“Your fine’s been paid! Alexander. Ease up! Go back and get on the bus to the city limits.”
“This time, stay out of trouble!”
I was 23 when I heard that bit of last-minute redemption, as it were. It was the Monday following Mother’s Day weekend, and I was in the lockdown side of the Detroit House of Correction in Plymouth Township.
I had just asked the Officer in Charge (OIC) if I could make a telephone call. I thought I had no choice but to call my parents to let them know — shamefully to be sure — that my offense, soliciting an undercover vice cop, was $30 or 30 days.
When I was told no calls were permitted for 24 hours, I broke down. The OIC must have been touched by my performance, as he let me know I was soon to be free to go home.
Inwardly, my relief was joyous beyond belief. I was secretly stunned by the news. Later, I learned a gay work companion paid my hefty fine. Thirty dollars was a lot of money back in 1959.
Looking back, it’s obvious to me now and to hundreds of other gay men — actually thousands — this incident was entrapment. Nothing more. Nothing less.
At the time the arrest happened to me, I was leaving a downtown bar and was asked by a very handsome undercover vice cop where I was going and would I like a ride to get there?
When I said “Sure,” I was arrested on the spot. Taken to the nearby 1st Police Headquarters, fingerprinted, placed in a six by eight-foot cell, with a flat board to sleep on. I was there from early hours Sunday to mid-Monday morning.
When the vice cop came to get me on Monday morning to take me to Recorders Court, he said somewhat offhandedly, confidently: “If you plead guilty, the judge will let you go. It’s your first offense. You have no previous record.”
Unfortunately, I believed him. Judge Elvin Davenport gave his required sentencing.
Today, I often think about those words I heard that saved me: “Your fine’s been paid.”
I repeat the mantra when daily mishaps occur in my life or are — thankfully — avoided.
When I was a teenager and also in my early 20s, there were no strong LGBTQ+ organizations, no centers like Affirmations, no churches like MCC-D, no publications like BTL.
What we did have was constant hate mongering of gays and lesbians, including the places where they gathered and met to socialize and to just be alive and joyous as people so deserving to be respected and protected legally and socially.
These days, it’s increasingly obvious that as members of the LGBTQ+ community, our fines are not only being paid, but paid off in the hard-fought long run, politically, socially, and in the media.
This is despite modern-day undercover vice cops like Trump, Pence and Franklin Graham.
Dr. Tim Retzloff, who earned his Ph.D. from Yale University with his dissertation on Detroit’s gay history, researched more than 1200 Detroit Recorder’s Court records of gay men and bisexuals arrested by vice squad officers. His data provided, and still provides, documentation of possible abusive entrapment practices. Detroit’s present Mayor Duggan has been aggressive in curtailing the often unethical strategies used by vice squad agents.
In 1970, my own arrest record was examined and reversed by Judge Robert Evans. I was found not guilty, and my fingerprints and related misdemeanor data were fully expunged in Recorder’s Court.