Thursday, February 04, 1999

Seven days in jail 'like a bad movie'




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

christopher k.
Christopher K.
Richardson
christopher w.
Christopher W.
Richardson
        Soft-spoken with a gentle manner, he had never been to jail before. He was never even sent to the principal's office when he was in school in Vandalia, just north of Dayton. And in the blink of an eye or — more probably, of a computer — he is bunking with felons.

        Who scared him to death.

        They had the wrong person. Domestic violence? He wears braces on his teeth, for pete's sake. He's a college student. He tried to tell everybody. The police officers who arrested him. The woman who fingerprinted him. Nobody listened.

        We met at a Chinese restaurant in Clifton, near his apartment. He looked younger than his 27 years. Pale blue eyes, short red hair under a New York Yankees baseball cap. He was wearing tan Gap cargo pants, a gray v-necked sweater and white Adidas.

        He'd gotten out of jail just a little more than 24 hours earlier, and I figured he might be hungry.

        He was.

Mean cuisine
        The first thing he did when he got out of jail Tuesday afternoon was go to Sitwell's Coffee House on Ludlow for a grilled cheese melt. Jail food is about as bad as its reputation. “Cream of wheat for breakfast, bologna sandwiches for lunch and, maybe, a chicken patty for dinner. A Christmas cookie.” One day for lunch he got a hot dog bun, but no hot dog.

        There's a way to get snacks, but Christopher never figured out how. He didn't want to ask for any favors from his roommates.

        “I was scared,” he says. “There were men there who wanted to be my, uh, close friend.” We both shudder. “Really, it was constant. Somebody was always telling me what they were going to do with me the first chance they got.”

        He says he just tried to avoid giving them that chance. “I took the fastest showers of my life.” No towel. He used one of his bedsheets to dry off.

        He's not ashamed to say he cried the first night. And a couple of times after that. His father died last summer of lung cancer so he was especially worried about his mother. He was worried about whether somebody would feed his cat. He was worried about whether he'd ever get out.

        During the day, he watched television and “tried to think how I would defend myself. But I've never been in a fight.” He read a Bible some. He says he's not particularly devout but was grateful for something to take his mind off the nightmare.

        “More like a bad movie,” he says.

Back to normal
        A junior at the University of Cincinnati, studying graphic arts, Christopher tried to get new license plates for his Honda Civic on Jan. 26. The woman at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles told him that there were six warrants out for his arrest.

        The culprit was actually a man named Christopher W. Richardson, who is 75 pounds heavier, unemployed and was eventually found hiding under a bean bag chair in his girlfriend's home. The Christopher across the table from me eating ginger chicken and drinking a diet cola has the middle initial of K.

        “Everyone kept telling me they thought it was probably a mistake. But they put me in jail anyway.”

        Next week, Christopher will be making up the midterm exams he missed and scrambling to make ends meet. A dispatcher for Fifth Third Bank ATM repairs, he lost a week's wages. His mom loaned him money for this month's car payment and his landlord says he'll give him a little time on his rent.

        Anything you can laugh about?

        “Not yet,” he says. “But I'm looking forward to suing somebody.”

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

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