My Hour in Jail

I went to jail today.

I’ve never been to a jail or prison, at least on the “inside”. I’ve been to court, for jury duty. Even my divorce didn’t involve appearing in a courtroom, thank God.  My family members don’t go to jail. They are too anxious to transgress that much. Alcoholism, sure.  Nasty turns of the silent treatment, absolutely.  Hidden secrets and flirtations with white collar crime-I suspect so, in a few cases.

This was really jail.

It took a week to get cleared for a visit. I signed a policy about rape prevention in the jail setting and submitted it along with my personal identification. When I got to the jail today, there were two machines to scan for weapons, like the airport, but even stricter.  I had too much metal on me. Had I anticipated this, I would have left off the jewelry.  I held up the line at the first checkpoint with my lap top, my earrings, and my cell phones.

I had to check all my possessions into a locker. I handed over my driver’s license. I went through another scanner.  I was put in an elevator by a woman with a bullet proof vest, who used a key to operate the elevator. She pushed the button to send me to the fifth floor.

“Just push the button for the second floor when you’re done”.

Ummm, I haven’t been to jail before.  I don’t have a bullet proof vest! So what happens next?  I didn’t ask…I suppose I figured it would be obvious, but the sense was that I was on my own.  Disconcerting.

On the fifth floor, I found myself in a narrow, light green corridor about three feet wide. There were five doors.  A camera. I decided they could tell me to stand down if I did anything wrong, so I tried to open all the doors.

There was the window with the telephones, just like in the movies. No one behind the window…four separate rooms, tiny rooms. Not like the big visiting rooms behind glass or plastic, which was different than the movies. I guess you need room for the film crew when you are playing make believe.

I waited.

I waited.

I wondered how long I should wait.

I heard noises, then the fifth door opened. Two guards were by the door. One was a young man receiving instructions about procedures from the older man. 

“Let her in first, then the door will close. Then we will get the inmate, and then the door will close again.”.  Okay then.

“Are you his lawyer?” the older man asked.

“No. I’m here to see if he wants to come to a mental health program I represent”.


I was locked into a room with a young man who has spent most of his adult life in prison. He is mentally ill, but certainly not the worst case I’ve ever seen. He was hand and foot cuffed.  I shook his hand because that’s what you do when you meet a stranger. The cuffs jangled.

He’s on effective medication, or it seems so.  We talked about his goals and whether he wanted to come to the program.  He explained his last suicide attempt.  He explained how he blacks out when he drinks. He says he wants to stop using and drinking.

I suppose he’d say anything to get out…but he didn’t seem like a liar. He seemed like a mentally ill kid, younger than the age he gave. I asked if he got any outdoor time, any exercise.

“In my cell. But recently I’ve been lazy.”

When I was finished, I was in the humorous situation of asking the hand and foot cuffed inmate how I indicated we were finished. He suggested a switch (NOT the emergency one, he emphasized). I accidentally turned off the light.


We laughed.

“I’m new at this” I commented.

“Thanks for coming to see me.”

“I’m sorry it took so long.”, I said.

“It’s only been two months-not that long”. No irony.

Seemed like a long time to me to spend up to 22 hours alone every day.


On the way out, the guard told me the inmate would now have to be strip searched.  I hadn’t asked for a “no contact” room, so it was an extra precaution. I don’t know for the life of me what I could have secretly slipped him, but I’m not a very creative antisocial thinker, I guess.  I could only think of a file in a cake, and they seemed prepared for that.  Also, my goal wasn’t to break him out with an ostentatious dessert.

“I’m sorry”, I said. “I’ve never done this before…I’ll remember that for the future.”

“No problem” said the guard.  

No problem for the guard, I guess.


I’ll go back to work on Monday and meet with some folks, and we’ll decide whether he gets out of prison to come to our program. I’m in favor, but there’s a lot of factors to weigh.  I hope he’s successful in his future. I hope we can contribute to a new path.

And I got to come home to a nice house, a dog, and freedom.Image


2 comments on “My Hour in Jail

  1. You know what? This was quite different and I really liked it. A LOT! Nice style. Opening really grabbed me! Ostentatious dessert hysterical. Ending really made me introspective. Wonderful piece!

  2. Thanks a lot! I appreciate the encouragement. Quite the experience!

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