West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 8 | July 25 - 31, 2007

Villager photo by Lorcan Otway

L.E.S. Jewels in a photo last summer in a familiar situation, being arrested by police in Tompkins Square Park.

Antics out of hand, L.E.S. Jewels faces hard time

By Lucas Mann

The man known to those around Tompkins Square Park as L.E.S. Jewels has become, through his belligerent antics and affection for cameras, a rather notorious, high-profile figure. Look him up on the Internet and you will find a bevy of articles quoting him, not to mention two YouTube videos. Jewels has been a regular on “Crusty Row” — the section of park benches favored by homeless and traveling punks — for two decades. Some have criticized his love for attention and the newspaper articles they feel give him too much of that attention. This is one of those articles.

Theo, who works at Nino’s Pizzeria, at Eighth St. and Avenue A, chuckled upon hearing the name Jewels.

“Oh yeah, man, I know him. I’ve actually got a video of him on my cell phone that I took the other night,” he said. The video showed Jewels dropping his pants on Avenue A.

“Jewels is out of control,” Theo said. “I’ve called the cops on him plenty of times. He comes around f--ked up, drunk and says some things that make the customers really uncomfortable. He should be sent somewhere, he shouldn’t be on the street, especially with all these kids around.”

Over the past month, according to Theo and others, Jewels has been acting, well, a little more Jewels than usual.

“While people like him and have been amused by him in the past, at this point, he’s completely out of control,” said John Penley, a longtime East Villager. “Last week, he took a s--t on the bench next to the children’s playground. The cops came and he pulled his pants down and he didn’t get arrested for either incident.”

Penley described a rash of incidents in recent weeks where Jewels, dangerously drunk, has become impossible to deal with. While these ranged from the nauseating (passing out covered in his own feces in front of Ray’s Candy Shop) to the comical (frequent nudity, often upon sight of the police), his behavior also extended to the harmful.

“Last week, he hit a guy who had just come out of a coma in the head with his cane,” Penley said. “He could have killed him.”

Penley said that he and other neighbors have called everyone, from the Parks Department and police to Councilmember Rosie Mendez’s office to try to get some kind of action taken.

“I think nobody wants to arrest him or deal with him because he’s so filthy,” Penley said.

On a sweltering Thursday afternoon, the day after Penley expressed his aggravation, Keith Reilly, the man who had allegedly met with Jewels’s cane nights before, slept, bruised, on bench on “Crusty Row.” After two consecutive head traumas, his only place to rehabilitate was the park. When police woke him up, he looked groggy and when asked about Jewels he had nothing to say.

For the rest of the regulars, however, Jewels had been the topic of conversation all day. At 1:05 that morning, he had crossed the line and been arrested on Avenue A.

“Well, he had his pants down, drunk, waving that cane [Jewels carries a walking cane] and, from what I understand, a special task force rolled up,” said Black-Ops Bob, a park fixture and a friend of Jewels. “But, you know, this is normal for Jewels, this is how he is.”

Still, Bob was worried about his friend. He had seen Jewels stay alive despite his self-destructive ways throughout his tenure in Tompkins Square. He’d let him into his apartment on nights when he would have frozen from the snow. He was happy to see his friend quit heroin recently, though said the level of his drinking was still dangerous. He had even been present at Jewels’s wedding, three weeks prior, to Amy, a School of Visual Arts artist.

“She’s a real reformist type and she wants to save him; she loves him,” Bob said. “I told her, and a lot of people told her, we don’t think it’s gonna work. Jewels is a caricature at this point, with the stunts he pulls, with what he stands for.

“Basically, he’s a goodhearted guy trying to survive in an insane society,” Bob continued. “He keeps inebriated to deal, and, really, he’s probably not going to be with us much longer. Jewels was one of the original punkers out here, been here a long time. He’s a local, colorful character; some like him and some don’t. He does get really upset with the yuppies that took over around here, so a lot of arguments start. Does Jewels go too far? Well, I guess that’s a matter of personal opinion.”

It seems that, in the opinion of the law, Jewels may have, indeed, gone too far this time. The series of events that finally got him arrested began with him panhandling on Avenue A and growing more and more volatile until he eventually threatened pedestrians with his cane and stopped traffic to swing at cars, demanding money.

“Yeah, it looks like he’s in trouble,” said Officer Andrew Beirne of the Ninth Precinct, who patrols the park. “They got him for robbery 3, attempted assault and criminal possession of a weapon. He’s already been convicted of menacing people with that weapon and the courts come down harder on a second offense. That might be what really gets him.”

Beirne also spoke of the difficulties of trying to police Jewels and the park, in general.

“If you walk around that park, there’s a hundred people in a similar situation [as Jewels],” he said. “You know, I think it looks like he gets off easy to a lot of people around here, but most people who he harasses won’t press charges. When we do arrest him, there’s no real consequence — until this time, I guess.”

According to Barbara Thompson, a spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Jewels is not returning to the park any time soon and is being held on $10,000 bail. He faces up to four years in prison for the most serious charge: Robbery in the third degree, as an identified repeat offender. The D.A.’s complaint also included descriptions of Jewels’s actions, which included grabbing a man by his throat and repeatedly punching another bystander who tried to intervene.

Lieutenant Patrick Ferguson of the Ninth Precinct saw this outcome as sad, but inevitable.

“He’s an alcoholic. He gets drunk and acts stupid,” Ferguson said. “Usually, it’s minor offenses and then he’s right back out to the park. He’s a regular we all know, and we’ve offered him counseling, but he doesn’t want it. At this point, there’s nothing we can do for him.”

Now, the notorious L.E.S. Jewels will stand trial under his real name, Joel Pakela, and may be facing a long period of time being identified only by a number. When sober, Jewels is bright, funny and charismatic, and Bob remembers him leading poetry readings out in the park. But nobody who has been around during Jewels’s tenure is a stranger to his demons. Like the police, Penley was concerned with Jewels’s own safety.

“I just don’t want anybody else to get hurt,” Penley said before learning of the arrest. “The way he’s been going, he’s going to hurt himself, or somebody is going to hurt him really bad.”

Rock ’n’ Roll, a regular on the park benches, put it more bluntly: “The way he’s been going, baby, somebody’s gonna tear his a--hole out of its frame.”

Mike, a regular in the crusty crowd, worries about Jewels’s young bride.

“That’s such a shame, the girl is so sweet,” he said. “I wish I had my head together like that girl. She wants to care for him so much, but I told her that he’s 38, he’s been out here getting messed up for 20 years; I don’t want her to end up like that someday.”

It is now nearly a week since Jewels’s chaotic presence was last felt around Tompkins Square. He was only just arraigned on his charges, and the D.A.’s Office said he’s probably being held in jail at Rikers Island. With an impressive track record of avoiding both punishment and death, Joel Pakela may just beat his rap and return to the glory of being L.E.S. Jewels and continue on his fateful downward spiral. Or perhaps incarceration will be the thing that saves his life. Either way, Avenue A stands to lose one of its most compelling, if troubled, figures.

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