The Jailed Bird Sings

One year tomorrow and I still remember my conversation with the Officer.

"Do I have a warrant for my arrest?"

"Unfortunately yes."

I took a deep breath. I was not going to show what moved inside me.

"What do I need to do?", I finally uttered. I had told no one in my family. I didn't want to scare them or burden them with something they couldn't fix.

Officer Wilson advised me that he didn't want me sitting in jail over memorial weekend so he advised me to turn myself in on Monday. The overachieving student perked up...always at the wrong time it seems.

"What time?"


I'd just finished a 9-month program teaching kids how to speak up, stand up, and get help when confronting bullying. The irony drew in my mind like a breath taken and a shaken head. How could this happen, I asked myself. I was driving down to Pennsylvania from New Hampshire, a trip I knew would take about 7-8 hours. Plenty of time to process, prepare,...dread.

Magna Cum Laude. Honors Student. Sang at his graduation. Top of the class...all for what? I'd replayed the scene over and over. Accidentally dislocating his clavicle. Going to the emergency room. Trying to help him heal...

Simple assault...Harassment. Those words caused me to pull over to the Charlton Plaza a month prior to plead for my life. But there was no one who could hear.

One thing is to experience betrayal because of love. Another thing is to experience betrayal from a friend you knew for over a decade even after you consoled that friend when their mother and grandmother both passed away from Stage 4 Pancreatic cancer.

You let them stay in your home and they turn on you for reasons the mind can't conceive. They encourage your lover to press charges against you and so begins a journey that ends in the system. Jail. Incarcerated.

I came a half hour early to the Lehigh County Jail. I walked and brought my bookbag, white clothes, and my Bible. I'd read that some prisons allow you to bring in certain items so I decided I would bring what I could.

Officer Miller happened to be the one who I met and he was a good guy. He chatted with me for a few seconds before pulling back and taking a good look at me.

"You don't seem like you belong here - what happened."

"I accidentally dislocated my boyfriends' clavicle in a wrestling tussle."

"Damn - and he pressed charges against you? How long were you together?"

"Three years" I muttered, trying not to think of it.

He gave me some tips on how to survive the jungle I was about to enter and he advised me to "say little". He takes me into a back door and we go through one thick triply reinforced steel door after another until we've crossed an indoor lot. I cross into the main booking room:

"Oh so are we not handcuffing them anymore." Says the only White man who looks like an emaciated linguini.

"He turned himself in." Says Officer Miller without skipping a beat.

They took my bookbag, my Bible, my "whites" (long johns, white undergarments), my belt, my phone...I went into a holding cell with three other men with my fancy dress jeans, dress shoes, and a dress shirt. I didn't want to be the stereotype and be treated unnecessarily worse.

I was fingerprinted, mugshots were taken (still trying to get a copy of them in memoriam) and I was given a roughly patched up blanket that looked and felt like it was created from reusable material.

The benches were metal. Silver metal and the room was barren besides a short wall that barely hid the only metal toilet there which had no seat cover. It was stuffed with chips and food wrappers. I saw towards the back wall and the door was locked behind me. Dave sat across from me, a Black gentleman to my right and a young latino guy to my left.

Dave apparently got flustered with his wheelchair-bound disables wife and slapped her in the face. He had been in jail 18 years. The Latino dude had weed and he was from Florida. He had a daughter back home and he was a truck driver. The Negro gentleman was very upset. His cell phone battery died and they wouldn't let him charge it to find the numbers he would need.

In holding you have, if I remember correctly, 24 hours to post bail. If you don't you are transferred to general population awaiting bail or your preliminary hearing. We each took turns being let out of the holding cell and using the phone dialing whatever numbers we could remember. I knew I wouldn't remember them all so I'd written some on my hand.

Their phone system was sketchy and wouldn't put calls through. Hour after hour we played phone roulette seeing when someone would call who we could give the Bail Bonds people's number so they could help us taste freedom again.

About 5 hours later, after rotations, after being permitted to get my phone to collect numbers and desperately calling around I got a hold of my sister. I hadn't told anyone in the family but I was desperate and I had to forget my shame, my embarrassment and get out of there before time ran out. I was well aware that American Jail Systems tend to find reasons to keep Brown/Black people in their bowels longer than necessary and I fought to not be that one.

I explained to my sister what happened and what she did next, even to this day as I sit here writing this chokes me up. She was in Long Island, NY with her husband and young child. They left my niece, a baby with my cousin and drive down three hours to bail me out.

I sat in that cell without books, without phones, without television, without internet, chatted with the guys who were all decent as much as we could before the hours began eroding at our patience. Dave was most vocal about the discomfort and the hunger which clung to us with the cold. I fell asleep several times only to be awakened by the cold of the metal bench and the bright lights. The lights were bright and they never turned off. They never dimmed. Guess they didn't want anyone getting too comfortable.

Then, it happened. The Negro gentleman was taken out and placed in a room across from ours. Then the same happened to the Latino guy. Their time had run out. They weren't able to post bail in time so they began the process of transitioning them into general population.

I watched on regretfully. After about another hour they brought in another African-American brother though this one was younger. He apparently went to the local amusement park and the guards there found a blunt in his car. He was there with his family but that didn't stop the police from arresting him and booking him. The year was 2019. May 2019.

An hour later an officer comes to the holding cell and gestures to myself and Dave.

"You're both getting out of here."

Both of our sisters bailed us out. However, even though I was a First Time Offender they had us pay $1,000 and Dave paid $300 even though he'd been in and out of jail for 18 years. Even in the Bond system ethnicity/race carries great weight over the treatment/and fining of individuals. It is a rotten system built of decaying ideologies.

There was nothing so beautiful as the sunlight and seeing my sister and brother-in-law. She told me how he stepped up and put his foot down when they tried to jerk their chain for bail.

So much has happened since and where I am today stemmed from those very important and difficult memories but the cracks created by those experiences showed me what power family and friends can have in our lives and how necessary it is to belong.

I have since been evicted out of my home of 10 years also because of the "friend" who I knew for 14 years but because of that year of betrayal I am where I need to be. I met musicians up in my temporary home who taught me to write my truth into song and what came out of me scared me but I feel like it needs to be discussed.

As I begin this important journey telling my story through my upcoming album, I hope you will join me in celebrating freedom, discussing male vulnerability, sexual identity, lingering racial prejudice in the USA, betrayal, love lost, and growth in a desert place.

It's alot but if we're going to emerge from Covid-19 enlightened, renewed, better than we were, we're going to need to start asking ourselves some tough questions.

Our thoughts are creating our reality. Let's construct the kind of reality wish to see. We only live once.

If you went through any of what you read feel free to reach out. Therapy helps. Don't be too precious to get the help that can save your life especially for those who were there longer than I was or are still there.

The caged bird can still sing if you make it. Peace and Prosperity to all.

Make a great day.

Francois B.

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