"Don't Eat the Cheese Sandwich"
"Don't Eat the Cheese Sandwich"
"Don't Eat the Cheese Sandwich"
Words - Ian Farmer / Illustration - Jessica Gutierrez
As far as the world is concerned, this story is of very little importance. We should look to the stories of those who have been processed in order to have a fuller understanding of the systematic oppression the criminal justice system holds towards marginalized peoples. The fact of the matter is I was dumb and got caught by the police while being dumb, and I was white. The story is effectively that a white kid went to jail and got off easy, simple as that. It is important to recognize my privilege as this is by no means representative of the criminal justice system as a whole, simply a weird story that happened to me a few weeks ago. Anyhow, here’s the story of how I somehow obtained a warrant for my arrest in the state of New York.
It was my day off and I had made plans to go to the Met to see the Rei Kawakubo costume exhibit with my friend Sakura, an incredibly bright person with a knack for conversation, lightening the mood. In order to celebrate the journey of the day, I sparked a joint before getting on the train uptown. Aside from the purely overwhelming nature of the museum, it took a very stoned Ian about 30 minutes to locate the exit. By the time I had managed this I had meandered into the gift shop and purchased the book detailing the Rei Kawakubo show, a cool 50 dollars, an amount that should be avoided by any 19 year old attempting to make rent in New York City. I walked out with Sakura and asked if I could go through the train turnstile with her, effectively stealing a ride. Now, after 10 months of living here I have hopped the turnstile in several different ways and states (slyly sliding under one drunken evening is my particular favorite) and so I had grown rather confident with the misdemeanor. Sakura turned to me and said she had heard of multiple people being caught by undercover cops and that she didn’t wanna risk it.
Now, it’s important to note something that happened to me in January, another instance of Ian being stupid in public. This time it involved my roommate and I lighting a one hitter in the park across from the dorm we then lived in one morning. I pulled the incendiary from my mouth as the cop entered. He immediately said, “That a one hitter?” and we both responded in a monotone, “yeah…” smoke beginning to slide from my mouth. He scolded us, he said “Do this shit at home, not at a fuckin’ park,” he gave us court dates but said that they would be thrown out and we didn’t have to worry. Once again, I was privileged and never thought of the situation again, that was my initial fuck-up.
The second fuck-up came when Sakura and I entered the train station after walking from the Met. A woman had opened the emergency exit and I quickly walked through. Sakura slid her metrocard and met me on the other end, congratulating me on what we thought was a successful operation.
We walked a few feet before I was stopped by a man in a plaid shirt, another dressed identically standing beside.
“Excuse me sir,” he said to me before revealing his badge, “Can you tell me why you didn’t use a metrocard?” and in a bit of nervousness I shouted something along the lines of “I can go back and buy one right now it’s no problem! I’m just a big fucking idiot!” They denied my deal and asked for my ID. They typed my info into their phone and we all went silent, Sakura and I exchanging glances. That’s when I saw the phone screen turn red, an ominous color to appear when searching your name. The officer showed the screen to his partner, the other man in plaid, and he swore. He turned to me and said, “Sir I’m going to need you to face the wall,” and I probably nervously shrieked before complying, the other cop searching my bag and asking if I had a gun in there, “No!” I responded, “Just a fucking dumb book,” I said before I felt the clenching of handcuffs on my wrists. I turned to the cop now, arms pinned behind and poising my chest, “I uh, why are you arresting me?” I said through a laughter that was 90% out of nervousness and 10% from the THC. “Sir,” he began, showing me the glowing red phone, “you have a warrant out for your arrest,” my eyes glazed over and I responded the only way I knew how, “Aw, fuckin’ shit really?” This was my 3rd fuck-up.
The apparently bogus court date I received was apparently super real and when I didn’t show up, the state of New York issued a warrant out for my arrest. But because it was only a misdemeanor and once again, I’m white, I was never bothered by the police. April was when the warrant was issued, and the amount of turnstiles I have stupidly hopped in that interval is really just fucking astonishing!
It is at this point I find myself in a police van with another man, a guy named Eddy who was nabbed for the same thing. We didn’t talk at all on the ride to the precinct, I wasn’t in the most conversational of moods at the time because I was really focusing on my making myself no longer high (it didn’t work). We arrived to the precinct where I handed my possessions over to the cop and he searched my wallet. When he found the singular condom in there he commented, “oh, so you’re ready,” and I laughed because he really had no idea how wrong he was. He took me into the cell and I sat alone for a few minutes while he typed the arrest details into his computer. That was when Eddy entered the cell, the cop attending to him offered to buy him something from the deli. Eddy accepted, opting for a turkey and cheese. This was when we began to talk. He told me about hopping the turnstile, describing the experience pretty accurately by saying, “Man, it was so fucking stupid, I have a metrocard in my wallet!” He said a family had gone through the emergency exit right before him to which he said, “Why didn’t any of those motherfuckers get arrested?!” Then he asked me what I did and I said the same thing but with a warrant added on top, “Oh shit, yeah there isn’t anything you can do about that,” he said before biting into the sandwich.
Eddy is a musician, at least what he told me. Living in the Bronx his whole life, this wasn’t his first run-in with the cops, “In the Bronx man you’d be out in an hour, you come to Manhattan once it fucks your whole day up,” He told me he had a girlfriend before elaborating, “But she’s out of town so I invited some other girl over tonight,” he began, cracking a smile before saying, “Oh man I wonder what she’s gonna think when I never show up,” He asked me if I had someone at home, “Just a roommate,” I said,
“Is he cool?”
“She,” I began, “and yeah she’s great,”
“Oh, you hittin’ it?” he asked. I responded with a laugh before saying that I wasn’t, “Oh,” he began again, “You wanna hit it?”
After the first hour or so in the cell I was taken out by one of the cops, the one who asked if I had a gun, and walked over to be fingerprinted and have my mugshot taken. I started talking to the cop whose last name was Habanero. He asked me what I went to school for and I said journalism.
“Oh journalism, so you wanna be writer?” he said. I said yes without elaborating too much. He said he wanted to be a writer before coming to the U.S. He told me once he immigrated that becoming a cop just seemed like a very attractive offer, benefits, long hours, a living. He was a by-the-books kind of cop too, telling a story about how once he forgot to pay a parking ticket and turned himself in, spending a night the same holding cell Eddy and I were in.
I was brought back to the cell and Eddy, who had just been escorted to another part of the station to have a cigarette, entered again as well. He could tell how nervous I was and began to tell me what was going to happen next:
Once they were done filling out the paperwork, they would then send it off to the courthouse at 100 Centre Street in Chinatown. We would then be transferred to 100 Centre Street where we would be under their custody and held in another cell until we would be seen by a lawyer and eventually, stand trial. The cops assured us both that we would get off after the one court appearance, that we would be going home either that night or the next day. We sat a little longer in the cell before we were once again cuffed and driven downtown.
We arrived at the back entrance to 100 Centre Street, where Officer Habanero and the other Cop who had arrested me took us in. We took another set of mugshots, underwent a physical, and were finally taken down to the next cell. Habanero stayed with Eddy after I finished my physical and I was brought down by the other cop. We walked down the stairs in silence, him holding my bicep. Out of nowhere he turned to me and said,
“Don’t eat the cheese sandwich,” I was immediately confused, asking what he meant, “There’s gonna be three types of sandwiches you can grab, don’t eat the cheese one”
“Why?” I said
“It’ll make you shit,” he said before grabbing me a small box of milk. He walked me to the cell, uncuffed me, and walked away.
This cell was immediately different from the one in the precinct. For one, there were far more people in it, 13. There was a man walking around, nervously of course. This was his first time in jail after he had apparently slammed a chair into someone’s back. He told me about the incident and said, “The guy wasn’t even hurt! He was just mad that I broke his fucking chair,” a man sitting to the left of me was on the phone with his lawyer. He had turned himself in after breaking a guy’s ankle during a fight over money. He told me, “The funny thing is, I never touched his ankle. I punched him in the head and on the fall down he broke it on his own,” Another man, far older than everyone else was sitting in the middle, legs open. He immediately seemed like he had taken up the role of the patriarch of the room, fielding every question that was thrown at him, from what we should say to the lawyers to why the phone in the cell was no longer free, to which he said, “You see that over there?” pointing to a blank space on the wall, “That was where the free phone was, now imagine this cell filled with motherfuckers, and all of them one wanna make a phone call. Motherfuckers got killed trying to make a call, so they put a price on it,”
That was when Eddy was brought into the cell with another kid, one I hadn’t met yet. Him and Eddy began talking which was where I found out the kid was younger than me. When asked what he did to get arrested he said, “Some dude said I did a robbery when I didn’t. I wasn’t even picked from the fuckin’ lineup. I used to do shit like this but this one, wasn’t me,” he seemed incredibly genuine, he was out of breath by the end of his story. He tried to call his girlfriend collect but she didn’t answer. I went to call Sakura and he asked me to give her his girlfriend’s number so Sakura could tell her to pick up the phone. I agreed and once I got through I immediately read the number to her. After that we talked for a moment, she told me she was just getting to the courthouse and that my friend Elijah (who was visiting from Denver), and my roommate Aeslyn were going to be there. I told her I was hoping to get out that night but I was unsure and that there was a possibility that I wouldn’t see a judge until the following day. We hung up and I handed the phone over to the kid who did get through to his girlfriend and talked to her for a while, an occasional tear fell down his cheek.
It was at this point we tried to get comfortable, assuming that our collective night was about to be spent at 100 Centre Street with cheese sandwiches swimming in our stomachs. Eddy joked, saying, “Man I had a deck of cards at home, I should’ve brought them!” and I said, “Fuck it, you might as well have brought some weed too!’ The Patriarch eventually looked at us and said, “There’s what, 13 of us in here now, let’s see how many are left when the sun comes up.
The conversation began to meander from there, finding ourselves talking about the OJ Simpson trial (which was the first time I ever discussed it with people who were actually alive then to remember it), before the chair-guy brought up Quentin Tarantino. We talked about Kill Bill for a while, but it was mainly just that one guy who talked in a manner I associated closely with the director but never mentioned it to him. After a while we went quiet again, some people opting for sleep. It was after a few hours that guards came down and grabbed Eddy and I, we were going to be transferred to a different cell in order to see a lawyer. We were elated, finally knowing that we were going home that night.
The second cell was far more crowded than any of the others, 20-30 dudes were all crammed in this room. In the back there were three little rooms where lawyers would enter, shout our names one by one and we would discuss our cases with them. It was in this cell that someone finally addressed the elephant in the room: me.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” I heard one guy say to me, jokingly of course. I told him I was an idiot and hopped the turnstile. He looked at me and remarked on my glasses (which are very large, very thick frames) and said, “What, you mean you didn’t just pull out your Harry Potter wand and make the turnstile turn?” Everyone laughed, someone else chiming in, “Yeah, why didn’t you just wingardium leviosa that motherfucker?”
It turned out several of the guys in there (and both of the ones who roasted me) were there for the same thing, they committed a robbery several years ago that someone had just now snitched on. Another guy in the cell was a bouncer who was in the process of becoming a cop before getting arrested at the academy.
“What the fuck,” I said in response, “What did you do?”
“They found a knife on me,” he said, sighing at the end, “It was a fucking pocketknife too, I just forgot I had it on me,” There was one guy in a skin tight Nike athletic hoodie who slithered around the room asking for change to make a phone call. When I asked him what he did he just said, “I hit someone with a bottle and they ended up dead,” before he walked up to another guy and pulled on his shirt for change.
As a group, the conversation was far more lively than any of the other interactions. When everyone got into an argument about Russell Westbrook, a guard came and told us to be quiet, that they could hear us in the courtroom. One of the Robbery Boys yelled back, asking him for the score of The Warriors game that was going on.
After another hour, lawyers began entering the three chambers and our names began getting called out. Eddy was one one of the first and when he got out of the room and he was smiling. He couldn’t get off scot-free due to his record, but he was only going to get 2 days of community service. As each of the robbery boys walked in separately, one of the guys would listen carefully from the outside and report back what the lawyers were saying. I was the last name to be called, to which I initially walked into the wrong room, “Wrong room, you gotta fix your glasses Harry,” someone said from behind and everyone laughed before I walked into the right chamber.
Behind a screen of some sort sat my lawyer, an older New Yorker who immediately asked, “So why didn’t you pay,” I thought he was talking about the initial ticket and I began to explain my three big fuck-ups before he stopped me and said, “Woah woah woah, what the fuck are you talking about? Why didn’t you pay for the subway?” I calmed down and told him I was dumb and walked through the emergency exit, “Oh, that is dumb,” was all he had to say about my offense, “well the DA is just gonna give you an ACD, don’t get in trouble for 6 months and you’re fine, okay?” I nodded and he left. My entire arrest, warrant, all three of the fuck-ups, were boiled down to a slap on the wrist (if you don’t believe in white privilege, this is basically the best proof I can give you and it’s fucked up).
My name was called with two other guys, both were part of the robbery boys, to be taken down to the courtroom where we would see trial. Upon my exit I said goodbye to Eddy and thanked him. He said he would visit me at work and I promised him a cup of coffee. They closed the cell door and we were walked away.
I could see my friends in one of the aisles. Aeslyn, my roommate, was at work earlier and was wondering why I wasn’t responding to any of her texts. That was when she was called by Sakura, who said “Hey Aeslyn, so Ian got arrested!” and when she told Elijah he simply responded by texting back, “Ian fucking Farmer”
I sat on the stand for a few minutes, the robbery boys were both called up before me. The last words one of them said to me was, “Oh shit, I fuckin’ farted,” before I started laughing and he fanned the air with his hat. He must have eaten the cheese sandwich, I thought briefly after he was called to the stand. When I was called, the lawyer stated my case at the speed of sound and I heard the Judge say, “ACD granted,” and I was walked out.
Once outside, I asked Aeslyn for a cigarette. She handed me one, before rightfully telling me, “Ian, you spent 50 fucking dollars on the Comme Des Garcons book, but couldn’t afford the fucking subway?!” I laughed and lit the cigarette, that was only one of my fuck-ups.
© 2017 A-W Project