by Tom Ashley


Have you ever been arrested?  I have.  I wish it had been for marching in Selma or Montgomery or against the Vietnam War, but it wasn’t.  It was for buying twenty dollars worth of marijuana.

As a Village resident, I was aware of drug-dealing in Washington Square Park, morning to night, seven days a week.  On one particular evening, in the mood to alter my mood, I decided to stroll over to the park to do just that.

I’d love to tell you this was the behavior of an errant teenager or a post-happy-hour undergraduate student but it wasn’t.  I was in my fifties.

I hadn’t been in the park for more than five minutes, had made my purchase and was headed home.  Suddenly my walk was interrupted by a plain-clothes police officer, who flashed his badge, said I was under arrest, and requested that I place my hands behind my back as handcuffs rhythmically clicked around my wrists.  He walked me for a block to a waiting squad car and drove me to the Sixth Precinct on West 10th Street.

“Sir, do we have to do this?” I pleaded.

He told me not to worry.  He said I was going to be put through a few routine procedures, released, and all charges were going to be dropped. While I tried to keep smiling, humiliation was consuming me.

The Sixth Precinct House was a friendly place, with a couple of dozen cops milling about.  They were all polite to me, seemingly sympathetic to the unfortunate well-dressed gentleman in his Polo suit hauled before them.  I started to feel more relaxed as we talked baseball, what restaurants I liked in the Village, and how many kids I had.  All the while they were following procedure, asking questions while filling out their forms.  Then I was finger-printed.  By now, on a first-name basis, I inquired, “What’s this for, Joe?”

“It’s nothing.  Just a formality.  We need to see if you have a past criminal record or any outstanding  warrants for your arrest.” Even with his assurances I was painfully aware I was nevertheless in jail.

Next, while we awaited clearance from the fingerprint bureau, I had to turn over my wallet, keys, belt, necktie, and shoelaces and be marched down to an empty twenty-by-twenty foot holding cell.  Soon other detainees were to join me.  Before they came I was by myself, and my anxiety was palpable.

Joe, the cop who had arrested me, and his partner, Paul, were most apologetic and I mean apologetic. Joe indicated the evidence in my case had been tossed out because it wasn’t (wink-wink) real marijuana.  I felt relieved, of course, but I knew they were not playing by the rules.

Next, the Captain of the Precinct entered the station and bellowed, “Why’s the old guy in here?” (That was me.)

“We had to bring him in, sir.  He was captured on video.”

The Captain smacked his forehead.

“He’s innocent,” said Joe, “and we’re waiting for fingerprint clearance.”

My holding pen was now starting to fill up.  Within an hour the greatest variety of fellow arrestees I could ever imagine had arrived – hookers, rent boys, trannies, junkies, and drunks.  We were all in this together.  One asked me to borrow money, another asked if I had robbed a bank, a third asked if he could stay at my place that night.  Permeating the cell were distinct odors of cigarettes, curry, hot dogs, spoiled milk and cheap perfume.

One of the officers came to see me.  I thought, phew,  I’m going to get out of here.

But then the policeman told me my fingerprints weren’t clear enough to get a good reading.  Back I went for another set.  Yet another officer told me that they were bringing food, but  it would be for my cellmates.  As for me, I was handed a menu from the Waverly Diner and asked to select a meal.

“Can’t I get the fuck out of here?”  I asked.

“We’re so sorry. We have to wait for your fingerprints.  But we can put you in an Interrogation Room.”

In that room, officers Joe and Paul joined me.  We chatted about sports and what it was like being a Village cop.  I was still technically under arrest.  The two cops told me they got tickets for the Yankees games and invited me to a game.  I hate the Yankees, but I went along with the program.

“Sure.  I’d really like to do that,” I replied.  I had become their celebrity and they didn’t want to be caught mistreating me.

At 2:45 a.m., six hours after my arrest, I was released.  My cellmates had been moved downtown to the Tombs for an overnight stay.  I gathered my belongings and headed out the station door, accompanied by Officer Paul.  He walked with me for a block or two and handed me a slip of paper with a name and phone number on it.

“If you ever want good weed, call this guy.  He’ll deliver it to your apartment within an hour.  Stay out of Washington Square Park.”

Really? Did this cop think I was going to call a drug-dealer based on his recommendation?

That was not quite the end of the story.  When I had left the Precinct House I was given an envelope and told that my case would be dismissed, but  I had to either make a court appearance or send a lawyer to represent me.  I decided to go myself.

In the courtroom I recognized several of my cellmates.  As they appeared before the judge, most were given sentences of two to twenty-eight days in jail.

My name was eventually called.  “Case dismissed!” said the judge.  On the one hand relieved, I glanced back at the others, with whom I had been in the holding pen, still awaiting their verdict.  I felt no relief as I watched them being marched off to jail.

Kris Kristofferson’s song, ran through my brain.  He once described freedom as a two-edged sword;  you cannot be free unless there is justice, justice for all.

I left that courtroom knowing exactly what he meant.


Lifer on the marketing side of network television but wanting to write, I’ve taken about every IRP writing course offered and found gifts and more, a lot more. Thanks, EW/CM/LP/BR/EB/CT/CMcD/LM/SW/JK.