During a quarter of a century on the bench, I have pronounced jail sentences for perhaps hundreds of people. (I try not to say that “I sent him to jail.” He committed the act that required the jail sentence. I simply made it official.)
A lot of people who have never been in jail wonder what it is like. I can tell you, sort of…
The Sibley County Jail was expanded in 1995. Once the construction was complete, the staff hired and procedures established, all that was necessary for them to open for business was a test run.
Thus it was, on a summer night, I went to the Sibley County Jail to join with several other citizens who volunteered to be “prisoners” for the jail staff to practice their procedures and work out any kinks in the system.
I was first placed in a holding cell, while the men who had arrived before me were processed. The cell is small, with only a concrete bench. I was there for about a half hour before being brought into the booking room.
I was photographed – the standard front and side mug shots. My fingerprints were taken – using ink on paper instead of the electronic scanners we use now. I was then given an orange jump suit and shown to a cell. Actually, there were four cells off of one day room. The furniture was poly covered iron. The bed was metal, with a thin mattress and a plastic pillow – quite uncomfortable.
I was in the cell for maybe an hour when the door opened, and a local officer said, “Judge? We need a warrant signed. Don’t worry – I put the suspect in the holding cell so he wouldn’t see a prisoner signing the warrant!”
We watched television from the uncomfortable benches until lights out at 10:30. Then onto the cots for the night. Procedure calls for bed checks throughout the night. The doors, of course, were heavy metal and every time the key went into the lock, it woke me up.
At 7:00 a.m., the test run was over. We were given orange juice, coffee and donuts. The mug shots and fingerprint cards were given to us as souvenirs. Our civic duty was performed and soon the jail would be open for business.
And I knew that if I never spent another hour in a locked jail cell, it would be too soon.
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Next week: War on Terror