• Chester B Simpson

Jail time in Roanoke, Virginia

Updated: May 15

As he was squeezing the moldy orange he said to me, “Can you be made to eat this orange?’”


In 1972, after being arrested for marijuana, I had to get a lawyer and go to court. After arriving in court, they called my name my case came up before the Judge. They read the charges out:


·Possession of Marijuana

·Assaulting a Police Officer

·Evading a Police Officer


My lawyer did nothing to defend me, but they decided to drop two of the charges, leaving me to be charged with possession of marijuana.

The Judge said I should be given 6 months in jail and lose my driver’s license for 6 months.


I told the Judge that I was 19 years old and had lost my job at the grocery store making $1.75 an hour when I had told the store manager about my arrest. My store manager told me, “We can’t have someone like you working at the store.”

After losing my grocery store job, I told the judge I had decided to apply for a job loading trucks at the local meatpacking plant and got a part-time job making $3.75 an hour. I was happy that I had gotten a job making that much an hour while attending Community College part-time studying science.


I pleaded to the judge, that if I went to jail for 6 months, I’d lose my new job at the meat plant and I’d fail my classes at the college, that I was paying for. I told him that I had a clean record and did not even have a parking ticket to my name.


He suggested 3 months and I pleaded with him again to give me a lighter sentence, so he suggested 3 weekends to be served in the city jail and I would lose my license for 3 months. That seemed much more reasonable, so I agreed.


The next Friday, I was to report to the Roanoke City jail at 6 pm and spend the weekend there. My father dropped me off and I reported in.


The jailers asked me if I had ever been to jail, and I said “No.”

They both laughed and gave me a sheet, a bar of soap, and a cup, then lead me to a cell block. This cell block had 5 cells with 4 bunks in each cell and they locked the doors behind me. The other big prisoners surrounded me and pointed me to the second cell with one empty bunk. I placed my stuff on the bunk and turned around to face the prisoners looking me up and down while smiling and asked, “what are you in here for?”


I said I was jailed for marijuana at which they all laughed, so I asked them what they had been charged with. Each one answered, for rape, murder, robbery, and for assault with a deadly weapon.


I then knew I was in a lot of trouble. They were looking at me like I was some girl and started talking about who was getting me first. I did everything to stay calm and engage them in conversation about anything, just to change the subject and ask for more details about their crimes.


I was in there for about an hour, which seemed longer, then the jailers came and moved me to another cell block on the other side. They locked me in this cell block with not so many people and the same thing happened. The prisoners asked me what I was in there for, and I said marijuana. They laughed and told me that they were in there for robbery, burglary, heroin, and assault.


They then asked me if I wanted to smoke some weed. I thought they were joking and sat on the floor outside a cell and answered, “No, I just wanted to do my 3 weekends and get out.” They went inside the cell and lit up a joint and smoked it. I could not believe it; they really were smoking weed inside the jail!


The next day a new jailer came by my cell block and recognized me. He went to my church and taught Sunday school. I thought he would treat me better, but I was wrong. In jail, the guards treat you like animals. They would give you your meals, which sometimes they dropped on the floor and scooped the dirty food up and handed it to you. I did not eat very well that weekend but got along alright with the other inmates.


That night, around 10 pm we heard the jailers bring in a young boy, who was arrested for stealing cars. They locked him up in the cellblock that I was first put in. About 30 minutes later we heard clothes being ripped, fist hitting him and those prisoners in that cell block laughing.


He yelled for help from the jailers and begged the convicts not to rape him, but they didn’t listen, and we heard him cry out in pain as several of them raped him. The next day, they found him hanging dead in his cell.


I did not sleep very well that weekend at all.


Sunday, I was to be released at 9 pm and could go home knowing that I had two more weekends to survive.


That evening, the jailers locked up a big dude in our cellblock while I was sitting on my bunk. He looked around and walked over to me in my cell. He was holding a rotten orange that had mold on it. As he was squeezing the moldy orange he said to me, “Can you be made to eat this orange?’”


I thought I did not hear him right and replied “What?”


He said, “Can you be made to eat this Orange?” to which I replied No!


He looked mean and said, “It is either going to be blood on the end of my fist or shit on the end of my dick, what’s it going to be?”


I stood up and said, “Well, I guess it’s going to be blood” and I jumped in his face and started beating him as hard and as fast as I could, knowing that he was going to beat the hell out of me, which of course, he did.


I was left lying all bloody and beaten on the cell block concrete floor with my head against the bars and my church-going jailer showed up. He kneeled down to me, grabbed my hair, jerked my head against the bars, and said, “Simpson, tell me who beat you up and I’ll take care of them.” Knowing I had two more weekends left to serve, I replied that I had slipped in the shower. Again, he questioned me, and I replied the same, so he eventually just walked away.


The big guy who beat me came over to me and said, “give me your hand.” He shook my hand and said, “you did not rat me out, you are okay in my book. Next weekend, when you return, if anyone fucks with you let me know and I’ll fuck with them.”


A few hours later, at 9 pm I walked out of jail knowing that the next two weekends I could handle. My Dad picked me up and asked what had happened to my face? I said I had slipped in the shower.


I never told anyone about this till years later.


Check out photographs by the artist: Rock-n-roll Photography

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