He Expected Probation, Instead He Went to Jail.

My name is Jonathan. I thought I was going to get probation. Everyone I knew got probation for the same charge, but when I was called in front of the judge, he sentenced me to 30 days in jail. I was handcuffed, taken into custody in front of everyone in the courtroom, and brought to a room called the “Bull Pen”. It is a room where people wait to see the judge and where others wait to go to the jail.

I sat in the Bull Pen until the end of the court day and was then escorted with three others to the booking area of the jail. I remember it was very cold in there even though it was summertime. I had to strip down, get searched and I then put on jail clothes. Here’s the rest of what happened.

People said I would see the nurse at some point, but I was there the whole 30 days and that didn’t happen. I had a cellmate who told me how to order commissary and how visits worked. Everybody in the POD shared one television. The jail was very loud, 24-hours-a-day which was hard to get used to. I had to take the top bunk because that is what the new person in the cell is expected to do. Lights were dimmed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. but were never turned completely off.

Breakfast was served at 4 a.m., lunch at 9 a.m., and dinner at 2 p.m. We played cards and gambled for commissary items. There were AA meetings for anyone who wanted to attend, and there were pastors who came into the PODs seven nights a week for 45 minutes to counsel anyone who wanted it.

One guy got put on suicide watch while I was there. He was doing a year sentence and got served with divorce papers while in jail. He told the guards he was going to kill himself and they told the medical staff. Suicide watch at this jail meant being put in a cell naked with no sheets, just a mat to sleep on. There is a camera in there so they can watch you every minute and a guard comes by each ten minutes and looks at you through a little window in your door. They kept him there for three days and then put him back in general population. He told us at chow that it taught him there are worse things than a divorce – like getting put on suicide watch! He had to calm down.

I didn’t really take part in a lot of the AA, NA or church stuff because I was only there for 30 days, but my cellie went to a meeting seven days a week. The pastors offered me counseling but I turned it down. I just wanted to do my 30 days and get out.

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My parents visited me once a week. We saw each other on a television screen and used a phone to talk. Nobody tells you when you go in what it is like to see your parents cry during the first visit. It was rough, but after that they seemed to adjust and our visits were fun. They told me what was going on at home. I told them some of the things about being in jail.

One thing I taught them about was “vent talking.” That is when you stand on your sink and talk into the air vent in the wall above the sink. It goes through the vents and to the girl’s area of the jail. The girls talk back by standing on their sinks. It is against jail rules to vent talk, because they don’t want the liability of an inmate falling off the sink, but everyone does it anyway, and the guards don’t punish for it. Guys vent talk with each other too. You have to remember, that everyone else who is trying to vent talk hears everything you say on the vent, so you shouldn’t talk about anything important, like your case, etc.

The food was pretty bad in jail. I know they say it is nutritionally okay, but it couldn’t be. I am sure there are lots of calories. Many people gain weight in jail because of all the empty carbs they feed you. It tastes worse than hospital or school cafeteria food. For instance, a lunch might be some cold canned pinto beans with no seasonings at all, one piece of hard unbuttered cornbread, and a cup of weak sweet tea. Dinner could be some mushy spaghetti noodles, with plain tomato sauce, with no seasonings and no meat. A piece of garlic bread and some canned lukewarm green beans might be included. Once a week we got desert, which was usually a Little Debbie-type cupcake or brownie. Breakfast was usually watery, scrambled eggs, two pieces of dry toast and some coffee.

Because I only had to do 30 days, I was in a special POD with other “short-timers,” so I was not around the felony inmates. I heard their POD didn’t have a television, and I heard that if an inmate had to leave the POD for medical visits, to speak with an attorney, or for other reasons, he or she had to be put in leg and arm shackles first.

When my 30 days was up, I was released. I have no intentions of going back, but if anything happens and I do, I know I will survive it.

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writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.