Day 5 included a full tour of Corrections. In other words, we went to jail!
First off before anything else I just have to say - I am grateful for my freedom, my privacy, my nice soft bed. Dental floss. Feeling the rain on my face and real dirt under my bare feet. Any kind of food I want whenever I want it. Unlimited access to the internet and the TV remote control. Books. Dinner parties. Hair conditioner. And oh good lord - Q-tips! Ever since touring the jail, I have become conscious of every single simple freedom I enjoy and every luxury I have, big and small.
Captain Selby Strickland is Director of Corrections at IRCSO and he gave us a three-hour tour. (Thankfully, unlike Gilligan, our tour was over after the three hours and we got to go home to our cozy beds!).
First, we loaded up on the special bus used to transport inmates. EERIE was the feeling. On the road to Nowhere. Last train out. Members of the class were uttering all sorts of these types of phrases. I kept looking up out of the small window way up at the top, thinking, this is the last of the outside we would see for a while.
Next we entered Booking. Here is where an arrested person is processed. One thing that struck me hard was learning that here is where inmates relinquish their shoes. That was so humbling to me. They put your shoes and other belongings in a large brown paper bag with your name on it. You don't see your stuff again until you get out. While we were in there, deputies brought in a new arrest and we watched some of the process happening for real.
Next you have a body scan. Why? Well, you might be hiding drugs or even a razor blade in your body cavities. Huh? Yup. Truth. People do this! Deputy T. Brown demonstrated the body scanner.
Also perhaps you are whacked out on drugs and alcohol and causing a physical threat to yourself and others. That is a free ticket to be strapped in the restraining chair. One of our youngest classmates volunteered to be strapped in. This is probably the most happiness that chair has seen in some time.
Next we visited the room where you make your first appearance in front of the Judge via a Skype-like video system. This would not happen the moment you were booked, but it is used every morning 365 days a year.
When we walked through the medical unit, not to be too dramatic but I was reminded of the scene in Silence of the Lambs when Jody Foster walks through the narrow hall with prisoners on either side. In our case, there was glass between us, not bars. Mostly the men were curled up on their beds, but one especially deranged-looking, extremely tall and thin man in a red suit (the color for the worst offenders) peered out at me and I immediately thanked God for the good fortune of my positive, healthy upbringing and caring parents. I would never want to be in his shoes. Of course his real shoes are stored somewhere in a brown paper bag within the facility. Yikes!
Next we made our way up to one of the observation levels. From our vantage point, we could see down into various cells and general public rooms where inmates lived out their sentences. Here they had little to no privacy, even when using the toilet. We were up in the center looking down on them with a 360 degree view. We could see them but they couldn't see us. Two strong thoughts came to mind: FISHBOWL and DOING TIME. Their activities seemed excruciatingly boring. They were quite literally doing time. I also learned a term used for the women's cells: BIRDCAGE. I thought that was so heartbreakingly beautiful and poetic. I won't forget it. I could probably get philosophical about the why the caged bird sings, but taking a closer look, there was nothing especially delicate or melodic about these particular ladies.
Two of the deputies on duty that night in this section were Myron Piggot and Michelle Beck.
At the end, we were treated to the delicious treats I have come to expect at Citizen's Academy! The cookies, 'homemade' by the inmates learning culinary skills, were excellent. We learned the jail has several programs where inmates learn vocational skills that hopefully can lead to them being able to get legitimate employment when they get out. In addition to the culinary program, there is a design and print shop which many of our local non-profit use at no expense to the County, and there is an inmate work crew. As you can imagine, there is plenty of laundry to do and meals to be cooked, and the inmates do this type of work. While they have to do the time, they are also kept busy. They also receive three hours a week of 'recreation' - which I promise you is not what you and I might consider fun. But they do get to be outside and feel the sunshine, which has to help.
We were also able to see the 'jail of the future' (shown below). This large room can hold up to (hmmm....don't quote me on the number) 64 inmates with one deputy (one very BRAVE deputy!) in one large open space. This will cut down expenses even further.
We learned lots of great statistics - how the budget has been greatly reduced through the years through creative thinking. All in all I keep being impressed with how the IRCSO finds ways to cut the budget and save money for taxpayers. Also by the way - did you know that each inmate pays $10 for the first 24 hours they are in and $2 a day after? This earns the IRCSO $11,000 a month! Through commissary commissions, IRCSO takes in another $10,000 an month, and an additional $30,000 a month on phone calls percentages. This goes into the Inmate Welfare Fund which includes their Skype-like visitation system, hygiene issues and even the televisions they watch.
Here are the basic items inmates are issued:
As we left, the deputies told us they appreciated we were taking the class, and it means a lot to them to have us come and see the jail from their perspective, as usually the only outside people they come into contact with at the jail are the inmates themselves. We assured them that we appreciate what they do each day to keep our streets safe.
I am an official, fully vetted volunteer with the Indian River County Sheriff's Office (Citizen's Academy, background checks, fingerprinted, etc.). Since my expertise is photo-journalism, producing these stories is one way I give back to my community.
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