When the judge sentenced me to six months in the county jail, my first thought was about my family. Without me there to work and pay the bills, my wife and kids would lose the apartment. My attorney spoke up right away and asked the judge to allow me to check in at a later date so I would have time to get my affairs in order. I was lucky enough that the judge said yes and I was allowed to check in two weeks from the date of my hearing.
When I got to jail two weeks later, I had to wait three hours until they were ready to process me. I got my photo taken, was fingerprinted again, had to take a shower with some kind of anti-bacterial lice shampoo (just in case), and then dressed in jail clothes. Then the guard took me upstairs to a big area called a POD where lots of inmates were sitting around. I was assigned to a cell and given a mat and a sheet.
The cell was about 12 feet long and six feet wide. It had two metal bunk beds on one wall and the other wall had nothing but concrete. At the end of the bunk beds there was a metal toilet with the sink on the top of the toilet. Above it hung a mirror that was not glass but made of shiny enough metal that I could see myself.
The day after I got there, I met with the jail nurse who asked me my medical history and checked my vital signs. She told me how I could put in a request to see her if I got sick or hurt.
They gave me a rough estimate of when I would be released, I had to sign a form that they had given me a rule handbook, and I was sent to solitary (Administrative Segregation) to do my sentence. Because I had been honest with the authorities on who helped me commit the crime, they believed I was at risk for retaliation in general population.
Solitary was hard. It was a cell about six feet by seven feet with a single metal bed attached to one wall and a toilet attached to the other wall. A freestanding metal sink was in the corner. There were no windows and it was cold. I wasn’t allowed out of my cell except for one hour a day and they chose 3 a.m. for my one hour. At that time I could walk out into the empty POD and walk around.
For the first month, I was in a cell alone. It was very lonely and quiet but I felt safe. After a month they put me in general population and I didn’t have any problems after learning the ropes.
Once in general population I quickly found out about inmate rules. These are rules that are not written anywhere but you are expected to know them or you will have a problem.
- Inmates should never stare each other in the eyes. I was staring at a guy because I thought I knew him from high school and he came over and shoved me, asking what I was staring at. Once I told him why, he left me alone but I learned not to stare at others.
- Chow (mealtime) is extremely important in jail. Our POD didn’t have any clocks and we weren’t allowed to have watches. The only way we had an idea of the time was knowing about what time each of the meals got handed out. Also, you aren’t allowed to reach over another inmate’s tray for any reason. I accidentally did once and got punched in the face. I never did it again.
- Once you have a problem, it is over with quickly. Inmates fight and as soon as it is over it is over. As long as you show respect, don’t back down and when it is over, walk away, it usually ends quickly.
When my time was up they did an “all the way” call. It sounds hokey but it is exciting when you are the one getting out. At this jail, whenever someone is getting out, the guard comes into the POD, calls your last name and then yells, “You’re going all the way!”, while all the inmates cheer for you. This means you are getting out. You are traditionally supposed to give your left over commissary to the other inmates before you go.
There is also a tradition that you give away your shoes so you don’t come back. So I did that too.
The guard took me down to a release room where I stayed for about three hours while they processed me out. They had to run a nationwide warrant check to be sure they weren’t letting out a “wanted” person. I had to sign that I got all of the personal property back that they confiscated when I went into jail. Then the doors opened and I got the first breath of fresh air since I went in.
The experience was not easy. I learned things the hard way because if you have never known anyone who went to jail, there is no one to guide you before you make mistakes. Six months seemed like an eternity especially because I was in there for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. But I survived it and got out. My old boss gave me my job back and hopefully this jail stint is behind me for good.