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April 3, 2011

Notarizing an arsonist who blew his fingers off

It was just another afternoon, when I got a call for a notary job from an attorney in downtown Los Angeles. I was to meet the attorney at “Twin Towers” which is our most famous local jail to do the job. When I arrived, he was there on time in the waiting room. The room was filled with Los Angeles’ finest looking women, who apparently won’t date you unless you are a criminal. We had to fill out a small form and give it to the lobby guard. We then went through security and I took out all of the contents of my pockets: cell phone, wallet, coins, jacket, bag, belt, shoes, etc. The guards and parking attendants all knew me because I was a regular. They always went through my bag and asked about all of my various stamps, staplers, staples ( which are considered to be deadly weapons in a prison ), etc. They took my stapler apart to inspect its interior. Luckily I wasn’t strip searched. The guards often missed the refill staples in my which could be dangerous if they got in the wrong hands. Staples can be used to pick locks, and can even be a deadly weapon. Even a small piece of paper can be made into an instrument of death by jailbirds — so I hear.

The hallway of doom
Then, after security, it was time to traverse the hallway of doom. Each step down that lifeless  foreboding hallway had an echo and the distant sounds of metal doors clanking shut pervaded this ominous stretch of endless corridor. It twisted and turned at forty-five degree angles for hundreds of feet. The walls were made of cement bricks and there is always a stark and desolate feeling. For those of you who have never done a jail job before, there is always an ominous long hallway. Every jail has one, or at least should have one just to set the mood. If you go often enough, you will no longer notice the feeling of dread, apprehension, or the echo that each footstep makes on your seemingly endless journey to the elevator. Think of what it feels like to go down that hallway all alone on your first visit!

The elevator
Then, after what seemed like an eternity, we finally got to the elevator. We used the intercom to get permission to visit the fifth floor. We waited for what seemed to the lawyer to be like an attorney-ty. I mean, an eternity. We finally got to the fifth floor. We had to ask the guard to get Gary so we could notarize his signature.

Meeting the inmate
I noticed that Gary had been in an accident. His face was cut up and he was missing parts of his fingers. He had a hobby of making explosives and he had accidentally blown up his apartment and lost one eye, and several fingertips in the process. Terrifying!  But, he was a very gentle soul, kind at heart. He had only nice things to say about the guards. Not surprisingly, I had a bit of trouble getting the required thumbprint. I took a fingerprint of an index finger instead of a thumbprint and made a notation in my journal of which finger on what hand I used.  Then we notarized one or two documents.  We left after that.  They attorney had Gary’s identification.

I went to see the same inmate two months later with the same attorney. The inmate was looking much better. The cuts and scratches were mostly healed. Unfortunately, his fingers hadn’t grown back.

Meeting the jurors by coincidence.
The real irony took place eight months later when I went to notarize two Asian-American residents of West Hollywood. I thought I was just going for a regular notary job. They said they needed documents notarized regarding a court case. They said the case was about a guy who blew up his apartment. I said, “His name wouldn’t happen to be Gary?”.

Their jaws dropped.

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