Mar. 25, 2017

No Hablo Engles

We had an inmate come in one night clearly a foreigner. As he stood at the booking counter the other officers attempted to ask him routine questions. The inmate’s only response was “No hablo Engles.”

The officers looked at me and all I could say was, “No hablo Espanol.”

“How can you not speak any Spanish?” the booking officer asked, “You went to college.”

“My major was nursing, not foreign languages,” I answered.

They tried a couple more questions ending with the same answer. Finally they found someone who could speak a little Spanish and called him to the desk for assistance. I hung around because I wasn’t entirely convinced the inmate couldn’t speak English. Every time he said he couldn’t speak English, I noticed a little smirk forming at the corners of his mouth.

I sat behind the counter to watch and listen while Sabbu (the Spanish speaking officer) attempted to communicate with the inmate. His Spanish was just as broken and distorted as the inmate’s English but at least he was able to get a few things out of him, like his name and address.

The booking officer, while writing down the information, asked, “How do you spell his name?”

Sabbu asked as best as he could but the inmate would only smile and shake his head, “No comprende’.” Finally, when Sabbu shoved a pen and paper at him, the inmate understood and said, “Ohhhh!” then began spelling his name out loud in Spanish (he wasn’t writing anything down).

There was a question concerning the spelling of Rodriguez, so the booking officer asked, “Did he say he spelled it with a ‘Z’ or an ‘S’? I am not sure how to spell it.”

Sabbu turned to the inmate and out of habit, asked in English, “Is Rodriguez spelled with an ‘S’ or a ‘Z’?”

Equally out of habit, the inmate answered, “It’s spelled with a ‘Z’.” After which he realized his mistake by understanding and speaking English and started laughing.