the C.O.s called out the five boroughs of New York City—Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx—and when the borough where you were going to court was announced, it was time to go to the bullpen, but not before getting searched.
I brought a manilla folder full of legal work, mostly cases, which I had researched and made copies of in order to show my attorney, Mark Jankowitz. So, after patting me down, the C.O. went through my folder as if I were concealing the plans for the atomic bomb. But I knew that he was just doing his job, and besides, it made me feel important in some strange way.
When the bullpen became full of inmates, we were all moved to a larger one, where we then had to wait ninety minutes or so until the buses arrived to transport us to the court building.
This was the time, at least for me, to ponder my situation, and try to figure out what was going to take place later in court. But for others, it was the perfect time to discuss the events of the week.
“Yo, son, the po-lice (C.O.) in my house is whack,” said one guy to his friend, who he probably hadn’t seen since the night before! “That motherfucker won’t let a nigga do his thing,” meaning that security is very tight.
“No doubt, no doubt,” answered his partner in crime. “They all on point.”
“Hey, yo, T, my man, Born came in yesterday from Brooklyn House (of Detention),” another pillar of the community shouted across the bullpen to his crony. “You heard?”
“Yeah, Tisha told me when I called the bitch last night,” replied this old-timer, who had all of his years of past incarceration etched on his wrinkled face.
With all of this high-level dialogue going on, it was virtually impossible to concentrate on the issue at hand, so I just tried to rest until it was time to get ready to load the buses.
But since the C.O.s failed to enforce the no-smoking rule, and the bullpen looked like a high-stakes poker game had been going on, the smoke, combined with the oppressive heat of the summer, even at seven in the morning, prevented me from doing anything else than just sitting and staring about.
Twenty more minutes and it was then time to load the buses. After hearing my name called, and walking over to the C.O. to give him my book, case number, housing unit, I was handcuffed to another detainee, placed on the bus, and locked in one of the steel cages, all set for the trip to New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
“There is no smoking or yelling out the windows,” announced one of the two C.O.s who were assigned to our bus, as we began our journey.
Forty minutes later, after we battled through morning rush-hour traffic on the Grand Central Parkway, we arrived in lower Manhattan. It felt good to be out amongst the throngs of people, even though I was caged in like an animal on the bus.
It was a few more blocks to the court building, and the natives were getting a little restless.
“Yo, baby, I should be home in five to ten,” shouted a big, fat black guy a few rows in front of me; he was not only trying to make a date with a pretty lady on the street for 2008 or so, but was also ignoring the C.O.’s earlier order not to yell out of the bus when we first departed Rikers Island.
We finally pulled up to 100 Centre Street, the Supreme Court Building, and took our place in line in the parking lot, behind the first three buses to have already arrived from the island and other jails throughout the city.
About an hour and a half later, the C.O.s received the word to bring us into the building through the back entrance, as usual. Still handcuffed to a partner, we all had to walk two flights up a narrow staircase until we reached the elevator. Then we were crammed inside and taken up to the twelfth floor.
We were released from our bracelets, passed through a metal detector, and put into a giant, noisy, and filthy bullpen. A few minutes later, my name was called, and I was taken to yet another bullpen, this one smaller and right outside the courtroom, where I would soon be facing the judge. The C.O. gave out cold baloney-and-cheese sandwiches and a cup of Kool Aid, both of which I took a pass on.
An hour later, Mr. Jankowitz arrived, and we had a brief get-together.
“Gary, you’ve been indicted,” he revealed to me.
“What exactly does that mean?” I asked, knowing the answer full well, but wanting my mouthpiece to earn every last cent that the state of New York was paying him to defend me.
“It means that the Grand Jury found sufficient evidence to charge you with robbery in the second degree,” he said.
“But I wanted to testify in front of the Grand Jury as to the fact that I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict, and that I was intoxicated and high on pills on the day of the crime,” I asserted.
“I waived your right to testify before the Grand Jury,” admitted Jankowitz.
“You had no authority to do that without checking with me first,” I shouted.
“Trust me, Mr. Goldstein, I know what I’m doing,” he replied. “You were better off staying away from the Grand Jury.”
“Well, I Xeroxed these cases here for you to look at,” I quickly fired back, “and they show how the police are not supposed to make any promises in order to secure a confession. I want you to ask for a Huntley hearing to have my confessions suppressed.”
“It’s too early for that right now,” Jankowitz informed me. “When we go out into the courtroom and the clerk asks you, ‘How do you plead?’ I just want you tou say, ‘Not guilty.’ That’s it. You’ve already said enough by confessing.”
Several minutes later, the court officer took me out of the bullpen, and escorted me, without handcuffs, into the courtroom. As I entered, I immediately saw my parents and waved. There were only three other people, besides my mother and father, sitting in the audience, and it felt a little intimidating knowing that everyone in the courtroom—the judge, assistant district attorney, court officers, clerks, stenographer, Mr. Jankowitz, and my parents—were all directing their attention on me.
“The People of the State of New York versus Gary Goldstein, indictment numbers 5013/98 and 5013A/98,” the court clerk announced. “Mr. Goldstein, how do you plead?”
“Not guilty,” I asserted.
Then, after a few minutes of legalese among Mr. Jankowitz, the assistant district attorney, and the judge, I was escorted back to the bullpen. As I walked out, I motioned to my parents that I would call them later that night.
I was expecting to see Mr. Jankowitz again to ask him what took place after I pled not guilty, but I never saw him anymore that day. (I also never got a chance to ask him about my arraignment, when, after that sidebar conference, the judge ordered my bail at ten thousand, so I was left puzzled as to what exactly had transpired that day as well.) But, of course, as with anything else in the great U.S. of A., you get what you pay for, and since his fee was being paid by the state of New York and not me, Jankowitz refused to go that extra mile.
All I learned from the C.O., as I was then taken from the small bullpen outside the courtroom back to the main one where I was earlier in the day, was that my next court appearance was going to be in three weeks, on July 13, in Part 71.
Since it was now 12:15 PM, and I missed the first bus going back to Rikers Island (the first “go-back”), I had to return downstairs to wait in another bullpen until four-thirty, when the afternoon buses would be ready to leave.
After passing through another metal detector, and again refusing to take a baloney-and-cheese sandwich, I took a seat in the bullpen. I was hungry but was planning on going to “sick call” the next morning at Rikers Island in order to be put on a low-cholesterol, special diet, so I wanted to get a headstart on watching what I was eating. I knew that I would be getting dinner later anyway upon my return to the island, so I decided to wait.
For four hours, I just sat and stared at what was going on around me. As the bullpen became more and more crowded, the noise level increased to a deafening pitch.
Guys were letting off steam after having just seen the judge, and now was the perfect time to discuss the events of the day with each other.
“Yo, son, my lawyer’s trying to get me to cop out (plead guilty) to a five to ten (a five- to ten-year sentence),” said one guy to his friend. “Aint no motherfuckin’ way it’s gonna happen. I told him I’m going to trial, you heard?”
“No doubt, I know what you sayin’,” said the other guy. “But at least you saw somebody. My lawyer didn’t even show up, so I came for nothing.”
Then I focused my attention in another direction.
“They’re trying to charge me with a body (murder),” claimed this obese, biker-type white man, to whoever would listen.
“They like to bluff,” responded the guy sitting next to him, as if this were just a game. “I bet the next time you come to court, the charges will go down.”
I couldn’t believe I was right in the middle of all of this bullshit. I had such disgust and disdain for all of these animals I was locked up with. But mostly, I was mad at myself for getting arrested in the first place.
A few minutes later, the C.O. came around with a basket full of extra sandwiches to give away and everyone ran to the door to get one. Except me.
“Yo, my man,” said this old, sickly looking Puerto Rican fellow. “If you don’t want your sandwich, can you get it and give it to me?”
After thinking for a moment, I said, “If you hold my seat, I’ll get you a sandwich.”
I got him the sandwich and proceeded to watch him devour it like he hadn’t eaten in days, which was a good possibility. Thinking that he might have AIDS, I tried to avoid looking at him anymore, fearful that he may come over to talk to me and inadvertently spread his germs. From that day on, I became even more obsessed about cleanliness than ever before.
So I just closed my eyes and pretended to be sleeping until it was time to load the buses for the trip back to Rikers Island.
The sound of handcuffs jingling from the C.O.’s belt loop alerted me that the time had finally arrived, and a short time later, the buses departed.
The same rules were in effect for the trip back regarding the restriction of smoking and noise, but guys still had a lot of stress to get off their chests. Besides, they knew that since they were already in jail, what more could the C.O.s actually do to them?
As soon as the bus left the parking lot and we were on the streets of lower Manhattan, the shenanigans began.
“Hey, baby, you’re looking good today,” one guy hollered to a woman apparently on her way home from work.
“I’ll be home in three to six,” added another, as the woman continued to ignore it all. “You’ll wait for me, won’t you?”
After a few more minutes of the same, we approached the highway, and by five-thirty, were back on Rikers Island.
I was starving by then and knew that as soon as we were all registered back into the jail, dinner would be served. Since it was also count time when we returned, I realized that it would be about an hour until we were all taken back to our housing units, and I was finally able to take a shower and lie in my own bed.
Everyone else must have been hungry and tired as well, because we were all put back onto the count and registered in no time at all.
I sat in the bullpen and ate my chicken, bread, and peas, and washed it all down with a small container of milk then sat and waited for the C.O.s to call names for the walk back.
The first thing I did when I got back to Sprung 2 was sign the sick call sheet for the next day to get on that low-cholesterol diet. I couldn’t eat kosher anymore like I did in the Tombs because it was too high in fat and salt content, and I found out that my total cholesterol level was two hundred and forty-two when I was still there.
Then I went to my bed and told Willie what happened in court.
“You should fire your lawyer,” Willie advised, “because he doesn’t appear to be working with you.”
“I’ll see what happens in court next time,” I said, as I proceeded to take a much-needed shower.
I had some questions that I wanted to ask Willie when I returned from the shower, but when I got back to my bed, he was reading.
So I just lay down and went to sleep.