by Patrick O’Neil
Demetri, a shifty little bastard up on multiple murder charges, was my cellie. Many a night I’d feel the bunks shake as he jacked off and made weird noises. It was common agreement that one should do it quickly and quietly. He was on the top bunk so it shouldn’t have been a problem. But Demetri just wasn’t capable of either. He’d stolen bits and pieces of sleazy porn, torn out when borrowing other guy’s magazines, mixed in with ordinary women’s underwear ads, the kind you find in any newspaper. He’d sort of fashioned them all together into his own whack book. Taking a People magazine he adhered the various purloined photos onto the pages with Bob Barker-brand toothpaste. When both sides were entirely adorned with the tattered shots of insatiable-looking naked women spreading their legs or shoving their tits together jammed on top of a layer of dried toothpaste, they became extra thick, almost like papier-mâché or cardboard. And when he leafed through while pulling his pud, the pages would creak and he’d make these whiny comments.
“Ohhh, look her pussy; look at her pussy; oh, her pussy.”
It’d be about then that I’d say, “Demetri? Demetri. Demetri! Shut the fuck up.”
Demetri and his gypsy girlfriend had allegedly poisoned several old men to steal their money and property. His girlfriend would make as if she was the old guy’s squeeze, and then Demetri playing the role of her caretaker brother would put toxic plant extracts in the old dude’s food. When the fourth old guy turned up dead and Demetri and the girlfriend were found living in his house, driving his car, and depleting his bank account, the county of San Francisco decided they had a case and charged the both of them. He was constantly in the newspapers, headline front page material for months. Which I liked because it pushed my measly armed robberies to the back pages, below the fold, soon they’d be gone and I’d be forgotten. What my lawyer described as the “wait for the next worse thing to come along” defense—there’s always a more heinous crime waiting to be committed—and then I’d no longer be the DA’s flavor of the month.
Still, it would freak Demetri out when he’d see me reading an article about him.
“All lies,” he’d say. “All lies. Hey, Pat, how ’bout a snack?”
And I’d be like, “Demetri, you poison people, ain’t eating shit of yours.”
We were both max-security. Our combined bail in the several millions. In reality we shouldn’t have been in the minimum-security pods, and so the sheriff’s department had made it mandatory we be kept together in one of the lockdown two-man cells. Up on the top tier with the rest of the three strikers fighting for our lives.
“Pat? Think ya ever gettin’ out?”
“How many times I gotta tell you, name’s Patrick. Not Pat. Pat’s what you do to a dog.”
“Don’t know, Pat. Your case is bad.”
“Like yours is a fuckin’ walk in the park.”
Demetri was a Christian Palestinian. He told me I didn’t know persecution until I’d experienced life as a Christian Arab. I said I didn’t even know there were any. Demetri said that was okay, he’d never met a junkie bank robber either.
But it annoyed the piss out of me when he’d jack off late at night. The only time the cellblock was even vaguely quiet was 1 to 4 a.m. And I’d take that time to read. Lying on my bunk, my head hanging off staring up at the book I’d be holding in the shaft of light coming into the cell from the main overheads above the tier, I’d read all night with plans to sleep all day. Only people I’d see were guards as they passed by the cell every hour and shined a light in our faces, making sure we were still there—as if we could somehow escape all that steel and concrete.
“Pat, how much you pay lawyer?”
“Go to sleep, Demetri.”
“Mine want ’nother forty thou. Bloodsucker.”
“Go to sleep, Demetri.”
I sat in county jail for eighteen months fighting my case. A year of which I spent locked down with Demetri. When the DA finally offered me a deal that wasn’t twenty-five years to life, I took it and got transferred to finish out my time. Periodically, I’d read of Demetri. The prosecution was having trouble proving he’d actually committed murder. When it looked like their case was going to completely unravel, they opted to go with multiple convictions of elder abuse—Demetri was going to do five years, a little over a year for each murder. With time served, he’d be out a year or two after me.
When I got out on parole, it was a whole different world for me. I tried to get my shit somewhat together, clean up, not shoot dope, and stay out of jail. So I checked myself into a residential rehab. Actually, I had nowhere else to go. And with parole breathing down my neck, and the DA’s promise of a life behind bars if I fucked up again, it wasn’t really that hard a decision. After a three and half years, I was off parole, out on my own, had a job—and life wasn’t great, but it wasn’t the hell it had been.
One day, feeling cooped up in my county subsidized single occupancy sober living environment, I decide to go out. Walking along Third Street out of my soon-to-be gentrified SoMa neighborhood in the general direction of downtown, I passed the W Hotel and there was Demetri out front, leaning against the hood of a cab.
“Hey, man,” I said to him. “When’d you get out?”
“Hey, Pat. Get out of what?”
“Get out of prison, dude.”
Demetri leaned in close to my ear and said, “Pat, don’t know what you’re talking ’bout. Never been to prison. Please don’t speak of such things again.”
I gave him the once-over. He looked bad. He had aged a lot in there.
“Okay, buddy,” I said, and walked away.
BIO: Patrick O’Neil is a former junkie bank robber and the author of the memoir Hold-Up (13e Note Editions, Paris, France). His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Fourteen Hills, Razorcake, Sensitive Skin, Word Riot, and The Weeklings. He currently lives in the heart of old-school Hollywood sleaze and teaches at a community college to students whose main purpose in life is destroying the English language. You can find more of his writing, music, and films online at patrick-oneil.com.