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"Cast away girl."  This is also a true story.


       It was six-fifteen and almost time for Patricia to come home from work. I lived with her and watched her children while she worked at a seasonal restaurant not far from the trailer park.  I'd planned to leave as soon as she returned, but when she came home she asked if I'd stay while she went to the grocery store.
       My mother didn't complain about me staying with Patricia. Living at home was a constant fight with my sisters over anything and everything, especially clothes.
Being the smallest of the girls in the family (including cousins) all the hand-me-down clothes made their way into my closet. Only nothing ever fit!
      It's been almost two years since I've lived at home with my mother. At fourteen I'd gotten into a fight with another girl at school, so Mom sent me to live with my father and his girlfriend Elaine.
       When I returned after living a year with my father in New Orleans, Mom had moved from the house on Hopkins Street into an apartment above an empty store. There wasn't any room for me so I lived with my older sister Cathy and her family.
     For some reason Mom and I were always in conflict.  Even as a child I noticed how she treated my oldest brother differently than the rest of us.
       David did deserve more than the rest of us. Every day after school and weekends he worked as a stock-boy for the corner store. He handed over every penny to Mom. We were on welfare, so his money was extra income.  I felt like she forgot the rest of us existed at times. Of all my siblings I reminded her the most of our father. I was so like him in many ways and maybe this is why we didn't get along. She hated him.
       Soon after my coming back from New Orleans my sister quit her job at the doughnut shop.  No longer needing a baby sitter I moved back to my mother's, staying only a few months. When Mom moved she had moved closer to where my friend Karen lived.  Most days I was at Karen's house.  Sometimes I'd stay overnight with my friends the Delaneys or where anyone would let me.
       The house was pretty much full with my older sister Debby, her boyfriend and their new baby. Of our nine, Cathy was the only one not living there. No one missed that me.
       When Patricia asked if I would come stay with her, I jumped at it. I'd already quit school and basically was living on the streets.
       Patricia had one rule: I had to stay at the house Monday through Friday. On Friday nights when she came home from work I'd head for Buffalo for the weekend and visit with friends. There was always an empty bed at the Delaneys' when I came into Buffalo.
       This Friday night started out as usual; a mile walk to the main road and past the thruway entrance to avoid drivers wanting to give me a ride towards Pennsylvania.
     This time, before I got to the thruway, two guys in a station wagon pulled over and asked if I needed a ride. After getting into the car with them I was nervous, but soon felt at ease.
       Going down Route 5, from Silvercreek to Buffalo, normally took forty-five minutes to an hour. Then I'd spend another twenty-five minutes getting a ride over to Seneca Street. These two said they were going all the way into Buffalo and going on the thruway. I was glad it was much faster.
       They said they wanted to stop at a friend's house, and then they'd take me to Seneca Street. I agreed. Big mistake!
Bob, the driver went into the house for a couple minutes. When he returned he told George, the other guy, to drive, then he slid into the back-seat, next to me.
     George started driving down Niagara Falls Boulevard, back towards the thruway. When I said something Bob started grabbing at me. I saw the traffic light changing from green to red. It was my only chance to get out of the car.
       I struggled with him and was able to jump from the car when George slowed for the light. Trembling, I ran in the opposite direction away from them.
     I started hitchhiking towards Seneca Street when a police cruiser pulled along side of me.
       "A little late to be out?" The officer asked.
       "I'm on my way home now."
       "Where do you live?"
       With each question the police officer asked, I knew I was in trouble again.
       "We're going to take you to the police station and have your Mom pick you up."
      It wasn't long after we arrived at the police station that my mother came walking through the door. Behind her came another police officer. They stood at the counter talking, turning at times and looking at me.
       What happened next shocked me. The officer standing behind the counter with me told me to stand up and put my hands behind my back.
       "Margaret Leary, you're under arrest for disorderly conduct."
       I was taken into a back room and told to sit in one of the chairs against the wall. The officer that had talked with my mother came in.
       "So you want to fight with your mother? Let's see if you want to fight with me."
     He stood in front of me, pointing his finger in my face, calling me names, telling me I smelled badly and asked when I last bathed. After, I asked myself who pissed him off?
       A policewoman walked into the room. He said something I couldn't overhear and she grinned. With my hands still in handcuffs she led me down a long corridor and stopped in front of a door with a small window.
       She removed the handcuffs and pushed me inside. I stumbled and almost fell to the floor. The door slammed shut behind me.  Inside the room were two chairs pushed together with a black girl sleeping on them. Her shirt was torn, blood all over her, her face was swollen from someone hitting her. I knew she'd been in a rough fight with someone.
       If I ever thought of myself as being brave forget it. I slid my back down the wall into a sitting position watching this girl sleeping, hoping she didn't awaken to find me sitting there.
       A few hours passed when I heard a new female's voice, I couldn't make out some of the things she was asking the first guard. Then I heard her yelling "You did what? She'll kill her!"
       I heard keys rattling as she made her way down the corridor. When the door opened she grabbed me by both arms and pulled me out of the room, slamming the door behind us. Her hands held my shoulders firmly as she checked to make sure I wasn't hurt while in the cell.
       "Margaret, are you OK?"
       "Yes," I replied.
       She led me down the corridor until we came into a brightly lit room where the other guard sat at one of the desks drinking coffee.
       "Margaret, you can sit here at this desk until court starts. Would you like some coffee?"
       "Yes, please. I drink it black."
       While sitting at the desk I overheard the guards talking about what my cellmate had done. She had gotten drunk at a club and started a fight with her boyfriend.
     She broke two beer bottles on the bar and started slashing him in the face and chest. He died a short time later.
       The judge gave me a court date thirty days away and set my bail at twenty-five dollars. I guess he figured since Mom and I were fighting she'd let me sit for a few days, then come get me out. He figured wrong. He didn't know I hadn't spoken to her in over three weeks. Mom left me there thinking she was going to teach me a lesson.
     After court was over all of us were taken to a larger room until a van came to take us to the city jail downtown.
       The guard who had rescued me earlier walked beside me to the van.
     "Listen to me. Watch and stay by yourself as much as possible, try and stay out of trouble. Your Mom, she'll come get you when she cools off."
       "I didn't do any thing wrong."
       There were already several women sitting in the van. I wondered where they had come from since they hadn't been in court. When we arrived at central booking downtown there were many reporters and a news crew.
     Several of the girls started swearing because no one wanted to be on television. One of the girls that was in court with me stood up looking at the girls who had already been in the van. "Which one of you bitches killed someone?"  The guard who was driving yelled for her to shut up and sit back down.
       The guards quickly came out of the building and escorted us all inside. Once inside the guards separated a Spanish woman from the rest of us. She'd killed her young child. I never saw her again.
       While waiting to be processed I overheard the guards talking about the girl I had shared a cell with. She had attacked one of the guards and was now in isolation waiting to be sent to the nut ward at Erie County Medical Center.
       Not saying a word, I listened to them talking as if I wasn't there. I hoped it wasn't the guard who had saved me earlier.
       After they processed my paperwork I was strip-searched and made to shower with lice shampoo. After my shower they gave me a blue dress to wear with County Jail written on it, one pair of socks, a towel, and washcloth.
     The cellblock had eight cells on one wall with a big cage surrounding them. When you walked into the cage there were showers and toilets with no doors. Each cell had a toilet, a sink and a bed.
       When I arrived the cellblock was already full. The guards gave me a mattress to sleep on the floor with until enough girls were released for me to get my own cell.
There's not much for anyone to do except play cards or read. We did get television privileges from noon until four, and then they would roll the set into another cellblock.
Candy, one of the inmates, showed me how to fold my sheet around the wool blanket they gave us to sit on while on the floor. Wool blankets may keep you warm but they are very itchy to sit on.
       For hours we'd sit on our blankets and play spades. This is how I learned what some of my cellmates had been arrested for. Most of the girls were there for prostitution. One of the girls was arrested for stealing a car (her boyfriend got away). Another was arrested for shoplifting.
       It became a familiar thing for the matrons to bring in new prisoners in after lunch. Candy looked up to see whom the guards were bringing this time.
       "Shit, Pam, look who's coming in!"
Candy turned towards me and said, "Peggy, stay away from them! I know all of them. They're fucking junkies."
       "They're what?"
Pam started laughing, "Peggy you're so naive. They're hooked on heroin. Watch later, when Sophie gets her meds. They'll be standing in line for their doses of methadone."
       "And we all watch our backs when they're behind us."
       "OK, Candy, I will."
       Sophie had seizures. The last seizure she got her leg caught in the bars and almost broke it. That was two weeks ago and she was still limping.
      Later that day when the nurse came in to hand out meds one of the girls pushed Sophie so hard she almost fell. Just so she could be in front of Sophie in line.
       The following day as I sat on the floor playing spades I watched one of the girls walk in and out of my cell.
       "Pam, did you see that? I'll be right back, let me see if anything is gone."
       With my cards still in my hand I got up and went into my cell. I started screaming, "That bitch stole my last pack of cigarettes!"
      When they arrested me I had nineteen dollars on me. Most of that was gone now. I'd buy candy or personal hygiene stuff and then trade some of it for cigarettes. Funny, you had to be eighteen to buy cigarettes in jail but not to be sent there.
       I ran from my cell into the cell she was in, all three girls were sitting on the bed smoking a cigarette.
       Grabbing her by the front of her dress and pulling her up I heard the ripping of material in my hands.  When the fighting started the first guard to arrive was a very large black woman every one called Momma. She stood on the outside of the cage yelling at me to let the other prisoner up. I'd pushed her head into the toilet and kept pushing the button on the wall to flush, screaming at her.
       I didn't hear Momma telling the other guards to hurry up and get in there. Pam and Candy grabbed me off of her just as the guards were coming through the entrance to the cage. They knew I'd be in more trouble if they didn't.
       Since these three girls had arrived they'd been giving Momma and the other guards a hard time. Earlier that day one told Momma to go fuck herself for no apparent reason.
       They chose the wrong girl to pick on that day. I'd been so frustrated from being locked up, I just snapped!
The three girls were sent to another cellblock and I received three days lockdown. Lockdown meant you were locked into your cell and not allowed out to eat or shower.
     Every day, Momma would come into the cellblock and open each cell door to let us out to eat breakfast. Every day she'd come to my cell and open it, then say, "Now, Miss Peggy, you behave yourself and I'll let you out to eat breakfast with the girls."
      I'd grin. "I promise, no fighting."
       Momma would return just before her shift ended to lock me back into my cell. When the shift change was over and dinner came the guards would let me out again to eat, then lock us all up for the night.
       I never spent more then an hour during the day in my cell. Today, I believe I'd done what the guards would have done, if they could have gotten away with it.
The night before court I sat on my bed wondering if I'd ever get out of this crazy place. Candy came in and sat next to me on the bed.
       "Peggy, you need to start getting your stuff together tonight. You won't be coming back here tomorrow after court is over."
       Candy was right. If convicted of disorderly conduct the sentence was only fifteen days. I'd already served thirty.
       Once in front of the judge, he asked, "Where is the mother?"
       One of the lawyers standing at the desk motioned for my mother to stand up.
       "Mrs. Leary, I put the bail at twenty-five dollars so it wouldn't be a financial burden to get her out. I didn't mean for her to be left in jail. May I ask why you didn't get her?"
       She started with my running away all the time and not listening to her. That she wanted to teach me a lesson.
       Finally looking down at me he said, "Margaret, you're free to go."
I was out of the courtroom in a flash, not looking back at the judge or my mother. I hid in the ladies' room until I was sure Mom was gone. I was positive she was outside looking for me since the judge yelled at her pretty badly.
       Once outside, again I took a chance at hitchhiking. Since my purse was downtown I had no money to take a bus. A detective who had been in the courtroom on another case, spotted me and gave me a ride to the holding center.
With six dollars in my pocket I was off to find a place to sleep tonight.