©2022 By Raquel Vasquez
I’m not going to lie, it was exciting for me to go to Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. I’m not sure if it’s the “high power” inmates or just nervous energy. You see, in LA ex-cons are everywhere and they’re not embarrassed to tell you about it. Having been in Men’s Central Jail can earn you a pack of sycophants for the rest of your life. So yes, I’ll admit, on my first visit to MCJ I was genuinely giddy. I was there to interview a defendant in custody. I needed to feel him out and determine whether he was worth the risk of posting his bond. All my rookie enthusiasm changed very quickly.
As you enter the facility there’s an immense counter made to make you feel entirely small. There’s an ornery sheriff who barks at you to remove your personal belongings and put them in the provided lockers. My excitement was fleeting and the overwhelming sense of fear set in. Even the grimy lockers were scary. I had to remind myself I was not an inmate, I was not in any trouble and that I was a professional bail agent there on official business. Throughout my career I found myself constantly having to remind myself of this.
Sit and wait was the next move, and I waited sitting on an old metal bench in the same dank room that had the scary grimy lockers. Soon the jingle sound of cop keys was getting louder and I knew my turn to enter the jail was up. You give a filled-out form with the defendant’s name and booking number to the jailer and they bring the defendant out to visit through glass and intercom phones. There are rows and rows of blue, orange and yellow color-coded jumpsuits filled with defendants in a jail cell the size of a supermarket.
As I waited I did not feel comfortable to sit on the attached metal stool, so I stood. The rows of inmates immediately started harassing me. I ignored it all. Inmates could then only mouth to me “Where are you from?” I thought it was interesting that they would approach a woman the same way they would approach another gang member. The harassing from the inmates was quickly shut down by one of the sheriffs. From my view, the inmates were very under control and were clearly intimidated by the sheriff staff.
As I continued to wait, I witnessed some inmates standing in a line waiting for something — who knows what? Three or four sheriffs with puffy chests came running down the corridor and started yelling for all the men to face the wall, and they did. All the screaming by the sheriffs was nothing but a bully tactic. I watched without being too obvious. Sheriffs came up to the back of defendants’ ears and screamed to face the wall even though they already were. Then it changed to screaming for the men to put their noses up against the wall. It was hideous to witness.
The dark, dim, dirty and old atmosphere, mixed with the stench of metal everything — metal chairs, metal tables, metal fence barriers, metal handcuffs — was putrid. The felons with their giant handlebar mustaches and the gang signs being thrown across the room, it was an indoor prison yard and beyond disgusting. At that moment, I knew I had found a career I could sink my teeth into.
Ghetto famous & infamous
My initial experiences in bail bonds dealing with cops, sheriffs, jails and panicked clients in the middle of the night could have sent me running, but what happened was sixteen years of a niche business that catered to the lowbrow of Los Angeles.
My experiences are what I will share with you here on Bail Tales. Consider yourself on a ride-along, but for the other team. My goal as a bail bondsman was to stick it to the man as much as I possibly could. After all, my clients weren’t exactly committing home invasion robberies.
In LA it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and I knew everyone. At that time I was the only female bail agent in Los Angeles. I started feeling the heat immediately. Dirty looks from the men in the small office building across from the civic center where I worked was my morning greeting. The old man mentor who was to show me the bail bond ropes was big, fat, and mean. We can call him “Mr. White.” The cops and sheriffs were miserable and treated me like an inmate. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was loving it! The fact that I had the magic piece of paper to get someone out of jail was thrilling to me. My business name spread like wildfire and clients and money started coming in.
Bail Agents earn their money by getting people out of jail. It sounds simple, but there’s a catch. Besides the financial and human liability, people are filled with emotions that they want to share with you, and they are demanding. I knew this job was going to change everything from my life as I once knew it and I was now on call 24 hours a day. Calls would start coming in at 1 a.m. and I always knew who was on the other end of the line. Not many strangers were calling me. There was no fear when it came to my clients. The fear and danger, or so I thought, was with the cops and sheriffs themselves. I didn’t fully realize that some of my clients were bona fide gangsters. But not all of them were; some were young adults, some were well-known, some were famous, but honestly most of my clients are ghetto famous and infamous.
The court buildings, facilities and stations I would frequent were infamous as well.
My first client
There is a deep criminal history in Los Angeles that is filled with glamor and mystery. My first client had it all. She was the daughter of a well-to-do family. The mother of the girl in custody called me. The first thing she said was, “I need to speak with you but you must give me your word on client confidentiality.” She had an on-edge tone that made me feel nervous as I confirmed my professionalism. In order to keep my business and my word, all names have been changed to protect my clients’ privacy. We can call the mother “Carol Anne.”
She was the epitome of conservative with an actual beehive hairdo. Carol Anne’s nails were pointy and her shoes were flat. The daughter in custody, “Claire,” wasn’t in a typical jail, but in a psychiatric jail facility. Carol Anne quietly explained to me that her daughter was with a boy who said she went off running when they were together one night. He had reported her missing. It was an absolute mystery to me how this girl who came from a good family from the right side of the tracks could end up in this facility. She was young, rich and beautiful, and in big trouble.
Let’s not forget I had the big, fat and mean mentor Mr. White back at the office across from the civic center. He would mold my bail bond intellect and I enjoyed every second of it. Little did Mr. White know that I had my fair share of crotchety old men in the form of weed-dealing bikers and nightclub bouncers and I was not intimidated by him. We got along quite well. He provided me with the address of the psych ward and I was on my way.
In a quiet part of LA just before Glendale, in a plain, red brick, unsuspecting building is an inmate psychiatric facility. You would never guess that it was anything other than an office building. There was no long Michael Myers winding driveway up a desolate hill or any of that.
But inside was the fabricated, cold, lifeless, loveless atmosphere that would become my familiar surroundings. I waited for hours to have a visit interview with the defendant, as instructed by my mentor. I never got to see my client, and not long after a day spent waiting in a psych ward lobby, I bailed her out anyway. Regardless of what my mentor said on interviewing clients prior to bailing them out, I realized that a person in custody will tell you anything you want to hear. They will promise you their first born child to get out of jail.
I could hear in Carol Anne’s voice that she was desperate to help her daughter. Claire the beautiful rich girl was in jail on drug possession charges. Apparently, she flipped out on the cops and they put her in the psych ward jail facility on a 24-hour observation hold prior to being eligible for bail. I recommended an attorney and a drug rehab facility in the meantime.
I was the perfect age where I was old enough to get respect from my clients, and young enough to put the defendant in custody at ease. I was articulate speaking with attorneys and judges, just rogue enough to deal with cops and sheriffs. I confirmed yes! This was the career for me! I was going to rewrite the aesthetic for this ugly business and make it my own. I was ecstatic with ideas and ready to execute. I realized I could go from Yale to jail! I was multilingual in all the different genres of slang and had a way of bringing light to a very dark place.
Bail is the industry of crime and punishment. The buildings are punitive, the cops are punitive, even the lighting is meant to be unpleasant and make you look like a raggedy homeless person. Not everyone knows how to utilize this constitutional right that we have. Consumers have no idea where to start and would typically have to drive to the jail in the middle of the night to get help. This was prior to the super internet highway of information. The timing for me was perfect and the blank canvas was there for me to paint.
As for the beautiful young girl in the psych ward, sometimes I never found out the reasons why my clients were in their precarious predicament, and I understood that was okay, I didn’t always have to know the dirty details. I bailed her out of jail and Carol Anne was very grateful. The warm fuzzie I got from doing this act of getting someone out of jail I found to be rewarding. I realized I was creating a completely different experience for the bail bond client. I was going above and beyond what the typical bail agent did. This was the beginning of establishing trust within the community.
Raquel Vasquez is an entrepreneur and freelance writer from Los Angeles with a background in dance and photography. Born in Las Vegas, Raquel is the progeny of entertainment industry parents and spent her early years traveling. Raquel has been a columnist for L A Canvas magazine and other outlets covering boxing, music, art and pop culture. She is currently in college furthering her education, owns two businesses and is working on her second book.