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Eating his first breakfast in the D.C. Jail, Richard Nash Moonblatt was dismayed to find that the milk was weeks past its expiration date.
So he grabbed an inmate grievance form and started writing. “A public health issue waiting to explode,” he opened, pressing hard to imprint through three carbon copies. “You’re not saving money, because the inmates who notice it, just toss their carton away.” He made the strong suggestion that the kitchen manager “re-prioritize his inventory.”
Moonblatt spent 13 months in jail, from early January 2004 to late February 2005, for repeatedly violating a restraining order. During that time, he would find many more things to report. He wrote that one jail guard confiscated his Coke and cookies and then consumed them in front of him. Another, he alleged, cut him by squeezing his handcuffs too tight. He wrote up an inmate who threatened him with a broom after he changed the TV to the news on the premise that there had been “a consensus” on what to watch. And he recorded the frequent assaults on his person: “I was called to the [door] flap where someone urinated on my face.”
Moonblatt, in effect, was a jail snitch. He’s kept a file of nearly 60 grievances from his stint in the slammer, though the total number is probably closer to 100 and includes letters he wrote to lieutenants, wardens, and the corrections director himself. (Jail officials confirm he filed grievances, but not how many.) Moonblatt says he’s going to use the paperwork in a lawsuit against the jail.
“He is somebody who believes, like many people believe who don’t have experience with the criminal-justice system, that you follow the rules and you’re taken care of. So when something bad happens to him…he reported it to the staff,” says Philip Fornaci, director of the D.C. Prisoners’ Legal Services Project. “That’s not a completely illogical idea to have in one’s head. But not in a jail or prison setting.”
Moonblatt never seemed to grasp the importance of keeping his mouth shut. Other inmates frequently lashed out at him, making him one of the most abused jail residents in recent history. Yet he continued to talk, because it’s in his nature to talk. As Moonblatt, a 47-year-old former advertising executive, likes to say, he’s a fast-talking, fast-thinking, fast-moving New York Jew. And thanks to deafness in his right ear, he speaks at a fast-irritating volume. After a couple of hours with Moonblatt, one dreams of locking him away in some concrete bunker miles underground, where he could safely turn earthworms to mush through his sonic power. His complaints must have carried far through the concrete corridors of the jail.
“I saw his cheek red as a motherfucker once. I think he got slapped,” says Charles Ford, who was locked up in 2004 on burglary-related charges. “He was all fucked up when he came to my block. He looked sick, like he was going through it. He was walkin’ funny—I thought he got hit by a car or something.”
Moonblatt was well aware of the stir he was causing. “I had inmates tell me I give out too much information—‘Shut up.’ I’m like, ‘How? I don’t know how to shut up,’ ” says Moonblatt. “If I didn’t like something, I made it real fucking clear I didn’t like it.…And then I was prepared to have the shit pounded out of me.”
In an institution filled with murderers and rapists, Moonblatt could’ve done better for a jail rap: “I threw a shoe,” he explains.
Unfortunately for him, that shoe happened to be intercepted by the face of his partner, Mark Rohrbaugh. Moonblatt says he came home one night and found that Rohrbaugh had left the shoe rack in the master closet in disarray. Moonblatt likes his shoes arranged by size, type, and color. So he picked up a wayward pair, stalked to the guest bedroom, where Rohrbaugh lay in bed, and lobbed them at him, shouting, “Put ’em away properly!”
Things were better before the footwear started flying. The two had taken their vows in 2000 in a spectacular civil ceremony in Milton, Del., that Moonblatt spent nine months orchestrating. This “gay-la” wedding, as it was dubbed in LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth magazine, included a drag queen from Vegas who crooned spot-on Streisand, a purple ice sculpture of the Teletubby Tinky Winky, and a hot-air balloon flying the banner “Rich and Mark, showing the world new ways to dream.” On stage in front of the entire crowd, Rohrbaugh sang an original composition to Moonblatt. It was titled “Eternally Yours.”
The lovebirds made a nest in a $1.3 million house in Barnaby Woods, which Moonblatt branded Adagio. “It means singingly, softly, gently,” he says. “It was a place I was aspiring to get to.” They were busy and popular. Rohrbaugh was a technology manager at the National Institutes of Health, and Moonblatt was senior vice president of a Virginia advertising firm and a booster for D.C. Councilmember Carol Schwartz’s 2002 mayoral campaign. “We were the token gay couple,” says Moonblatt. “We were invited to every dinner party and Christmas party in a flash.” But mostly they stayed at home, Rohrbaugh playing the piano, Moonblatt petting the cats, Kitty Carlisle and Peggy Cass. To show their solidarity, they wore around their necks separate halves of a gold charm that Moonblatt had had designed for use as an engagement token during his marriage proposal in Fiji.
Rohrbaugh brought something to Moonblatt’s life “that was sorely lacking,” Moonblatt says. “He was my calm and stability.” Rohrbaugh declines to comment on most aspects of the relationship.
In 2003, Moonblatt had surgery to remove a brain tumor. By then he was technically unemployed; on paper he remained president of a Web site called RecruitCom. He filled the time doing handiwork on two of his Delaware properties. It was around then that the union began to splinter. Moonblatt resented Rohrbaugh’s quietness, taking it as a deliberate attempt to cut off communication. Rohrbaugh called the police after Moonblatt grabbed him in a bear hug and wouldn’t let go. (Moonblatt claims his partner began hyperventilating and he wanted to calm him down.)
Rohrbaugh called them again after being hit in the face with his own shoe, which created an unsightly bruise. The cops came by that night. Two days later, more cops returned to hand Moonblatt a restraining order. He packed some belongings into his GMC pickup truck and 10 minutes later left Adagio, never to return.
Over the next few days, he made repeated phone calls to Rohrbaugh, begging to come back. Moonblatt claims he hadn’t read the restraining order. But Rohrbaugh was very acquainted with it—and he recorded Moonblatt’s messages.
Moonblatt was arrested Jan. 5 in the psychiatric ward of George Washington Hospital, where he had been sent, he says, after trying to hang himself on Christmas Eve. Police led Moonblatt away—struggling in his flimsy hospital gown—to his new jail cell, where he donned an orange jumpsuit, an XXXXL T-shirt, and white boxers that wouldn’t stay up. He sat in his bunk, listening to the commotion outside. “These inmates sleep all day long because they’re bored and have nothing else to do,” he says. “So it is virtually impossible to sleep at night, because it’s party, party, party!”
If Moonblatt had stuck out in free society, he might as well have been dressed up in a Ronald McDonald costume inside the pen. “People would talk to me, and I had no fucking idea what they were talking about, because it was all black street talk,” he says. “I swear they made up these words as they went along.” He was also confounded by the phenomenon of street names. “Nobody trades under the name John, Bill, or Harry. They trade under Porky. Or Spud. Or D.J. Or Tweety—because the guy really did look like Tweety Bird.”
In jail, Moonblatt received his own street names: Cracker, Faggot, Whiteboy, and Hogey. The last, he says, is an obscure word for homosexual that has found currency in the penal system. Moonblatt initially didn’t know that, though. He spent weeks worrying about why people were calling him a sandwich. “I’m really mindfucking,” he recalls. “Do I smell like cheese? Do I look like roast beef?”
The jail population at first kept its distance from Moonblatt as it sized him up. Little things tipped him off to his status as an object of curiosity. He noticed that somebody next to him in the shower stalls wouldn’t get out with him in the room. The man just waited, water turned off, until Moonblatt left. His laundry service was funny, too. Inmate detail workers collected dirty clothes in the cells on either side of Moonblatt but left his garments untouched. Moonblatt’s shirts reeked, and his boxers became so sweat-stained that he couldn’t wear them anymore. Then he got ridiculed for going without.
With plenty of time on his hands, Moonblatt was able to formulate a hypothesis to explain the unwelcome treatment. The theory had four factors, all working against him.
“The No. 1 thing going against me,” he says, “was I was white.” Specifically, he was a crumb of Bunny Bread in a bakery full of pumpernickel. He only ever saw maybe a dozen other pale faces during his entire stay. And when he did see them, they broadcast fear, anxiety, and shock. When two white men met in jail, they hugged each other. “The worldview of the inmates…is ‘The judges are white; the lawyers are white. I got fucked—I’m doing 30 years—therefore you’re a bad guy, too. White America has done this to me.’ ”
Being white was bad; worse was being white and unable to keep a dry eye while watching The Way We Were. Moonblatt guessed this, so he never brought up his sexual orientation. He thought he could easily play a hetero—after all, he’d been married to a woman for five years before coming out of the closet. Yet the inmates saw right through him. In the hail of “hogeys,” waved penises, and sexual solicitations that dogged him, Moonblatt racked his brain to figure out what gave him away. He finally decided that not saying anything had been his downfall. “I did not engage in conversations that were demeaning to women,” he says, such as “where I was going to put my nose and how far up.…Because I did not participate, engage, embrace those kinds of conversations, I must be queer.”
What drove Moonblatt nuts was that other men were having sex with each other all around him, yet they weren’t considered gay. He’d see two guys disappear in a dark corner of their cell, or come out of a shower together, but when he quizzed them on it, they’d just shake their heads. “They insist they want women…but they’re not there today,” he says. “ ‘So if this other guy is going to give me his ass, I’ll take it.’ ” Even though Moonblatt was abstinent in jail, word of his homosexuality gave him a steady stream of suitors. The first thing out of a stranger’s mouth when he met Moonblatt was an expectant “Are you the woman?” A man once joined him in the shower and tried to shove a bar of soap up his posterior. When Moonblatt resisted, the man started punching him. “I don’t know if he thought I would just envelop the soap, or what,” he says.
His Jewishness also didn’t do him any good. At 0.2 percent of the D.C. incarcerated population in fiscal year 2005, Jews rated in strength above Buddhists (0.1 percent of the population) but below “Moorish faiths” (1.9 percent). There were approximately 5 Jews locked up in the company of about 2,300 non-Jews, according to inmates’ self-reported statistics on the Department of Corrections Web site. Moonblatt met only one, a 70-year-old lawyer who survived by giving out free legal advice—garbage, he found out from his own lawyer, that didn’t make sense in a modern courtroom. Moonblatt found himself having to constantly play schoolteacher and explain the history of his people.
“This is what I learned about being a Jew in jail: It turns out Jews own everything, and that is why the black community is disadvantaged,” he says. “Of course, I’m engaging in conversations with these guys, saying, ‘Go to the fucking history books. The Jewish community has been on the forefront of the black agenda for 50 years. If you look at the shot of Martin Luther King walking down the street [in Selma]…you have a rabbi, one, two people deep behind them, walking with them.’ ”
None of his students got gold stars. Moonblatt remained the “filthy Jew.”
The fourth thing he had in his disfavor was his candyass crime. In jail, guys come clean about what got them locked up. They took Moonblatt aside and whispered such things as “And after I could feel my thumb and my fingertips all the way around his throat, I knew I had him.” Then they’d look expectantly at Moonblatt. He could either mumble something about his wicked skills with Cole Haans or he could lie. So Moonblatt decided he was a bank robber. He fabricated a movie-script-ready heist wherein he slipped a note to a teller reading, “Don’t think about it, just give me the money.” He told one cellmate that he pulled off over 20 robberies before a dye pack exploded in his bag and he was apprehended. “He loved me,” says Moonblatt.
But he told other people other things, and his front eventually crumbled. When inmates learned the truth about the restraining order, Moonblatt became an object of ridicule. They called him Light Boy, for his featherweight charge. “Nobody took my crime seriously,” he says. “Everybody thought I was a joke for being there.”
Sharing tight quarters with a chiseled convict was not as fun as Moonblatt might have imagined.
“The last thing I want to do is defend one of my cellmates, because they’re all trash. They’re all pond scum,” he says. “However, to their defense, you can’t put two guys who would never befriend one another on the street in a 6-foot-by-8-foot cell and ask them to live and shit there.”
Another factor in favor of the cellmates: Moonblatt wasn’t sufficiently inhibited about being naked. This was fine for him at home, but nudity in jail takes on a different character. When people change clothes, they usually do it as far back in the cell as possible. When they bathe, even the scariest thugs wear boxers. But Moonblatt was scarier, at least in this regard. “I would disrobe and get in the shower,” he says, “and the guy next to me, getting dressed, would go into vapor lock because I was naked.” He eventually learned to ask people’s permission before exiting the shower, because if he just waltzed out with everything flopping around, he got smacked. But even when he thought he had the privacy to peel off his jumpsuit—like under the sheets—his cellie frequently stopped him. Moonblatt usually took a defensive stance: “You’ve just been in it for the last 12 or 14 hours.…Why would you sleep in it?” The argument, on at least two occasions, ended with Moonblatt’s getting pounded.
One time, after a man laid him out for being nude, Moonblatt had an opportunity to mull over the ridiculous priorities in the jail. “He beat the shit out of me and left me there, and I was lying there, naked, totally bruised, in pain—and worried that I was naked.” He attempted to pull a towel over himself so as not to offend another inmate and incur more damage. “It was so stupid.”
Staying out of shared real estate became Moonblatt’s challenge. He was remarkably good at it: Within his first week, he managed to persuade a young medical technician to send him to Greater Southeast Hospital. He did so by pointing to a blurry chest X-ray, which showed the evidence of an earlier bout with pneumonia, and saying, “TB. It runs in the family.” He spent the next 12 days in quarantine, resting on a soft bed with guards stationed outside his room. Every once in a while, he’d get up and go to the window to search for Adagio among the treetops of far-off Northwest. When he thought he had it pinpointed, he would have out-loud, hourlong conversations with Rohrbaugh, calmly mouthing both roles.
On the strength of his Christmas Eve suicide attempt, the jail next sent him to its psych ward. This was basically a block like any other, but with the important concession of single cells. Moonblatt spent the early months of 2004 there. Whenever he was deemed sane and booted out, he had to scramble to find a way back in.
“He wanted everyone to know he was mentally ill—you know, disturbed,” says former jail resident Ford. “We’d be in the TV room playin’ cards, and he’d be at the other table, talkin’ to himself.…Someone might ask, ‘What’s your name?’ He’d brush ’em off.” Ford says the jail old-timers thought the diminutive Moonblatt was in for going nuts and killing somebody. “An O.T. would come in and say, ‘Why y’all laughin’ at him? You know he ain’t right.’ ”
One day, his cellmate noticed him talking to the toilet. “So then what did you say?” Moonblatt asked the receptacle. After a pregnant pause, he continued: “No! What did he say? Are you kidding? Then what happened?” He kept this up throughout the day and into the next. Guards stopped at the cell bars to ogle him: “He ain’t right.” They’d leave, laughing, and stop by an hour later: “Crazy cracker.” Every couple of days, a new roommate was rotated into the cell. Moonblatt kept up the charade. “I had them believing I was a fucking nutcase,” he says.
This is how Moonblatt maximized his time in the psych ward. There, he could relate to toilets normally again. “Once you got in, you’re in,” he says—there was no more need to keep up the act. “You’ve ‘arrived.’ ” Among the walking wacked-out, Moonblatt conducted his daily business. This consisted of making thousands of dollars’ worth of collect calls to friends, family, and lawyers. He’d start out talking about whatever happened to him that day but inevitably wind up rehashing his breakup with Rohrbaugh. He was furious that he had been locked up, in his oft-recycled description of it, for a “bump the size of a dime.” He’d turn red and make wrathful pronouncements. Guards would sometimes reach over and hang up his phone. Then he’d scream in frustration.
He discovered other forms of catharsis. Lying on his bed, he studied the graffiti that adorned the walls of his cell. He was surprised that the vast majority of the messages were spiritual. “I found some of them to be rather meaningful,” he says. So he started leafing through the Bible. There wasn’t much else to read, and exploring the Scripture for the first time in his life gave him a window into his husband, a Lutheran. Moonblatt found great inspiration in what the Bible had to say about forgiveness and loving your brother. He cherry-picked favorite verses to generate restraining-order-violating letters to Rohrbaugh, the tone of which was: “You claim you’re Christian? You claim you’re Bible-fearing? You claim you know this shit like the back of your hand? Well, where the fuck are you—Job, Paragraph 153? It’s everything you’re not!”
On Sundays, a seminarian would go cell to cell to counsel inmates. They were typically engaged only for a few minutes per person to talk about Jesus, but Moonblatt buttonholed them for hours, conversing about anything but religion. He talked about Rohrbaugh, about his case, about the weather. One man of the cloth wound up spending an evening at home editing the thick polemic Moonblatt had prepared for his civil case against Rohrbaugh. Sunday was Moonblatt’s favorite day of the week. “These guys provided me an opportunity to talk,” he says. “They were humane, and loving, and supporting.” He loved it so much, he didn’t even mind when the occasional chaplain tried to convert him.
But there was a significant downside to living in a block meant for mental patients. Several times a day, a nurse would come to Moonblatt’s door with a handful of pills. She watched him eat each one. Moonblatt was savvy enough to hide a few under his tongue while making swallowing motions, but most made it down the hatch. He says he never knew what he was taking, but there were 15 of them, and combined they gave him a serious case of zonkaphrenia. He thinks the interactions may have given him memory loss. For that reason, much of this article was assembled from Moonblatt’s prolific grievance forms.
“I was wigging fucking out,” he says.
Prison guards came for Moonblatt a few months into his stay and transferred him into the toughest block in the D.C. Jail: South 1.
He had complained to a social worker that the man delivering his lunch gave him something extra: a feel on the crotch. A lieutenant whom Moonblatt was sparring with heard of the complaint and kicked him off the tier. “He said, ‘All right, faggot, I don’t need you on my watch,’ ” remembers Moonblatt.
South 1 is the jail’s special-management unit. It contains inmates who have broken jail rules and inmates involved in notorious cases. It’s unusual for somebody with a misdemeanor to walk down the feces-stained tier of South 1. Yet that’s what Moonblatt found himself doing. Guards put him in a cell with an electrical problem and no lights, locked the door, and ordered him to stick his hands through the bars to be unshackled. They told him they’d be back in an hour to move him to another cell.
Moonblatt sat in the darkness. After a while, a man in an adjacent cell started a conversation with him.
“You all right in there?” the man asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Moonblatt replied.
“They’re going to move you soon?”
“Yeah, the light’s out.”
“Well, you tell them you don’t want to go upstairs,” said the man. “Those guys are dangerous.…You tell them you want to stay down here, on this tier.”
Moonblatt was happy for the advice. It’s always intimidating to move to a new part of the jail, especially South 1. The two kept talking. As it turned out, the guy was also locked up for a misdemeanor—aggressive panhandling. Moonblatt asked how this could be. “It’s really not worth it to push for an extra buck,” said the man. “Take what they give you and don’t complain.” He stuck his hand through the bars of the cell and introduced himself as Marvin. The skin on his arm was light in color.
“I remember thinking to myself at that moment, No one’s ever shaken my hand,” says Moonblatt. “This is my first human contact.”
He grasped the hand and shook it. Marvin held on, reached out with his other hand, and cut him with a razor.
Moonblatt went wild. “Blood is gushing, and I am absolutely freaking out—not because I was stabbed, not because blood was gushing, but because I fell for it,” he says. “When you’re in jail, you learn real fast how to protect yourself. You may not be good at it. You may not be able to go head to head, toe to toe with a guy…but you learn how to live smart.” Moonblatt had just proved how dumb he was. Meanwhile, Marvin was laughing his head off. The guards came to investigate and they started laughing, too, says Moonblatt. They told him Marvin wasn’t locked up for panhandling but for homicide. “They thought it was hysterical: ‘Yeah, Marvin’s a bad guy. That’s why he’s here in the corner.’ ”
In South 1, Moonblatt began to cry. He cried softly, at night. He couldn’t understand it. The only times he’d welled up before his incarceration had been during joyous movie scenes. He had even dedicated portions of his therapy sessions to the issue of his aridity. “And I start crying every fucking day,” he says. The awkwardly timed psychological breakthrough gave him a bad rep. “I’m, you know, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got three more months, what am I going to do?’ and I’m crying hysterically,” he says. “These guys are saying, ‘I got double fucking life! Give me a fucking break, you got three more months.’ ”
He would’ve had more reasons to cry had a friendly inmate not tipped him off. Thomas “T.J.” Boykin, in jail for shooting a classmate at Ballou Senior High School, made a little football from paper and flicked it in front of his cell. Moonblatt took off his jumpsuit and used it to bat at the note until he could reach it. This is what he remembers it said: “Homie: I know it’s tough, but it’s gonna get worse if they hear you crying.” Moonblatt stopped crying after that.
Every morning, a detail worker dropped off a copy of the Washington Post in front of Moonblatt’s cell. For all he knew, he was the only person on the tier to get the delivery. He spent five hours digesting his daily paper, reading about all the momentous events of the outside word: Joe Gibbs. The Oscars. Janet Jackson’s titty. Abu Ghraib. Bill Clinton on 60 Minutes, saying he did Monica “just because I could.” When Moonblatt was done with the news stories, he’d flip to the classifieds and read all the ads. Then he’d switch to Business and go over each line of numbers. When he had finally drained every bit of information from the haggard newsprint, he picked up his pen.
“I would sit at my desk for 12 hours a day and write,” he says. Moonblatt experimented with a journal but dropped the idea after watching guards ransack cells. “I was afraid it would happen to me,” he says. “They would get my journal, and they would see me say…‘I want to hurt all these people back as hard as they hurt me.’ ” He concentrated instead on building his legal files, filling pages with his oddball script: a few lowercase P’s and T’s squeezed into a crowd of boisterous capitals. Other inmates got their friends to smuggle them Ecstasy and marijuana; Moonblatt got his lawyer to sneak in pens. To Moonblatt, they were priceless.
“I would get ahold of my pen. It was like a fucking gun to a criminal,” he says. “The pens were my ticket out of jail.”
In reality, a pen almost got him more jail time. He wrote a nasty letter to his partner’s lawyer, calling her “dyke” and “muff diver.” She took out a restraining order on Moonblatt, such was the power of his writing. The incident garnered another misdemeanor for his trophy case. Other residents of South 1 took notice. The ones who couldn’t write well—and those who couldn’t write at all—began to ask Moonblatt to compose their letters. It was a task he accepted with glee.
In most of the letters, he was tasked with explaining the crimes of the men who came to him. He wrote to moms, judges, and sweethearts, the last giving him special pleasure. “Man, I was writing, like, prose: ‘Darling dearest. Not a day goes by where you don’t pass my mind…’ I mean, she’s got to read this going, ‘Who wrote this? Tyrone didn’t write this!’ ” says Moonblatt. He enjoyed flexing his intellect in the letters he ghost-wrote. “Sometimes for my own jollies, just to get off on my own work, I would throw in words that I knew not only the inmate never knew, but the person I was writing to wouldn’t know. ‘I cannot fathom what life will be like without you.’ And she’s going, ‘I can’t fath—What?’ ”
Inmates who contracted out their letter writing had to go through an interview with Moonblatt, revealing their crimes and all sorts of information about the recipients that Moonblatt might want to employ. But he never charged for his creative skill. He would exact the small favor of using the other inmates’ pens. That way, he wouldn’t waste ink on anything but his own causes.
Moonblatt’s favorite jail letter was for a man called K. He was locked up for playing with PCP and his baby at the same time: He threw the kid up in the air but didn’t remember to catch her. His wife wouldn’t talk to him after the baby died, so K went to Moonblatt. “I write her…the most loving, poignant, most beautiful letter, taking full responsibility for everything,” he says. “How could I possibly do this to my own blood that I created, blah blah blah.”
He secured a promise of a visit. When the wife came, however, K bungled the reunion and she left in a fury. So he came back to Moonblatt asking for another letter. Moonblatt wrote her and, unbeknownst to K, came clean about the scam. The wife sent a letter back, this one addressed to Moonblatt. In it, she thanked him for giving her another chance to review the relationship but said she had decided to move on alone. “She was responding,” Moonblatt says proudly, “because she was moved by my letters she thought he wrote.”
But he didn’t tell K that. He just said, “You lost her, man.”
Every once in a while, an inmate cleared his schedule to really fuck with Moonblatt. Andrew was such an inmate.
The teenager began making threats to Moonblatt in mid-August. By then, Moonblatt was living in the D.C. Jail’s sister jail next door, the Correctional Treatment Facility, run by the Corrections Corporation of America. Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham had asked for his transfer after talking with him on the phone. The two knew each other from their time at Whitman-Walker Clinic—Moonblatt was on the board and Graham its director—but Graham says he wasn’t motivated by friendship.
“He didn’t call and say, ‘Ah, well, if it’s possible, fine. If it’s not possible’—that kind of thing. It was, ‘I am feeling actively threatened,’ ” Graham says. “That’s, like, famous last words, you know? He calls one day, and the next day something terrible has happened.”
In his new digs, Moonblatt was put in protective custody, which meant he was basically locked in a cell all day long. In the rare times he walked the tier, no other inmates, save for those similarly protected, were allowed to roam free. Nevertheless, Moonblatt reported Andrew, who lived in the cell to his left, in a grievance form. He also told every guard on shift that Andrew was dangerous.
On Aug. 30, Moonblatt’s cell door opened. Andrew walked in casually and started punching him. Moonblatt screamed for help. His attacker walked back out casually, laughing at how scared Moonblatt was. The guard assigned to the tier looked through the cell door at Moonblatt, pulled it shut, and locked it. Two days later, the same thing happened again. The same guard had forgotten to lock Moonblatt’s door.
The next day, Moonblatt was making phone calls from a dolly that had been wheeled to his door. Andrew was locked in his cell, but by stretching his arm through the bars, he was able to disconnect three of Moonblatt’s $15 calls. Hanging up on Moonblatt’s monologues would be a natural urge for anybody, but Andrew then went the distance, grabbing Moonblatt’s arm and bending it backward into his cell. He seemed to be trying to twist it from the socket. Moonblatt fought back. He grabbed Andrew’s jumpsuit, pulled, and broke free.
Soon after, Moonblatt wrote another grievance about Andrew. He kept a stack of forms in his cell for such purposes, replenished every day. “I was simply trying to create a paper trail for litigation,” he says. The trail was a long one, winding back to his first days in lockup when he wrote up a guard for saying, “Here, you’re just another nigger.”
Here are some of the things that Moonblatt committed to paper:
•The jail guards “spend [the] entire day, everyday, just sitting back talking, no substantive job duties.”
•“I demand a full evaluation of their performance and terminate the ones that are not suitable.”
•One sergeant “lacks the skills and leadership ability to perform the minimums of his job.”
Moonblatt charged that his protectors were “inarticulate, cruel people” who “need training and retraining immediately.” He promised to “commence filing criminal charges upon my release on ‘7’ of these degenerates…for various degrees of assault.” There’s no doubt the guards resented the unusually high scrutiny of their work—they wrote him up, too. Moonblatt says he received almost a dozen disciplinary reports in his 13 months. (The average inmate might get one in a year’s time.) He got cited for everything from throwing a shoe at a wall and demanding more phone time to supposedly telling a guard who wouldn’t give him a medical slip, “You motherfucking nigger, you got a lot of shit with you, Jordan!” His whiteness actually came in handy defending the last charge: The jail’s judicial board couldn’t believe Moonblatt had ever heard such an expression.
Moonblatt went far beyond just a paper war. Because of Graham’s intervention, jail officials thought Moonblatt had political clout. Every few weeks, the assistant warden would agree to meet him in his office, where Moonblatt sipped coffee and detailed the kinks in the man’s operation. “I was ratting out guards, and he was taking notes,” says Moonblatt. “I told the [assistant] warden that there are two kinds of criminals in the jail: the ones that live here and the ones that work here.”
Jail brass isn’t so appreciative of his constructive criticism today. Beverly Young, a writer in the jail’s Office of Public Affairs, won’t “confirm or dispel” any of Moonblatt’s stories but says that some, like the curdled milk, are unlikely. “The Department of Corrections recently achieved national certification of its food service program,” she e-mails, “which entailed a rigorous, comprehensive and constant monitoring, testing, quality control, assurance and standards compliance of food, refrigeration, heating, cleaning, and other kitchen and food-related equipment.”
The meetings didn’t improve his living situation. Moonblatt found himself in a cell with a toilet that didn’t flush. As the waste piled up in the dry bowl, he had to remove old turds by hand so he could have the room to drop fresh ones in. Moonblatt, in protest, crapped on the floor. He says he was written up for this—but he took his revenge soon enough. On one particularly frustrating, smelly night, he initiated a one-man riot. “I was singing off-key songs from the ’60s,” he says. “I was calling people names. Everyone’s trying to go to sleep. I didn’t let anyone go to sleep that night.” He practiced his birdcalls. If any bird actually made such sounds, it’d be shot to extinction before sundown.
The calls inspired imitators. For one night, the block became a tropical jungle of horrible animal noises. “A lot of guys were pissed…but they understood,” says Moonblatt. He later gloated in a private letter to a jail lieutenant: “I kind of enjoyed being the bad guy for once. Not at all my style, but, I’ve learned here from you…disruption gets attention, low profile gets nothing. Sorry! Moonblatt.”
Shortly after that, on Sept. 3, 2004, Moonblatt asked the guard outside his door if he could shower in the early morning. As he walked out of his cell wrapped in a towel, he almost bumped into Andrew on the tier. That wasn’t supposed to happen—Moonblatt was still in protective custody. He woke up naked on the ground, blood around him. He had seven broken ribs.
“They basically let him out with someone else who they knew was going to beat him up,” says Fornaci of the Prisoners’ Legal Services Project. “It was kind of like—in a much more brutal and horrible way—beating up the teacher’s pet.” Fornaci saw him in a court appearance after the beating; he didn’t look good. “He looked bruised in the face. He was walking with a limp. He seemed to be holding his side quite noticeably.” After Moonblatt was bused back to jail from court, Fornaci and a paralegal called jail officials and guards on an almost hourly basis to ensure that he was reassigned to his old haunt in the jail’s psych ward. “And I truly believe he was not more seriously injured or killed,” Fornaci says, “because we literally watched over him.”
In the end, Moonblatt spent three more months in jail than he had to. He was released in late 2004 and rearrested 25 days later for violating the restraining order again.
“What’s sort of interesting is that those laws were created for a purpose: to protect women from getting beat up by their husbands and boyfriends,” says Fornaci. “But the way it was used in this case…I think it was a real abuse of a law, the fact that he was being held with this kind of charge.”
Moonblatt’s second trip through the penal system wasn’t as nice. He had learned little about keeping a low profile. If anything, he was more irate, more combative, more verbal. He talked back to inmates. After he made a snide comment to a guard about jail youth, his teenage cellmate broke his left jaw. Blood flew everywhere, says Moonblatt, but the guard he had just been talking to took an extraordinarily long time to open the door—it was a guard from the tier’s far-off control room who eventually came to his assistance. Then, on the first anniversary of the shoe chucking, a man clocked him in the right jaw and gave him two black eyes. A jail doctor says Moonblatt refused treatment for his twice-fractured mandible: It eventually healed on its own.
At his core, Moonblatt remained steady. He started each day with a mental pep talk. “I had a really strong belief system,” he says, “that when I landed on my feet, I was going to come out stronger than I was before I went in.” At the fringes, however, he came apart. He nurtured grandiose fantasies that kept him awake in bed for hours. In one, he sold his tale to John Grisham. “He wanted me to live with him in his home for three or four weeks while he wrote my story,” remembers Moonblatt. “And he introduced me to his assistant, a charming young man who decided he wanted to fall in love with me.” There was also the Tom Cruise fantasy: The star of Top Gun was to play Moonblatt in an autobiographical movie, but every time he tried to act he choked up.
Moonblatt wrote and mailed letters to himself, saying he loved Moonblatt and looked forward to seeing him again soon. It was his insurance policy, to guarantee some positive feedback in the days to come. “It was hard,” Moonblatt says now. “It was really, really hard.”
On Feb. 28, he was transferred to the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, where he stayed for a month, until a judge allowed him out on house arrest. True to his word, he rebounded better than any ex-con could’ve expected: He was employed within a week of losing his ankle bracelet. He now works 17-hour days, and weekends, as a headhunter for a Virginia firm. “It’s my passion,” he says, though he bemoans his “1987 pay.” “He’s just an excellent recruiter,” says co-worker Kent Hugill. “He’s a very eloquent, articulate, aggressive, assertive individual, and he works very well both with clients and candidates.”
Moonblatt also has a new boyfriend—a 30-something office worker whose “only concern and focus is me”—and has recently enrolled in anger-management classes. He has a new place in the ’burbs—a temporary thing, he says, until he and Rohrbaugh hammer out the rights to Adagio. He recently gave his lawyer a lien on all his properties to doggedly pursue the case.
He has even seen Rohrbaugh again, this fall. The two men were having a mediation session via teleconference in the same building, and Moonblatt accidentally walked past the open door to Rohrbaugh’s room. He says his ex-partner leapt up and screamed, “Get away from me!”
“My life today looks, smells, tastes, feels nothing like it was before,” Moonblatt says. For one thing, he has a lot more sympathy for offenders. And when a cop pulls up next to him at a stoplight, he melts down. “I live in fear every day,” he says. “I know too much now.”
Having experienced the worst of the D.C. penal system, Moonblatt is working to see what other jurisdictions have to offer.
A few weeks ago, he found out that one of his friends in Delaware had been passing information to Rohrbaugh. Aghast at the leak, he blurted out something he probably shouldn’t have, given his record. He remembers it like this: “How would you like it if I gave your address to a rapist I met in jail?”
In mid-November, he drove up north to turn himself in to the Delaware police for threatening behavior. “This is every day, every fucking day,” he says. Moonblatt has signed a nondisparagement pact that prevents him from making “derogatory or disparaging” statements about Rohrbaugh, and the energy he’s burning in self-discipline is of nuclear proportions. He’s starting to believe there’s a dark conspiracy to keep him locked up forever. “All I’m trying to do is comply!” he yells. “I’m trying to be the best little boy in the world!”
“I always looked to Mark to center me and bring out the calm in me,” he says later, in a more composed moment. “And in the end, he made me a madman.”
Additional reporting by Dave Jamieson