The space that I am in is a 10’ x 6’ jail cell. The walls are tan but you can barely see the cream color of the original paint with pasted on dirt that engulfs the room. Soiled toilet paper balls thrown onto the walls becoming home made art. Every inch of it covered in filth. Garbage all over the floors, steel silver toilet completely filled with unflushable shit, putrid, a black sea overflowing. The entire space smelling of a combination of urine, vomit and feces.
I sat on a bench where people carved their names that they were here. I was careful not to move in this space I didn’t want any of this experience on me. I sat in the corner closest to the prison bars not allowing my head to lean too closely to the walls or touch anything, even though I was exhausted… even though what I wanted more than anything was to lay down and sleep… wishing that this moment was a dream that I would wake up and be in my bed… wanting to believe that this moment was not really happing to me… Alicia Anabel Santos…
“PLACE YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK!”
These would be the words tattooed on my eyelids, stitched in heart, marking my soul!
This is a reflection… a contemplation of the moments that would lead up to a moment that would serve as yet another moment of trauma in my life.
It’s Thursday, April 4th, 2013. My one-woman show I WAS BORN debuted and kicked off its college tour at the University of New Haven. It was a packed house. Jenny Perez delivered the testimonies of 8 of the most heart wrenching stories ever passed down through me. She is an honor to watch.
After the show we had a talk back. The students asked some amazing questions and addressed some powerful issues and subjects. They talked about the characters that impacted them;
Milagros, the 16-year-old prostitute from the Dominican Republic, appreciating the realness of her voice and the issue of sexual tourism.
Clara, the 5-year-old from Chile who was molested by her father (for three years), yet the government awarded him visitation with the young girl.
Isabella of Peru, a young girl being exploited by her parents, who uses her talents out of the dire necessity to eat.
Priscilla, the hip-hop artist from Cuba who is seeking freedom for herself though her voice.
Mara, a successful writer from Puerto Rico who self-mutilates because all she ever wanted was to make her father proud.
Veronica, a lesbian who maries a man for a visa in order to save her family, “it all about the family!”
Caya, an indigenous woman from Colombia who is being pushed from her lands by the guerilla.
And finally Lia, the narrator of this incredibly important story. Lia, a CNN correspondent from the United States. Who after traveling all over Latin America realizes that she must bring these stories home and address the atrocities that are happening to womyn all over Latin America.
One of the things we talked about after the play was how this story wasn’t just one about womyn in Latin America, but it is a universal story effecting womyn all over the world. These womyn live everywhere and come from so many different cultures and countries. Violence against womyn is the number 1 human rights violation impacting the world!
Lia, who was chosen to tell their stories… stories of survival, abuse, inequality, discrimination, injustice, exploitation, hyper-sexualization and objectification of women, femicide and invisibility. Her message is one that fights for equality and social justice!
Lia—who is really ALICIA!
A womyn who lives to tell stories that depict the strength of spirit that lives in each womyn but especially mujeres Latinas.
We toasted with a glass of wine before leaving… here’s to Jenny Perez, the amazing womyn of I WAS BORN and to me. It was a perfect ending to a perfect evening!
After such an amazing time with the students at the University of New Haven, we got in the car and headed back to New York City to celebrate.
We decided to continue our celebration at Camaradas.
We stop at a light
I send a text
Notice the light is green
Turn left on 3rd Avenue from 116th Street
I notice a siren… cop lights…
I am being pulled over.
I am cool…
I am not worried…
I pull the car over…
Bring the window down…
Officer 1: (female, Caucasian, 5’6”, wearing a blue NYPD uniform, badge number xxxx)
“Ma’am, please shut off your vehicle! License and registration!”
“Here’s my license. I don’t have a registration, this is a rental, and I have a contract.”
“Have you been drinking tonight?”
“Yes! I had one glass of wine.”
“Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“No! I don’t!”
“You were stopped at that green light… a little too long!”
“I was sending a text. I don’t text and drive. I took the left when I was done.”
“Ma’am you can be honest… are you drunk?”
“Absolutely not! I only had one glass!”
“OK! I will be right back.”
Officer 2: (male, Caucasian, 5’ 8”, average build, good cop to her bad cop, wearing a blue NYPD uniform, badge number xxx)
“Ma’am—where are you coming back from?”
“The University of New Haven. I am a writer and we are just returning from showcasing my play.”
“Where are you headed?”
“Camaradas for dinner.”
“Do you have a local address?”
“Here is my New York ID it has my local address on it.”
“Excellent that will speed this process along.”
What’s going on in my mind is. Perfect… we should be out of here soon. I could use my brother-in-laws name to get out of this but I don’t need to. I’m good! I’m fine! I know I’m not drunk… I haven’t done anything wrong… my license is from Florida and I don’t owe anything. No fines no nothing… this should be quick!
Officer 2 approaches.
“Ma’am please step out of the vehicle!”
“Esperate! Wait a minute! I need you to contact my brother-in-law he’s a detective with the NYPD. Please call him!”
“Ma’am step to the back of the car, put your hands behind your back!”
All I felt was this chill. Was I really being cuffed right now? Was I really being arrested?
“What are you doing?” I asked in total disbelief.
“Ma’am spread your legs.”
He frisks me.
“Do you have any weapons or drugs on you?”
“No! I do not!”
“Ma’am do you know why we are arresting you?”
“No! I do not!”
“You are being arrested because you have a suspended license in New York.”
“I don’t have a NY License… what are you talking about?”
“Ma’am turn around and walk this way!”
“Please let me speak to my friends. I need to tell them what to do.”
“I will tell them what they should do.”
And then I was thrown in the back of an NYPD van. There were three cop cars behind my car.
THREE cop cars!
Because I was at a green light too long!
I sat in the back of this NYPD van and all I could think about was my friends who were abandoned in the middle of the street, after midnight, in East Harlem right next to the projects.
During the drive to the first precinct all I could feel was the history of arrests and people who were transported in this vehicle… drug addicts, drug dealers, thieves, pedophiles, murderers, teens who make poor choices, prostitutes, alcoholics and now ALICIA… an activist, speaker, feminist, writer, mother of a daughter on the deans list, servant of my community and my people… Alicia arrested for being at a green light too long… oh yeah and if they can’t get me for that… the fall back is this suspended license thing!
Arriving to precinct 1: I am ordered to stand on a yellow line in front of the desk sergeant. The arresting officer (the female cop—yet she really wasn’t the person who cuffed me) asked me to remove my belt, takes my red scarf, empties my black suit blazer, and she begins to remove my elekes (religious beads).
“Please don’t touch my beads--please. Use a cloth or gloves to take them off—you can’t touch them!”
“Can I use your scarf?”
“Yes! Thank you!”
I felt myself being stripped of my protection, my strength, my powers, my worth, my value, my work, my spirit… I felt a part of me dying in that moment!
“Place your hands being your back! Walk this way.”
She opened the cell. Removed my handcuffs and closed the cell door behind me.
I was in a space where there were two men passed out in another cell close by.
The space smelled of cigarettes and murdered dreams, futures assassinated and human potential demolished…
I sat there having an outer body experience, feeling like… don’t they know who I am? Don’t they know all the great work I do? Don’t they know that I AM LOVE?
I was in that jail cell for several hours, trembling, frightened, uncertain, confused, just wondering what the hell was going on. Then it hit me… hold on a minute I get a fucking phone call.
“Excuse me officer—can I please call my daughter?”
“Yes in a little while.”
Female cop enters the space, unlocks my cell… “hands behind your back!”
Cuffs me again. Dials my daughters number…
“Honey—mommy was arrested tonight. I’m in jail… it’s a long story…”
“They say my licensee is suspended its going to be ok. (Everything in me was trying to hold it together and not fall apart on the phone with her). I need you to make three phone calls… let them know that I am in precinct 25—they’ll know what to do.”
“Ok mommy! It’s ok mommy… everything is going to be fine… don’t worry.”
“Still meet me in Albany… nothing has changed. I will see you there. I will be fine. Thanks baby… I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Oh…. But I wasn’t fine… I wasn’t ok. I began hyperventilating and crying hysterically… she threw me back in that cell again.
Then an hour later came back to take me to the room where they would be conducting a breathalyzer test.
NY State Trooper 1: (male, Caucasian, 5’ 11”, average build)
“Ma’am this officer suspects that you’re intoxicated. Do you agree to take this test?”
In my head I’m like… let’s fucking do this! I know I’m not drunk!
NY State Trooper 2: (male, Asian, 5’10”, average build)
“You are being recorded… state your name… state your address… OK you will blow on this tube until I tell you to stop. I will demonstrate.”
I breathe onto the plastic… over and over and over and over and over again… then a number appears… I am asked to stop… the result is: .012
“What does that number mean?” I ask confidently and beginning to feel my attitude rising in me!!!
“I’ll explain in a minute! Take a seat.” The Caucasian trooper orders.
“Ma’am please get up! How old are you?”
“I am 41 years old.”
“The test result means that for your age your blood alcohol levels are well below the limit. You have passed. For your age you can have a glass of wine and drive… if you were 21… (In my head I was like…. Are you serious… I don’t give a shit about your chart…) However the arresting offer still would like you take other tests, walking the yellow line, lifting your leg, finger on nose, but it’s optional you can accept or refuse.”
I wanted to say are you fucking kidding me? Of course you want me to take more tests you could use the fact that I’m incredibly nervous in this situation and one stumble and you are justified in your accusation that I was driving under the influence… HELL NO—absolutely not!!! I will not be taking any more tests.
“No! I will not take your test. In fact, when can I go home? I am expected at the University of Albany today for a conference that I am speaking at.”
The female cop responds…
“There is still the matter of your suspended license! Place your hands behind your back!”
She escorts me to a cell so I can finally go to the bathroom. It’s disgusting… I go quickly… not touching anything… trying hard not to look at my surroundings.
Place your hands behind your back!
She brings me back to my cell and tells me that we would be waiting for transport so that I could be booked.
I began to cry again… I cried the entire evening… throughout the entire experience. All I could think about is all of the work that I do and will continue to do… all I could think about was that when I am called to fill out certain forms if asked “have I ever been arrested?” that I would now have to write yes… this could ruin me… my career…my life!
I’m sitting in a new cell in precinct #2. This new space covered in filth sitting next to the cell bars praying my way out of this. I was so cold.. trembling… the fear of this moment was eating away at my bones… I was being broken down…
I was praying that my brother-in-law would jump in and save the day and get me out of this mess. All I kept thinking about was that this same day I was expected at the National Latino Collegiate Conference at the University of Albany to speak on Afrolatinos, Gender Inequality & Sexuality.
I was being broken down…
How would I be able to explain to these students who are expecting me that “I’m a little tied up right now!!!” and unable to make it.
My brother-in-law did come through… he made a phone call to get me out of that prison in the early mornings of Friday, April 5th… but not before they took my finger prints, palm prints, and hand prints (left and right). Not before the infamous mug shots were taken… look straight at the camera then turn to face your right side… not before breaking me down completely!
Place your hands behind your back!
Back in the cell… at this point I didn’t believe anything the female cop said to me.
“You need to call someone with a valid license to come pick you up and drive you home.”
My friend arrived…
The female cop released me from the cell.
Gave me a white sheet of paper with a court date…
Brought me back to the yellow line and the desk sergeant released me.
The female cop brings me to the waiting area where my friend is waiting… the officer gives me my personal belongings in a brown folder. Where I carefully put on my elekes, belt, red scarf and black blazer. I hug my friend crying and we leave.
And what I am left with is…
This sense of intrusion…
This sense of violation…
This sense of frustration…
This sense of isolation…
This sense of humiliation…
This sense of my freedom raped from me…
Replaying in my head was something that female cop kept saying… about how she did me a favor… how I could still be in jail… that she didn’t have to release me until 2:00pm the next day… until after my arraignment... until after I saw a judge… how I could still be in there… that she didn’t have to do that… but because I was so respectful…..
YOU DID ME A FAVOR?
You arrested me for being at a green light.
Let’s call it what it was…
A wrongful arrest
Held without probable cause
Civil rights violated
Abuse of power
You did me a favor!
You hoped that I was drunk so that your arrest could be warranted and justified.
You hoped that my levels were over .08
The pressure you must be under to arrest people guilty and innocent just because you are ordered to and have to fulfill some sort of monthly quota…
This is where our criminal justice system fails…
This is where she fails as a woman and human…
To protect and serve!!!!
You are an imprint on my soul!!!
Place your hands behind your back!
Today as I write this story down… recalling how I was broken down what I understand is that most of the experiences of my life show up to do precisely that BREAK ME DOWN so that I can rebuild and be able to tell these stories…
And to that female officer—I will see you in court!