How to Go to Jail
By Solla Striker
PROCESSING: This is by far the very worst part about the jail experience. It is meant to be humiliating, crowded, not knowing what will happen because of what you did, lots of people in tears, maybe drunk or high, maybe just plain mean. Best thing to do is keep to yourself. Be considerate but don’t look for someone to trust to pour your heart out to or tell your story to. Be nice, be brief and keep to yourself. Then you learn – or don’t learn – depending on how difficult you want to make it on yourself – how to WAIT. You wait for just about everything. Answers mostly. It’s incredible how everyone all of a sudden doesn’t know much of anything. You wait to be moved from the first holding cell to the next one where there may be 20 or 30 others, 1 toilet for all of you. It might be clogged with whatever, have vomit all over it, or it may just work.
Forget about privacy- the toilet has a small wall but can be seen by everyone. Find a spot on the bench in the corner if you can. Chances are you’ll be in this room, shoulder to shoulder, maybe on the floor, people everywhere for 2-4 hours or more. You will wait – for your clothes, to use the pay phone, for the doctor, for your food, then your shower sometimes warm usually cold. Then you’re ordered to bend over, grab your cheeks and cough. You got your ‘roll-up’ consisting of a cotton pullover shirt, pullover pants, socks, bra, underwear, rubber open-toe sandal like shoes (maybe they’ll fit) or canvas slip-ons. You got this ‘roll-up’ before the shower so now after you’ve been ‘inspected’ and coughed, you get dressed – one piece at a time. The deputies give explicit instructions. If you have medicines or medical conditions, you’ll wait in another holding cell for perhaps 8 or 10 hours more, again, shoulder to shoulder, on the bench, against the wall, on the floor, you try to sleep if you can. When being moved from holding cell to holding cell, you must keep you hands in your pockets, walk on the colored line and do exactly as told to do by the deputy.
Be nice, smile, listen but keep to your self. When everyone in your group has seen the doctor, you are put into smaller groups and guided to your “pod” where, if you’re lucky you’ll have a cell and you can sleep. Congratulations. You made it through PROCESSING, and it only took from 6 to 20 hours (it took 22 hours I remember once when women were housed at Twin Towers in Los Angeles), to get through it. Remember: the Deputies care nothing about efficiency or about being polite. Mostly they’re mean, cordial but mean. And they’ll make you feel stupid and worthless when ever they get a chance. After all, you are only a “fish”.
DAILY ROUTINE: After waiting for however long it takes for every one to see the doctor or when they find out where they’re going to house you, you’ll be assigned a permanent place. You’ll get a thin mat and a blanket. The mat is to placed on a steel bunk attached to the wall in your cell. There are 6 or 7 2 person cells on the bottom floor with an equal number of cells on the top floor connected by steel stairs on both sides. There are 5 or 6 steel tables and connecting steel seats where everyone has their collective meals. This is a “pod” and there are 6 to 8 pods to that side of the floor. The deputy has a control booth between the isles having 6 or 8 pods on one side, same on the other. This booth is where everything is controlled – doors are electronically opened and shut, announcements are made, etc. You will share your cell in the pod with one other behind an electronically controlled door in a room that measures about 6′ x 10′. You will have a steel sink and a toilet It’s mostly cold every where but there isn’t a lot you can do about it. If the jail is crowded, you won’t get a cell but will be out in the public area – where the eating tables are on a bunk tiered for 3 people and there could be as many as 50 out there with you in addition to each cell having 2 people in it.
At some point before entering the pod, you are handed a packet containing a black hair comb, a toothbrush, small bar of soap, a razor, a small bottle of shampoo, and a small pencil. You’ll get your money that you had on you or get some sent so you can put money on your ‘books’ where you can buy tons of junk food, candy, maybe an eraser or pencil, tampons or other “luxuries” they will have in the highly over-priced list of commodities known as the jail Commissary. You’ll not mind so much that everything is about 4x more expensive than on the outside. Just so you can buy something to make yourself feel a little better. Phone calls to your loved ones (this is when you find out about love…parents are usually the ones to bear the brunt of jail expenses between accepting collect phone calls and providing $10 or $20 to their daughter so she’ll have money on her books). These ‘collect’ calls are much higher than those made from the outside and can only be made to a home-based phone, no calls can be made to a cell phone. Calls can be made when the phones are ‘turned on’ and only at certain times. So many that believe their situation is more important than yours and will talk to their mom, dad, sister, brother, boyfriend, anyone to prove it. You wait in line for the phone and for each meal. Depending on where you are or how you are classified you may or may not have to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner but breakfast is at 6AM. If you go to court, you must be awake and ready to leave by 3AM. Mostly though, you wait and wait and wait ….for just about everything. Try to be patient. Know that if someone does something they should not do (like start a fight or some disturbance) all of you will pay, usually with a ‘Lock Down.’ Know that the deputies can come into your cell at any given moment, tear apart your room and belongings and lock you down if an extra bra or pair of socks are found. Best thing to do – and it’s much easier said than done – is to just keep cool about it all. Find someone with a good sense of humor and laugh it off. Laugh a lot if you can. Believe me, there is a whole lot of stuff to laugh about if you look at it from a certain angle.
Be honest. Exercise. Do not eat a lot as weight gain is almost a sure bet. Keep a positive outlook. Give up your need for privacy. Laugh a lot and when ever you can. Say nothing that you wouldn’t mind hearing about in a public courtroom. Improve your relationships with your family and trust ONLY your family to take care of your domestic affairs. Do not leave financial matters to a boyfriend, a girlfriend or a neighbor. Cry a lot if you have to but do it privately. Know you will get through this and most importantly LEARN what mistakes you made that got you there and what you need to change or do to not ever have to go back. There is so much more that could be said but these are the basics. Hope this short “Guidebook to Jail” helps someone to cope. Just know this too shall change, hopefully for the better.
Personal Experience over a 10 year bout
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