My dad used to own a vending machine business and part of his job was refilling the machines at a police station. One Saturday, Dad thought it’d be exciting if to take me along. I was 8.
The officers thought I was the cutest thing ever — which I was — so naturally they asked, “Hey, kid, wanna go see the jail cells?” I was horrified of cops because I watched a lot of “COPS” on TV, where they took everyone and their crying mothers to jail. So, fearfully, I said yes.
It was just like the movies: There were concrete floors and steel bars. It felt roomy, but a bit too warm and damp for my liking.
I think everyone — even an 8-year-old — thinks the same thing when they first enter a jail cell: How does a human being spend their lives in here?
It’d be horrible, I thought: not being able to run around on a playground; hugging my parents through the bars; the amount of paper and markers I would need to pass the time, and the inevitable torture of trying to color with a dried-out marker.
Ten years later, I entered another jail cell. It was for a film I was making.
This one had no bars. Just a solid metal door, with a tiny glass window. I walked inside and asked the officer to close the door — you know, to set up the shot. And I thought the same thing: How does a human being spend their lives in here?
I was months away from college, so it was a time in life when I thought I could do anything — be anyone. Sitting inside there, I felt like a nobody. It terrified me that there’s was chance I could end up like this — that I could be lost and forgotten inside an 8-by-8 box, whether that was in prison or a New York City apartment.
So over the years, I’ve worked to avoid that, and I thought I’d been fairly successful. Then a few days ago, someone told me I was a nobody — he said, in the big picture, he couldn’t care less about me. He had more important people to deal with, because he was an important person and I wasn’t.
Made me feel small, powerless. Made me feel like the second time I was in a jail cell. Made me feel like a nobody.
When I was 8, the worst part of jail was losing freedom to do what I love. I had no grasp or “somebody” and “nobody” — no grasp of “important” and “unimportant.” I just wanted a playground, loving friends and family, and fresh markers. As long as I was guaranteed those things, there was no such thing as jail.
Sometimes, grownups ruin the world.