This morning, county reporter Adam Belz and I got a rare glimpse inside the state’s second-largest county jail holding nearly 500 inmates, courtesy of Sheriff Don Zeller and Jail Administrator Michael Carr. And no, that’s not me in the picture…even though I’d like to see what it’s like to spend some time in jail. I’ve been told that’s not happening unless I actually commit a crime. Shucks.
Getting a good look at what the inmates have to go through every day inside those walls, though, really made me glad I haven’t had the opportunity. We started out on the fifth and fourth floors, where the highest-security male and female inmates are kept. They are locked out of their cells at 8 a.m. every morning and are forced to spend the day out in their small dayrooms, given nothing to do besides watch TV or sleep on the floor. They clean their own cells every day with a mop and broom. The prisoners with orders to have no contact with others can only come out of their rooms one at a time.
“We keep them out here so we can see everything,” Carr told us. “We don’t want them going in there and participating in sexual activity or other illegal activities.”
On the second and third floors, most live in dormitory-style rooms. The lifestyle there is a little more laid back. Even the ones in cells get to have more “stuff” out in the dayroom with them all day, like newspapers, chess games and writing paper. Those cells aren’t exactly comfortable, though. It’s basically all metal and stone with a thin cushion on the bed. I can’t imagine spending months, sometimes even years, there.
They are all given time for recreation, which consists of merely weightlifting. What used to be the outdoor recreation area was made into living quarters by “slapping a roof on it,” Zeller said. Although they can all see outside, they won’t get to go there the whole time they’re incarcerated unless they’re going out for a dentist’s visit. And they won’t have any physical contact with loved ones, either. Visits are all completed across a sheet of glass.
The visit actually reminded me of when my father took his church confirmation class on a tour of the juvenile detention center. They were “bad kids,” although he’s had worse since. But he did it to show them where they’d end up if they stayed on the paths they were going down. Granted, none of them are really successful now , but only one ended up in jail later…
(All photos from the Gazette archives)