Friday, April 17, 2009


A dorm has anywhere from thirty to sixty residents. The beds are lined up on each side of the room in two rows, placed head to head in the center. Between each bed is a metal locker that is about three feet high and one foot square, It is used for personal items like cosmetics, clothing, pictures, legal papers, and books. At one end of the dorm, there are showers and toilets. Most disputes are settled here. Sometimes the arguments are settled peacefully and sometimes they are not. When a controversy reaches the point when one resident invites another resident to meet in the shower it is unlikely that blood will not be shed.

At the other end of the dorm is the day room. The day room is used to watch TV, play cards, chess, dominoes, or talk. There are plastic chairs in the room that can be grouped or set apart for privacy. Meals are served in the day room. Assigned residents on work deatil bring large containers of food that is prepared in the kitchen. The meals are served cafeteria style. The choice is between regular food and a mealwithout pork to meet the religious restrictions. The day rooms have two long tables with attached seats. Both are bolted to the floor. Breakfast is served at 4:30 AM, lunch at 10:30 AM and dinner at 4:30 PM. This allows all meals to be served on one shift. It is a security issue. It was found that the most fights and riots began when large numbers of residents were moved from one area to another. To cut down on the traffic, meals are served in the dorm.

The D.O.C. (Department of Corrections) shifts are 7 AM to 3PM, 3PM to 11 PM, and 11PM to 7 AM. Each dorm, or pair of dorms has an "A" officer. He or she sits in a Plexiglas area. This area, often encased in metal bars to prevent attacks on the officer, is called the "bubble". In some dorms, usually smaller ones with 30 residents, the bubble is between to dorms and the A officer is responsible to both. There is a "B" officer in each dorm. The B officers usually sits by the door to be able to watch the whole room from that vantage points. The officer in the bubble is in charge. The A officer is responsible for the whereabouts of all residents. The A officer has the keys to the dorms and to the outside corridor. No one can leave or enter the dorm without the officer's permission. This also included all medical, mental health or other civilian personnel. There are never any problems for civilians. Even if there is a fight going on, the residents will always see that we are not involved. We are not seen as the enemy and are therefore worthy of protection.

The officers logs residents who are out for work detail, sick call, recreation, court appearances, visits, law library, and religious services.

The "count" is taken several times a day. Each resident stands by his/her bed so that the B officer who is stationed inside the dorm can be sure that all residents are counted. If a resident is missing or unaccounted for, an alarm goes out. This is serious. The entire jail is locked down until the resident is found or accounted for.

When I go into the dorm it is with permission of both officers. The A officer's post is usually a steady post. Most officers are on duty for four day and off for two days. The regular officers usually know all of the residents assigned to their dorm. When the regular officer is on their "pass days" non-working days, there is a substitute officer who is often on the "wheel", meaning that the officer does not have a permanent post and will fill in during any shift, at any post. These officers are usually new officers or new to the jail. When they are on, the residents are often the best source of information because they know the whereabouts of all the other residents.

The intake area is the entrance and exit of all residents. There is a counter, behind which, the officers log in and out the residents as they come in or leave. There are two holding cells where residents waiting to be transferred to court, clinics, other jails, or to the street. They wait for transportation to move them from place to place. They have their own door and they pass through a metal detector. The intake office is in the bubble where the captain can watch. It is not often used because all the activity is on the floor.

A "shakedown" or search is conducted without notice. Officers from other buildings come into the dorm and strip down the beds, take everything from the metal lockers, and look everywhere for contraband. That includes drugs, weapons, forbidden clothing, gang related beads, headscarves, or lotions that may be flamable. An AirNikes has chambers that could be used to transport drugs and is classified as contraband. The residents are sent to the day room with their backs against the window so that they cannot watch the search. They may take some personal exception to the officer who is going through their property. Searches are frequent and necessary but disruptive.

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