Dan Has Some Explaining to Do about Being Jailed in Knoxville (Part 5 of 6)

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.

Knox jail bars

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.

knox pb sandwich

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.

knox bail monopoly

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.

Dan Has Some Explaining to Do about Being Jailed in Knoxville (Part 4 of 6)

Still surprised that I am being booked for hitchhiking on the Interstate here in eastern Tennessee this September of 1971, I have no smile for my mug shot; the clerk then asks for my belt and all my money ($7).  My first thought was Really? You think I am going to hang myself because I was brought in for hitchhiking?   Later I understand that a belt could be a weapon and the $ could be a source of tension between inmates if it were stolen.  My bail was set at $60.  Can you believe it!

Knox dial phone

I then asked to make my one phone call.  Reluctantly the clerk gave me the phone and I dialed my parents in New Jersey.  No one answered, for I later learned that they were in Gambier, Ohio visiting my younger brother Richard at Kenyon College, some 100 miles southwest of where I was going to meet Hannah.

When I got no answer, the clerk said unsmilingly, That’s your one call.  I said, I didn’t get through, can I make another call?  Peeved, he agreed, but then I had to ask him for a phone book to look up the number of my parents’ friends, the Yellins, who lived in Memphis at the opposite end of the state.  Connecting with the Yellins, I was thrilled that they would send me $100 by Western Union for bail and a bus ticket out of town.

Knox jail bunkbeds

Led to a corridor of 12 cells each with one inch bars spaced inches apart, I found that my cell had four bunkbeds made of one quarter inch metal with symmetrical one inch holes spaced throughout.  There were no mattresses, no pillows, no blankets.  We had a combination sink/toilet which was as disgusting as you might imagine.

With no windows in this cell block, individual light bulbs hung from the only ceiling were the source of illumination.  I was scared, here in the South and no one knew where I was save the Yellins.  I was a mess.  I had led a pretty sheltered life and felt so alone.

Knox western union

After two hours with nothing to do (there were no books, please), I still hadn’t received any word from Western Union.  “Lunch time” arrived about 2P.   A man with a metal can two feet deep and 15 inches across filled with the oiliest peanut butter known to man came down the cell block making peanut butter sandwiches for us all.  His eyes weren’t right, he had few teeth and they were askew and yellow.

Oozing with oil, the peanut butter sandwiches grossed me out such that all I could do was pull the two pieces of bread apart.  All the peanut butter stuck to one side and I ate the other slice.  Raunchy black coffee was our lunchtime beverage.  And still there was no word about my bail money.

Learn tomorrow about my stay in jail and a drunk tank!