"I'd always believed that old saying that the first 15 minutes in jail were the toughest until I experienced the 5 minutes after."
I'm a process server, and I'm in jail....it's a long story.
For many years, it was the policy of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, (who supervise, guard and run the County Jail) that when you serve an inmate who is incarcerated, the Sheriff's Deputy at the reception station/window takes the legal papers and serves the inmate for us. You still go through the front door to the initial security station, then wait your turn in line to speak to one of the deputies. Then the deputy takes the papers from you while you are writing down his name and badge number, then you are done - "free as a bird". That's the way it's always been done.
So about three years ago, I had to serve some divorce papers on an inmate who was in the county jail. No problem, I go bebopping downtown, park near the jail, throw a couple of quarters in the meter and enter the jail to the security area. Two quarters for parking was plenty of money, I'm only going to be in there for about fifteen minutes.
I went up to the security window, telling the Sheriff's Deputy the usual standard protocol and started to hand him the divorce papers. The deputy told me they no longer accept legal papers for inmates, that from now on the process server actually goes up to the prisoner/visitor center and serves them personally.
I asked the deputy "what does this mean"? He laughs and makes the same statement. He knows me from previous visits so I asked him if he was playing with me and he said no. In the background, a couple of other deputies were laughing - not at me, just my humoristic attitude.
The Sheriff's Deputy laughs again and then gives me the whole security procedure checklist in order to go through the ominous doors behind him. This is after he makes a copy of my license. Here is what I had to do: I had to put more money in the meter along with putting my cell phone, license and spare change in my car. I then had to take all the staples out of the legal papers I was carrying. When I arrived back at the security window, I had to be patted down, (can't remember if this was an electronic-stick-thing pat down or a physical one).
The deputy informs me that they will bring the prisoner to me at the visitor center upstairs.
Then to my surprise, as soon as the deputy opens the ominous door, telling me to go through, he shuts the door on me, and all I hear is a loud clang. He isn't there with me, no one is. This is such a new experience, I don't know what to make of it. The elevators were right there so I push the button and waited. I finally get in the elevator, no one else is on it, and I hit the third-floor button. I get off the elevator, there is no one around. The only thing I see is a locked door at the end of the hall with a small window. I peeked in the window then jumped back about 5 feet scared out of my freaking wits!
The deputy had come over the loudspeaker for that hallway and told me to stand back, the door will unlock.
Then I hear a loud click, I touch the door handle and it opens. I went in trying to hide my shaking body from jumping out of my skin.
In this room, it was just like on television, there is a long bulletproof glass window running across the entire room, dividing the inmate from his visitor or lawyer, and then 3/4 partition walls for a little privacy. There are about 6-8 chairs on each side and they each have a telephone, just like on TV.
I really calmed down at this point, this looked simple enough now, there were a couple of inmates talking to their lawyers. I sat in one of the chairs on the visitor's side and waited.
Then a Sheriff's Deputy started eyeing me, there goes the blood pressure up again. The deputy comes to the glass window picks up the phone so I pick up my phone and he asks if I am here for "Inmate Smith". I told him yes and he tells me I have to go into a "special locked room" down the hall.
Oh my God! I asked the deputy "WHY?"
(oh WHY? WHY? WHY?)
He stated that whenever an inmate is going to get bad news of any kind, they are spoken to in a locked private room.
This is no exaggeration, you have no idea the humongous amount of intimidation this place has. I've been "on the inside" for fifteen minutes and according to the comedian, Bob Odenkirk, the next five minutes isn't lookin' good either.
This private room is the same size as the regular visitor's partitions and window divider except the dividing privacy walls go all the way to the ceiling. There is a phone on each side. The inmate side has a large window (so the deputy can watch him), and the door will lock after the deputy lets the inmate in. My door has already locked me in with no access to get out unless you figure out the wall of instructions to release the door lock. Too late to read anything, I am locked in there, "CLANG".
So I am now claustrophobic but have it under "control". I can see down below to the next level via the window and it's just like we see on television. I see inmates in their orange jumpsuits, eating, doing chores, playing cards or chatting away.
While I am waiting for Inmate Smith, I am reading the signs on the wall. I kid you not - here is the main sign posted. This isn't going to be verbatim and I forgot most of it but this is the gist:
"If you are here visiting an inmate and giving him bad news, and after you have informed him of said news, then please inform us if the prisoner experiences any manifestations of threatening suicide, threatening someone else or is acting in a strange manner".
Sure I will, no problem....ON WHAT FREAKING COMMUNICATION SYSTEM AM I GONNA use to contact you if he starts choking himself?
All of these stupid but warranted thoughts were running through my mind because it was taking so long for the deputy to bring the inmate. It is starting to get really hot in this little room and thirty minutes have gone by, no one has checked on me.
I pick up the phone but there is no one on the other end, it's just for the inmate and me to talk to one another. I kind of knew this but I was getting worried that they forgot about me. I figured someone has to be on the line, don't they listen to these conversations??? I then decided to follow the instructions to release the door lock - it wouldn't work! I re-read the instructions, tried the door again - it wouldn't open.
I must have waited another ten minutes. Then I saw the deputy with Inmate Smith through the window, the door was unlocked, the guard quickly put the prisoner in his seat, doesn't even look at me, then CLANG! and the door is locked, just me and the inmate. I immediately started looking for the deputy through the window to make sure he was close by, but he was gone.
In an instant, I went into survival mode telling myself this is all good, no problem, everything will be fine, just talk to the guy, explain the legal papers. I wasn't really concern about his behavior, I was just wanted to get out of there and breathe some fresh air.
The inmate ended up being fine, we talked on the phone, he said he would get an attorney to handle this family law matter, then he knocks on his door and a deputy opens it, lets him out, then CLANG! It happened so fast I did not get the deputy's attention to let him know that I tried to get out of the room earlier but the door would not open.
Now it's pure hell...the door will not release. I am stuck in there. I have no idea how long this goes on for. I try the phone again, stupid me, no one there and no one can see me through the window. I'm in the last room at the end of a hallway...no one is even going to walk by.
I decide to just sit there, I really had no choice. I have no idea how long it was as I really lost track of time. I then hear a CLANK behind and jump out my skin again. I turned, tried the door and realized it was unlocked electronically by one of the deputies.
I slowly walked down the hallway and out the security door. Outside the security door were two lawyers waiting for entry to see their clients (inmates). Both lawyers were grinning at me, and I figured they were just being nice. While I am waiting for the elevator I hear a deputy talking through the intercom. I paid no attention, I just wanted out of this place, I was distraught and oblivious. One of the attorneys to got my attention, pointed to the speaker by the locked door and told them the Sheriff is talking to me. I walk up to the speaker, talked into it and said:
The deputy responded with:
"ON BEHALF OF THE SACRAMENTO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT WE WANT TO PUBLICLY APOLOGIZE FOR LEAVING YOU LOCKED IN THAT ROOM. WE WERE IN THE MIDDLE OF A SHIFT CHANGE AND THE PREVIOUS SHIFT DID NOT TELL US YOU WERE IN THERE. OUR APOLOGIES."
I was so flabbergasted, I just stood there for a few seconds. I had no idea what to say so I spat out, "NO PROBLEM." Really Christi, that's all you got????
Looking back, there was a funny part, actually a hysterical part to this experience:
Remember the two lawyers? Earlier when I was finally getting on the elevator to get "out of jail", the two lawyers handed me their business cards. They heard what the deputy said over the intercom, and wanted me to call if I had any PTSD symptoms from being falsely imprisoned. They were still smiling, partly because they were funny and trying to make light of the situation.
I just couldn't stop laughing the whole time I was in the elevator and walking out onto the street. I needed that, it processed the whole experience for me. I was over it.
Guess they thought I had a case - I never called them. They were just like the same funny lawyers from Franklin and Bash.