The tail end of this past weekend has left me with an unexpected experience I would like to share. From 6m on Sunday to 4pm on Monday I spent my time in jail. I started in one jail and was moved to another. The “how/why” of the experience is not really important (old speeding tickets catching up to me) but the experience itself is something to speak of.
In the US citizens that are severing time in prison have certain rights. Food, hygiene, basic comforts. These are for criminals that have been sentenced to serve time. These basic rights are not something you have if you are in jail (as opposed to prison). Jail is a temporary place, even though you can be there for up to a year you do not have the same rights that a prisoner does. I meet men who had gone weeks without showering, been feed spoiled bologna sandwiches for breakfast lunch and dinner for weeks on end. Slept on concrete floors with no blankets or other comforts. Some of these people were in for ridiculous reasons. (One person had been in for 3 days because he couldn’t pay the $50 fine (they only take cash, no credit cards or checks) and the courts were backed up, leaving him flat even though he had a job and school to attend.) None of these men had even seen a judge.
The state of our country can so easily be reflected in the state of the jail system. Not all jails are the same (the first place I was sent was nice, clean, and professional). The guards at the second jail (Jackson County, Michigan) treated everyone in the jail as if they were absolutely worthless regardless of their crimes. There was even a rack of blankets outside of the holding cell I was in (a 30x 15 foot concrete box with 23 people sleeping on the floor) though none were offered to any inmate.
The experience itself was enlightening. From the inside of the system one can see the treatment of humans firsthand. Looking back over my 24 hours in jail I realize that holding someone is a pointless exercise in punishment. That confinement, though distressing, only breeds a resilience to authority. Those men around me that had committed real crimes in the world were capable of confronting the situation with cunning and able to navigate the infrastructure to their benefit without serious harm. (I watched a drug deal be made in code over the phone, even though the conversation was recorded.) Those who were there, like myself, on pointless charges were the most affected, simply because there lack of experience made them ignorant of the potential dangers. (I never witnessed any inmate to inmate problems, though I watched guards physically punish inmates for mouthing off, slamming them to the floor, one was even kicked in the head for saying “this is bullshit” to a guard)
I have come away from the situation with a bit of humor and a bit of humbleness. Not anything that was instilled in me by the jail or its guards, but by the inmates ability to laugh and survive this ridiculously cruel treatment in the hopes of regaining their lost freedoms.