Snitch (Part 2)

The following narrative was written as my final submission for English 404, Creative NonFiction, during the Fall 2022 semester. Read Part 1 HERE.

“It’s always the ones with the dirty hands pointing the fingers.”

Sonya Teclai, musical artist.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
“Think of it as we’re building a pyramid; you would never start at the top,” the AUSA (Assistant U.S. Attorney) explained. “You begin with the foundation, then build upwards from there,” he droned on. The analogy didn’t make me feel any better. I pictured myself and my friends as bricks getting piled on each other, layer by layer, wondering how much pressure I could stand as they kept building their damn pyramid.

Washington, D.C. might be an International City and the capital of the free world, but trust me, it is, at heart, a small town. There are few secrets when it comes to elected officials and bureaucrats. I knew it was only a matter of time before the whole world got wind of my snitching.

1983- Photo by Art Jones
My ex-girlfriend was someone I suspected would be another brick in the pyramid. Forget that we had been separated for nearly a year, my lawyer explained, “The feds would try to squeeze her for leverage over you. You must reach out to her.”

This was not going to be an easy conversation.

We met in one of those dive bars in a part of town that we would never have been caught dead in when we were dating. I guess it didn’t matter much now. Anonymity was the goal. I gave her the bad news, and she didn’t take it well. “What the hell does this have to do with me?” she exclaimed as her voice rose a few octaves to no effect on the few customers in the fine dive establishment. Then, any hope that I could trust her to keep the matter confidential evaporated quickly. “Are you wearing a wire? Are you trying to entrap me?” She leaned forward, speaking into my chest, “I knew nothing about your craziness back then. Do you hear me, whoever is listening to us?”
There was no wire, no one was listening to us, and I was not trying to entrap her. I thought it was fair to warn her that I was a bigger jerk than she knew me to be when we were a couple. But all I could tell her as I got up to leave was to Get a lawyer and that I was sorry.
Grand Jury
Image by Sang Hyun Cho from Pixabay

The marble bench was still uncomfortable. The subpoena stated that I was to appear outside the Grand Jury room at an appointed hour, and someone would come to give me further instructions. Considerable time had passed, no one had come looking for me, and my lawyer hadn’t arrived. I considered looking for a pay phone to call his office, but I was afraid to move. All I could think about with every ticking second was how I would explain what I was doing outside a federal grand jury room if someone I knew stopped and asked me questions.

I suddenly recognized a woman walking down the corridor with a group of people heading toward another jury room. Our gazes locked for a second, and I turned, looked down at my cards, and pretended that I was intensely reading them. My stomach had passed into my throat and then collapsed like a rock back into place. When the group had passed, I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the back of her head. She never looked back.

The relief was short-lived. I thought about my parents and family in New York and how I would explain everything. My lawyer and the feds told me there was no guarantee my name wouldn’t be made public once the grand jury had completed its work and someone had been indicted. In fact, due to the high-profile nature of this investigation, it was a good chance that my name would be splattered across the front page of the Washington Post, the New York Times, and every local radio and television outlet in Washington. “You’ll be famous.” I don’t want to be famous.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
I was preparing to sign the immunity agreement when I suddenly realized I had a question or two. I hesitated for what must have been a second too long when someone, the AUSA or the DEA agent, slammed their hand down on the table. Hard. Addressing my lawyer, “Sir, you better speak to your client. He is either prepared to answer all questions before the grand jury, or this agreement will be torn up.” Both men suddenly got up and left the room, leaving my lawyer and me. 
Shaking from the confrontation, I got up from my seat and walked to the sole tall narrow window overlooking the plaza in front of the courthouse. I pondered my fate as I watched the people below briskly moving about their business, oblivious to my panic and the world falling around me. How the hell did I get to this moment?
I knew the answer, of course. Greed. Recklessness. Now I was in a room in a courthouse, getting ready to sign an agreement that would make me a snitch. I didn’t want to go to prison. It was either them or me. I once spent four hours in a police station lock-up in 1968 and was close to losing it.  A federal penitentiary, I’m sure, would be worse. Sign the damn agreement.

My lawyer finally arrived, insisting on last-minute instructions. “Tell the truth, but be very specific in your responses, and don’t go off on tangents.” I heard him, but my mind was somewhere else. At that moment, I steeled myself.

Grand Jury
Image by Ichigo121212 from Pixabay

My vision narrowed, staring down a tunnel with no light at the other end—only darkness. Afraid I was being sucked into a vortex, there was nothing to hold onto as I free-fall, twisting and turning, rolling and spinning, my eyes wide open because I couldn’t close them. No, I think I will be forced to witness my fate, feel it, like a million shards of glass cutting into me. And I wonder if this is what hell would be like if it existed.

All I could think about was asking for forgiveness, a new beginning, and wishing I could quietly slink away in anonymity.

The mahogany-colored door to the jury room opened beside me, and a woman stepped out. “Mister Ruiz, we’re ready for you.”

Snitch (Part 1)

The following narrative was written as my final submission for English 404, Creative NonFiction, during the Fall 2022 semester.

“It’s always the ones with the dirty hands pointing the fingers.”

Sonya Teclai, musical artist.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

So here is the truth, as close to the truth as I can recollect or want to. Strips of memories have been peeled away over time, so all I’m left with are hazy recollections, unremembered names, blurry sequences of events, and a desire not to smear the names of people I’ve hurt. Thirty-nine years later, it’s still difficult to admit I was a snitch. Not just any snitch. A snitch willing to bring down a friend, allegedly the mistress of the Mayor of Washington, D.C. I’m not proud of that decision, as I’m writing about it now, but I’d like to think of it as, while painful, therapy. To say that I have felt shame, regret, or embarrassment at any juncture in my journey would be an understatement. The pain in my conscience eases when I tell myself that most people would have done the same as I did. Testify before a federal grand jury against your friends, or else find yourself on a fast track to the hell of prison.

The Elijah Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse on Constitution Avenue Northwest in Washington D.C. was a twenty-minute walk and a mile away from my East Capital Street studio apartment with an awe-inspiring view of the top of the U.S. Capitol building. It took me five years of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll to make it to that marble-decorated courthouse hallway and the hard-ass marble bench outside a federal grand jury room. I sat there, my ass and legs constantly shifting as I searched for comfort on that bench.

1983- Photo by Art Jones

I shuffled the three-by-five index cards given to me by my lawyer, desperately trying to memorize their content. One card spelled precise instructions on pleading the fifth amendment if I thought an answer would incriminate me. How would I know that? “Use common sense,” my lawyer scolded me. “If they ask whether you have ever personally dealt drugs to the mayor, you should assume it’s a trick question and take the fifth.”

I wish you could be there. Grand Juries, I learned, don’t allow witnesses or potential defendants to have a lawyer present when questioned. “That’s why I gave you the second card,” he explained, “tell them you want to step outside the grand jury room and speak to me if you feel uneasy about a question.”

This is the point in the story when I try to poke my memory for what I felt back then. I was scared shitless about going to prison. I’d seen enough gangster and prison movies to know that only gang rapes and death by shivs awaited me. One wrong statement spits out of my mouth, and the Federal prosecutors would pounce on me, claiming, “Oops, you fucked up,” except in more legalese language.

When I received the first grand jury subpoena and figured out what the hell was going on, I called the target of the federal investigation. Are you fucking kidding me? I remember exclaiming when we met at a downtown Washington D.C. restaurant, one of those gentrified places that the next generation of movers and shakers frequented. During the day, I was the Executive Director of a government commission appointed by the same Mayor. Talk about irony. At night, I was snorting my way through ounces of cocaine and selling grams of the South American export with an abandonment, expecting that my two lives would never intersect. I was delusional. I’m living in the nation’s capital during the war on drugs. What would make me think that a semi-high profile bureaucrat would never attract the attention of every illegal drug-chasing federal agency while living less than two miles from the White House and FBI headquarters? That is the definition of recklessness.

Waiting for my lawyer, I thought about an earlier meeting with the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) and a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent. That was when I agreed to become a snitch. To betray my friends, to sacrifice whatever moral high ground I lived on in exchange for not being charged with any federal crimes.

Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay
The nightmare always comes to me like a wave of cascading emotions. There’s the narrow high ceiling office with one lone window. My lawyer and me on one side of a small desk, the AUSA and the DEA agent opposite us. My lawyer tells me he’s hammered out the details of the immunity deal, and the meeting was a formality. “You can ask questions,” my lawyer told me, “Just remember, they hold all the cards.” That didn’t seem like a choice. More like blackmail. I knew there would be questions about the target of the investigation, but there was nothing to stop prosecutors from asking about other people. Suddenly, shockwaves of doubt and remorse throttled through my body. All I could think about was the long list of people, some with serious political and street creds, who bought drugs from me. But I visibly shuddered when I thought about the people who sold me the drugs. What would happen when they found out that I had snitched on them? 

To Be Continued…

ReThinking Public Safety At the Ballot Box

June 7 Primary
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

With the June 7th primary ahead of us in California, I’ve become particularly troubled by the hysteria over the issue of crime and the same tired proposed solutions. In Long Beach, California, a rather ugly smear campaign is being conducted by a group against one of the candidates, Vice Mayor Rex Richardson.  Apparently, according to the print and video ads, Mr. Richardson favors “Defunding the Police.” As evidence, the critics offer a less than two-second video of the candidate saying as much.

I’m not here to argue whether that excerpt is a true reflection of candidate Rex Richardson’s opinion (It’s not. Read his plan HERE) nor what I believe to be the racist undertones of that campaign (Just because there are some Black people on the committee doesn’t mean it isn’t a racist strategy). No, as usual in political campaigns, instead of offering voters honest policy discussions and solutions, it always comes down to smears and jeers from both sides.

June 7 Primary
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

I’m not the only one who believes that simply putting more police on the streets will not solve whatever problem we believe exists. Life and politics are more complicated, and we deserve to rethink what we want from law enforcement and our entire legal system. I’ll have more thoughts on the issue over time. Still, I thought the issue was immediately relevant in light of the upcoming primary. The following following program from NPR’s Code Switch program offers interesting insight into the issue of law enforcement. You should take the time to listen.

June 7 Primary
National Public Radio

The following is the June 1, 2022, episode of the program.

“In the wake of violence and tragedies, people are often left in search of ways to feel safe again. That almost inevitably to conversations about the role of police. On today’s episode, we’re talking to the author and sociologist Alex Vitale, who argues that many spaces in U.S. society over-rely on the police to prevent problems that are better addressed through other means. Doing so, he says, can prevent us from properly investing in resources and programs that could make the country safer in the long run.”

CODE SWITCH Rethinking ‘safety’ in the wake of Uvalde

For more information on the June 7, 2022 primary, please visit the following sites for information:

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