Sebastian Holst

Son of Painter Beate Wheeler Holst and Writer Spencer Holst

Lived at Westbeth from 1970 to 1984

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

The blood trail that began in the lobby joined me in the elevator. It followed me out, to the right and down each of the three long, connecting hallways that took me home to my apartment. The large red-brown puddle that marked its end felt like a punch to my eight-year-old gut — it sat, undisturbed, on my doorstep.

Seven men had escaped from the prison directly across the street that morning in January 1971, and they were all still very much at large. I had a special fear–stemming from guilt–of my incarcerated neighbors. We had recently discovered that the fourth-floor roof that overlooked Bank and West Streets gave us a perfect perch over the “prison yard,” and we had progressed from prisoner watching to shelling them with the rocks that coated our tarred roof. In my eight-year-old brain there was no doubt that the congealing blood pooled in front of my door was from the very same prisoners that I had literally stoned.

Fearing the worst, I turned the key and the doorknob and stepped inside. “Bea? Boy?” (this is what I called my mom and dad); “Hi Ho!” I heard my father say. After a blur of exclamations and hand-wringing, we came to understand that we had indeed dodged a bullet. Convicts had jumped into the second of three lobby elevators. They had zigzagged their way across the third floor and came to a stop in front of my door — but why?

Next to my door is a fire exit. In what had probably started out feeling like a sprint for freedom had quickly turned into a feeling of being a mouse in a maze. A pool of blood formed when the injured escapee stopped to decide whether to keep on running or to get out of the building.

The prison was closed soon after. It was converted into a co-op where the first of the “new residents” included Grace Jones and Dolph Lundgren, who took the top floor. I believe they had roof rights.

Portrait by Beate Wheeler Holst

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