My Life in Jail

Sometimes murderers turn out to be the nicest guys. Or those accused of murder, anyway. Really.

And you know what? Carjackers, armed traffickers, and stickup men aren't as bad as I expected, either. Especially up close.

And I should know. I spent last season locked up in the Miami-Dade County Stockade. That's right. In the slammer. On ice. In Cell No. 6, C Block. A 32-by-24-foot concrete box jammed with 34 very bad men.

And, no, I didn't do it.
Okay, so I did. Which brings me to the first of jail's Golden Truths: They all did it. Or something close. Or more likely, something worse. Much, much worse.

There are no innocent men in jail. Period.
If you're on ice, you probably turned the thermostat down yourself. And you'd better put on a sweater, baby, 'cause it's cold inside. Ice cold.

The unofficial average temperature in each of the Stockade's cells is approximately 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week. On purpose. In fact one day a loose-lipped corrections officer let slip the diabolical plan: "If it were up to me," he said, "I'd keep it at twenty degrees so you guys would never get outta bed." The theory being that a cold con is a calm con. And the deeper the chill the better the behavior. Call it temperate sedation. So if he could freeze-dry the bad guys, he'd do it. And who would blame him?

My own experience in Miami-Dade's very own gulag began back in '92 over -- what else? -- a dame. In town with four hours to kill between planes, two unwitting Canucks cabbed their way to South Beach and somehow got involved with my chick, which in turn got me involved with them.

It was late, way late, prime time for trouble. My chick was trashed and sassy, with a mind bent on gratuitous instigation. And her charms emboldened her new pals. Behind a locked door, her locked door, the fast friends attempted a united front, telling me to "get lost" or I'd "be sorry." Old-fashioned hot-tempered fellow that I am, I responded in the only stupid way I knew: with fists and a blackjack. And a little blind-side ingenuity.

To get the creeps out into the open I set off the fire alarm in the hall. Then when the first foe stuck his head through the doorway, I clobbered him (bam!) with a blackjack crack that knocked him straight to the ground. Instinct and adrenaline propelled me five quick steps into the apartment, where I let fly a flurry of fists that surprised me almost as much as it did foe number two, whose head began to wobble like a dachshund in the rear window of a Falcon. Then I grabbed the unfortunate interlopers, Three Stooges-like, and kicked both in the butt, chased 'em into the street, and vowed to rip them into proverbial shreds should I ever see them again.

The entire episode lasted maybe three minutes. But it was a ferociously enjoyable three minutes.

My opponents disagreed. Not being gentlemen enough to take their lumps and leave, they ran down the block and called the cops, something I never in a million years expected because it's something I'd never in a million years ever dream of doing.

But the cavalry they did call. And what a terrifyingly tall tale they must have told, because when the Miami Beach Police Department's response team arrived on the scene, they were armed and braced for bigger bear than I. The ten-man force seemed almost, well, disappointed that their prey appeared to be nothing more than an outcast from the Bing Crosby Open. That, however, didn't stop them from flexing the strong arm of the law.

I was promptly thrown facedown on the floor, frisked, disarmed, refrisked, cuffed, and frisked again, then unceremoniously led from the building and tossed headfirst (and hatless) into the back of a squad car. (No matter how many times you've seen the procedure depicted on television, nothing compares to the blunt brutality of your own arrest. Nothing.)

Thus began my bout with the law. Although I had come out on top in the brawl (my two opponents weren't that tough, really), post-fight was another battle altogether. Behind bars for the very first time in my life, I was charged with two counts of aggravated battery, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and get this: armed occupied burglary, one of Florida's most serious offenses (think home invasion). To exacerbate this sordid affair, I was denied bond. Me, Mr. Clean! It was a long, long night.

Superb legal counsel enlisted by my girlfriend of all people not only got me off the most alarming charge, but my fast-talking mouthpiece somehow managed to persuade the judge to be lenient as well. The result: Rather than the potential lengthy prison sentence, I caught a measly six months of probation. A cakewalk, right?

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John Hood

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