The Call Box: Doin’ Hard Time, part 2 At the Gray Bar Grill

by Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD

The Gray Bar Grill, as I mentioned, was our in-house restaurant. It did a big daytime business due to all the court personnel but was quiet at night. It was the only place to get a sandwich, soup or salad as the area was pretty isolated. The chef was of course a trustee who was selected by the officer in charge of placing prisoners in the right jobs. The fare was average at best but cheap (very cheap) but there were bright moments. Whenever the Department of Fish and Game made a seizure of illegal lobster, venison or whatever game, it was donated to the jail system. How about lobster bisque or lobster salad or tender venison for $1.50? Abalone anyone?          

Speaking of trustees, they ran the place. You heard right, they ran the place. All were lifelong alcoholics who spent most of their life behind bars. Some, when arrested and asked their occupation had it printed on their booking slip— “trustee, 3rd floor.” Each floor usually had only one or two officers but six-eight trustees, who knew the system, right down to the forms to fill out—which they did. I had an elderly trustee (all were in their 50s to 60s) who claimed to have done time in San Quentin with Caryl Chessman, the notorious “Red Light Bandit.” He also claimed to have secretly typed the manuscript for his novel Cell 2455, Death Row. His name was Knudsen and he was missing two fingers on one hand and typed as fast as anyone I have ever seen, all on a manual typewriter.

 

The first floor also contained the receiving section where busloads of misdemeanor prisoners arrived on a regular basis. They were placed in huge holding areas and then appeared in arraignment court (Division 30 and 31) They came through by the hundreds. Everybody knew their job and everything moved smoothly until…

 

A couple of officers on the AM shift thought it would be funny to hold court themselves. They opened the courtroom. One donned the robes. And they took guilty pleas and sentenced some of the bleary eyed drunks. It would have gone unnoticed until one prisoner the next morning objected to his real sentence of thirty days, claiming the judge last night only gave him fifteen days.

As you can imagine some tail feathers got burned on that one.

I did less than a year until I got a transfer to patrol. Looking back it wasn’t as bad as I made it sound. It sort of eased me into dealing with the “public,” so to speak.

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