You’ve Been Found Guilty: Now What Happens?
So, you’ve been tried and convicted for a crime and now you’re ready to do your time. Well, it’s not like you had a say in the matter, but the day has arrived, nonetheless. And that day arrived a lot sooner than you’d preferred. Time simply would not slow down, no matter how hard or how often you prayed that it would.
You knew the evidence was stacked heavily against you, but you were still a bit shocked when the jury found you guilty. Your mind was still racing when sheriff’s deputies (that’s who takes you into custody after court) handcuffed you and led you to a section of the courthouse you’d never seen. Who knew there were jail cells back there?
Now you’re sitting in a not-so-clean holding cell with a dozen or so other people of various criminal backgrounds, waiting for someone to transport you to the county jail. Soon, you hear voices and the sound of chains rattling. Deputies call you out one at a time and begin shackling you—handcuffs attached to a chain around your waist, and leg irons that dig into the tender flesh at your ankles. You’re surprised at how quickly the soreness set in.
The transportation officers pack each of you into a very full van and then padlock the door from the outside. The benches in the back of the transport vehicle are crammed with men of all sizes and shapes. All skin colors and a variety of languages. Some were there because they’d been caught with illegal narcotics, while others were guilty of rape or murder, or both. The air is thick, and stale—gas fumes, stinky feet and flesh that hasn’t seen soap or water in many days. Not a good time for your claustrophobia to act up. Your gag reflexes are switched on and you fight to held back their attempts to expel stomach contents.
The fat man wedged in beside you, the guy who smells like a high school locker room times ten, had just been found guilty of using a machete to hack his mother to death. You couldn’t help but notice the foamy white stuff gathered at the corners of his mouth, and the crusty nuggets piled up over his tear ducts and lower eyelids. A blue scorpion tattoo on his neck wiggled a little with each beat of the now convicted killer’s heart. You soon find yourself passing the time by watching and counting the number of times his carotid arteries pushed against the inked arachnid, like counting ceiling tiles in a doctor’s office while waiting to say “ah” and hoping for a prescription that’ll calm your shattered nerves.
The driver made a sharp right-hand turn, slamming the wild-eyed, unshaven rapist against your shoulder and bare left arm. His slimy sweat transferred to your skin, feeling as if it burned your exposed flesh. But the chains prevented you from wiping away the cause of the fire. You’ve never felt more filthy in your entire life.
You arrive at the jail where you and the others are herded into a large room, much like livestock you’ve seen at county fairs. Then you’re told to remove all your clothing. A long line of naked men standing before both male and female officers. The stench of body odor is overwhelming. The embarrassment is worse.
“Hold up your arms. Spread your fingers. Turn around. Bend over. Spread your buttocks. Squat. Cough. Next.”
A female deputy, a woman who’d somehow managed to squeeze a rather “wide load” set of buttocks into a pair of size-too-small khaki pants, issues you a set of jail clothing—an orange jump suit big enough for two inmates, a dingy gray t-shirt that could’ve been white once upon a time, a pair of threadbare yellowish-gray boxers, and a pair of white socks that wouldn’t stay up no matter how many times you tugged. At the moment, though, while exposed for all the world to see, you gladly put on your brand new, many-times-used outfit.
Deputies yell for your group to hurry. The few who weren’t completely dressed awkwardly attempted to finish the task as they stumbled along trying to keep up.
Everyone is marched down a concrete corridor to another large room where you’ll learn the rules and regulations of the jail. It’s orientation time, and you’d better pay attention. The rules you’re about to hear are important. They’re for your safety. By the way, if you don’t follow the rules you’ll find yourself staying behind bars a little longer than you’d expected.
Now, please sit quietly and watch your orientation video, courtesy of the Chatham County Georgia Sheriff’s Department.
Welcome to jail.
As always, Lee, your writing is highly, even poignantly, descriptive while being educational. How you have been able to hold onto the characteristic of empathy in your long career is impressive. By empathy, I mean even your ability to zero in on the “threadbare, yellowish-gray boxers” a prisoner is forced to wear, and the imagining of the way slimy sweat from a prisoner sitting next to another prisoner feels on his bare arm in the padlocked van. You speak for so many idealistic, earnest, hardworking professionals who don’t happen to have the inclination or the time or the talent to write about what they feel and observe nor to talk about it to family, say, at dinnertime. You serve, Lee, more than just this community of writers your essays are intended for. A tiny, brush-away Thank You from me, but know other readers feel it too.
Accurate stuff, Lee. For many, the biggest reason we prefer prison over county jail is in county, too often many inmates come in still high or drunk and think they have to “prove” themselves, so they interrupt valuable nap time to whip their punk asses… Kidding… kind of…. Usually, too many young punks though who will get their priorities sorted out for them once they arrive in the joint. There’s nothing to do in county, where in the joint we have a job, a cell, a routine, and even a terrible library or sorts. Nothing in county. Plus, all the young punks…