HPD's Rodeo Warrant Roundup: A True-Life Tale

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If you're heading through the Reliant Stadium area, make sure you don't have unpaid tickets

It's official. HPD is doing some wrangling of its own. Ironically, this press release, which announces HPD's participation in 2009 Great Texas Warrant Round Up beginning March 7, 2009, came through while I sat in jail.

From what the police officer had told me while I sat cuffed in the back of his car, it looks like they got started early at the Houston Rodeo. So I went from covering Clay Walker's easy going Texas-bred hits for the Houston Press to spending 22 hours in the "drunk tank." Fortunately, I hadn't been drunk, but I did have a warrant for illegally crossing the double white lines while exiting Kirby from 59 about a year ago. (In hindsight, I probably should've shown up for court.)

After leaving Reliant, I stopped nearby at a gas station off of Old Spanish Trail at around 11 p.m. Thursday. I sat in the car while my friend ran in. When he got back in the car and I pulled out, I heard an oowhooup and saw flashing red and blue in my rearview. The officer asked for both of our licenses, checked them, brought them back, asked me to get out of the car, and cuffed me. Lucky for me, my friend was warrant free and was allowed to drive my car home.

During the car ride, the officer said that he was out at the rodeo on overtime running plates, and that a lot of his fellow officers are cruising around Reliant doing the same thing. A camera attached to the patrol car takes a picture, the computer scans it, and if you have a warrant, "CAUTION WARRANT" is displayed on the officer's monitor.   

At midnight, I arrived at the Houston City Jail off of Mykawa. As I stood in the holding cell awaiting processing, I polled the other occupants. Three of the seven had come from the rodeo. One guy was given a PI for drinking underage. He was on his first beer, he said, when the officer nabbed him. Of course, a lot of guys in jail were there after "only one beer."

After I made it through processing, I was taken to a large room with about 50 other people. The jailer read off numbers. If the numbers matched those on your wristband, you would go up and pick either a blanket or a mat and go into one of the two large cells. I chose a mat over getting one of the tattered gray blankets. A couple hours later, I wish I'd chosen differently. I was freezing in my long-sleeved shirt.

I dozed off under the harsh fluorescent lights on the crowded concrete floor for a while, only to be awoken at 6 a.m. for breakfast. I couldn't eat the unrecognizable white slop that I'd been served in an unsealed container. (I was told later that they were grits.) A guy came up to me and asked if I was going to eat that. When I nodded "no", he grabbed the tray and dug in voraciously. Guys called out, loudly bartering "juice for a tray" or "tray for a juice." You don't get water, and what you get isn't exactly juice either. You get orange or fruit-punch drink, which -- to the uninitiated -- is artificially flavored sugar water. You could drink the water from the big metal sink next to the toilets, but the smell of urine and lack of soap are a strong disincentive.

Early on I wished they hadn't taken away shoelaces so I could strangle myself instead of taking a shit in case the urge came on. I'd decided the toughest guys weren't necessarily the ones with the teardrops tattooed under their eyes, but the guys who would plop down on the piss-coated metal toilet seats without hesitation to conduct their business in sight of almost everybody.

Around 9:30 a.m., I was called to stand in line to talk to the judge. A guard explained that if you wanted to get out of jail sooner rather than later you should plead guilty to the charge. If you pled not-guilty, you would be held until the following morning for trial. However, if you were in for tickets, he said, you should plead not guilty. You would still be held until the next day for trial, but if you pled guilty you would stay in jail until you paid off your tickets at $50 a day. This is moot if someone can come bail you out, but good luck getting through on the phones. They only call collect which means you can only call a landline. If you have a cell phone, you probably don't remember anyone's number, even if you know anyone with landline.

I went inside the small area cordoned off by black curtains. With mock gravity, a disembodied voice read off a charge that went something like this: You have been charged for ILLEGALLY crossing double-white traffic lines and for FAILURE to appear before court. How do you plead?  I ask, "Excuse me sir, but how much are my fines." Then in a jovial voice, he replied, "236 million dollars." "Uh heh, but really," I said. He told me that I could plea "no contest" that my fines would be dropped for time served and I would be released shortly. OK, I thought, this isn't so bad -- I'll still be able to write the Clay Walker review.

Eight hours later the guards order all the detainees, about 80 split between the two cells, out into the adjacent room. A guard said, "Now I know the judge told many of you something like that you'd be released in a couple of hours. Obviously that didn't happen. That's normal. The judge doesn't give a fuck because he gets to go home at four o'clock no matter what. You will be probably getting out of here in the next couple of hours."

After an afternoon of listening to a crackpot theological discussion (the Bible is apparently not the real deal and Jesus had made contact with UFOs), between a guy who referred to himself as "Dank" and some other wierdos, I was becoming unhinged. I couldn't reach anyone on the phone. You are given two seconds to record something that will identify yourself to whomever you are calling. My message probably was garbled since I held the receiver several inches from my face to avoid the stench of stale alcohol and un-brushed teeth wafting from it. I had no idea if it was a person or answering machine picking up before the electronic voice came on saying "You have received a collect call from [my recorded message] an inmate in Houston City Jail if you'd like to accept this call press..."

To my chagrin, Dank, who'd proclaimed that he loved to get high and that he'd smoke anything, was able to reach all sorts of people even though he told most of them that they needed to fuckin' talk to god like he did.  Yeah buddy, I'd imagine that smoking kitty litter rolled into zigzag that's been dipped in embalming fluid is sure a conduit to the Almighty.

Later a guard read off my name from his stack of pink forms. Instead of releasing me, he brought me to a computer and took my mug shots and finger prints for the crime database.  
Finally, hours later at 10 p.m. I was released. My buddy who'd waited outside for four hours took me over to Star Pizza on Washington. We had a Chicago-style deep dish pizza and a pitcher of beer, which made for the best meal of my life.

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