An Interlude In Coachella Jail

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Ed. Note: This is part of our sister papers LA Weekly and OC Weekly's coverage of the Coachella festival's just-concluded second weekend.

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We told you earlier about the ways folks try to sneak drugs into Coachella. Also, we told you about how to avoid trouble with the police. But what if, despite your best efforts, you're arrested? Or even taken to Coachella jail? Yes, it is a real place.

We got the story on it from a guy we'll call Derek, who was arrested for possession of pot and cocaine in 2009. It went down like this:

It was 2 p.m. on the festival's first day that year, but Derek hadn't made it in yet. Returning to his campsite after using the bathroom, he entirely too stoned to notice a group of plain-clothed men rummaging through his belongings. One said they had a report of a man of his description selling pot.

"Well it wasn't me," Derek replied. They told him he looked nervous, so they searched him anyway, finding a few grams of pot and one gram of cocaine.

The men -- apparently undercover security -- threw Derek down on his stomach and held him down, he says. They cuffed him and then whisked him away on a golf cart, off toward Coachella jail. On the way, they stopped to pick up a middle aged "hippie-looking-dude," Derek recalls.

"Hey, I know you," Derek said. "You just tried to buy drugs from me while I was waiting by the bathroom."

Apparently, the guy was in cahoots with the rest of the undercovers. "Can you tell them I didn't sell you drugs?" Derek pleaded. He agreed, but it did no good. The journey to the slammer continued.

Coachella jail is -- or at least, when Derek was arrested, was -- an outdoor police area near Monroe and 51st. According to Derek, it was very hot and he wasn't given much water. After he was interrogated and processed, he was shipped off with other arrestees to Indio jail, a few miles away.

"Indio jail sucks," he says. "I do not recommend spending any time there."

Once inside the premises, Derek was led from room to room for a while. They took his mugshot, and he was sure to smile. He landed in a cell around 4 p.m. They gave him a wristband -- a different sort of wristband -- with his inmate number on it. He shared a cell with a large man laying on the floor and a German kid arrested at the festival for selling ecstasy.

Derek says the large man finally woke around 2 a.m. He proceeded to tell his fellow prisoners his story: Just before he was arrested (he didn't specify why) he stuck a ball of meth up his ass so the cops wouldn't find it.

After being thrown in the cell -- fortunately, there was no cavity search -- he didn't know what to do with the meth. So he just snorted the whole thing. Oddly, it only seemed to make him tired.

Finally, at about two in the morning, Derek's buddy arrived at the Indio jail ("rolling balls," says Derek) and signed the paperwork assuming legal responsible if Derek didn't show up to his court date. Around 4 a.m., he was free to go.

"My phone was dead so I asked to use their phone and they wouldn't let me," says Derek. "So I asked for directions back."

It took him about two and a half hours to walk back to the campgrounds. The worst part? The police had cut off his camping wristband. But, he had the remnants, and, after giving the guards a made-up story, they let him back into the campgrounds.

And so, he was able to enjoy Saturday and Sunday of Coachella with his friends, and briefly forgot his legal troubles. In the end, he escaped the pot charges because he had a medical marijuana card. The coke was a bit dicier, but he had a good lawyer and got off with just some classes and community service.

The best part? The bad experience did not deter him, and he's come back to Coachella every year since.

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