Waiting for trial

by Eric Ginsburg

When you get a visitor in jail, they don’t tell you who it is. Luis Rosa was expecting his girlfriend when I walked into the visitation room, and was probably wondering what I was doing there. I haven’t seen him since his first hearing back in December, and even then we couldn’t talk as he sat, shackles around his wrists and ankles, the cuffs connected by a chain that wrapped around his waist. You can’t bring your cell phones or much of anything into the visitation area, so I left my things in the car except for my license and key. Without any distractions in the large waiting room, most of the friends and relatives stared off blankly and listened to the hum of the lights. My attention turned to another visitor, there to see his friend. “Sir, he was deported,” the woman behind the counter tells him. “What? When did that happen?” he replied, visibly rattled. “I can’t give out that information,” she said. For people trying to visit someone in jail, the constant transferring of inmates grows tiresome quickly. Since the Latin Kings that I know, including Rosa, were indicted in early December it’s been difficult to keep track of where the six of them are. None of them have been held in Greensboro, presumably because of overcrowding, and while they all started a county away to begin with, half of them are now in Farmville, Va. Months ago I visited another Latin King, Samuel Velasquez, promising to come again soon. Before I got the chance, he was transferred to Farmville, in the middle of nowhere, prohibitively too far to drive. The cost of communicating with or supporting someone in jail is another factor frustrating outsiders’ attempts to stay in touch or help, from the extortionistic cost of talking to an inmate on the phone to the $3 service fee to add money to an inmates account at the Winston-Salem jail. I can afford the occasional trek west to visit the Kings there, though I’ve been terrible about it — a grand total of two trips in five months. Each inmate is only allowed two visits a week at designated times, and Luis’ girlfriend visits on Sundays, my day off. Last week it was finally time to stop making excuses and get out there to see him. Just days before I visited, the legal-defense fund supporting the Kings announced that Jorge Cornell, the leader of the Almighty Latin King & Queen Nation and one of the indicted Kings, was being denied medical attention in Farmville. Jorge has struggled with his health, and I was with him when he suffered a heart attack in Detroit. My mind went back to the hospital bed there where he stayed overnight and how we worried about paying his medical bills. Now the concern was whether he would receive medical care at all. Jorge told his supporters that he was denied treatment overnight even though he was experiencing the same symptoms as his heart attack. Anyone that’s read much about prison likely isn’t surprised at the lack of medical care available, but to ignore someone who could be having a heart attack and deny treatment should be criminal. What’s more, Jorge hasn’t been convicted of anything — the Kings are still awaiting trial. Luis has a heart condition too and requires regular medication, but when I relay the story about Jorge he said he hasn’t had any problems here. He keeps to himself and, like Samuel did, he told me about different things he does to stay sane while spending hour after hour imprisoned and waiting. Luis braids hair and has gotten pretty good at Sudoku, and Samuel focuses on his exercise routine and writing music. Both shared stories of their innovative jailhouse recipes, from creating burrito wraps to making skinny, two-foot long cakes. And while Luis may be getting along as well as he can be considering the circumstances, he doesn’t even think their cases will go to trial until next year. It’s a long time to wait, especially without adequate medical attention. It’s a long time to be copying Sudoku puzzles out of the newspaper and getting visitors twice a week at best. It’s a long time to put off your plans of being a cook, like Richard Robinson, or to be away from your newborn baby, like Charles Moore. It’s a long time to spend communicating with family members on expensive phone calls or through thick glass. And it’s a long time absent from the formative years in your daughters’ lives, like Russell Kilfoil and Jorge. Especially when nobody has found you guilty.