So, last week, as part of the Grand Jury duty I’m serving, I
was dragged off to had the privilege of touring the local County Jail. To correct the “Monopoly” metaphor, in truth, I was “Just Visiting”.
The Jury members gathered at the Courthouse, and from there (after waiting for some of the stragglers to arrive) we were ushered down to the basement level. There, we passed by a sign that indicated we were near the office where we could obtain “Marriage and Pistol Licenses”. The lot of us were struck by this bizarre pairing. One Jury member commented, “You’re going to need both, so may as well get them at the same place!”¹ From there, on to the armored Cheese Wagon (which was white, and not cheese-colored at all, being as it was a Prison bus and not a School bus), which was not a terribly comfortable ride.
We arrived at the Jail and entered through the normal prisoner-intake – the males and females were separated and the men taken to the male-prisoner intake for an explanation of the intake process, and the women to the female side. It was at this moment that I was struck by the high gender imbalance on this particular Grand Jury: the women outnumber the men by more than 2-to-1.
Then we were served a breakfast, and toured the various jail facilities, including a typical cell block (called, here, “pods” – an accurate descriptor, I believe), the infirmary, kitchen, laundry, and law library. We encountered numerous prisoners² “in-transit”, being lead by guards from one location to another. Some leered, but most were obedient to the policies of the Jail, which required that they avert their eyes and turn their bodies fully away while in the presence of “guests”. On the one hand, this policy seemed demeaning to me. On the other, given the nature of th situation, I recognized the need for such a policy for the protection of the visitors. Even if presumed Innocent until proven Guilty, the practical fact remains that a large percentage of the Jail’s population are in fact guilty of some crime, frequently of a violent nature. Whenever one of the tenants of Jail toed the line and leered, it grew unnervingly creepy. And considering we were the group that were signing off on the indictments for many of these prisoners, the extra precaution made sense.
I must admit, prior to my Jail tour, to having had some curiosity about this large and imposing building that I have sometimes seen on my way from somewhere to somewhere else. Consider my curiosity fulfilled. I was struck by just how maze-like it was in there. At every turn, I couldn’t help but think what a terrific setting this jail would be for a survival horror story of some sort – a video game, a movie, or something else equally atmospheric. Just let the lights go all flickery, and you’ve got instant terror. Just add ravening mutants or zombie hordes to taste.
¹I do not, personally, feel the need for the latter, nor do I own such a device as may be described as a “pistol”.
²A “Prisoner” is perhaps an inaccurate label for those incarcerated in the Jail. One of the things we learned was about the distinction between a Jail and a Prison. The Jail is where people suspected of crimes and unable to post bail (or denied posting bail) are kept while awaiting the resolution of the legal process. Theoretically, once convicted, they are transported to Prison, which is a separate institution, but in practice they may remain in Jail for up to two years before being transferred to the Prison because of prison overcrowding.