I Spent A Night In Jail With A Group Of People Who Hate What I Do. Here’s How It All Played Out

Credit Benjamin Diez, YouTube Benjamin Reports,

Shelby Talcott Senior White House Correspondent
Font Size:

This is part two of a series about Shelby Talcott’s arrest in Louisville.

I’m going to jail. This has been clear for the last few hours. I’ve covered a lot of these protests, riots, and nights filled with violence, both from police and protesters. But I’ve never been arrested and sent to jail for it. Not even close until now.

It’s kind of an odd thing. Neither the police nor the protesters seem to like journalists very much. That’s one thing I’ve learned. Antifa will fuck you up as fast as “12,” the protester slang for police. Black Lives Matter has been markedly less violent. More outraged, but definitely less violent than Black Bloc. Still, we’ve seen firsthand that BLM and its “allies” will chase you down if they decide you aren’t there to boost their cause – if you don’t raise the fist, so to speak.

In the last few months, I’ve been hopping from city to city covering the unrest gripping America as we head down the home stretch toward the election. The latest was Louisville following the AG’s announcement that the officers who killed Breonna Taylor would not face charges related to her death.

Everything was going well until just after the Louisville police chief’s press conference – where he updated press on two officers who had just been shot. I was heading back to the main protest site when police started penning people in. They call this a “kettle.” I wrote about it in the previous installment of this series, which I encourage you to read here.

I was booked and processed, during which time I also got heckled. My fellow arrestees made clear I was persona non grata. So I expected spending time with them in jail would be … unpleasant.

After booking, an officer took us – a small group of four or five females – upstairs and lined everyone up against a wall. He informed us that we would not be in “real jail” because of how many people had been arrested that night. Instead, we went to a floor where there were multiple holding cells.

The officer opened one up and the females inside audibly groaned, complaining that there was no more room. He stuffed us in there anyway, giving us the option to grab a blanket, a suspicious looking sandwich, and a cup of water.

Thinking I would be out soon, I did not take any of it.

I entered the room with the others and heard the loud clang of the thick door shut behind me. Surveying the scene, I counted around 27 females (not including myself). I stood awkwardly near the door, unsure of where to go as there was not enough room on the few thin metal benches inside the cell. I didn’t have a blanket and the floor did not look like a place I’d want to get cozy on.

There was no room for social distancing.

Some of my fellow cellmates were fast asleep on the floor and the benches, using itchy looking blankets as makeshift bed sheets and pillows. Others were conversing, talking about how they had been arrested, the Breonna Taylor verdict, where they were from and more.

I found a spot to sit down and sat there quietly, taking it all in and trying not to draw too much attention to myself.

One of the girls on the other end of my bench had cursed me out earlier in the evening for being a reporter. I was worried about what would happen if it got brought up again. Right on cue, she turned her focus onto me.

“Hey,” she said loudly to me. “You’re that reporter, right?”

“Yeah,” I responded.

“Who do you work for?” she said. (RELATED: Louisville Police Department Refuses To Release Daily Caller Reporters Despite Confirming Press Credentials)

“I just … freelance,” I said, knowing that announcing my publication would likely cause massive issues, as it does often at these events. I’ve learned to keep my identity as secret as possible.

“Freelance? So who are you freelancing for?” she probed.

“Just freelancing,” I said vaguely, hoping no one would recognize me.

She regarded me another moment, then responded with a simple “cool,” turning her attention to other matters. Phew.

Looking around, I tried to take in the scene. There were two telephones inside and I wondered if I would be allowed to use them, or if they even worked.

The cell was a rectangular box with thin metal benches along the edges and one small metal bench towards the middle. Women were scattered all over the place and there were two huge windows that looked out into the hallway.

Just ahead of me, there was a toilet.

The small metal toilet was not in a separate room. It was a sort of “two-in-one” situation with a sink attached to the back. A small wall jutted out to block (somewhat) one side of it, but the rest was open season. The toilet was positioned directly next to one of the large windows where the hall was, meaning anyone walking by would be able to look in and watch us using it. The other side of the toilet was open to our fellow inmates.

I felt embarrassed thinking about using it and promised myself that I would not use the restroom until I was out. Hours later, I’d end up breaking that promise. I clearly wasn’t the only one uncomfortable, as a woman quickly said out loud how badly she needed to pee.

A few other females sprang up from their seats with blankets in hand. They had already devised a system, it seemed, to provide some semblance of privacy inside the cell. One woman would hold her blanket up high against the window to block it while a second had hers spread out to block the crowd of girls in the cell.

Speaking of the crowd – 28 or so females in one cell was without a doubt too many people for its size. Social distancing was impossible. Police gave most of them masks, but some who were processed earlier in the day said they didn’t get any.

Another thing not provided, according to the group of girls, was feminine hygiene products. At least one of the girls said she was on her period. She would end up being inside for around the same time as me – 16 or so hours.

In jail, the hours began to blur together. There was no clock or windows to the outside, so it was impossible to tell the time or even accurately figure out how long I had been inside. Not knowing the time messed with all of us, and as the hours ticked by we would begin to guess.

After a little bit, I tried one of the telephones – luckily, it worked. I called my dad to let him know I was in a holding cell and I asked him why I hadn’t been released yet. He said he was in communication with people from the Caller and they were figuring it out.

We had been told earlier in the night we’d be released by 6 a.m.

Boredom is a helluva drug. The groups discussed a number of topics. Obviously, this being jail, criminal histories came up. A few of them had histories, and one had been charged with burglary.

She told us that rioters had broken into a store and she was chasing after her sister, who went through the store and out of the back. As this woman exited the store, she said multiple officers surrounded her with guns.

According to the woman, she hadn’t stolen anything and didn’t plan on taking anything. She said she was scared and put her hands in the air, got onto the ground, and allowed officers to take her in.

“I’m not getting out anytime soon,” she said, and the girls agreed.

Most of the people inside seemed to be charged with unlawful assembly (I was hit with this along with failure to disperse, although I don’t remember being informed of my specific charges while in jail). We moved on to other topics. None of these women seemed to know each other, but here we were, forced together in a small room with literally nothing else to do besides chat.

Would we have been friends in any other situation? I don’t know. Perhaps not.

But for the next 16 hours, we were all we had.

Some had kids, some had never been arrested before and others were not even from Kentucky. The thin girl who had been with me downstairs sat on the floor against the wall, trying not to cry. She was in college and worried about missing an internship meeting, which was at 4:30 Thursday afternoon.

She’d end up missing it.

Another girl became one of the ring-leaders in the group. Renee White had come from out of state. A mother, she was 29 years old and her brother was killed in suspected gang violence years ago. She said she was partially protesting for him, she felt like police wrote off the death. To them, just another dead black man who was probably involved in bad things. The family never got answers. (Here’s a link to her GoFundMe explaining the whole situation in detail).

Renee was bubbly and loud and weird, in a good way. She kept the mood up in the crowded cell and made people laugh. If anyone started to cry, she’d remind them that this would pass.

Police let Renee go a few hours before me, and the mood changed dramatically as soon as that big metal door closed behind her. It’s as if the remaining inmates lost a bit of hope. She promised everyone that she’d be right back out protesting, but noted that she would make sure not to get arrested again.

As I learned these women’s stories, it seemed like some of them were perhaps just caught up in the evening – protesting peacefully but out past curfew and during an unlawful assembly. Many said they were trying to leave the area when police kettled everyone in.

A few of them admitted wrongdoing. One noted she got into a fight with an officer. I think she had more charges than us and a criminal background, so she was arraigned hours later and given a $5,000 bond. The judge said she broke a police officer’s hand – she denied that it was broken, and said she had been bruised up and that her elbow was broken.

I also learned about the justice system, imperfect with a lot of room for improvement, to say the least. Were police allowed to deny basic necessities, like water? I wasn’t sure. The corrections officers repeatedly denied requests for water, which seemed unfair, because we could see guys in the male holding cell getting cups of it.

The water didn’t taste great anyway. We found out later it had Pedialyte mixed in. Eventually, they gave us plastic cups and told us to drink out of the toilet sink. A few of the inmates asked the nurses, who were stationed down the hallway from our cell, if they’d drink water out of the toilet sinks.


Eventually, after pestering the nurses and guard, the guard on duty begrudgingly made a phone call to get us a jug of water. Then, much later, they brought in sugary juice.

We never got that jug of water. During my 16 hours in jail, I can only remember having about one and a half small cups of water.

Protesters organize supplies to support demonstrators recently released from jail on September 24, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Protesters organize supplies to support demonstrators recently released from jail on September 24, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Were they allowed to keep us in unsanitary conditions? Again, I wasn’t sure. Our toilet clogged after an hour. It didn’t get fixed until late the next day, despite several requests. Someone accidentally pushed a sandwich off of the wall and it fell into the toilet. The water and pee piled up along with toilet paper on top of the sandwich. The air reeked.

We kept using it. No other choice. Then the sink clogged too. The area was disgusting. The inability to socially distance didn’t help.

Pieces of hair, bread and bits of cheese were scattered around the floor along with toilet paper. Since there were too many of us, some had no choice but to remain on the floor, surrounded by small bits of garbage in a cell that was overcrowded and, frankly, smelled thick of human funk.

My teeth were furry. My body dirty. The few bars of soap we had to wash our hands in the clogged sink were minimal help. Eventually, my fellow inmates used the remaining bar of soap to write down phone numbers on the benches for legal support.

Throughout the ordeal, there was one nurse who seemed to be somewhat sympathetic to our situation. Our holding cell dubbed her “Ms. Jackson,” and she would come over and try to answer our questions. What was the status of our release? Could we get some water? Could we get medical attention?

At what must have been around 12 hours in, we learned the answer to that last question. Apparently, you could only receive medical attention if you had gotten some sort of medical review upon first landing in the cell. Since most of us didn’t know this, we didn’t ask for the medical review.

Therefore, even though it was hours later, the nurse wasn’t able to help us. One inmate noted that she didn’t have any pains or issues when she arrived, but now had a huge headache and wanted Tylenol. She hadn’t submitted to the medical review, though, so the nurse’s hands were apparently tied.

Ms. Jackson was a small blessing in an otherwise horrible situation. My group liked her and even began to joke around with her.

“I’m sorry Ms. Jackson … Never meant to make your daughter cry, I apologize a trillion times!” They sang to her at one point. She smiled and shook her head. During another incident, my entire cell of females began to yell Black Lives Matter chants.

“YOU CAN’T STOP THE REVOLUTION!” They repeated as Ms. Jackson laughed and quietly nodded approval. My fellow inmates cheered her on and then one quipped that they should probably stop so they wouldn’t be charged with “inciting a riot inside jail.”

One woman arrived in our holding cell after almost getting into a fight in another part of the corrections facility. She was rude to Ms. Jackson at first and begged to be let out of our cell because of the “triflin’” conditions (referring to the disgusting toilet, which was still clogged).

The other cellmates began to scold our newest roommate, who was only 18 years old, for being rude to Ms. Jackson.

“That’s Ms. Jackson! She cool,” One of them said to her. Eventually, the 18-year-old calmed down and explained that she was having a bad month. Her six-month old daughter had died two weeks earlier from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, she said.

Occasionally we’d see the “real inmates” as guards escorted them by our cell. You know, the ones in the orange jumpsuits. They were all middle-aged men and they often roamed the halls pushing big tubs of food back and forth.

I remember thinking how wild it was that they got more privileges than we did, and that their food looked (marginally) better than what we were given. The men would look into our big windows like we were a zoo exhibit, winking, waving and jeering.

The guards that occasionally accompanied them said nothing. If one of us was using the toilet, they’d sometimes try to look. Our long-implemented blanket system stymied their efforts.

The women inside my cell screamed at the inmates when they passed by, calling them disgusting and demanding they stop staring and gesturing.

A man finally came in to unclog the toilet. The sink remained clogged during my entire stay in the cell. Officers gave us a garbage bag to clean up the area a little bit.

We were fed during our stay in Hotel De Jail. What was the food like? Saran-wrapped make-it-yourself type of sandwich. Four pieces of smushed bread with two pieces of processed cheese alongside some suspicious looking meat and what looked like a piece of cornbread.

I had a tiny bite of someone’s cornbread just to try it, but did not eat anything else during my 16 hours locked up.

The group of girls spoke a lot about injustices and seemed split on whether they’d continue protesting upon release. Many said they would, and others, angry at the situation and the justice system, went even further and discussed burning things to the ground.

I repeatedly called my dad. Other people were getting out, so why am I still in here? What’s the latest update? He’d tell me what was going on with my situation on their end. At one point, he told me that I may not get out for another day.

“No,” I said. “That’s unacceptable.”

The longer I stayed, the more I learned about the process  – something which some of the women were already familiar with. I learned that even after being booked, we had to do a “pre-trial” before being released.

I got my pre-trial sometime after 3 a.m. and I didn’t quite understand it. Most of the information was things I had already given to my arresting officer, but the pre-trial papers went a little bit deeper into demographics. Did I have a job? Yes, I’m a reporter and this whole place knows that already, so why am I still here.

And so on.

They also asked if I had anyone in Kentucky who would ensure I made it to my hearing. I responded that I did not, but again noted that I worked for a legitimate news organization. I was told they would “take that into account.”

After the pre-trial, a bond was determined for each prisoner (I had no bond). Then, the papers had to go through some sort of system before we could be released. My papers went through the system a little before 7:30 am on Thursday, I learned later. I was not released until a little before 5 p.m.

I called my dad, who is a lawyer, immediately after the pre-trial to let him know that I had gone through it. I assumed that I would be released right away after, as I was press and I knew at this point that everyone involved must have known that they had reporters locked up.

I also learned when people were about to get released. If a guard came to the holding cell with papers in his hand, it meant some of us were about to get out. Every single time this happened, the room went quiet.

“He’s got release papers!” Someone looking out of the window would say.

Protesters gather in front of the Metro Department of Corrections and demand the release of jailed demonstrators on September 24, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Protesters gather in front of the Metro Department of Corrections and demand the release of jailed demonstrators on September 24, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

I can’t even remember how many times the guard came with papers before my name was finally called. (RELATED: PATEL: Louisville’s Bumbling Authorities Are About To Get A Wake-Up Call)

Each time, I got my hopes up and my heart began to race. When the guard would read the last name out and I’d realize I was still stuck inside, it would sink. Trying not to cry, I’d get up and call my dad, wondering how I was still inside. I told him that people who told me they had criminal records and warrants had been released before me.

I had no criminal record, as did some of the others inside with me. And yet, we remained.

At some point, he told me that the corrections facility was claiming I had already been released.

“I’m pretty sure I’m still in jail,” I joked, looking around at my cell, trying to get as much information out of him in the five minutes that the call allowed for.

I told my cellmates after I hung up and they expressed shock and confusion. We began to wonder if the corrections facility was playing some sick game with everyone by keeping us in here for so long.

Later, a woman called the lawyers guild, who said that punitive delays were common. The woman told us that the lawyers believed the corrections facility was intentionally delaying our release in an effort to scare and frustrate people into giving up on protesting.

That made sense to me. We could see the guard’s desk from our window of the cell. On it sat a very thick stack of papers – closely resembling the release paper’s they’d hold each time they came to let a few of us go. And yet most of us sat there for hours and hours before eventually being released.

What was the guard doing? Why wasn’t he fast at work with those release papers? Often, I saw him sitting down and laughing with the nurses. They had food ordered in at one point. He sat around munching French fries.

I asked to speak to him a few times. When he didn’t ignore me, he’d come over frustrated. He told me what a good communicator he was as he continually spoke over me and refused to let me ask any questions. When I finally got a word, his responses were demeaning and unhelpful.

“I’ve been told that I’m already released, and I’d like to know what’s going on,” I asked him at one point. He told me that it wasn’t his purview but that he’d look into it. I never got another response from him regarding this question.

The one time my dad didn’t answer, I called my mom. She picked up and began to talk before I could say anything. She reminded me that all of the phone calls were being recorded and noted that in this case, it didn’t matter since she was my lawyer (my mom is a prosecutor).

After the phone call, I relayed that information to the other girls.

I’d watch as others from nearby cells were released. Around mid-afternoon (or so I guessed), a line of men walked by to be released.

Jorge was one of them. We made eye contact and I shrugged my shoulders, mouthing “what the fuck?” I made a gesture indicating he should call someone and he nodded at me before being carted off.

I called my dad again. How could Jorge, who was booked after me, already be released? In the end, I would remain in my cell for hours longer.

“4:05,” I remember someone shouting out once.

“4:05,” I replied out loud to myself, shocked.

I spent a fair amount of time toward the end of my stay pacing back and forth in the cell, looking out the window each time I reached it to see what the guard was doing. He never seemed to be working. I tried to nap on the thin metal benches.

At one point, the thin girl who periodically cried throughout the day began to talk quietly to herself. I sympathized with her. I felt hopeless and dumb.

Just before my release, a guard came in and offered to move us to the other cell since our sink was still clogged. Most of us declined because we had heard that the other cell was freezing and filled with younger girls.

After 16 long hours, lots of cranky talks with my dad and a lot of unjust treatment from officers at the corrections facility, a new guard came with release papers. At this point, only a few people remained in our cell.

“Talcott,” he said.

I sprang up and walked quickly to the door, worried that I would be shut inside if I wasn’t fast enough.  When we got downstairs, he had us line up and sign a piece of paper. I was first up and he told me to sign along a line to say that I had received my belongings.

“But I haven’t received my belongings,” I said.

He angrily scratched out part of the sentence so that “belongings” was no longer there. The remaining sentence made no sense and I told him so – nicely, but clearly confused.

“Jesus Christ,” he replied, pushing me to the side and signing the paper for me (where it was indicated that the inmate should sign). I remember thinking that this couldn’t be legal.

We were told to line up against the wall and then taken into a separate room where officers gave us our belongings in brown paper bags. They didn’t hold any purses or backpacks there and informed me that I would have to go to a separate facility to pick those up. One officer handed me a piece of paper with several different facilities on it.

He didn’t tell me which facility to go to, and I’d end up having to wait until the next day to pick my things up.

Brown paper bag in hand, we waited until everyone in our group had their items. We were told which door to walk through to get outside. I had trouble opening it, but finally managed to do so.

I opened the door, blinking several times and looking out at a small crowd that was gathered. The crowd cheered upon realizing that more prisoners had been released. A woman ran up to me and gave me a hug.

“You’re free!!!” she said excitedly. I realized she had been one of the girls in jail with me. I nodded, still dazed and confused, and walked off to the side, where someone asked me if I needed jail support. (RELATED: Daily Caller Reporters Covering Louisville Riots Released More Than 12 Hours After Detainment)

I said no and put my things on the sidewalk, shaking a little as I ripped open the bag to find my phone.

It was nearly 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, and I was finally free – with two misdemeanors to my name.