Queen of Wallets

In the spring of 2009 I traveled around Romania with a cultural activism project. We presented a documentary The Gypsy Caravan by Jasmine Dellal and pieces of my stage work, followed by discussions. I did this both at film festivals and in prisons, at universities and libraries and in schools, from the capital to hidden away hamlets. It was a unique experience, with both headaches and unexpected joys.
I remembered this experience yesterday when
Fanfare Cioc
รขrlia had an afternoon concert in Central Park, and since I knew them from the film.
Here is a portrait of a young woman that I met
at the Women’s Penitentiary in Cluj-Napoca.

Queen of Wallets:
I liked very much the film. I was mostly impressed by that singer, dressed in red. Especially when she said that she couldn’t have children and she raised I don’t know how many scores of kids, wretched children, and how five of them became part of her band. I don’t think there is much difference if you are Romanian, Italian, whatever.
Yes, I was very impressed that a Gypsy band went to New York. Living proof we can do something outstanding too, only those who don’t want to do something, don’t make anything of themselves, but if they set their mind to it, they can do anything.
Here in prison the majority are Roma, but it makes no difference if I’m Romanian and the other one is Gypsy. No, what’s important is respect. In other words to be decent! And you can be of any nationality, if there is respect, understanding, you can live with any one. I lived before among Roma even if I’m Romanian; I had many entourages among Roma. It makes no difference to me if they are Romanian or Roma. I grew up in a Roma neighborhood
I’m 20. I ended up here as I told you because of my entourage. I hang out with boys and girls that stole. Of course they dominated me since I was 14-15 year old, I wasn’t very developed mentally. And as I said they dominated me. I learned to steal, and I stole. No, not shoplifting, no, no, burglaries, just in buses: phones, wallets, whatever came my way, and I stole, I stole once, I stole twice, three times, five times, 15 times, well, of course it got into my blood seeing that I make money. I liked it, though I started to grow up. Of course like any kid, you like having money, to have fun, to do whatever you want, whatever crosses your mind, to go and come, and I stole, the police caught me, I got a record. After that the second came, the third, until I got 14 cases going on. I kept on stealing until they arrested me. Well, they arrested me first time when I was a minor. They arrested me the first time for a wallet in which it was an insignificant amount of money. I got 4 months of prison, being under age I got little. I made three months, they let me free, I stopped stealing, but as I told you, I had 14 active files. I was condemned first time for one deed, the one they caught me with the wallet, and while I was condemned I was tried with the other files/case, the 14 that I had before, so you got 14 with 7. They let me out of prison, and as I said, I went to the court for the others, and my case was postponed, for a year, almost a year and a half. Meanwhile, while I had the court case, lawsuit, I worked at a restaurant as a cook, I worked for two months, then I quit work and it barely passed a month, two and the sentence came for the other deeds/offenses I’ve committed. And I was sentenced and as you see, I’m here now. Yes. Five years and a half. For pick pocketing.
My parents... only my mother. My father died and my mother works. Of course she noticed, but she didn’t have what to do. I’d tell her I went to school, but I went to steal and how should my mother know that I went to steal? Plus, I wasn’t showing off my money. No, no, often I’d ask for money, I pretended I don’t have money to buy what I needed for school or for pocket money, though I had, so she wouldn’t realize that I stole. Well, she suspected anyway that I stole. And I told her, “No, I don’t steal, stay assured!” She punished me, but yet I still stole. The police would show up, serve me another citation. I’d take just money, cards, gold many times, phones. I’d sell them. It depends, I’d get, now I imagine they got cheaper, but there were times when I got even 7, 8 millions, and even more, depending what phones I sold. There were phones of even 100,000, in old money. It depends, there was when I made more, or less, but I made a lot at any rate.
Well, I stole for money, but I also liked it, it’s like you play the machines, like the gambling machines, gambling games. If you play once, you play twice, three times, it gets into your blood, as if is like a drug, as if it gets into your instinct, in your blood, and the truth is that, well, I can’t say I didn’t like it, I liked it, oh, yes, I liked it. Why I liked it? Because I had loads of money, I had all I wanted, I could go wherever I wanted, I could do whatever I wanted, and that’s all about.
My mother didn’t let me steal, my mother sent me to school. I didn’t want to become a writer, or actress, there was no way to become one for me. I wanted to become a singer. Well, before, when I was small, I liked rap music, now, after years passed, I started to like manele. I listen every day manele on TV. I’ll tell you what I did with the money, since we got this far. I stole because I had a friend, a taxi driver, he had a Dacia Nova, but that car was very well endowed/set up/hooked up and even more after I got to know this taxi driver friend of mine, I liked going with him wherever I wanted, because he had in this car such large loud speakers, bigger than the trunk, you couldn’t close shut the trunk to that car. And he’d turn on the cassette player to play music louder than all I knew and I loved those sounds it made, I liked it very much. And we’d go with him wherever I wanted, for example to Felix, where should I say, thru Bontida, thru Cojocna, wherever it crossed my mind. But of course he had to be paid.
He was both a taxi driver and a friend, not only mine, but to all my gang comrades. Since I’d go to his home, always went out together, I suppose we became friends too, isn’t it? And when I’d make money, I’d go and tell him, “Let’s go to Felix!” and we went with a few other friends.
He wanted to come and see me, but I didn’t let him. He has a cell phone so I call him from the pay phone. I called him to see how is he holding up/managing and he said it is hard without the Queen of Phones. The first time after I was released, I stole 2-3 wallets, but after that I stopped. I gave up and I minded my own business, as I told you. I got hired and then I came to jail again for the other court cases.
When I’d steal a phone I’d think, I wonder how much money I’ll make! Nah! It would be nice if there are 20-30 millions so I can go to Felix or whatever I had my mind set for. I wouldn’t think about getting caught, because I was never caught red-handed. The first time, the cops caught some boys and they snitched on me. I was with my brother. He is arrested too. I’d go with my brother and another boy or two, his friends. And those two got caught and those, fearing they’d get arrested, blamed me, She’s the one! And I didn’t have what to do. They menaced me: if I don’t confess that I stole the wallet, they’d arrest me. And next day, fearing they’d arrest me, I said, Yes, I stole it! And this is the truth, I really stole it.
I chose my victims in the bus. Well, it depends on how they held their bags or school packs. If they hold the bag tight, of course you couldn’t touch it. But if it was loose, the hand on the handrail and the bag dangling, you could deal with it, operate on, otherwise...
After I’d steal the money I never thought about the people who were left with no money. At times, but over seldom people, really.
When I get out I won’t do it again. I didn’t do it when I was released either.
I’m Romanian, I’m not Gypsy. I said from start, I don’t know if you recall that.
In America there are many hip-hop, rap stars, many of them served time and they have platinum discs. I like manele very much. I wrote them down. Every day I sing a song or two. Do you want me to sing a bit?
I didn’t expect for you to be gone for so long
You’ll be tearing my soul
But if it is better for you that I go away
I’ll do what you want me.
You didn’t want me to be by your side
A soul that wanted but good for you
I’ve always been close to you
But I’m a stranger for you
My heart cries
But I’ll always be here for you
Whenever you’ll have a hard time
I’ll always be by your side, whenever you need me
I’ll be close to your heart, be it good or bad times
I know you the most, like I know myself,
I know how is your soul
Who do you think will ever be able to love you
The way I love you?

New York,
 July 15, 2013


 Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy, freedom of speech and faith, and engineering social change thru art being one of them, I’d be grateful.

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