Posts

The tin cup pictured above is an actual drinking vessel that was originally part of the fabulous dining experience for prisoners housed inside a small county jail. The lockup itself was every bit as peachy as the cup, and both the building and the stainless steel mug were well past their expiration dates when the county finally gave in and demolished the old place.

As they say, “if those walls could’ve talked” we’d have heard tales of jailhouse coffee potent enough to dissolve steel beams. A cook who somehow transformed liver and onions into a dish that even the pickiest of inmate diners enjoyed. We’d have heard about the two graveyard shift jailers who discovered two whole baked turkeys in the refrigerator and consumed most of the pair of browned birds during the course of their December 24th overnight shift. The turkeys were designated for the prisoners’ Christmas dinner.

The prisoners were still there, locked up when New Years Day rolled around. The jailers were not, courtesy of a very angry sheriff who, at the last minute, had to hire a caterer to prepare additional turkeys for the prisoners.

The old red-brick jail building, if it were able to speak before its demise, might’ve told us about the prisoner who managed to smuggle a gun inside and then dared officers to “come and get it.” Certainly we’d have heard about the roaches and mice and the general funky stench of a place with little ventilation (no air movement at all in some corners of the facility).

The jailhouse could’ve gone into detail about how prisoners were allowed a couple hours of recreation once or twice each month, and that was limited to stepping outside onto a square of concrete for a game of basketball, if the ball was inflated and that was a rarity. The others who didn’t play ball simply sat down or paced back and forth on a small patch of grass next to the court.

It might’ve spoken of the dangers facing deputies (they were called jailers at this department). Blind corners and stairwells. Hallways so narrow that the jailers were forced to walk next to the bars.

No cameras “in the back” Therefore, when jailers opened the door to enter the lockup area they had no idea what waited for them on the other side. Had inmates escaped their cells, which had happened a couple of times, deputies were sitting ducks for an ambush.

So buckle up and join me for the only peek available inside this small facility. Believe it or not, this place was located in a county within the U.S., not in a third world country. And, it was in use not so long ago.

Follow me, but don’t touch anything, including those top two strands of wire. They’re electrified. A bug zapper for humans!

As we pass through the front gate, after being “buzzed” inside, please look to your right and you’ll see the recreation yard in its entirety, a simple square of concrete with an adjoining and similarly sized patch of grass. Inmates were allowed outside once or twice per month. Since there are no day rooms inside, it was a rare treat to see and do anything that wasn’t inside a dark, damp, and smelly 6×9 concrete cell.

During recreation time two patrol deputies were called in off the road to stand guard outside the fence. They were required to watch over the activities, armed with Remington 870 Wingmaster shotguns. The 870 Wingmaster is often a go-to weapons when in the business of law enforcement.

This, the sheriff’s order to have patrol deputies oversee recreation time, left the county less safe due to having two less deputies available to respond to calls. If an emergency arose the inmates were immediately herded back to their cells. Once they were safely tucked away the two patrol deputies left the jail with sirens yelping, lights flashing, and tires squealing.

Recreation yard

Upon entering this county jail, we first set foot inside a tiny lobby. This was where citizens stood at counter to sign documents, speak with deputies and/or dispatchers, hand over money orders for inmate commissary accounts, file criminal complaints, and report crimes, etc.

The lobby  also served as the visiting room. It was where family and friends stood facing one of two small windows that were equipped with sound holes so that inmates and visitors could hear the other speak. No phones and no contact. FYI – should officers arrest and deliver a suspect to the jail they brought them through this lobby area. Therefore, visitors would be made to move behind the business counter, or other nearby area, until the prisoner and officer passed through. Super safe, right?

Visitation and lobby area. This photo was taken from behind the counter where citizens filed reports, etc. The space was quite small.

On visitation day (Sunday afternoon only), inmates were brought two at a time to a small cell where they were locked inside. The cell was on the opposite side of the wall, directly behind the two green chairs in the above image.

Inmate visitation cell.

The two small windows in the visitation cell are the reverse sides of the ones in the previous photo. Until visitations, a piece of cardboard was positioned over the windows to prevent prisoners, the trustees who cleaned the jail and were allowed to roam about freely, from seeing out into the office area/lobby.

Stepping through the doorway leading to the cellblock area (to the right of the green lobby chairs in the photo) we first pass the trustee cells. The door to these cells remained unlocked during daylight hours to allow those prisoners to complete their chores—cleaning, mopping, delivering meals, etc. Trustees were required to be inside their cells by 9 p.m. each evening, where they’d remain locked inside until 5:30 a.m. in preparation for breakfast service.

Looking out from inside the trustee cells.

Hallways and corridors were extremely narrow, which was dangerous for the jailers who worked there. The facility was heated by old and clunky boilers that needed constant service and repairs. Radiators were there, inside the corridors, but were scarce. There was no heat inside the cells. And, there was no air conditioning whatsoever.

The only airflow came through small widows. In the next image you can see one of those windows (top left corner), open and tilted in toward the cells. A portable TV sat on a wonky, wall-mounted shelf next to the window.

Narrow corridors are dangerous!

Inmates were not allowed access to the TV controls, and reception was quite poor and was achieved with “rabbits ear” and Loop” antennas. Jailers changed channels when requested, during their rounds. But prisoners will be prisoners, so they manufactured makeshift antenna controls fashioned from string or wires, using the “remote controls” to swivel the antenna to dial in stations. Not allowed but, as I said, prisoners will be prisoners.

Of course, jailers often confiscated the strings and wires, and tightly rolled up newspapers used for reaching across the hallway to change a channel. Those items are considered as contraband in lockup facilities because they can be used to strangle, commit suicide, or attack officers. Newspapers and magazine pages can be rolled and formed in ways that make them nearly as hard as wood and are often found with sharpened objects inserted into the pointed ends. Doing so makes them as lethal as any spear or other stabbing type of weapon. Very deadly.

Wires to rotate rabbit-ear antennas from side to side to help receive a better picture. No cable!

To show just how dangerous this place was for deputies, notice how close the jailer below was to the bars. He had no choice due to the swing direction of the door.

Notice the pieces of white paper poking through the bars. They’re actually envelops placed there by prisoners. This was their version of postal letter boxes. Each morning a jailer collected the envelopes and carried them back to the office where he’d place stamps on each one, if the prisoners had enough money in their account to cover the costs. Afterward, a USPS letter carrier stopped by the jail to pick up outgoing mail and drop off incoming mail.

Jailer enters corridor. Danger!

There were no light fixtures inside the cells. Instead, floodlights mounted to the corridor ceilings illuminated each block of four cells. The fixture below hangs above one of the few windows in the block. Lighting was poor to say the least.

Floodlights gave the impression of peering in at zoo animals on display.

Prisoners received their meals through horizontal slotted openings in the bars. Trustees delivered the trays.

Tray slot

Meals were prepared in the jail kitchen. Trustees received meal trays from the cooks through a pass-through window leading from the kitchen to the jail corridor. Coffee was always available for deputies, 24 hours a day. Inmates were given coffee with their breakfast. One of the perks of being a trustee was to have coffee whenever they wanted, during daylight hours. Deputies and prisoners drank coffee from the same pot, the one pictured on the countertop below.

Jail kitchen

There were no showers inside the cell blocks. Instead, deputies escorted prisoners to showers located in another area … once each week, if they were lucky.

Showers had no floor drains, therefore water spilled out in the same corridors used by the jailers when making rounds.

Showers drained into the corridors.

To open cell doors deputies/jailers used a Folger-Adams key to release a lock on a cabinet attached to the wall outside each block of four cells. The compartment was made of thick steels and contained the door controls. The same key also locked and unlocked all interior jail doors, such as the cell doors, supply closets, access to plumbing and electrical systems, and the main “in/out” door to the jail that connected to the lobby/visiting area.

Folger-Adams key

With the cabinet door unlocked, the jailer opened and closed cell doors using levers and a large wheel. Each lever controlled the lock to one cell door. The jailer pulled the desired lever down to lock a door(s) and then turned the wheel to “roll” the barred doors either open or closed. This was all performed manually. No electronic controls. Should a door not close completely, its corresponding light (below the levers) illuminated with a bright red glow.

The door to the jailer’s right (below) was the entrance to a block of four cells and a very small small, narrow day room. When the jailer opened the cell doors, it released each of those four prisoners into the day room. He’d then roll the doors shut until night. Prisoners were not permitted to remain in their cells during daytime hours.

If a prisoner refused to come out of his cell when required, the others were returned to their cells (for safety) and deputies would then go inside to “gently” coax remove the misbehaving inmate, who would then serve a few days in “the hole” for not following instructions and jail rules. The unruly inmate would also lose commissary and visiting privileges.

Wheel of Misfortune

And that, my friends, was your look inside a place not many have seen. Those who have wish they hadn’t, I’m sure.

Cheers …

 

Badge Contact Lee

It’s Wormhole Thursday, a time to journey back to a time before TASERS and prior to the CSI Effect.

It’s memories of what it was like to be a cop way “back in the day” and I share this with you for two reasons. One: The information contained within are details that could add that extra touch of realism that’s sometimes missing in a crime story. Two: To help those not involved in the real world of coppers better understand that cops are more than just someone in uniform who writes traffic tickets and locks up the bad guys.

So please join me as we wander into the Thursday Wormhole. Oh, and please keep your hands and feet inside at all times. We’re approaching Halloween and you never know what or who is lurking out there in the shadows.

Sheriff’s Office

First, a bit about the office of sheriff. Sheriff’s are elected officials and they’re like the CEOs of their departments. Most operate under a county government. However, a few cities also have sheriffs which, I believe, occurs mostly in Virginia where some cities are legally not a part of the county that surrounds them. The law there states that only a sheriff may serve civil process (jury summons, divorce papers, lien notices, etc.), meaning a sheriff is needed in those locations since, by law, a police department may not serve those papers.

Wearing “the Star”

I worked as a patrol deputy, riding county roads doing double-duty, as we all did, serving civil papers between answering criminal complaints and keeping our eyes open for bad folks doing bad things. In our “spare time” we investigated crimes resulting from those complaints. There were no detectives. Our sheriff didn’t believe in having them, just like he didn’t believe that female deputies should carry guns. In fact, our department didn’t have women working the roads. Not a single female deputy was a sworn police officer. There were female jailers, of course, because our jail, like others, housed women prisoners. We also had female dispatchers.

It was a requirement that all jailers/corrections officers were certified to carry firearms, and they received training at the range. The women who worked in our department also received the training (had to to become certified jailers), but when the training was completed the she sheriff made them turn in their weapons.

In Black and White

Our shifts were divided by race. White deputies were assigned mostly to work with other white deputies, and African American deputies were assigned to work with African American deputies. I was the exception to the rule. I was a crossover deputy. The sheriff called me into his office one day to tell me he was trying the experiment of mixing us (yes, he actually said this) and he thought I had the personality to get along with everyone. Well, duh …

Anyway, that’s the flavor of how it was during the early days of my career in law enforcement. Obviously, things changed over the years, but gradually. This was the South and change and progress in many areas there were slow to come, especially within the sheriff’s office.

Moving Ahead to 1984

August 25, 1984. 2330 hours (11:30 p.m.)

I tucked my daughter in bed for the night and told the overnight sitter I’d see her in the morning, and to call my office if she needed anything. Someone there, I said, would contact me by radio to relay the message. And, if I wasn’t in one of the many “dead spots” in the county I’d respond right away. Then I headed out the front door and to my patrol car, a brown and tan sheriff’s vehicle with a red light bar on top and a long whip antenna that frequently struck and trimmed low hanging branches and leaves from the trees that lined some country roads.

I’d repeat my message to the sitter message each time I worked the night shift. Thankfully, the sheriff understood that I was single dad raising a daughter, so I was fortunate in that I worked mostly day shifts. But, nights were a part of the job so I rolled with the punches.

My attire for the evening, as always, was the standard dark brown shirt, khaki-colored pants, shoes shined until they looked like polished mahogany, a straw campaign hat, a deep brown basketweave-patterned gun belt that held a Smith and Wesson .357 with a 6-inch barrel, a pair of Peerless handcuffs, and two dump pouches that contained a few extra rounds of hollow point ammunition. And a Maglite.

My left rear pocket was weighted slightly by the spring-handled lead and leather SAP I’d slipped inside just prior to leaving my bedroom. It was my secret weapon in the event someone got the best of me and there was no other way to survive the encounter.

This was any and every night back in the late 70s and early 80s. We weren’t issued vests, semi-autos, shotguns, TASERS, or chemical sprays of any type. There were no cages/partitions in our cars either, meaning we’d have to place the crooks in the front passenger seat and, as a result, when we arrested an unruly suspect we’d often have to wrestle with them, while driving, all the way to the jail. On more than one occasion, simply for a bit of relief, I handcuffed the guy to the bracket that held the carseat to the floorboard.

Other times I’d call for backup and that poor deputy would have to ride in the backseat and tussle with the a-holes until we arrived at the jail.

Some of us kept a baseball bat tucked between the driver’s seat and door, in that narrow space on the floorboard. It’s purpose was to equal the odds a bit when facing a group of people who were hellbent on bashing in the brains of a solo deputy. To paint a better picture, imagine yourself facing a crowd of 100 drunk people in a nightclub parking lot who’re in the midst of fighting, cutting, stabbing, and shooting and it’s your job to break it up. Then many of them decide it’s time to attack the cop and that cop is you and you’re the only cop there. Yes, a baseball bat came in handy, believe me.

We were required to wear the Smokey Bear campaign hats any time we were outdoors. If the boss drove by a traffic stop and the deputy’s head was bare, well, there was a good chance by afternoon he’d no longer be a deputy. And you’d as soon be caught dead as to have your photo appear in a newspaper story without the hat perched atop your dome. Goodness, NO!

The same was true about the shine on our shoes, and that meant after rolling in a mud hole with a dangerous suspect, trying to handcuff him while he constantly punched, kicked, and bit you, well, the moment you were once again upright you’d best be wiping away the mud from your shoes and buffing them back to a glossy shine. Otherwise, you risked being sent home for good.

As I briefly mentioned above, there were several radio dead spots throughout the county. In those areas calling for backup was absolutely impossible. Remember, cell phones weren’t around back then. Therefore, we answered dangerous calls there with the mindset that we’d do whatever it took to come back. It was a bit like entering the Twilight Zone.

It’s not a good feeling to respond to a murder scene, knowing the killer was last seen entering a dark and big old abandoned building, knowing you’ve got to go in to get the guy, alone. Just you, your revolver, a Maglite, and a heart that’s jackhammering against the inside of your chest wall.

To make things worse, those were often the areas inhabited by people who loved to make and guzzle moonshine, fight the police, and who didn’t mind spending a few nights in a jail if it meant getting in a few good punches on a cop’s face.

Neighbors were no help to us either, because many of them enjoyed seeing a good brawl, scuffles that sometimes included being bitten by dogs of questionable intelligence who were defending their owners with every tooth in their snarling mouths.

Wives and shoeless and shirtless kids also liked to dive on the “beat-a-cop” pile.

The good neighbors, well, most of those folks didn’t own a phone so they were useless when it came to calling for help. They’d have to get in a car, if they owned one, and drive to the home of the nearest neighbor who had a “telly-phone.” Sometimes the closest phone was a located many miles away inside a country store, the places where large jars of pickled pigs feet and eggs sat on plywood counters near the old-timey cash registers, just a few feet from potbelly stove.

Somehow, and it’s difficult to fathom how, we’d almost always come out on top and bring in the person we’d gone out to get. And, sometimes we’d bring back an extra man or woman, depending upon how badly they’d beaten us.

Then, after tucking the offenders away in a nice warm jail cell and at shift’s end, I’d drive home facing a rising sun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After parking my car and signing off for the day, I’d open my front door, thank the babysitter, pack my sweet little girl’s lunch, usually a peanut butter grape jelly sandwich (her favorite), and then watch her run to meet the bus and her little friends. She never failed to grab a seat at the window so she could toss me a kiss and a wave goodbye.

Me? Well, I had shoes to polish and uniforms to wash, and a warm, soft bed and pillow waiting for me whenever I was ready to … zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


More about the office of sheriff.

The duties of a county (or city) sheriff differ a bit than those of a police chief. In fact, not all sheriffs are responsible for street-type law enforcement, such as patrol.

In many areas the sheriff is the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the county.

Remember, this information may vary somewhat from one jurisdiction to another.

Who is a sheriff?

20161130_092348

1) Sheriffs are constitutional officers, meaning they are elected into office by popular vote.

2) Generally, sheriffs do not have a supervisor. They don’t answer to a board of supervisors, commissioners, or a county administrator. However, any extra funding that’s not mandated by law is controlled by county government.

Sheriffs are responsible for:

1) Executing and returning process, meaning they serve all civil papers, such as divorce papers, eviction notices, lien notices, etc. They must also return a copy of the executed paperwork to the clerk of court.

2) Attending and protecting all court proceedings within the jurisdiction.

– A sheriff appoints deputies to assist with the various duties.

3) Preserve order at public polling places.

4) Publish announcements regarding sale of foreclosed property. The sheriff is also responsible for conducting public auctions of foreclosed property.

5) Serving eviction notices. The sheriff must sometimes forcibly remove tenants and their property from their homes or businesses. I’ve known sheriffs who use jail inmates (supervised by deputies) to haul property from houses out to the street.

6) Maintain the county jail and transport prisoners to and from court. The sheriff is also responsible for transporting county prisoners to state prison after they’re been sentenced by the court.

7) In many, if not most, areas the sheriff is responsible for all law enforcement of their jurisdiction. Some towns do not have police departments, but all jurisdictions (with the exception of Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut) must have a sheriff’s office.

8) Sheriffs in the state of Delaware, our new home, do not have police powers.

9) In California, some sheriffs also serve as coroner of their counties.

10649642_10203479709568983_1288274529477185515_n

10) In the majority of jurisdictions, sheriffs and their deputies have arrest powers in all areas of the county where they were elected, including all cities, towns, and villages located within the county.

*In most locations, deputies serve at the pleasure of the sheriff, meaning they can be dismissed from duty without cause or reason. Remember, in most areas, but not all, deputies are appointed by the sheriff, not hired.

The above list is not all inclusive. Sheriffs and deputies are responsible for duties in addition to those listed here.