Volume 77 / Number 44 - April 02 - 08, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Villager photo by Lorcan Otway

Joel Pakela a.k.a. L.E.S. Jewels is back in the East Village.

After ‘raising cane’ and time in can, he mulls his next move

By Lorcan Otway

Joel Pakela was sitting in Rapture Cafe and Books on Avenue A. It was March 18, and after spending eight months in jail, he was pondering his future.

Extremely aggressive panhandling — trying to shake down a man for change while menacingly wielding a cane, then lunging for the man’s throat — had landed Pakela, who goes by L.E.S. Jewels, in the slammer. A well-known local punk who has hung out around Tompkins Square and on Avenue A for more than a decade, Pakela’s alcohol abuse had gotten out of control and gotten the better of him.

“I want to go to school, find a job, anything. I would even take a job as a line cook — a step down from my qualification as a chef,” he said speaking last month. “What I would love is to be a paralegal, but my dream is to own a restaurant, a pirate-theme restaurant called Pirate Song.”

Pakela is serious about legal research. At Rikers Island, while awaiting trial, he took a paralegal course. His court-appointed lawyer, Bret Taylor, of Legal Services Corporation, complimented his accomplishments and talent for legal research. Pakela became the law librarian at the Manhattan Detention Center, where he was held pretrial. His attitude toward the course impressed the judge, who stayed the execution of Pakela’s sentence so he could complete the course he was taking. When he was transferred to the Eric M. Taylor Center in Queens to serve out his sentence, he became the law librarian there.

Pakela became adept at helping other inmates find defenses. He explained that 80 percent of the inmates at M.D.C. are awaiting trial on drug charges. Many are not the ones who made the sale, but introduced the customer to the seller.

“New York got rid of the charges of steering customers to the dealers,” Pakela stated. “Many of these people, who were not the actual dealer, plead guilty not knowing they have an agency defense.” He would like to work helping these individuals and others in jail, such as by working for a criminal defense attorney. At the same time, he’d look for grants to go back to school and, eventually, perhaps apply to law school. When he speaks of these plans, all the bravado is gone, and there is an intense seriousness about him.

“I have been trying to access the opportunities the system offers, but it is not easy,” Pakela continued. “I went to see the intake officer in the halfway program, but he was not there. He is supposed to help me apply to school; I’d like to go to CUNY. They will help me get Pell Grants as well.”

When Pakela speaks of his wife, Amy, his earnestness melts into dreams and smiles — and his job focus shifts.

“What I really want is to open a restaurant,” he said. Amy is a student at the School of Visual Arts and has written a children’s book, “Monkey Isle.” She sketched the judge during Pakela’s trial. Now she’s illustrating her children’s book, which is about an island of monkeys who run out of bananas and make a deal with pirates to supply them with bananas. Pakela imagines a restaurant, Pirate Song, making the story real, with a Tiki bar named Monkey Isle selling fruit smoothies.

“I’d need a good fruit connection — everything would have to be real fresh,” he said.

“I’m struggling with so much,” he added, “sobriety, society, responsibility and really living — and appreciate all the support I can get on a new start.” 

The road won’t be easy. A few days later, Pakela, once again back in full L.E.S. Jewels mode, was seen picking fights with a pair of Avenue A regulars around E. Seventh St.

Both times, the drunken Jewels wound up knocked to the pavement.




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