From the administrative segregation pod – in other words, where they stash the trouble makers, the sheriff and Officer Justice led us into a tiny space between two sets of locked doors. To pass through each set, the corrections officer had to radio his location and request. The control room, far from any inmates, held the control for the whole building.
From that sardine experience – there were 17 of us, including our guides in a space intended for two to three – we exited into one of the oldest parts of the jail, built in the 1970s. Not that any part was beautiful, but you could see and smell the difference twenty more years (the new part having been built in the nineties) had made. In this small pod, where cells lined one wall, and windows the other, the doors had been welded open. The inmates stood in their cells next to double bunks, and the sheriff explained that in order to give each man a minimum of ten square feet, the doors had to be permanently opened once they made the cells double capacity. Outside the pod, he further explained that the sixteen men occupying the pod were allowed work releases. Isolating them kept contraband from entering the general population.
We progressed slowly through long, empty halls, and into the newer part of the building. Here, the cream- coloured cinderblock walls were painted a soft cream that looked brighter than the dingy walls of the old. We entered a small pod, holding around fifty men. This one had a control booth, too small for all of is, so we clustered at the entrance, two extra COs standing between us and the inmates. The bunks were pointed out to us. This pod, due to overcrowding with non-violent criminals, had no cells, per se. Instead, chest high cubbies like you would see in an office (only made of the ubiquitous cinderblock) delineated the ‘cell’ around a double bunk. Each bunk held a mattress with built-in pillow. Each inmate would be issued a thin sheet, and two blankets (three, after Labor Day) all in white.
We were taken to the kitchen, where inmates prepared all the meals from materials contracted from the same supplier who does school lunches in the area. The kitchen smelled strongly, obviously never cleaned the way a true commercial kitchen would be, much less a residential one. There was no visible dirt, just a powerful odor of long-burned grease and mustiness. The CO with us explained that a crew of five cooked, and it was considered a good job, as the cooks got extra food and treats. But, he said, they usually have women doing the kitchen work. They break less stuff! He told us.
On to another pod, the one larger, but with cells in two ranks, and a larger control room. Here, we squeezed into the control room and were shown how the railing on the top rank of cells was now ceiling high rather than the waist high it had once been. They also showed off the 360 degree camera that allowed them to see everything, although usually after the fact when reviewing an incident. The final male pod was where the max-security was in place, so we entered the elevated control booth, but we were not in the pod itself. The other control booths had been on the same level, but this one held a vantage point and was accessible by a narrow, twisting corridor.
In the other pods, the CO explained to us, the men could easily overcome the two guards who were in with the population at all times. They just don’t, he told us. They want to get out, they don’t want to get points against them. They respect us, we give them respect back. That’s what this job takes, a lot of patience and showing respect. You disrespect them, you got trouble.
Finally, we were taken into the female pod, a much smaller space with cells, not the cubbies, and couches on the ground level where the women were sitting and socializing. Again, the pod had a control booth rather than a room.
Subdued, the group was led back into the halls, where we met the captain of the HRT team. The team, the equivalent to SWAT for jails, had been summoned by the fire alarms. He talked to us for a few moments, about what they do, and the methods they use to subdue violence. A Taser (the sort with an arc between two points) was shown, an impressive display of light and sound. Then we exited the jail, back out into the cool dark evening, and walked back to the courthouse and juvenile detention center.
Before we entered the JDC, we were taken to the rehab facility. As much as is possible, this judge prefers kids to be here, a softer facility geared toward instruction and a program intended to teach them self-respect, respect to others, and to slowly put them back into a home situation. Both facilities work with children ages 18-13, although rarely a child who was in need could be granted the ability to stay out of the regular jail until age 21. In the rehab facility we saw three classrooms, one full of computers. The children continued right alongside classmates, the woman who was guiding us explained. Their school sent lessons over, and the students were in the classrooms from about 8am to 3pm. Then they took part in the rehab program, had dinner, did crafts, like the decorated pumpkins we saw in the common room, and watched TV for a couple of hours before bed. Although the living facility we saw (it was empty. We saw no children for privacy reasons) was fitted with cells, they were single occupancy with better beds and a desk.
The JDC itself was much smaller than the jail, and brighter, the walls painted in attractive colors. The pods can only house up to twelve, and we were told the population of the JDC at the time of our visit was only five. The pod was lined on one side with a bookcase, easily ten feet by six feet, full of books, and on top of the bookshelf were board games. Here were the ubiquitous welded stainless steel tables, but also a pair of couches. The gym, we were told, was open to both facilities at different times, and they were in it a couple of hours at a time when they couldn’t be outside. One young person, we were told by a laughing CO, had built an obstacle course that all the kids had enjoyed just the week before. For the JDC, there was a single classroom, as there were rarely more students than could be held in it. A small cafeteria was the only other part of it. We were told that they were made to sit one kid to a table, to keep horseplay down. This was also where family visits would take place, which is why there was a small shelf with more board games.
And then we were done, back to the judge’s office three hours after we’d started, a quiet group in comparison to the start. He talked to us for a minute about the next class, and sent us home. At home, my son pounced on me. He was supposed to be in bed, but I was so happy to hug him I didn’t scold.
I’m sure I’ve missed something, feel free to ask in comments. This was quite the experience, and hopefully some of my readers can use it in their writing to create a more realistic story.