Close your eyes for a moment and then allow your imaginations to take you inside the filthiest public restrooms you’ve ever visited. I’ll give you a minute to set the stage.
Are you there?
Okay. Now take a deep breath and let your senses take over, first conjuring up a stench that lingers in places only roaches and vermin dare trod. Combine those odors with the scents of dirty sweat socks and t-shirts, soiled underwear, cooked popcorn, urine, hot tuna, raw onions, and steaming chicken-flavored Top Ramen noodles.
Then add the scent of unwashed human bodies, the flesh of humans who’re allowed to shower only once or twice each week. And some who simply refuse to bathe even when allowed to do so.
Picture living or working where every breath is similar to what I’ve described above. Never a single lungful of fresh air.
Could you drink water from a sink that was used to wash the feet of a man who just finished working on a roadside work crew for eight hours in ninety-degree heat and 100% southern humidity—a sink positioned two feet above a toilet that’s used several times a day by two or three three people, but is sometimes flushed only twice in an eight hour span due to water restrictions imposed upon prisoners who clog their drains in order to flood a cellblock?
How about sleeping in an enclosed six-by-nine concrete box with two other large men who haven’t showered in several days during the hottest time of the year? There’s no ventilation—no windows to open. And the only way in or out is a heavy steel door that’s locked nearly 24/7.
What about sleeping on a hard floor with nothing between you and the grimy concrete surface but an itchy, wool blanket, with roaches, rats, and mice darting from gaps between rusted plumbing and cracked cinderblocks. Dried blood and vomit are the only splashes of color on drab walls.
HGTV it ain’t.
What I’ve just described is a mild description of the experience of serving time in some jails and prisons.
Keep in mind, though, that no two lockup facilities are identical. Conditions in many are far better than what’s seen in others. Some, in fact, are super clean, actually. Many, however, are just like I’ve described in the paragraphs above. Some are worse. Much worse.
But even the cleanest jails and prisons each have that certain, unmistakable “odor” that clings to the linings of your nostrils and then worms its way into deep lung space. That “funk” often comes to rest inside your mind where it’s never forgotten no matter how hard a person tries.
Serving time is no picnic. Even doing time in the nicer, cleaner prisons, especially federal facilities, is no walk in park. And, no matter how often you hear it, there are no “country club” prisons. Although, in the the less restrictive prisons, the federal camps, prisoners have more freedom and privileges. But it’s still prison.
The photos below were taken in one of the cleanest jails I’ve seen. It’s also a very well-run operation. The staff is well-trained, and for the most part, the prisoners seemed to be in good spirits considering their circumstances.
A brief tour of a county jail:
Deputy sheriffs monitor and control inmate activities and movement from inside a master control room. All doors are operated electronically by the officer seated at the control desk.
Some prison dormitories house over one-hundred prisoners in a single room. Many times, a single officer is assigned to supervise the activities of one or more dorm rooms.
Books are often donated by local community groups, families of inmates, and even the prisoners themselves.
In the photograph below, a deputy sheriff makes his rounds inside a cell block. He’s inside a dayroom that’s occupied by several inmates from morning until lockdown at night. The area outside the windows to the left is beyond the locked cell area. The doors to his right are inmate cell doors. Each morning those doors are opened allowing all inmates into the day room where they play cards, watch TV, eat their meals, and socialize. They return to their cells at night.
At no time is a prisoner allowed back into his cell unless medical staff finds that he/she is ill. Bunks must be made neatly each morning. An illness is the only time when a prisoner is allowed on their bunk during the daytime hours.
The image below is of the inside of a steel cell door. The tiny rectangle (appr. 6″ x 12″) is a secure plexiglass window at eye level. Its purpose is to allow officers a view into the cell. It’s an inmate’s only view from inside his cell unless he’s fortunate enough to be housed inside a cell with a window. Otherwise, their only scenery is whatever goes on in the hallway outside their cell.
Many dreams and fantasies of life on the outside begin at this very spot. The door across the hall below is that of another inmate’s cell. The checkered grate at the top of the picture is the only source of ventilation in the cell. It’s also a means for the jail staff to communicate with the prisoner. Jail doors are heavily insulated to retard fires and noise.
Overcrowding is a huge problem in jails and prisons. This jail was forced to hang metal beds from the hallway walls when their cells reached capacity – three men in each two-man cell.
Just as I clicked off this shot, a group of deputies ran past to quell a disturbance in area I’d just left. The problem—an inmate was having an anxiety attack from being in such tight quarters. He’d become quite violent and was tossing things around. His troubles reminded me of how much I appreciate the little things—trees, flowers, family, home-cooked meals, wine, and flushing my own darn toilet whenever I want.
Prisoners are brought to these small rooms where they “visit” with family members seated on the opposite side of the window. The family’s room is a mirror image of the inmate’s visiting room.