Sunday, July 26, 2020

Key Man

One late, miserable night while Jim Eby and I struggled with the newly installed 2740 terminal at the Dade County jail booking desk, two plain-clothes Miami Beach detectives brought in a hooker they picked up who, it turned out, happened to be a man.

Working the booking desk was among the worst working conditions I have ever worked. While it was mounted in a large circular pedestal in the middle of a huge room, the space inside the circle was cramped and serviced several booking stations at once. It was kind of like going to a bank where the service counter is curved around one teller. It was as bad as the tower at Homestead AFB, which, besides the drive-through at Wendy’s, was the service call I most dreaded. No space to work, impossible for any diagnostics and noisy beyond belief. With constant interruptions, telephone calls and people always reaching over the counter or throwing books or paperwork, it was worse than any product planner sitting in a sterile cubicle could possibly imagine. Two CE’s could not work together without pushing a deputy out of the way. Using an oscilloscope was impossible. A real zoo.

For those of you who think television shows accurately display police stations, you are wrong. Miami’s booking desk at the Dade County jail in the evening was more like Best Buy on Black Friday. On weekends it was even worse. There were at least seven holding cells along one long wall, always filled with noisy, usually malicious, often drunk members of society who you wouldn’t invite into your house. One cell was used for female prisoners who were transported to the women’s facility. The prisoners would get rowdy at times and they would incur the wrath of the real commander of the booking desk: The Key Man!

The Key Man carried a ring of cell keys that must have weighed ten pounds. He would walk along the cells, chatting with repeat offenders many of the jail staff knew by name and generally maintaining a semblance of order.

As Jim and I waited for the two detectives to move out of the way, the jail commander, Lieutenant Armstrong walked up and picked up their booking sheet.

Key Man! Where’s the guy the Beach just brought in?”

What guy?” said the Key Man, a big, strong African American who looked like he should play football for the Miami Dolphins. He walked over and said, “They didn’t bring in any guy.”

The two cops looked at each other in disbelief. We could see the panic in their eyes.

Lt. Armstrong straightened up and said, “Show me where you put the prisoner they brought in.”

The three of them followed the Key Man to the cell being used for the women prisoners. There were at least ten women in the cell.

The Key Man looked around the cell, even standing on his tip-toes as he tried to get a good view of the people in the cell. The women weren’t helping, doing their best to block his view.

There,” he said, finally pointing to the wall bench in the back. “The one in the red dress.”

Working at the jail was never boring.

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