Monday, December 6, 2010

My time in jail (7)

My mom was scanned and searched like every other visitor and I got to see her for half an hour under the supervision of two guards and three cameras. There are seats for 9 inmates, each inmate can receive 4 adults and 2 children at a time. No one actually had 6 people coming to see them, but the room was still pretty full. It's just a regular room with a U-shaped 3-foot high wooden wall keeping the inmates and the family members separate (the inmates sitting inside the U-shape, the family members on the outside).

Seeing my mom made things a bit emotional for me and I was sorta relieved when the half hour was up. Afterwards every inmate is searched again to make sure nothing is smuggled in. They have this chance-generator box on the wall with a red and green light that tells you whether the guards just check your pockets or whether it's cavity search time. You have to push the button yourself and then hope the green light turns on. Thankfully, the guards didn't feel like doing a cavity search that day, since they gave me the option to either push the button and try my chances, or just go with the green light that was already burning from a lucky previous inmate.

Although the cavity search does not include fingers up the butthole as you'd sometimes read, you do have to strip fully naked, let the guards check your mouth and behind your testicles and squat three times. Naturally, I chose to go with the green light.

Next post will be the last one!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My time in jail (6)

I spent a lot of time in the courtyard with 'Paul' (not his real name, he's the guy I met the first morning), playing tabletennis or just chatting. He was becoming quite a nuisance since I was there for my project and wanted to speak with other inmates as well. But everywhere I went, Paul followed me. I did manage to speak to a few guys (I tended to pick people who weren't very intimidating), subtly asking about their experiences in jail without making it sound like a regular student interview. Plus, I overheard a lot of conversations while pretending to listen to Paul, so I got a fairly good idea of how people experience prison.

The week went by faster that I thought it would have, even though the nights were long. I spent the second night looking out my window, observing the other wings. One guy in C-wing (aka Crazy-wing) kept turning his cell light on and off for hours. He would stop when the guards were on patrol and continued when they left. The screaming I mentioned in an earlier post wasn't tolerated by the guards, but they only patrol once every hour. They spent the rest of the nights in their sentry posts, behind soundproof safety glass watching movies they brought with them from home.

Days were filled with idling around, going to the gym, showering after going to the gym, working in the prison garden, reading in the library (the woman behind the counter told me autobiographies by famous criminals were most popular) and so on. The weirdest day for me was visiting day, when my mom came to visit me. Suddenly it felt like I was actually in jail, for real. And I got homesick.

Continued in my next post.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Work be damned

Oh man, working on my project is incredibly time-consuming leaving me with almost no time for my blog. Thankfully, most of the work is behind me now. I'll try to wrap the prison-story up asap and get back to blogging about normal stuff. 

In fact, I'll start typing out my next post right now. Should be up soon.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My time in jail (5)

I was approached by a guy my age who noticed I was new in prison and straight up asked me what I was in for. I had been so busy processing all the new impressions that I had completely forgotten the background story I had drawn up for myself. Trying not to panic I told him the first thing that came to mind: "Shoplifting. You?"

He looked at me for a bit, then told me he had gotten into a drunken fight after a long night clubbing and was charged with assaulting a officer, although he didn't remember fighting with cops. Then he asked what I had really done since 'people don't go to jail for shoplifting'. I was frantically searching for an answer and felt like I had been caught doing something horrible. Trying to make it sound like I w├ísn't making it up as I went, I thought back to a newspaper article about cybercrime and told him 'shoplifting' was also a term used for hacking into banking networks and attempting to steal credit card information. Feeling proud at my sudden stroke of brilliance I couldn't suppress a faint smile. He apparently accepted my answer and we chatted for a bit. How long we'd be in for, girlfriends, family, jobs, all the basics passed by. I got the impression this guy hadn't been getting along with the other inmates and liked talking to me.

The work-master told me what I had to do at the workplace which was quite easy (just roll up door mats and put them in plastic). He was friendly enough, but clearly not someone you'd mess with. The guards and other employees in general seemed fairly jovial, not giving the inmates grief if they weren't asking for it. Heck, some of the inmates even cook for the guards, that's how friendly some of them are with each other.

Continued in my next post.

My time in jail (4)

The next day was work-day. Once every 2 days you have to work in the shop doing menial things like cutting door mats to size or folding boxes together. You have to work for 3 hours and you get paid 5 bucks per week for it.You can spend that money on stuff like phone cards, luxury food, or a pair of slippers for the shower if you didn't bring any (slippers cost 5,95).

After eating breakfast in my cell I would finally meet my fellow inmates of B-wing. I was kinda nervous about leaving my cell when the door opened, but the inmates weren't as bad as I had expected. A and B wing are separated by glass walls and a sentry post in the hallway. When I came out of my cell I got a few surprised stares from the other side of the glass since they thought A-wing was empty, but most inmates were too focused on themselves to notice me.

When I joined them I kept to myself a bit, joining the back of the line, observing what they would do as we were guided across the courtyard towards the workshop. The inmates were mostly young males, with an over-representation of certain populations. Some were very loud and seemed to feel quite at home in prison, some were just absentmindedly going through their daily rhythm and some seemed intimidated and wanting to go home.

I recognized one guy whose mugshot had been in the papers. I was quite surreal to see someone I'd only read about standing just a few feet from me. He was chatting with someone walking beside him and didn't seem like the criminal I imagined him to be.

Continued in next post.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My time in jail (3)

I spent the rest of the first night in my cell listening to the other inmates. I thought about watching TV for a bit, but figured I might as well have been doing that at home, that's not what I'm here for. The layout of the prison is as follows: there is a central courtyard with a small soccer field and basketball field with a corridor (known as 'cold hall' since there is no heating there) running down the middle surrounded by four buildings. One general purpose building (with a gym, the dentist, the doctor, a small church/prayer room, general visitation room, private rooms for consultation with lawyers, counselor rooms and so on), and three cell blocks. Each of the three buildings has two wings (making 6 wings in total).

I was in the empty A wing, sharing the building with B wing. A and B are reserved for small time crooks. People who can't pay their fines, repeat offenders at things like shoplifting or joyriding, small time pyromaniacs, stuff like that. The next building houses C and D wing. Here you'll find the mentally unstable, people who are too violent to receive treatment for their mental issues. Pedophiles are also put here. These two wings are kept strictly separate from E and F wing. This is where the murderers and rapists are put. The rules of separation are so strict that a C or D-inmate cannot enter the general purpose building for medical attention if E or F inmates are in the gym for instance, even if it's urgent.

Anyway, I spent most nights listening to B-inmates talk to each other through the windows or hearing C and D-inmates scream incoherent nonsense. The screaming of the insane was quite scary to be honest. Sometimes you'd hear someone repeating stuff they see on TV as loud as they can, other times you'd hear someone relive some terrible trauma (one guy from Kosovo kept screaming like he was back on the battlefield). Most of the time however it was unintelligible, people would be howling at the full moon or be making deep, primal grunts.

Continued in my next post.

My time in jail (2)

After some of the comments on my previous posts I feel I need to explain that the prison I went to isn't anything like the things you see in movies. Everything is strictly regulated with the wellbeing of inmates in mind and the showers are in a sort of bathroom with two stalls with lockable doors. So soap-grabbing isn't a problem.

Dinner time came at 4:30, again unlike the movies where you have to shield the grub they feed you from other inmates to prevent them from stealing it, food is brought to your cell where you eat by yourself. The food mostly consisted of potatoes with some meat and veggies. Wasn't great, wasn't terrible either. If you like you can ask to prepare your own food. The kitchen where inmates can cook has all the basic stuff: refrigerator, freezer, induction cooking plate, a large knife (fixed to the wall with a short chain). You can buy certain foods from the 'shop' and make a pretty decent meal this way. All under strict supervision of course.

The cell is no place you'd want to spend a lot of time in, although at first I found it to be pretty luxurious for a jail cell. It's about 7x4 foot big, it has a bed, a small TV, a toilet with mirror, a small refrigerator, a microwave oven and a window looking out into the courtyard. You might be able to imagine how such a cell would appear to get smaller and smaller as you spend more time in it. The worst part however was the door. It's a heavy solid door with fire-proof insulation consisting of a sort of rubber band on the edges of the door that expands when it's heated up. This means that the door will be impossible to open should a fire break out. I was literally told that if a fire breaks out in my cell they wouldn't be able to do anything for me. I'd either have to try to put the fire out myself with my clothes and bedsheets or burn to death. There would be no way of opening that door until the fire has gone out and the door has cooled down again. This was mulling around in my head and cost me quite a few hours of sleep at nights.

Continued in next post.