Touring the County Jail – Worst Haunted House Ever
Several of my writing buddies decided to take a local law enforcement citizen’s academy because it would give us insights to enhance the details of our own stories. How long would it take for a real law enforcement agent to show up at the crime scene to aid our fictional hero battling a villain? What are the real physical and mental stressors that uniformed officers experience when they are called upon to save my fictional damsels in distress? All these questions have been answered and so much more has been learned taking these classes. I highly suggest, to any writer, to take advantage of any local citizen’s academies available to you. Your characters will be well-developed and you will become an educated citizen in your community.
There were several class topics that peeked my interest and some that gave me dread. Top on the dread list was the opportunity to tour our County Jail. From my limited knowledge of jails, based on television, inmates are in their cells or in the yard while guards are behind glass or above in towers. But this is not the reality of my local jail system. Inmates are placed in pod systems based on the severity of their crimes and personal aggression levels. In the higher level pods, there are lots of locks and closed doors. However, in the majority of the pods, there is one deputy in the open spaces with the inmates. It was explained to us that if the guards stay behind glass walls, there are lots of nooks and crannies where inmates can misbehave with each other. If the guard, aka “Mommy and Daddy”, were in the room with the “kids” it would more difficult to get away with misconduct. They have statistics that this system works.
And it all sounds very logical until you find yourself in one of those pods, on an escorted tour, and there is no glass to hide behind for a sense of security. I found myself more sacred than I care to admit. I felt like I had agreed to go on the worst haunted house tour ever. I loathe Haunted Houses. I hate all things scary. I can’t believe I found myself going on a jail tour at 9pm on a Tuesday night. The memories of what I saw are lingering with me.
We were warned that jail can be quite boring so seeing us would break up the monotony of their day. The second we walked into the first pod, we got the full attention of one of the inmates. I believe this guy watched too many episodes of Prison Break and idolized the character of T-Bag. While the deputy was explaining jail pod life 101, this guy sharpened three pencils while gyrating his hips and making sound effects. While we were trying to exit, he took an imaginary phone call so everyone would have to walk inches past him to leave the area. I don’t know if the guy was crazy, evil, bored, or a little or each. I wouldn’t voluntarily be in the same room with that guy again and all I wanted was the deputy to be safe behind some glass (and even the other inmates to be safe against this guy). But he was just the tip of the iceberg. In the medical unit, where they keep inmates on suicidal watch, with infectious diseases, etc, their faces seemed void of sanity. In the highest level pod, finally behind some glass walls, there was an agitated man who appeared to have more dementia than criminal intentions. At the end of the tour I witnessed a woman who was so upset at her situation that she just screamed at the top of her lungs until she ran out of energy.
I could barely stand being in that place for an hour. At the end, I was less fearful but my heart ached. Many of the inmates gave me the impression that they would benefit from a Mental Health Counselor or an Addiction specialist, which would be way beyond the abilities and talents of the jail guards hired to maintain order. These guards are called upon to do a difficult job dealing with a wide variety of personalities. However, every single employee we came across seemed to be the type of person you would want as a co-worker. They treated everyone with respect, were extremely knowledgeable and did their jobs with a sense of purpose. Those were the thoughts that flooded my mind as I fled the jail as soon as the tour was over.
Yet my final lingering thought, that I tell everyone who has asked me about my jail tour experience, is that you wouldn’t believe how many Nora Roberts books I saw in these pods. Her books are everywhere!