Before we enter into the darker spheres of this entry, you should know that the days leading up to this story were exceptional in their yields of joy and human connection. It is because we often forget the generosity of others and the fortune laid before us – – at times – – that I reflect on how easily we can slip from joy to despair.

At the end of a short, rich stay in the bay area of California, two friends and I headed home to Philadelphia. That last night we took in the beaches of Santa Cruz. We stayed out too late to properly rest for our 6am boarding time. The morning came fast, and we entered the fray of car returns and 300-yard treks between airport terminals, shouldering rolling luggage whose wheels bent to strand us. There were hiccups, but we boarded on time.

On landing at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, our dormant phones connected back up to their satellites. The notifications started pouring in. Our flight back to Philadelphia was delayed another hour, due to inclement weather. As we ate and waited, notifications continued to come in, as the rain fell hard on the tarmac outside our gate. Our flight was delayed four more times. At the point it would have left at 11 in the evening, the airline cancelled all its flights out for the night.

It is when I realized that I was no longer going anywhere, nor was I where I wanted to be, that I began to feel overwhelmed by the helplessness of my situation. Moving between concourses toward customer service, then being confronted with a chaotic queue, that, thanks to a full-scale brontosaurus skeleton, I measured as eight or nine brontosauri, the factor of that powerlessness multiplied by each person we passed on our way back to the end of the line.

We crept toward the first available representative, so that, 2 hours later, after all hope of dinner had vanished and our feet had flattened out, we left the airport with a flight out as early as the one from that had brought us to Chicago that same day.

While in line, we learned that the airline would not pay for our night’s stay in a Chicago hotel. They would offer us recommendations for places to stay, by way of an aggregated list of places near the hotel. As we’d now be footing the bill, we chose one at the lowest price point: $85 + a little extra for the pleasure of staying in the great state of Illinois.

Sometime around midnight, we arrived at the Fairbridge Inn in Melrose Park. In its former glory, it may have been a bastion of minimal amenity. It was immediately clear to the three of us that we could expect minimal and could rule out amenity.

A too large lobby with a useless kitchenette (“Sorry, No Coffee Maker” sign included) catty-corner across the blank expanse from the counter where our concierge stood, ready at all times to ashamedly avoid eye contact with us. We strode the unpadded carpet, which may have once been a lovely teal, or a sophisticated gray (maybe brown?), to a staircase that made a person feel like they were simultaneously outside in a damp draft, and inside, trapped in a fog of cigarette smoke and regret.

The hallway was overlit, in that I would liked not to have seen any of it. Rooms splayed out to the right and left from our location, whose more silent occupants had audible representation from a howling contigent, whose species remains a mystery to me. I was under no impulse to investigate.

The walls only barricaded my hopes for the future. They were no match for the sounds that invaded me all night.

The price guide on the back of our doors callously let us know that we’d been gouged. If we’d just shown up here without paying ahead of time, I as a single person could have had the room for $9.99/4 hours. The price-point dropped with each additional occupant.

My room inspired me to keep to our early morning schedule, even at the expense of the sleep I still needed. In my psychological need to believe that something here in this space was still clean, I took a towel from the bathroom and put it over my pillow. I’d already decided that I’d not pull the cigarette-burned covers back. I left my jacket on, and flipped up the hood to wait out the night; supine, but hardly relaxed.

The moment we let the lobby storm doors clatter behind us, I inhaled deeply, glad for air that wasn’t such a fetid mixture of melancholy and resignation. We still had to get to the airport.

We watched the phone app notify us of an incoming driver, then another, then another, as, we suspect, each respective chauffer thought better of their overall livelihood opportunities at 4am, than to go near our current location.

The pony-tailed taxi driver that we flagged down, dressed in a bright red suit, was a little surprised that the front desk clerk hadn’t just used the business card that the driver had left, to call him and save us the trouble. His association to this place did nothing but prepare me to have to resort to violence, as it was clear to me that he’d probably forfeited his soul somehow.

When I talk about that fitful 24 hours, my taxed bemusement is a source of mirth to both myself and to everyone listening. We do love misery as a form of entertainment.

Then, I consider the danger we may have been in, colliding with our exhaustion, our hunger, and our unfamiliarity with our surroundings. I’m brought back to the room I occupy with loved ones each and every Monday night. As we sit side-by-side, I listen as they are occupied – haunted, with the reality of our carceral system.

Between overpopulation of incarcerated people, and understaffing of corrections officers, medical professionals, and therapeutic support, the desperation I felt for 24 hours quickly becomes exponential. After being isolated for up to 23 hours a day for days or weeks on end, a person has to decide between taking a shower and calling a loved one on the communal phone, before the isolation starts all over. Through this period of pandemic, twenty-nine people have died inside the walls of Philadelphia’s county prisons.

So, when it comes to Tyquan Atkinson, being tried by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office for jailhouse allegations like manufacturing a weapon, or having a cell phone (which is considered contraband), or even those allegations that the phones contain morbid imagery*, I can’t help but take my own miniscule experience of feeling stripped of my humanity in Chicago, then place it against the looming backdrop of his, and every person’s, experience of incarceration.

If my experience entertained you, and my conclusions resonated with you, don’t leave this page before you take one of the following actions, to foster Tyquan’s release:

*: listen, I work for a college of health professions, and, in my role, I am asked to create realistic simulation experiences for students. Mine is an internet search history full of graphic images: body parts, bruises, genetalia, etc. If you divorced the search history from their context, I’d appear to be a psychopath. For this personal reason, I’m not quick to condemn Tyquan.

One thought on “A Meditation on One Lousy Night In Chicago

  1. This was an absolute exceptional read!!! Thank you for spreading awareness on the harsh and inhumane conditions that Incarcerated people face on a daily basis.

    Like

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