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.
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.
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.
Books are often donated by local community groups, families of inmates, and even the prisoners themselves.
Jail library. It’s quite possible that one or more of your books are on the shelves.
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.
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.
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.
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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