As the dinner hour approached in the Knoxville City Jail this September of 1971, I soon learned that no dinner was coming. I wasn’t hungry, but eating would at least have helped pass the time. Always hoping my name would be called with news that my bail money had arrived, I wondered about my night in jail ahead.
With no windows and the ceiling lights always on, the cell block in the South scared the beejeezus out of this sheltered Yankee boy this Saturday evening. I was soon to learn what Saturday nights were like in city jails in the South; the drunks were picked up and deposited in our cell block. Loudly protesting their innocence, they filtered in all night long.
Trying to fall asleep to pass the time in my 8’x14’ cell, I crumpled up my jacket to use as a pillow on my metal lower bunk. Fortunately, since I had not slept the night before while hitchhiking in the dark of Georgia and hanging out at the diner in Cartersville, I finally fell asleep exhausted. I slept soundly til what I guessed was 8A the next morning. A blessing indeed.
Awakened, I immediately thought of the $100 of bail money that the Yellins said that they would send. I tried to get the attention of the skewed eye, toothless jailer to no avail. At 10A, the jailer did bring us all “breakfast.” As he approached with the same greasy can of oily peanut butter, my appetite disappeared. Though I had eaten but two pieces of white bread in the last 30 hours, I again just peeled apart the two peanut butter sandwiches that he made right in front of me and ate the plain white bread. The black coffee went down the combination sink/toilet.
At what must have been near noon this Sunday, with 40 others I was moved to a drunk tank. This 30’x 30’ barred enclosure offered no privacy, though no one was paying attention to me anyway. There I met Saint John and Creeping Jesus, two 17 year olds who had come from Florida to set up a church in Knoxville. When the police found them, they were sleeping on the steps of a downtown church. Get this! The police awakened them and charged them with prowling. The kids were hardly bothered as they renewed old acquaintances and sang with the drunks.
Throughout the afternoon other inmates had their names called and were being bailed out. I never heard the sweet words “Rothermel” from the jailer all afternoon. My trial was set for Monday morning and I figured I’d be spending another night on the concrete floor of the drunk tank or be returned to the metal bunk in my cell.
And then I heard “Rothermel.”
The final mini-blog will be posted Saturday as I go to court for my version of Southern justice.