Saturday, July 2, 2011

Scared Straight

Though by the time of my arrest I was truly apprehensive, it really wasn't all that bad. I mean, really... the charge was "cruelty to balloon animals." Now, I have a lot of animal-rights friends, and a good portion of our couch surfers and even many house concert artists are vegetarians, but who can get too worked up over balloon animals. They have a life span of what? Ten minutes or so? And just think of all of the twisting and pinching they endure over the normal course of their lives... they probably like it. And if they don't, a sharp stab with a straight pin is truly the most humane way to end it. I mean, is there anything sadder than a limp, half-deflated balloon animal?

So much for the crime. It was all in good fun until the handcuffs were snapped on (in front, I might add... Thank you Sheriff Jerome Kramer) and I was escorted out to the paddy wagon. Fun or not, this van is just plain uncomfortable. A quick drive out to KNOP-TV to pick up my cohort in crime Luke Simmons, and we returned to the brand-spanking new Lincoln County Jail to begin our ordeal.

The van drove into the secure loading dock and the garage doors closed behind us before we were released from the van. We were then buzzed through two locked doors and then handcuffed to the booking desk. Thankfully, everything was only captured on paper... If they had booked us into the actual computer program, our record would have been there forever. Apparently there is no "delete" button. The fingerprint machine and mugshot camera haven't been brought over from the old jail yet, so we got to forego those treats too.

Our jail-issue jump suits were just as stiffly new as the jail itself. They could have used a good washing and dousing with fabric softener. After relinquishing all of our worldly possessions, except, thank goodness, our own underwear, I was led away from my last contact with the outside world for the next twenty hours.

Two more secure doors brought me to the command center, located in the center of the four cell blocks. One for women and three for men - what does that tell you about society? The doors to the cell blocks open onto the day room with two banks of cells on the far wall. Skylight windows provide outside light and the only source of time orientation available.

I was alone for about the first hour until the next inmate was booked in, which gave me plenty of time to reflect on my crimes.

There is no clock, and the only television is about twenty feet up on the wall. Not being familiar with the North Platte cable channels, I didn't even attempt to find a news channel or weather channel to check the time, but I can tell you, it dragged on and on and on...

So, I sat at a table for awhile, walked up the stairs and peeked into all of the cells (they're all the same, by the way), made my bed, which involved sliding a canvas bag over the mattress on my bunk, pushed the buttons on the sink and toilet to see what would happen (the water came on - hot and cold - and the toilet flushed). Finally, with all of the entertainment exhausted, I simply lay down on my bunk and closed my eyes.

Over the next hour, four more inmates were booked in, our County Attorney Rebecca Harling and three employees from various programs associated with the Rape and Domestic Abuse Program. The women of North Platte aren't a very tough lot, as the five of us were the complete contingent who didn't bond out before our stay, and three of my fellow inmates opted not to spend the night.

The only way to tell the time in jail is to find a station on the television that posts it. It is completely unnerving, especially through a sleepless night not to know what time it is. Why is that? It really didn't matter what time it was... I would get out when the guard came and told me I could get out, and knowing the time wouldn't speed the process along, but that is what I hated the most, even over and above not being able to communicate with anyone.

For someone like me who is connected all the time - smartphone, computer - text, facebook, twitter, not being able to google something or send of a quick text to check in with someone or see what my tweeps and peeps were up to, being completely out of the communication loop was the second most uncomfortable aspect of jail.

The jail does have the latest technology. Gone are the days of twice a week visiting hours and the "one phone call". There are telephones with outside lines in the day room - a collect call is all it takes. There are two video visiting kiosks, so visitors can go into the lobby any time between 8am and 5pm and connect with their inmate on the inside. There is also a computer terminal with "e-inmate" on it - a program that lets inmates monitor their commisary account, order commisaries and even communicate via e-mail (there is a cost associated with this). That seemed really strange at first until I learned that it cut down on the contriband coming into the jail via mail.

Dinner and breakfast wasn't bad - extremely high in carbs, and no coffee - but included koolaid which was laced with vitamins and minerals that insured the meal met "jail standard" nutritional requirements. We got to explore the outside exercise room before the sun went down. A stark concrete rectangle with an overhead door about twelve feet off the floor which opened up to let in sunshine and fresh air - again a requirement of the jail standards.

The pad on the bunk looked thick enough, but turned out to be not so comfortable. The lights in the cells are turned out at lockdown - 10pm - and turned on again and the cell doors opened at 6:30am, but the lights in the day room aren't even dimmed, so shine pretty brightly through the windows, making sleep, for me at least, pretty iffy.

Lying flat on the bunk is the only semi-comfortable place there is. I tried the top bunk, leaning against the wall, but that only worked for so long. There isn't a single seat with a back on it to lean against, the floors are all concrete...

All in all, I'm happy it was only for a night, and for a good cause. We ended up raising more than $2,000 for RDAP, and the correctional officers got to rehearse all of the routines, processes and systems.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on... except in the Lincoln County Jail.

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