Jesse Friedman

Where I was born, and where and how I have lived, is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest. —Georgia O’Keefe

I’m sitting in the backseat of a sedan, and the sun is shining. It is a cool, but not unseasonably cold February morning. Three of us are driving east on Route 17 from Elmira to Manhattan. The trip should take about six hours, but we are making great time. It’s early, and there aren’t too many cars on the road, but then again there are never very many cars on this road, far between cities in upstate New York. The driver has no real consideration for the speed limit. A State Trooper is not going to give a Corrections Officer a speeding ticket. I’m in a pretty good mood.

I know the two officers well enough. They know me pretty well, too. Southport Correctional Facility is a relatively small place, and I’ve been living there for three years. I am glad Officer “Wendy” is making this trip with me. She’s exceptionally friendly but I don’t talk to her much around the prison. As a matter of policy I avoid social interactions with female staff. With a conviction for sex crimes, I believe in avoiding even the appearance of chumminess with any of them. Still, we know each other well enough. C.O.s who I don’t know will always make me nervous. There is the ever-present fear of physical violence and verbal harassment because of my child molestation conviction. Because Wendy is along for this trip, I feel safe.

“Can we think about stopping somewhere for a bathroom?” I say, trying not to sound demanding.

“We’ll stop in about twenty minutes. Is that okay?” she says.

The radio is playing and I have to strain to hear clearly through the Plexiglas partition.

“Yeah, great, thanks.”

When we pull off the highway, Wendy opens the back door for me. It does not open from the inside. She is tall and good-looking even in a cop’s uniform. The wind catches her shoulder-length blond hair.

I am wearing a leg-iron chain across my ankles. The leg-irons don’t bother me nearly as much as the handcuffs I am also wearing. They are trapped in a lock-box that does two terribly uncomfortable things. The first is that the box holds the cuff-chain rigid so that my wrists are held in place in front of me. I cannot change their position, the distance between my wrists, or the angle of my hands. The second is that a chain linked through the box is wrapped around my waist and locked so that I have limited vertical movement of my arms. My hands can reach my face, but no further up or out.

After six years in prison this is not the first time I’ve been chained up. When inmates are transported by the Department of Corrections they are leg-ironed to one another in pairs of daisy-chains. Walking that way is really a three-legged-race endeavor. Today, stretching my back and legs a little after getting out of the car is, comparatively, not that difficult. I have about ten inches between my ankles. I am walking slowly, with small steps, enjoying the open air. It smells like freedom and I try to inhale it.

We have stopped at a rest area. There is a small bathroom shack and a soda machine. There are a couple of picnic tables and trashcans. There are trees all around. It looks like the Garden of Eden.

The officers aren’t really paying attention to me. Around us are carloads of other people. They seem oblivious to my presence. Is it possible that a man in chains is not such an unusual sight to them?

Wendy heads for the ladies’ room. Officer McCoy lights a cigarette and then follows me to the men’s room. He is a big Irish cop with an equally big beer belly. He knows I am not going to run off anywhere, and lets me take my time walking.

At the urinal, after taking forever to get unzipped, what with the handcuffs and chains, I can’t go. I really have to pee, but I can’t. I’m suffering from stage fright. Relax, I think. Just then, what seems to me as a whole troop of boy scouts come charging into the tiny bathroom. Oh, that is not helping matters. Not at all.

When McCoy and I finally come out, Wendy is back at the car. McCoy buys a soda from the vending machine. I wish he would buy one for me, but I don’t ask, thinking that then I would have to hold the can all the way to New York City, and also wait until Manhattan for another bathroom. Some gifts are not really gifts at all.


You can read Sitting in the Backseat of a Sedan in its entirety in issue 2 of Swink.

Jesse Friedman and his family are the subjects of the 2004 Oscar-nominated documentary Capturing the Friedmans. Friedman began writing in prison after he was falsely accused of child sexual abuse. “Sitting in the Backseat of a Sedan,” his first published piece, is an excerpt from a longer narrative in which he explores life behind prison walls and his release, after thirteen years, at the end of 2001. In 2004 Friedman filed an appeal motion to vacate his conviction, based upon newly discovered evidence of Constitutional violations. He is currently working on a memoir about his experiences. For more information about Friedman, go to To contribute to his legal defense fund, please visit


© 2007 Swink, Inc.