Coffee freed: Subway sentry released from jail

A sign of the times: Coffee the Train Man helps commuters catch the subway
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Ditmas Park’s beloved subway sentry Coffee the Train Man was released from jail this week after a month-long stint in the slammer — but it is unclear if commuters at the Cortelyou Road station will hear his booming voice once again.

Coffee, whose given name is Charles Jones, was taken from the Cortelyou Road station, where he alerts commuters about oncoming trains, on March 22 for violating an order of protection filed by a woman he allegedly punched during a confrontation at the station last December.

He spent the last month at the Brooklyn House of Detention because he couldn’t pay the $1,500 bail, but was ultimately sentenced to time served, Daniel Ades, his court-appointed attorney, said.

“I wish that Coffee didn’t have to make the choice between getting out of jail right away or fighting the charges,” said Ades, who persuaded a criminal court judge to lower the bail from $1,500 to $1,000 — a fee that was still beyond Coffee’s means. “The purpose of bail is to guarantee that someone returns to court, but when someone can’t afford bail it means that they are held in jail unless they plead guilty. We would have loved to have made the prosecutors prove this case to a jury, but to do that Coffee would have had to remain in jail until the end of the week and potentially beyond because he couldn’t afford bail.”

A lengthy prison stay would have certainly affected Ditmas Park straphangers, who rely on Coffee’s early-warning system.

Coffee spends most mornings at the Cortelyou Road stop earning a living as the human version of Penn Station’s big board, notifying hustling commuters when the next train is departing.

Yet Ades is unsure if Coffee will be going back to Cortelyou Road.

As a result of the plea deal, Coffee agreed to stay away from his accuser — who uses the Cortelyou Road stop. Coffee isn’t forbidden from returning to Cortelyou Road, but any interaction with the woman could put his liberty in jeopardy again, Ades explained.

Straphangers said they were happy to hear that Coffee was out of jail — and hopes he returns soon.

“The neighborhood really felt his absence these past few weeks. People have been wondering what happened to him and asking if he’s all right,” said Ethan Wagner, a Ditmas Park resident and Columbia graduate student who’s been working on a documentary about the Train Man. “Coffee’s been a part of everyone’s daily routine for so long that it seemed as though something was missing from our mornings while he was gone.”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.