Twenty-four hours in jail: “If I ruled the world, I’d free all my sons”

There’s just no telling why some things in life happen the way they do. Some believe everything happens for a reason.

Driving home, last week, I was in a minor fender bender. The other driver and I met at the local police station to file a report for our insurance policies.

I was told there was a warrant out for me, due to a missed court date from 1998 for a speeding ticket.

So I was arrested. By going to the police station to file an accident report, I had literally turned myself in.

I spent the night in a freezing cold cinderblock cell, confused and distraught.

The fact is 12 years ago I was pulled over for speeding in a suburb outside of Chicago. At the time my driver’s license was suspended for missing a court date in Ohio. In Ohio I was on my way to Pittsburgh for college and a state trooper pulled me over for speeding. I was given a ticket but I missed court. My license was suspended.

However I reinstated my license in 2004. I thought I paid all the necessary fines.

In 2008, I renewed my license by mail.

My cousin, a police officer, said not to worry, that my case would be dismissed because it had been so long ago especially since my license had been active and valid for years.

But, the next morning, I was handcuffed to another prisoner and 10 of us were put in the back of a police truck with nearly 30 other men, all in chains. It was steaming hot. Some of the men appeared under the influence from the night before. We made several stops and probably spent an hour in the truck with no room to move. I thought of the Middle Passage.

We were taken to Cook County jail and held in overcrowded cells. It was blazing hot and those of us behind bars barely had enough room to stand.

Our hands and arms were written on with permanent marker — black numbers – to keep track of us. I thought of concentration camps.

The great majority of us in the cell were young and African American, followed by Latinos and some white.

Some of the guys were larger than life, like they belonged on the movie screen. There were the Sanchez brothers, who looked like they were under 18. They reminded me of characters from the movie “Zoot Suit,” about the history of Chicano communities in Los Angeles. They had their hair slicked up and wavy and perfectly trimmed hairlines all the way down to their sideburns.

There was a young guy called Poindexter. He was African American, comedic and said he knew the neighborhoods of every prisoner there. He was intelligent and somehow his upbeat attitude made the time in there a little less worrisome.

Then there was tall and skinny Reggie, who said the police had surveillance of him breaking into a bank in a robbery attempt. Reggie denied the charges.

Nearly half the Latinos were immigrants. Most of them were there for domestic battery. One young man spoke to me in Spanish and seemed sorry for hitting his wife who is nine months pregnant. He had his sad story. It was a bad day, he said. His wife was in a bad mood. He had a bad day at work. An argument occurred, and the situation escalated. He seemed apologetic and hopes that his second child isn’t born while he’s behind bars. I told him he really screwed up.

One thing for sure, everyone in jail was treated equally, equally bad. No food, no water and no respect.

I felt like cattle, herded from one overcrowded space to the next, yelled at if we didn’t move fast enough. No cattle prod while I was there, at least.

It got real funky fast. The smell of human sweat was intense.

Thoughts kept racing through my head. None of us really deserved this treatment.

Why do so many Blacks and Latinos wind up in these cages?

It just reinforced my views on this economic/political system. Here we have 40-50 percent unemployment among black and brown young people. Unemployment breeds a lot of ills. And then you have this massive prison industrial complex that swallows up people – of all races. You can get lost in that system. It dehumanizes you. It feeds off of racism, disenfranchisement and oppression.

It was exhausting. And it only was 28 hours.

Eventually, my fiancé posted bond, which was set at $10,000! If she couldn’t raise $1,000 in cash I would have had to stay in there longer – which a lot of those guys were doing.

After two court dates, finding a lawyer, getting my drivers record and defense together, I was “stricken with leave,” which is a special Illinois thing. My lawyer said it’s essentially a dismissal.

Through the whole ordeal, I kept thinking of the1990s hip-hop track, “If I ruled the world,” by Nas featuring Lauryn Hill. The lyrics go “If I ruled the world/Imagine that/I’d free all my sons.”

It’s not right that our communities suffer massive unemployment, lack of recreational resources, extreme poverty, and underdevelopment not to mention street violence or unexcused police abuse.

The whole experience made me recommit to continue fighting for truth, justice and working class unity so that all people become empowered and can determine their own destiny; to really be free with the right to a livable wage union job, quality public education, decent affordable housing and basic equal rights.

This experience has only made me stronger and more revolutionary – a good thing to recommit to around this time – the Fourth of July and all.

I am convinced that fighting for justice is not only the right thing to do, but that the freedom of our people depends on it.

Photo: AP


Pepe Lozano
Pepe Lozano

Chicagoan Pepe Lozano was a staff writer with the People's World through 2014. He comes from an activist family and has lived on the city's southwest side in a predominantly Mexican-American community his whole life. Lozano now works as a union organizer.