Welcome to Crossbar Hotel

by on December 31st, 2014
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Having worked as a deputy sheriff in a county jail, I shared the same roof as inmates for the duration of my employment. Fortunately, I could go home at the end of the day. I worked in a small department, but with transport officer being one of my duties, I had the opportunity to see other jails as well, so I can say with certainty that there is little difference in these facilities. Some are just bigger than others.

A county jail is not a pretty place. There are no pictures on the wall or any other comforts of home. Most jails are dreary, dark, and damp. They are often cold in the winter and hot in the summer. The echo and the slamming and clanging of steel doors paint a cold, impersonal ambiance for those who enter. The concrete walls are usually painted a dull gray or some other depressing color, as are the floors. Cells are usually six feet by eight feet with two metal slabs extending from the wall, on which a thin foam pad is placed for the inmate to call a bed. There is also a stainless steel toilet and sink in each cell. Community showers are located in another area of the jail.

Each cell is designed to house two inmates, however, there are times when 4 or more may be assigned to the same cell. Privacy is non-existent. Most modern jail facilities have a large thick glass between inmate housing and the area from where officers observe them. Officers can lock and unlock doors electronically from a control room and intercoms located in each cell, and at each doorway, allow for communication between officers and inmates.

Usually, there will be one large central room where inmates spend most of their time. Steel tables and seats firmly bolted to the floor and a single television mounted in a corner near the ceiling provide entertainment and a place for the inmates to eat, socialize, and play cards. Another secure area may be available where inmates are permitted to get some outside fresh air and sunshine but in a limited amount of time.

Upon entering the jail, the inmate goes through a booking process. An inmate must change into a jail uniform and a pair of plastic or rubber slippers after being searched. Any personal items he or she has is taken, inventoried, and stored until their release. Fingerprints and photos are taken at this time and appropriate information is logged into the computer. Release is a similar procedure.

Once the inmate is booked, he or she is given a vinyl covered foam pad to sleep on, a sheet, a wool blanket, a plastic drinking cup, toiletry items, and stationary for writing. While booking is a simple, mechanical procedure, it can sometimes be time consuming if the inmate is on drugs, angry, or intoxicated. It can be even more interesting if the inmate does not speak English and there are no multilingual officers available.

During their stay, inmates are provided basic necessities, and they are watched and counted several times a day and throughout the night. They line up three times a day for meals, which are passed through a slot in the door. They are given access to some form of jail library and church services, and there is usually a nurse on duty or at least on call. These provisions are always in the barest form, and not what most of us would consider ideal, but many times they are better than what the inmate was accustomed to in their outside world.

Unlike the old Eagle’s song “Hotel California,” residents cannot check out anytime they want, but they always eventually leave. Unfortunately, many of them return.

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