On the Inside
Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of articles featuring ridealongs with officers from local law enforcement agencies.
SUMMIT COUNTY JAIL – As the morning sun rises over the northern shoulder of Baldy Mountain, the light creeps down the sienna brick walls of the Summit County Jail. Still and massive, they belie a bustle that is already afoot.
The 7 a.m. shift arrived Tuesday and performed the routine face count that begins and ends every shift, but the murmur of stirring inmates echoing about the concrete block had begun to crescendo two hours earlier. Understand: It’s not just Tuesday, or another workday – every day is electric for people who count their stay by them.
“There are some who’ve made the first mistake of their lives,” said Summit County Sheriff’s Deputy Julie Polly, the jail’s training officer. “Others, this will be their life.”
Morning begins with little things, much like anyone’s life, then moves into the business of why everyone is gathered in a place where every door is locked and monitored from a central security control room:
7 a.m. – After the face count is “exchange” – inmates retrieve razors to shave (they get an hour), or a new tube of toothpaste. On the gray wall, they can’t see behind the door is a storage room full of riot gear. “Fortunately, we’ve never had to use it,” Polly said.
The inmates eat breakfast prepared by the jail chef (with the help of privileged inmates called “trusties”). They eat in the “pods,” the separate units where they bunk; some drink coffee or tea they can buy using their commissary accounts.
Officers spend the first couple hours getting up to steam: They respond to “kites,” written requests or notes from inmates, such as one this day who reminds officers he has a doctor’s appointment. He wears a back brace over his stripes. There are transports to arrange; officers will drive, even fly, to pick up or deliver inmates. Every action has associated computer and paperwork. And, of course, arrestees can come in at any moment to join the 50 already there.
Patrol deputies bring in suspects through a garage. People are put into holding cells; a breath-alcohol analyzer waits in another room, if needed (a detoxification room with sandwiches and beds is housed here, too). If arrestees are combative, a molded plastic restraint chair is used.
8:42 a.m. – Deputy Polly discusses recent inmate drama with Sgt. Cynthia Gilbert, who has been on vacation.
“It changes every day,” Polly said. “So many personalities.You have to get to know them. We house them, and personalities can conflict.”
8:58 a.m. – A group of officers goes on a “walk,” a tour of the pods. Inmates are making their beds, watching TV and setting to cleaning tasks. Sometimes the officers discover preparations for a tattoo, or evidence that contraband has been introduced.
“I’ve got withdrawal symptoms,” an inmate said. “I haven’t had any all day yesterday or today.”
He says, “caffeine,” as the officers stare at him. The group laughs.
“The diversity is amazing,” Gilbert said. “Some you can be pleasant with, others it’s not so easy. Hispanics, for instance, don’t always listen to women. Some people have trouble taking authority from anyone. You get to know some, because they come back. We’ve been through their marriages, their kids and their jobs.”
9:18 a.m. – A work detail of trusties leaves to assist at a Habitat for Humanity barn-raising.
9:56 a.m. – Deputy Jeff Skole begins preparing inmates for court. He cuffs their wrists and ankles. The walk to the south side of the Justice Center is taken at least once a day, and inmates confer with attorneys, answer questions from the judge in preliminary appearances or stand trial. Tuesday, it’s charges such as check fraud, driving under the influence, criminal tampering and contempt of court. Skole keeps a file on each one, tracking the process.
“You just can’t take it home with you,” said Skole, who worked federal prisons for three-and-a-half years before seeing enough stabbings to move to Summit County. “You have to know this stuff comes with the territory. Don’t expect compliments in a corrections environment.”
He joined the Summit County Jail department because “you can accomplish something in a small setting.”
11:30 a.m. – The court troupe has returned and trusties are helping the chef prepare lunch – tuna salad on wheat, with lettuce and tomato, potato chips and vanilla pudding.
“The food’s fine,” said trustie Tom Duran, of Craig. “I like to make lunch. We laugh, and the time goes by.”
12:27 p.m. – Officers and inmates have finished eating. Trusties collect the plastic trays from the pods. Inmates return to cleaning tasks. Some go out to the chain- link-roofed recreation area and play handball. The officers watch it all.
“You have to be able to count on the people you work with,” Polly said. “We all have to watch each other. But that’s what I like about it, I like the camaraderie.”
12:40 p.m. – Skole and Polly prepare for “med call.” They dole out pills to inmates with prescriptions, provide cups of water and inspect mouths after the swallow. So far, the day is surprisingly calm.
“It’s all about “verbal judo’ and managing their levels,” Polly said.
“It’s the job to talk someone into something they don’t want to do. You show empathy, but you’re in control. We practice it daily.”
1:03 p.m. – Polly takes her turn on the three-hour “control” shift. A central room with blacked-out windows houses monitors for the cameras that watch each door and the computerized switchboard to control them. Intercoms at each door buzz into the room, an outside phone line rings in and a police radio scanner chatters in the background.
“Someday I might go on patrol,” Polly said.
“But this is the best experience for that; everyone should do it. I think this is a very progressive jail. And, it’s interesting work. You get to see people get it together, get on their way. This can be the low point on their life, and when they leave it’s on the way up.”
Jail deputies work other sheriff’s office duties, too. They pick up traffic control assignments, or a security shift.
But, Tuesday, jail business went on. More inmates are booked in. Some post bond. Dinner is served, TV is watched and there are more games of handball and cards. And by 11:15 p.m., it’s lights out. And one more day is gone.
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