Maximum security is no place for a female reporter

Let me just preface this by saying I knew when I was offered the chance to check out the jail — escorted by three armed men of course (apparently they don’t just let reporters run around in there willy nilly) — that the maximum security wing was going to be both the most interesting and most terrifying section of the tour.

But let’s cut down on the Tarantino effect and instead start from the beginning.

Fun with numbers: As of today, the jail has spent 65.9 percent and 77.6 percent of the budget on building and machinery repairs, respectively. That’s more than $36,000 of the approximately $46,000 budgeted for maintenance. Or, more plainly put, about $10,000 remains for jail maintenance through the end of the year.

In the constant effort to be the intrepid reporter I spent the morning at the jail checking out all the improvements myself. These included a new security camera system, a higher wall surrounding booking and a new kiosk system for the commissary, to name a few.

The innards of the jail aren’t exactly what I would have imagined with a number of inmates who have a much freer existence than I previously thought. Many have access to a law library, GED classes, meeting rooms and a visitation area straight out of a depressing prison flick — complete with phones mounted on opposite sides of a glass window (sporting cracks from what I have to guess would be the gut reaction of receiving bad news from a lover).

The inmates are responsible for helping with almost all maintenance and upkeep in the jail, which the staff explained to me helps cut down on costs. Under supervision, some inmates help prepare the food (which looks exactly like you’d think it would), and others lend a hand for cleanup.

Walking into maximum security — which my morbid curiosity wouldn’t allow me to skip — I spotted one inmate attempting to wrap his arm around an open door and reach a TV set just outside the pod. I was ushered quickly into the control unit as all three of my escorts began yelling at him and inquiring the deputy as to why the door had been left open.

“Mitchell is in there,” said the deputy manning the control unit.

“Who’s Mitchell?” I asked.

My fears for poor Mitchell, the maintenance man as it turned out, were alleviated when the deputy explained that an officer was inside the pod with him.

I was then given the chance to survey the control room and watch uneasily as the inmates gathered at the doors.

“Why are they all congregating at the doors and windows like that?” I asked the jail administrator.

He put it simply, “A lot of them have been down here for a long time, and you’re here.”

Shudder.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a “I made it through the Union County Jail tour and wasn’t taken hostage” button or sticker on the way out, but I did receive the journalistic present of recognizing one of the inmates as someone I had reported extensively on. Small gifts.

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5 Responses to Maximum security is no place for a female reporter

  1. AFM says:

    The officers/jailers should be commended for the job they do on a thank-less day to day basis. The only time these officers are even thought of is when something goes wrong or someone goes missing. The constant day to day jawing and constant shenanigans results in some 200 or so inmates having roughly 24 hours a day to sit and ponder one thing- how to get out (either legally or illegally). Violent murders and child molesters roam these halls in the Maximum Security area and I’m sure a young, female reporter walking around in ‘street’ (civilian) clothes was the highlight of their day or week or month.

    Roughly five officers are on duty in the jail for 200+ inmates. Roughly forty inmates per officer. These guys and gals deserve a little recognition today and tomorrow for the job they continue to do daily.

    **Disclaimer** I do not work there, but do have intricate knowledge of the jail and staff and how it operates. These employees are underpaid, overworked, and overstressed on a daily basis. If you see one, tell ‘em, “Thank you and good job!”

  2. The lone reader says:

    You want scary? Visit one of the state prisons. I’ve been on tours of two back in the 80′s Tucker and the much worse Angola in Louisiana. If I had ever thought about being a criminal those two visits would have put an end to it.

    I think we ought to require any youth charges with a crime to make the trip. It would probably reduce the crime rate.

  3. Admin says:

    AFM, I completely agree that their work is difficult and something to be thanked for. It’s a tough job and the officers and jailers are the ones who put their lives on the line on a daily basis to ensure that the rest of us can live a more peaceful existence. Though you have to take my comment with a grain of salt, after all, I’m opining as a very proud cop’s kid.

    Lone reader, you’re right, if I had any criminal ambitions before they’ve officially been stricken from my mind. I think all youth, not only just those who’ve been charged, should be required to tour the local jail facility. In fact, in scheduling my tour of the jail I had to wait for a day when there wasn’t a school group there, so I know some schools are taking that step.

  4. AFM says:

    I’ve never been to any Louisiana Penitentiaries, but have seen and graced the doors (of course just visiting) of every Arkansas Penitentiary for both male and female inmates. I don’t always understand why it takes the Arkansas Department of Corrections SO much money to operate these prisons when some 85-90% of maintenance, cleaning, and cooking is done by inmate labor. Of course on a different note I’m glad they are there and for the most part do an excellent job of keeping those needing locked up inside where they belong.

    Admin, so daddy is a police officer? If you are able to do so, please thank him from me for doing the job most in our society are too scared to do. Police work is a strange job in and of itself. 99% or so of the people constantly joke and kid about cops and donuts, etc. but who is the FIRST person they call when they are in trouble? Hope all has a great weekend. AFM

  5. Admin says:

    Yes, my dad is a police sergeant; I’m incredibly proud of him and the time he’s put in at the department (some 30 odd years). Thank you, AFM, I will definitely pass the message along.

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