When a member of the local media gets in trouble with the law, we’re likely to write about it here on The ‘Ville Voice. So it would be hypocritical of me to not report this story, which I hope you’ll find is less about me doing something wrong and more instructive on a Metro Department of Corrections that has some serious flaws.
The news is this: I spent 17 hours in the local jail Monday and Tuesday as a result of a citation I’d received for driving with an expired license plate. Of course, there’s a lot more to the story.
It turned out to be a rare opportunity – like being an undercover reporter and seeing the ugly underside of corrections from the POV of an inmate – which is the way I was classified and treated. It’s not a pretty picture.
On Monday, I was in a delicate situation at home (I’ll spare you the details of that) in which I requested the help of police. While there, the police officer checked a list of bench warrants and found my name. Turns out I failed to appear in court after the citation. My memory is of getting the license issue fixed right after I got the ticket, in Sept. 2007,
But the responsibility for the warrant was mine. I screwed up by not getting it fixed, and forgetting about it. You can check to see if you’ve got a warrant right here. Still, I figured I’d get in and out and maybe even make the four o’clock meeting I had scheduled. At worst, I’d be out in time for the 7 p.m. U of L game and my regular bowling night at 9.
The arresting officer, who had put me in handcuffs at my home, arrived at the Corrections Department, I was placed on a bench where I could make calls. I had no idea what I was in for. Here’s a link to a story about the frustrations Jake was experiencing trying to get me out.
Read the rest of our own personal scandal after the jump…
An Officer Grossman frisked me. I later spoke with the new Corrections chief, Mark Bolton, who told me that he’s making efforts, among other things, to change the attitude of the workers there. He could start with this guy.
The booking room features a series of chairs split into two sections by a four-foot wall – one side for men, one for women. Everyone comes in this way, and every single person is rudely instructed to take a seat. If you stand up for more than 30 seconds, you get yelled at and told to sit down.
Got a question about your case? Ask anyone in a uniform and you are told to sit down and wait.
I was in this room for about eight hours – no cell phone, nothing to read, no standing and one bologna sandwich. I went through getting a mug shot, fingerprints, pretrial conference, medical check and finally selection. Well, there is a phone, but it has a three minute limit and the recipient knows that the call is coming from an inmate.
It’s an unpleasant place. Every once in a while, some drunk is escorted into a holding cell in front of the crowd, chuckles all around. They beat on the doors and try to get other inmates to help, while the officers laugh at them. One guy who was particularly out of control came in about 10, and got out by 5.
So a crazy-eyed drunk gets himself released before me, here on a traffic issue.
During my processing, they got me confused with another inmate with my name. I believe this cost me several hours. When I told an officer about it, he looked on a computer screen and said “That’s all you’re in here for?” as if it was funny. It wasn’t.
I didn’t know it at the time, but a judge had agreed to release me on my own recognizance before 6 p.m. Despite this fact, I could get no help from anyone in the booking room, and didn’t really know about all the efforts Jake was going through to get me out.
At 1:30 a.m., my name was called with a group of four others. While there was hope I might be leaving, I was actually going somewhere that was worse. They call it a dorm, but an actual dorm room would have been a giant step up. Three rows of metal bunk beds. Grab a cot and a blanket, get inside and shut up. Now there wasn’t even an inmate phone, and you couldn’t get the attention of anyone in charge.
So I had a fitful couple of hours of sleep, roused at 4 for a breakfast of lukewarm scrambled eggs, cereal and skim milk. The worst meal of my life, maybe after the bologna sandwich 12 hours ago.
By morning, my ex-wife Shelley was a little frantic when she learned I was still incarcerated; now going on 15 hours. She called pretrial and got a guy named Roger, who told her that someone had dropped the ball on my case, that I should have been released long ago. I think it might have been his reaction to Shelley’s frantic pleas that ultimately got me freed. That, or Jake pulling in big favors from his political friends.
There’s a million stories in here. The crazies that try to run, or so whacked out on drugs they beat on their cell doors. Others, like me, mystified about being held on minor charges. One guy got picked up on a 9-year-old bench warrant. Another had his yellow release papers in his hand but was still there when I left eight hours later.
The process of actually getting out took more than 90 minutes. At the end, when they handed over my stuff, the $16 in cash I brought in was gone, a portion of the $25 they charge for this fine service.
The problems with the jail are many. There’s an inherent negative atmosphere from the surly staff members. There’s an antiquated paperwork system that means that every processing move takes three hours. Looking around the room, it seems more like a case of workers not caring about what happens to inmates.
No one’s in a hurry. Act up, like talking when you shouldn’t or refusing to sit down, you get put in a solitary cell. Every few minutes, somebody gets called down for standing up.
I heard from the Corrections Chief, Mark Bolton, who apologized for any ill treatment and told me he’s working to change the culture over there. Good idea. He says he’s trying to modernize the paper trail that leads to mistakes like the one that kept me there for so long.According to communications director Pam Windsor, the problem in my case was that my paperwork never got transferred from the judge’s office to the jail. Windsor didn’t want to put any blame out on that, but it was obvious to me that someone in pretrial had dropped the ball, as our guy Roger admitted.
I can laugh now, because Windsor told me that once Roger got the ball rolling for my release at 6:20, I was out in just over 90 minutes. That’s a modern-day record, apparently, for processing paperwork.
I now know from firsthand experience now that the Corrections Department has a tough job. It processes 45,000 people a year. There are 600 employees. I don’t want Mark Bolton’s job. And I sure don’t want to end up in that place again.