Here's the second in a series of posts about the time I went to jail as a journalist, just to learn more about what it was like. The experiences I had there fed directly into Unlawful Contact, the next book in my I-Team series of contemporary romantic suspense novels. This is taken from my personal recollection written down the day after I was released.
“Put your toes on the line and look up at the camera.”
Panels flash bright, fluorescent light, then fade.
I’ve already been handcuffed, searched and fingerprinted, and now I follow the guard. The floor is cold on my stocking feet. My shoes have been taken away. In fact, everything I arrived with, except for the clothes I’m wearing, has been taken from me and placed in a black plastic bag with my name on it—earrings, bracelet, lip balm, wallet, pager.
The guard directs me to a small cement-block room called a safety cell, which is equipped with a stainless-steel toilet, sink and shower, as well as a small bench. In the guard’s arms is a stack of jail clothing.
“You’re coming in as a felony arrest, you know,” she says.
I nod. It was my choice — felony or misdemeanor. I have chosen felony, hoping that the additional indignities will help in some small way to make up for the psychological benefit of knowing that I will be leaving in 24 hours. Most inmates have no idea when they’ll be going home again.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” the guard says.
At the moment, neither can I.
Then she switches to a voice that means business. She knows she’s supposed to treat me as she would any other inmate.
“Take off your clothes, turn them inside out, and shake them.”
I do as she says, handing my clothes to her one item at a time until I stand naked on the cold, cement floor.
“Lift your arms. Turn around. OK, face the wall. Now lift your hair and shake it. Let me see behind our ears. Now I need you to squat on the floor facing away from me and cough.”
Cringing, I comply.
“OK, you can get dressed now.” She leaves, locking the door behind her.
I turn and find the small stack of clothes on the bench—white underwear, socks, black tennis shoes, a white T-shirt, loose blue pants and a matching smock. All of the items are numbered, and labeled BCSD JAIL. It’s cold so I dress quickly and am ready by the time the guard unlocks the door again.
“This is your bedding and personal items,” she says, handing me a stack of blankets, a change of underwear, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and a plastic “spork” — a utensil that looks like a cross between a fork and a spoon.
She leads me through a labyrinth of hallways — you’d have to know where you were going to find your way out, I realize, imaging inmates thinking of escape — to a heavy red door inset with thick, Plexiglas windows. From behind the door, I hear a cacophony of women’s voices.
My stomach does a flip. Earlier this morning, I signed a waiver drawn up by the county attorney in which I agreed not to sue should I be injured or even killed during my stay. I don’t anticipate conflict, but then I’ve never been in jail before. I have no idea what to expect.
“If someone jumps on you, we won’t be there to pull them off right away,” one of the lieutenants warned me earlier.
Though guards monitor the women’s unit from the control station outside, there is not usually a guard in the unit. And because of the overcrowding problem, guards assigned to the women’s module are often called down the hallway to help with male inmates.
The guard unlocks the door. The key is about six inches long, the lock sunk fist-deep into the concrete wall. She opens the door and motions me inside.
“You’re in 17,” she says pointing to my cell — or “room,” as they call them. Room? Who are they kidding? This isn’t the Hilton or some kind of youth hostel. It’s a jail.
But I’m not thinking about that so much as I am the fact that I’m about to spend the next 24 hours locked in the women’s unit with complete strangers, most of them repeat offenders, many of them waiting to be transferred to state prison. My heart is pounding. There’s no spit in my mouth.
I am scared out of my mind.
[To be continued...]