Sentenced To Jail? Well, Here’s Your New Home

The Hole - Jail

Living Conditions in Jail

Close your eyes and imagine you’re in the filthiest public restroom you’ve ever visited. Take a deep breath while conjuring up a stench that lingers in places only roaches and vermin dare to trod. Combine those odors with the scents of dirty sweat socks, sweat-soaked t-shirts, and unwashed underwear, warm popcorn, week-old urine, and steaming chicken-flavored Top Ramen noodles. And it gets worse…

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 gang for eight hours in ninety-degree heat—a sink positioned two feet above a toilet that’s used several times a day by three people, but is only capable of being flushed twice in eight hours?

How about sleeping in a six-by-nine room with two other large men who haven’t bathed in several days during the hottest time of the year. There’s no ventilation. No windows to open. How about sleeping on the floor with nothing between you and the grimy concrete surface but an itchy, unwashed wool blanket? Roaches, rats, and mice dart 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 jailing. Serving time. Marking the calendar. Doing time.

Of course, living conditions are better in some jail facilities than others, but many are just like I’ve described in the paragraphs above. Some are worse. Much worse.

The photos below were taken in one of the cleanest jails I’ve ever 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.


Inmate Movement Control

Jail control room

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 deputy seated at the control desk.

Female dormitory

Some prison and jail 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. When the officer/deputy steps inside the dormitory, they’re locked inside with the inmates. The odds are sometimes 100 inmates to 1 officer.

Female Dormitory

Jail Library

Books are often donated by local community groups, families of inmates, and even the prisoners themselves.

Jail Library

Jail library. It’s quite possible that one or more of your books are on the shelves.

Cell block

In the photograph below, a deputy sheriff makes his rounds inside a cell block. He’s actually inside a day room that’s normally occupied by several inmates. The area outside the windows to the left is a common area hallway beyond the locked cell/day room area. The doors to the deputy’s 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 must remain in the day room all day, and return to their cells at night.

Prisoners are not permitted to lie in bed unless they are sick, which must be confirmed by a jail nurse or doctor.

A deputy sheriff makes his rounds, peering inside each cell as he passes by.

Looking out

An inmate’s view through the window in his cell door out into the hallway (below). Many dreams and fantasies of life on the outside begin at this very spot. The door across the hall 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.

Looking out from inside a jail cell

 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 an area I’d just left. The problem—an inmate was having an anxiety attack, possibly caused by being confined to such tight quarters. He’d become quite violent and was tossing things around, including other inmates and an officer. 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 and as many times as I want.

Steel bunk attached to hallway wall.

Visiting Room

In some jails, 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.

visiting room

Visitors speak to inmates via telephone.

* Remember, prison and jail are not the same. Normally, jails house offenders who’ve been convicted of misdemeanor crimes punishable by sentences of up to 12 months. Prisons are for people who’ve been convicted of felonies (sentences of one year or more). Of course, there are exceptions, but these are the rules of thumb.

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7 replies
  1. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    You know, most are jails are clean. Well, they’re as clean as they can be, considering. But you have to realize that no matter how many times you scrub a wall or a floor, that doesn’t spruce up the men and women who don’t bath regularly (perhaps once a week), have clean clothes to wear on a daily basis, etc. Many of these unwashed folks work all day out in the hot sun and then come inside to have a meal and then go to bed. Then they get up and do it all over again the next day. Sometimes it gets so bad that officers must order/force the prisoners to bathe.

    Hoarding and hiding food that’s stolen from the kitchen and sold “black marketish” to inmates attracts all sorts of critters.

    Jail tour guides do not take you to the “rough parts” of the facility. You only see the spit-shined areas, which, most of the facility is, actually. But “drunk” cells, the hole, the SHU, isolation, AdSEG, etc., are not nice places. Prisoners there smear and throw feces, urine, and other bodily fluids against the walls and at passing officers. They often smear the foul stuff on their naked bodies prior to acting out, hoping it will prevent officers from getting a good grip.

    I assure you that in the bowels of these places, no matter how nice you may think they are…well, they’re just not nice.

  2. Diana
    Diana says:

    From your description of the jail at the beginning of this blog, I suspect even my pet vermin (just now tucking into their yoghurt for breakfast, having crawled down from their group hammock) wouldn’t put a paw in there!

    I don’t know much about the jails here in Australia, but I suspect that, owing to prisoner’s rights, they are clean and well run.

  3. Patti Phillips
    Patti Phillips says:

    At WPA, we chatted about the new jail facility that contained dorm rooms for about 20 inmates. That many inmates together would give me pause as a corrections officer. 100 together with the door closing behind me? Wow!

  4. Pat Marinelli
    Pat Marinelli says:

    Well, the popped corn fumes would due me in, I’m allergic.

    Jails that I’ve seen here in Jersey (Monmouth County)are newer but no privacy, all glass, huge room, many prisoners, toilet in the corner. They had three areas, men, women, and maximum security. Not a pleasant place at all. Worse, it you get picked up on a bench warrant for not paying a ticket on a Friday night, you can sit all weekend with murders, rapist, child molesters, etc., until you go before a judge on Monday morning to pay the fine.

    We took a tour with SinC and I would say I was a little scared. We did get to talk to a female serving time for drug charges. I think our guide said 95% of the people in the jail were there on alcohol or drug related crimes.

  5. Glenn Ickler
    Glenn Ickler says:

    I have been the Minnesota State Prison and the St. Paul City Jail (as a newspaper reporter, not an inmate) and both were clean, orderly and devoid of grungy smells. I guess northern inmates fare better than southerners.

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