40 Days in Orleans Parish Prison


The following is a true account. Names have been changed to protect the interviewee’s privacy. There is another piece related to this story – you can read it here.

In mid-2005, pre-Katrina,  Dolores Brown was still living in the clutches of her abusive boyfriend, Branche. They had taken on a new roommate, a woman from across the street named Janet. At first, Janet claimed that she worked odd hours at a local radio station. Then, the story was that she was a fetish worker. She was an escort, and as Dolores would later learn, one who was not in good graces with her service and had been blackballed from any others existing in New Orleans.

Branche had a mother who was a major enabler, constantly placing him in detox facilities and halfway/three-quarter houses merely to help him avoid facing an array of federal and other criminal charges. He was in some detox place on the midday when Tuesday when Dolores found herself alone in the two bedroom apartment in the Lower Garden District with Janet. Delores knew that the drug dealer that she, Branche, and their friend Tracy patronized frequently, and with whom Janet had been sleeping, had upgraded to a prettier, but even bigger drug addict named Casey. So standard protocol, Dolores’s cell phone being the only one in the apartment, was for Dolores or Branche to call Bud once, and he would return their call knowing that they were calling about a purchase, not the unwittingly scorned Janet.

Janet was craving heroin and crack badly. She kept grabbing Dolores’s phone and calling repeatedly. Dolores tried desperately to reason with her roommate – who had once backed up a malicious lie Bud told about Dolores allegedly having propositioned him for drugs. This was completely false, but Branche, being the monster that he was, gladly believed it. With Janet backing up the falsehood, Dolores had been beaten over it. She begged Janet to quit calling him to no avail. Why Dolores did not just blurt out, “ He’s hooking up with Casey! Give up!” is probably still beyond her; probably because Branche had told her not to.

Eventually, Dolores tried the phone number of a dealer from her past. It turned out it was still good, and she arranged to meet him for a buy. The dealer rode his bike toward her and she walked toward him and made the transaction for ten Xanax and $40 worth of cocaine. Casey and Bud must have seen her walking past their block. Shortly after, Delores was trying to show Janet how to climb out over the fence surrounding the small yard Delores’ bedroom opened up to because the front door lock was broken. The real estate agency from which they rented the house hadn’t issued them a key to the yard’s gate. So when leaving, one had to lock the front door from the inside, close (but not lock for lack of key here as well) the upstairs bedroom door, then hop the fence and wall.

Naturally, that was when the cops arrived.

Photo by Bart Everson, Flickr Creative Commons

The moment one cop addressed Dolores as “Lo,” she knew that the false burglary reported to the police was made by Casey, who had initially met Dolores when she was good friends with another young woman sharing her name. Of all the people she knew, Casey ever called her Lo. She told the officers that she rented from an agency, and offered them the office phone number. This was around 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, well within business hours. One smart-mouthed cop snapped, “I don’t need their number. I used to rent from them and still have it in my phone!” The police never bothered to call and clear up the entire matter as they should have. They searched Dolores, Janet, and the apartment, writing in the report that the side door was ajar and they thought someone was in danger, (yet another a bald-faced lie).

Delores spent the next 48 hours in Central Lockup, where one of two available women’s holding tanks was so overcrowded that everyone was forced to stand. One young woman was so high and out of it that every woman in the overcrowded cell had to catch her from falling at some point. During this gross neglect, in addition to other more than questionable choices made by the prison staff, Miss Hazel, the very uniquely charismatic Public Access TV channel Liberal pundit was in the packed cell for disturbing the peace. She had much to say about the depraved indifference and other malfeasance committed by the CLU staff. Dolores saw all of the major local news channels lined up to hear what Miss Hazel had to say as she was bused to the Drug Court Building to which she was to be released.

She never returned.

Photos courtesy of Orleans Parish Criminal Court

After some time as a fugitive in her own city, Dolores learned that her father had recruited his next door neighbor, defense attorney Robert Glass to help with her situation. Robert got Dolores excused from Drug Court and its virtually impossible demands, and had her placed on inactive probation instead. This should have been easy. Once a week, she had to report to Section C of the Orleans Parish Criminal Courthouse after submitting a urine sample which Judge Benedict Willard then reviewed. These were her terms of release until her actual possession case was tried.

Although Dolores’s responsibilities to Willard’s court were simple and straightforward, unlike the almost full-time commitment that Drug Court would have been, Branche was back around. They were evicted and naturally, Branche blamed her. Dolores could have easily stayed clean had she moved back in with her father, but with Branche blowing crack smoke in her face and accusing her of stealing drugs he had used, she had less than no support system. So, she kept flunking Judge Willard’s drug tests and being placed on contempt remands, the last of which was to be indefinite until she was accepted by an inpatient rehab program. This was very bleak; State-run facilities never were going to come to see her. So this time in lockup, she took her sister’s advice and told the nurse she was suicidal.

Photo by Bart Everson, Wikimedia Commons

This led Dolores from the holding cell to what was then known as HOD (House Of Detention). This building housed Juvenile Hall as well as the small section of the jail where inmates were placed on suicide watch as well as a segregation unit for those getting in fights in their previous dormitories. She spent one night in very loose restraints, then a couple in a cell with a woman who had been in a fight. She repeatedly tried to menace Dolores sexually, getting what some would consider “too close for comfort.” Dolores was aware that they were under more scrutiny from these guards than almost anyone else in the jail, and the woman was sussing her out. If the two women were having an ordinary conversation and Dolores suddenly found her cellmate looming over her, she didn’t break the casual dialogue or her calm affect. By the time Dolores was transferred to Concetta 1:2 (the psychiatric dorm), the other woman had backed off.

Concetta 1/1 was one of two women’s dormitories used as holding facilities on the first floor of the multi-story Concetta building, at least at this time in 2005 before Hurricane Katrina. It was considered the psychiatric dormitory for women, including those who had gotten in fights in other dorms, those who had Cxs, short for Coroner’s Examination – a document that for some reason was signed by the Coroner declaring a person legally insane – along with people like Dolores, who knew that this would be far better than the overcrowded General Population dormitories within the jail. Unlike the dorms through which Dolores had “rolled out” (began the release process) from an earlier shorter remand, women were not constantly picking fights and everyone had a bottom or middle bunk with a  few to spare.

The General Population dorms were notorious for numerous mattresses being pulled to the middle of the floor for lack of enough bunks. C 1/1 was a lot quieter, and Dolores preferred what she nicknamed The Morning CX show (which usually coincided with network syndication of The Golden Girls around 7 am or so). These relatively amusing displays and interactions between one woman named Louise who had a serious problem with her name being said (unless you were speaking directly to her) and Miss Pam (the legitimacy of whose actual mental illness was doubted by Dolores and other female inmates with whom she became close). Miss Pam, rumor had it, used to be an LSU professor until she was slipped something in a bar and never came back. She would pace around the tables in the center of the dorm in a very stately manner delivering her not-too-out-there rants as if giving a class lecture. Once the topic was, “Marilyn Monroe and Madonna!” This actually made sense since both celebrities had been major sexual icons in their day. Occasionally, Miss Pam would mutter Louise’s name while passing the overly sensitive, epileptic woman’s bunk.  To this, Louise would challenge Miss Pam to say her name again and Miss Pam did.

No actual altercation ever came from this.

Photo courtesy of Officer Bimblebury, Wikimedia

One of the first women Dolores befriended in the dorm was one of two identical twins who had at some point swapped IDs. The one Dolores met had a number of warrants out for her in New Orleans, and her sister was equally a fugitive in a more northern state. So, while this woman in OPP was to eventually be released on her own recognizance under the name Kelly, her given name was Tisha. This seemed smart on both twins’ parts.

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

Dolores had explained to her family over the phone that, although there was no way SHE  could smoke 10 packs of Bugler cigarette tobacco between the arrival of commissary (goods payable by deposits made to an inmate’s account by family, friends, etc) the cigarettes were currency and that a  bounty would make life in jail a whole lot easier. So she had no less than $100 at a time in her Orleans Parish Prison Account. Upon her initial arrival and booking, Dolores had made a good guess that at most the staff would make sure the psychiatrist who prescribed her Klonopin for anxiety existed and was given four times her actual dose on the outside. Another silver lining to being in C 1/1 was the cornucopia of various barbiturates and the lack of cigarettes among most of the women prescribed them. Thorazine pills were so common that there was a cigarette per milligrams rate.

Another CX (short for the aforementioned term, Coroner’s Examination) named Vanessa was severely Schizophrenic but still greeted people with a kind smile from her mattress which she preferred to lie on the floor among the table, presumably a choice made out of paranoia. She would lament to Dolores and other inmates about how George W Bush was having an affair with Vanna White and they were planning to frame her for murder to “f**k with her life.” In reality, Dolores was pretty sure that she was in for possession.

The fruit and cheese that came with breakfast, as well as dessert items, could be bought with either one or two cigarettes. In very little time Dolores and several women with bunks adjacent to hers had collected more than enough fruit to make some very potent Hooch (jailhouse wine). Dolores did not find it awful. More simply multi-flavored.

In OPP, being “gay for the stay” among female inmates was known as Bulldogging. Dolores kissed a few girls and let one feel her up but the threat of being rebooked AND  separated by the women to whom she had become somewhat accustomed kept her from going any further.

There were nicknames for the various yellow, orange, and red bracelets issued to inmates along with numbers to be recited during roll calls. There were “ Rolexes” which included the yellow misdemeanor bracelets and the orange minor felonies, meaning that any length of incarceration would begin and end in OPP when one “rolled out”. Red bracelets were referred to as Timexes which meant that one was at least facing charges that, if convicted (if not already) would eventually be transferred to St Gabrielle Women’s Penitentiary or Angola Penitentiary to serve at least several years of what qualified as “time”. Dolores wore an orange “ Rolex”.

At one point the daughter of an older lady already in C 1/1 was placed in the dorm because she had gotten into a fight but also, both mother and daughter being repeat offenders, the guards knew that placing the daughter with her mom, already somewhat of a Mother Hen around the dorm was an extra punishment.

During the last few weeks of Dolores’s remand, her wealthy uncle had become aware of her situation and offered to pay for a private inpatient rehab center. Now it was only the question of which of the top three facilities in the country (#1 Betty Ford, #2 Palmetto Addiction Recovery Center, or #3, Hazleton). A new girl name Tracy was moved from another Concetta dorm where she had taken a serving tray to the head of a woman who would not stop giving her trouble very deliberately to be removed. Tracy had apparently gone through HOD without restraints involved and now took up an empty bunk near Dolores. Tracy made the last stretch of Dolores’s remand more bearable, whipping up cheesecake flame free made from cigarette bartered pieces of breakfast cheese and the cake sometimes served as dessert. After lights out while some women Bulldagged though (much to Dolores’s and other women’s dismay), Tracy was staunchly heterosexual.

Nonetheless, games of Truth Or Dare and an alteration of Charades were played by Dolores, Tracy, and other women while smoking cigarettes lit by one of at least two illicit lighters in the dorm smuggled in by someone. One day, the two fast friends decided to put together a talent show enlisting the two dorm leaders and someone not participating to act as judges. Tracy and Dolores, with the help of a rather tall, strongly built 18 year old reenacted the scene from Scarface in which Tony Montana’s (played by Tracey) sister Gina (played by Dolores) enters his office under the guise of seduction then tries to kill him , at which point the other girl, as one of the main character’s goons jumps out, “shoots” Dolores as Gina and drags her away. The skit won second place to the daughter who now shared a dorm with her mother and had suffered a seizure earlier that day. The guards, able to listen via intercom visibly enjoyed the entire talent show from beginning to end.

When it came to setting Dolores’s court date to determine the terms of her release, Tracy had court a few days prior and returned to the dorm noting that “men, cops, lawyers on both sides, all of them can’t help eyeballing a woman in prison orange and shackles.” A few days later when Dolores returned to Judge Willard’s Section C courtroom Palmetto Addiction Recovery Center, a 90-day inpatient facility in Rayville, Louisiana had the first available place for her and Tract was proven correct about the proclivities of men in a courtroom. Willard signed off in altering a standard guilty plea, allowing Dolores to appeal. His reasoning was unknown but Dolores was grateful for it.

Four days later (two days after Tracy’s release to house arrest and an ankle bracelet) Dolores was awoken by the intercom summoning her to roll out. She jumped out of bed, swapping panties with a woman wearing a Timex, passing the illicit lighter passed onto her by Tracy to another dorm mate of whom she had become fond and swore never again to return to the place.

While at Palmetto, Dolores was already at a safe distance when Katrina hit and by the time she DID return to New Orleans Hurricane Katrina had obliterated all of the court computer files, so rather than report for active probation, Dolores kept her head down until her scheduled appeal which she won since all that was relevant indicated misconduct on the behalf of the arresting officers. Now Tulane Law Books teach this appeal probably at a first-year level.


Margaret Marley is a regular contributing author for Big Easy Magazine. Be sure to check out her interview with Duke Stewart, as well as her other artist profiles and articles here.

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