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The Hard Cell

Posted 11/5/2003

The article called "Time Served: A Day in the Life of an Inmate at Central Booking" was fascinating (Oct. 15). Anna Ditkoff expressed very well what it feels like to be invisible to those who have power over your life. She described her experience so clearly that I could empathize with her feelings of powerlessness, despair, and boredom. I know this is a cliché, but I really thought that there but for the grace of God go I. A lot of people will say, "This could never happen to me," but there is that tiny seed of possibility: You never know.

Sarah Woods
Baltimore

After reading the article "Time Served," I was brought back to the time when I had to spend the night in one of those cells for a DUI.

It was a living hell--a real-life nightmare. As a male, it was 10 times worse. You feel like you are going to suffocate. The stench of unwashed bodies, human waste, and vomit on the floor is worse than a jail in Iraq. People are crammed in every corner of the small cell. You have no concept of time. Roaches and piss gnats crawl up your nose and ears. Somebody is screaming for a guard, Jesus, Allah, or death--who knows? Nobody seems to care. People shit their pants and piss themselves because they are scared of getting raped or catching some incurable disease from the toilet.

When the food arrives in the morning, some people eat it like they're starving. Some people vomit the food up all over the place right after they eat it. When you are called to see the court commissioner, everybody can hear what you are charged with because you have to speak out loud. If you are released on your own recognizance, you are still put in a holding cell where you are treated like a dog. When your name is called and you sign for your property, you are so anxious to get out of there that you would take a bag with shit in it just to get some fresh air. Outside the building there are bums asking for money or cigarettes.

This is the god's truth.

Philip Thayer
Baltimore

A Jones for the Falls

I was encouraged to read that plans are moving ahead to create a history trail that will lure visitors to sites beyond the Inner Harbor (Charmed Life). The "major roadways" to which your article refers in fact span the buried Jones Falls, whose east banks saw the establishment of Baltimore's first settlement. The river, for miles above its mouth, provided waterpower to the multitude of factories that propelled Baltimore's industrial growth, among other things supplying sailcloth for Baltimore Clippers and the iron columns for the U.S. Capitol dome.

The parking lots beneath Interstate 83, and the nearly vacant lot bordered by Saratoga and Guilford streets were once a great marsh, "the resort of sportsmen for snipe and woodcock," according to the 19th-century historian Thomas Scharf. Before the great oxbow of the river was straightened in 1789, the river was navigable roughly to the corner of Calvert and Lexington streets, and "shoals of porpoises were often seen in the stream as high up as Bath Street." As the Jones Falls was channelized, and its adjacent banks became more populated, disastrous floods over the span of a century finally prompted the city to encase the river in a tunnel, topped by "the Fallsway," an engineering feat completed in 1914.

Ironically, the marsh, which had served at one point in history as a cattle pasture, once again accommodates livestock: the 10 horses of the Baltimore Police Department's Mounted Division are stabled in a former garage in the shadow of the elevated expressway. Situated in some of Baltimore's lowest lying land, it continues to flood during major storm events, and the horses occasionally find themselves ankle-deep in water.

As part of my recent research on the buried stretch of the river for a landscape architecture master's thesis, I designed a park encompassing the Jones Falls and adjoining parking lots between Madison and Gay streets. The intent was to provide a link in the greenway destined to run the length of the Jones Falls Valley. I had also envisioned its being a part of the heritage trail under discussion. Because the planners are searching for a thematic and physical link between various sites, I would urge the city to consider the creation of a park in this location. My own suggestions included "daylighting" the Jones Falls for a stretch, and providing pasturage for the police horses and sorely needed green space for the public. In addition, I concentrated on visible ways in which to collect and reuse storm water that once fed the river, as a way of engaging the public in a place that would stimulate a new understanding of our relationship to the planet. Perhaps most importantly, and especially now that there is talk of demolishing the Supermax detention facility, the city has a superb opportunity to welcome the hidden river at its heart back into its life, and to transform what is now a vast, inhospitable tract of land into an attractive bridge, rather than a barrier.

Louise Toby
Baltimore

A+

What a wonderful article on Nona Porter, who was my son's first-grade teacher at Grace and St. Peter's School last year (Charmed Life, Oct. 29). She really accomplished a lot with him, and we were so fortunate to have such a caring, bright, and loving individual to be his teacher. God bless her always, and thank you for highlighting such a wonderful and skillful teacher. Here's to her next 40 years.

Rita Walters
Baltimore

Correction: In last week's story on Maryland lobbyist Ira Cooke, it was mistakenly reported that in 2000 Cooke settled a lawsuit filed by Isle of Capri Casinos for $3 million ("California Scheming," Mobtown Beat). While Isle of Capri Casinos asked for $3 million in the suit, the amount of the settlement is unknown. City Paper regrets the error.

When you're giving someone a gentle ribbing, it helps to spell her name right, and last week we mispelled Maryland First Lady Kendel Ehrlich's name on our cover. Our embarrassment should be punishment enough.

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