A writer friend of mine is serving some time in a Northern California jail and wrote an insightful letter which sheds some light on his experience behind bars. With his permission, I’ve transcribed his letter to share with others. In case you’re interested, here’s what he wrote:
Thank you for the reading material – the books made it in, but the pornographic magazines, I am told, did not get past screening and were confiscated by the guards (I suspect they’ll be making paper mache of those pages forthwith). Good show though; The Thought Gang will suffice for now.
Here at the North County Detention Facility there is an extensive library for the inmates in our compound: Building 101, which houses around 200 people. We share a large “day-room” with tables, games, and televisions. There are ten dorms that sleep roughly twelve people each, and we are generally free to move from our bunks to and from the day-room, or into the sunny courtyard as we please. “The Farm,” as some here call it, is summer camp compared to where I was confined three days ago.
Three days ago I was still in the Main Adult Detention Facility (MADF), adjacent to the Sheriff’s Department and the Sonoma County Courthouse in Santa Rosa. At the MADF, I spent two days in the minimum security jail (as opposed to higher/maximum security compounds on the premise), which is as close to a prison-setting as I ever hope to experience. I shared a small, two-bunk cell with a fat man, whom, though jolly, made full use of the cell toilet all too often. (Like many inmates, this man resorted to hibernation as a means of passing the time; he slept more than a house cat. Perhaps this is in part because, for some reason, in jail one seems better able to remember their dreams, which may also being occurring with more frequency. Throughout this period of my incarceration, I’ve had at least a dozen dreams that I remember). The fat man and I were locked inside this small, blue-painted cell for most the day and night. Three times a day, all inmates were let out of their cells to spend two hours together in a common area, which included a caged ball court. Our meals were brought to our cells where we ate them (sometimes) with our assigned plastic spoon. The cell had a tiny, translucent, silicone-like panel which allowed natural light to seep through. The only other lighting alternative was a bright fluorescent ceiling light.
Despite the overwhelming deprivation of freedom I endured in that facility, others there face greater confinement and much longer sentences. Apparently, locked in the maximum security part of the compound are four men, all Asian, whom were found responsible for the murder of an innocent man they tortured and killed in Bodega Bay earlier this year (they were trying to blackmail the man’s brother, who owed them money). The four men were sentenced to life in prison. I cannot imagine having to suffer life behind bars; it would be Hell. (Yet these men may have it better than many prisoners incarcerated in less judicially-conscious countries or in prisons that are more susceptible to lighting on fire.) My two days there was more than enough for me, and I will do all in my power to avoid such incarceration again.
Having said that, I do recommended that everyone give jail a try just once. In a way, perhaps it is like being told you have cancer: you start to daydream and plan for all the grandiose and well-intentioned things that you’re going to do once you’re released – things that you should have been doing before you got in. Incarceration is a kick in the ass which makes you realize how valuable your time in life is, how precious your freedom is. Freedom is usually taken for granted by most people; and as is often the case when a close family member or friend passes away, one seldom realizes how valuable something is until it’s gone. I’m scheduled to be released in two weeks, and I feel as though I will be given a new lease on life.
The majority of inmates I have met here at the Farm are honest, witty, generous, and together they can be quite hilarious. I would trust the inmates here to operate the United States Congress over those officials presently presiding in office.
Allow me to relate to you two exchanges between inmates that I have witnessed here and which I think you will find humorous:
1) For lunch (here in North County, all inmates dine together in a cafeteria), inmates are regularly served processed baloney sandwiches and flavored Kool-Aid style water. Today, one inmate wiped up some Kool-Aid he had spilled on the table and it stained the table red.
“Look at the way it stains the table,” he remarked.
“That’s that Jim Jones right there,” said his neighbor.
“They’re trying to fucking kill us,” said another.
2) At bedtime, in the flatulence-saturated dorms, some men fart more than others, and referring to one man in particular, a man in a top bunk stated:
“We have to smell this shit all night.”
“You think we don’t?” responded someone from the other side of the room. “It’s just a matter of time.”
“My eyes are burning,” remarked the first guy.
The inmates are exponentially more pleasant than the guards, whom mostly hate their jobs, are extremely rude, and like most uniform-wearing officers, are afflicted with war-paint syndrome. The jail guards encourage people to double-deal and rat on each other – such great values to bestow upon one’s children… Ultimately, I pity the guards, for sooner or later most men here will leave, but the guards must keep coming back. I for one cannot wait to go. Until then, stay out of trouble, my friend.
V.G [his initials]