Fifteen-foot cyclone fences covered with razor wire encompassed the building. Inside were cells fitted with two-inch thick steel bars encased in cold hard cement. Thirty-foot towers with guards armed with semi-automatic rifles circled the perimeter. Jefferson County Jail, nicknamed “Camp Friendly,” was anything but friendly.
I was led into the holding tank by two tall, 210-pound sheriff deputies who could have been mistaken as defensive linemen for the Dallas Cowboys.
The concrete room was no bigger than a construction site Porta-Potty. The dreary eggshell-colored walls and ceiling radiated a bone-chilling cold that sucked at the edges of my soul. A three-foot bas-relief jutted out from the walls for seating and a stainless steel toilet, reeking of urine, sat in the corner. In the center of the wall, a huge plexiglass window gave the guards the ability to monitor the offenders of society. Five payphones affixed to the wall hung surrounded by a collage of phone numbers for lawyers and bail bondsmen willing to accept collect calls. I glanced around the room at the seven grim-faced men sitting silently sullen and dejected.
I took a seat among my fellow delinquents, mindful not to infringe on anyone’s space. No one spoke. No one made direct eye contact, each of us stewed in our own self-pity and regret. Everyone intuitively followed an unwritten rule: “Leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.”
The two officers retrieved me and the four other men left in the holding tank. Two of them were rescued by their family members while one posted bond through a bondsman. The five of us lined up. We were ordered inside one at a time. A female deputy officer fingerprinted us and took two profile photos. The bulb flashed brighter than a nuclear explosion.
We were then led to a large, cold shower room. There six officers ordered us to strip naked. Once we were down to our birthday suits, instructions were given to run our fingers through our hair; to stick out our tongues; turn around and bend over; spread our butt cheeks; cough loudly; and raise and show the soles of our feet.
They gave us a pair of gray wool socks, white dingy boxers, and a dilapidated jumpsuit — blue jumpsuits for those with misdemeanors and non-violent crimes, orange for those with felonies and aggravated crimes, and red for those who committed homicide. Three of us were dressed in orange, one in blue, one red. We carefully gave the guy in red more room — even criminals discriminate against other criminals.
My comrades and I in orange were led to our housing unit, P-B Upper. We entered into a fenced enclosure half the size of a neighborhood basketball court. Securing the gate behind us, the deputy led us across the court to an orange steel door. A camera hung in the corner next to a speaker, a voice instructed the deputy to step inside with his charges.
The deputy approached the housing officer located next to the fire exit. I was assigned a bunk and ordered to go there, so I walked toward it with a scowl on my face.
Grizzly-faced men watched as I walked by looking for weakness in my body language — my stride, the way I carried my shoulders, the look on my face, the glint in my eyes.
It no longer mattered whether I felt remorse for what I did or if I carried guilt in my heart. Here in County, all that mattered was survival.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.