You’re Prisoner A0138685
You’re prisoner A0138685 and these are your new digs: a 12-foot-by-10-foot cinderblock holding cell with two windows that provide you a view of the sheriff’s deputies’ work station, but no glimpse of the outside world. A pair of lights burn overhead in the cell 24-hours a day. There are no cots, mattresses, pillows or chairs – just a thin mat on the concrete floor to lay/sleep on and a foul-smelling wool blanket to keep you warm. There is no TV, no newspapers, no writing materials – a kindly deputy does provide a few paperback books. There is a stainless steel toilet that sits out in the open in the cell – attached to the top of the toilet is a water fountain.
You’re prisoner A0138685 and this is where you spend 89 ½ of the 90 hours of your sentence – the only time you leave the cell during this period is to take two six-minute showers (under the watchful eye of a deputy) and to make two phone calls. You share these accommodations with two other cell members at all times, though those prisoners change over the days as they are “classified” (low-risk, medium-risk, high-risk) and then assigned to the general population. Because you are serving a “short” sentence, you are not assigned to the general population; instead, you remain within these four walls for the duration of your stay.
You’re prisoner A0138685 and you sleep no more than two hours at a time during the length of your incarceration. When you do sleep, you do your best to keep one eye open, lest any of your cell mates entertain ideas of visiting mayhem upon you. When you do sleep, it is with your back against the wall and with a clenched fist.
You’re prisoner A0138685 and the array of cell mates that you spend time with during your stay range from the amusing to the scary. One of your earliest cell mates looks for all the world like the lead singer of the metal group Disturbed. Mr. Disturbed is muscle-bound with a cleanly shaved head. He sports a thin, menacing goatee and a KKK band is tattooed around the bulging bicep of his right arm. Mr. Disturbed has just completed a one-year sentence in another county and is facing up to 20 more years on a variety of 34 felony charges, including the manufacture and distribution of meth and cocaine, assaulting two federal officers and breaking the jaw of a guard during his time at the previous detention center. Mr. Disturbed wears a red wrist band indicating he is considered “high-risk.”
Another cell mate is a 59 year-old man, Frank, who is facing several felony charges related to his attempt to “blow up” his boss’ house. Frank tells you that he and a 74 year-old (!) friend broke into the house of his boss (who was not home at the time), pulled the oven away from the wall, broke the gas line, then put an accelerant into a toaster. By the grace of God, the gas fumes never ignited, but Frank is going to be in jail for a long time.
Another cell mate is a 23 year-old guy who looks like Steve-O from MTV’s “Jackass” series. Steve-O is facing drug possession charges and is a heroin addict. Steve-O is suffering – in pain – due to withdrawal. He tells you that he should have been put into a cell by himself, because he is “dope sick.” Steve-O says “it won’t be pretty for you guys” when his symptoms worsen. It isn’t. Steve-O wails and bangs on the cell door, shouting for a doctor. Steve-O is angry that the detention center doesn’t provide methadone. A nurse finally responds to Steve-O’s cries for aid – he is given . . . Milk of Magnesia. Steve-O spends much of his time doubled over on the toilet – moaning.
You’re prisoner A0138685 and you are fed three times per day: breakfast at 6 a.m., lunch at 11 a.m. and supper at 5 p.m. The arrival of the food is announced with a one-word call from outside the cell door: “Trays!” The food trays are passed to the prisoners through a slot in the door. Several times you are unable to identify some of the food items on the tray. For example, on your first night, there is a thin, brown, waffle-shaped . . . something. You tear the “thing” in half to try and get some idea of what it might be – the inside is purple. You decline to eat the mystery item and give it to Mr. Disturbed. You are told later that it was “meatloaf.” You eat little during your stay and lose weight.
You’re prisoner A0138685 and you are being processed for release. You have learned a life lesson that you will never forget. As you leave the facility, you have a new-found appreciation for freedom, a humbled soul and an intense thirst for a Coke. An eight-hour ride home on an Amtrak train awaits you, and there will be no “yellow ribbon ‘round the old, oak tree” when you arrive. But you’re no longer prisoner A0138685 – you’re YOU, and there are tears in your eyes.