Continued from January 27th's Article, Part 1:
There are no clocks in the Springfield Municipal Jail, none, at least, that the inmates can see. The longest sentence one can get in the jail is for a year. Three DUIs would do it. The difference between a prison and a jail is that prisons hold people for longer, up to life. Prisons also house felons. Jails house misdemeanor offenders. The Springfield Municipal Jail, as was explained, wants to be uncomfortable, so criminals don’t get it into their heads that it’s not so bad, they can hack it, and come back for another stint or, worse, move on to worse crimes. Nevertheless, the jailers cannot punish inmates. The incarceration is the punishment, which they’re charged for by the city at a rate of $60.00 a night (30 days = $1,800.00). The jailers can only detain inmates. Though, if they’re acting up, inmates can lose out-of-cell time and take meals in their cells. They can get the minimum of only one hour of free time a week in the ‘rec yard.’ They can get moved to a single cell. Boredom is the weapon.
While our group of participant ‘inmates’ waited in pod D for an officer to take us on tour, most people stayed out of their cells and mingled around the picnic tables or, as though naturally drawn to it, congregated near the door that led to hall. The intercom beside the door told those gathered near the door to keep back or we’d all get an adult timeout (a 15 minute in-cell lockdown). Most people kept the doors to their cells opened as wide as they’d go. When the first toilet flushed, the sound like a small rocket taking off, people looked at the only almost closed door and snickered when the person stepped out. Then it became clear that modesty was compromised, and if you wanted to use the toilet, do it before you’re locked in with your cellmate -- for most people their cellmates were strangers. Otherwise, conversations were in order regarding what to do if the urge struck during the night. The general consensus: if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down. No look-sees. No more than an hour into in-pod time, and we’re coordinating bowel movements. And we’d already had more out-of-cell time than most inmates would see in our pod for a day.
Dinner arrived. We lined up single-file to receive it from the officers at the door. Chipped barbeque chicken, kernelled corn, and tater tots in a paper tray sealed with tear-away cellophane (bun comes separately). No salt, no butter, no condiments. A plastic cup with spork and a powder packet to make orange drink. It was impossible, we were told, to make a weapon out of the spork. Not only was it flimsy, but if someone managed to keister a lighter and heat it, it would just curl up into a useless ball. The water from the communal sink was hot, and most people didn’t want to go into their cells to fill up, so it was hot orange drink for most. Flash frozen, trucked in from the Washington state correctional institute where it was made by fellow inmates (if they only knew who was eating it...), then reheated, the food wasn’t offensive. Besides the orange drink, which was exceedingly sweet, the food was bland. The tots were soggy. The bun was bready. A combination of chicken, tots, corn, and bun tasted little different than each item individually. Oh, and there was a packet of two cookies, likely packaged separately so inmates could take them back to their cells or trade later. I pocketed mine. It wasn’t surprising that three meals like this a day would cost less than $5.00. Still, with so little ‘rec’ time, I could see getting fat and slow while eating them. No one is allowed to keep the spork. It had to be returned with the cup.
An officer entered our cell following dinner and fielded questions. Fact: the dual prongs fired from a taser spread out the farther they get from the barrel, and the farther they spread, the longer the arc between them will be, the worse the jolt. Normal ranges for tasers are around 20-25 feet. Fact: saps are no longer carried because they can break the skin when striking people. Saps are leather straps loaded on one end with buckshot. Palm saps, a bulb of buckshot in the palm of a glove, aren’t used anymore either. Neither are asps, telescoping steel batons. Tasers are preferred, considered more humane. Fact: there is a drawer full of warrants waiting to be served, which haven’t been served yet because there was nowhere to house those they took in before the new jail was constructed. Previously, within 24 hours of being arrested, 80+% of incoming criminals went free by posting bond, due to no space being available to house them beyond holding. Within 48 hours, 98% went free by posting bond. If a criminal that posts bond doesn’t show for court, it costs the city $500.00. If a warrant is served and the criminal has outstanding debts to the city, when the criminal is arrested the money they have on their person can be confiscated in order to pay those debts.
The officer bid us a good night. He was going home to sleep in his own bed. He’d be back in the morning.
A man who’d gone through the Citizen’s Police Academy entered our pod and treated us to a trivia game with questions about famous cops and infamous felons. Then another officer took us on tour.
Our tour started at the holding cells, where we were locked in while waiting to have our mug shots taken in prison stripes. The holding cell is a concrete, closet-like space with a bench on one side that could seat six or so shoulder-to-shoulder and a toilet at the rear blocked from view by a low concrete wall. The view from inside is of the incoming, booking door and the silly cell or padded holding cell, as well as of a bank of officer computer stations. The police station, it was made clear, is just across the street. The jail’s computers are newer and faster than the police station’s; police officers are welcome -- the more, the merrier. The padded cell is smaller than the regular holding cells. Its walls are covered by dense rubbery foam (marginally softer than concrete) and there is no toilet or water, only a grated drain in the center of the floor. It’s intended for incoming criminals suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Cigarettes, coffee, booze, or worse, in jail, all or just one, everything is cold turkey.
Led out of the holding cell in small groups, we passed what looked like a car seat with ankle holds and a network of locking straps that was bolted to a wheeled steel plate. It was intended for incoming inmates who are uncontrollable. After being strapped in, by law, each limb must be released every so often so that the criminal can shake blood back into it.
Prison stripes are blaze orange on white. The material is like stiff burlap, sizes run small, and they don’t allow much movement or flow. If we were actually being processed, we would have surrendered all of our clothing and possessions through a small window in a private room, had an opportunity to shower, then changed into the full get up before having our mug shots taken. Prison underwear, socks, pants, shirt, and flip flops. If you prove yourself to be a model inmate, you can get shoes that look surprisingly like Converse All Stars, orange and white, too. They’re made in China. For our pictures, we only wore the shirt. Face front, face to the side, then they showed us where we would have had our tattoos and scars cataloged in a database and matched to the electronic prints they’d have taken from our hands. The tattoos can be searched by image type, which makes identification easy. Gang affiliation matching is now easy, too, done by computers with a long memory and deep databases. There is no ink involved. Hands stay clean.
In the space used for storing the inmates’ possessions as well as clean inmate uniforms there is a washer and dryer, which is for the officers’ personal use. All officers on staff also keep a fresh uniform in the building. Inmates throw feces, bleed, vomit, and excrete whatever else a body can excrete. The toilets are designed not to flush often enough to allow overflowing and each is connected to a debris catch system, but inmates have nothing but time and nothing much else to work with. It’s best, the officers told us, not to take that home to your families.