Dennis Persica: Prison movie in Orleans both comedy and drama

Dennis Persica
Dennis Persica

I was working the night shift out of Narcotics when the call comes in. It’s the chief, calling about a 966. A “966” is cop lingo for illegal drugs — the bad stuff.

“At OPP,” the chief says.

“So the guy’s already in custody,” I reply.

“You could say that,” he answers.

Well, my mama mighta raised a couple of fools, but I wasn’t one of them, so I can tell that the chief ain’t giving me the whole scoop. Something doesn’t add up.

“What gives?” I say.

The chief explains that the drug use is actually at Orleans Parish Prison. “There’s even home movies of it,” he adds.

Well, by now my head’s spinning like I just rode the Big Zephyr three consecutive times, but I tell the chief I’ll get right on it. Soon, I’m on the case like red pepper on the Three-Piece Spicy at Popeye’s.

I get over to the prison. I’m up in one of the guard towers and I look out over the night skyline sparkling like some Uptown dowager wearing her good jewelry.

This place ain’t what it used to be, I tell you. From right there, I can see the old Falstaff Brewery, the old Dixie Brewery, both long out of business.

I been to a lot of places, but there’s something special about a town that makes its own beer. Kind of like a dame who buys her own birthday present and charges it to your account at the store for you. Simple, efficient, and everybody’s happy.

So they bring out the movie and I take a gander. A real Oscar-winner there, but I don’t know if it should run as Best Comedy or Best Drama.

The movie shows jailbirds smoking narcotics, injecting narcotics, drinking alcohol. There’s a dice game, too. I was expecting somebody to starting belting out “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” at any moment. But there wasn’t a Sinatra in the bunch.

Just when I thought the thrills were over, there’s a scene of a guy in OPP orange playing with a gun. A loaded gun.

“Well, if that don’t beat all,” I say to nobody in particular. But that didn’t beat all, because this little movie packed one more surprising cinematic punch. And that punch floored me.

There’s some scenes of one of the prisoners out touring the French Quarters. I guess he knew somebody who could get him a furlough, so he’s roaming around there like some rube tourist.

You know the type — Iowa farmboy gawking at things like that strip joint where the girl’s leg pops out the window, or wondering if it’s true that you can take your Hurricane inside the Cathedral. Gotta love the tourists; they keep our tax base up, and that’s what pays my salary.

Well, watching the movie, it’s not too hard to figure out who the culprits are since they’re right there staring back at you from the video screen. Once I’ve cracked the case, I let the chief know I’m done.

“That was quick,” he says.

“Yeah,” I reply. “Easy as taking Coca-Cola from a baby.”

So, we took everything to the grand jury, and we got 14 people indicted now. If we’re lucky, all 14 will win the prize for Best Performance Behind Bars. And maybe that’s where they’ll wind up again, behind bars.

That’s what they deserve if you ask me, because it’s no fun being in jail. Well, not usually, I mean.

Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica’s email address is dpersica@gmail.com.