Remember back when I was bitching about the costs on my ticket, particularly the parts about being charged for a two day stay in jail (that I didn't do) and the accompanying jail upkeep fees?
Well, by Ra, I know why now. And I wasn't too far off when I said it must have been the fucking Ritz Carlton.
Granddolly (as we call my mother, because she calls me "Dolly" all the time... and now, The Girlchild as well: she's "Dolly #2), The Boychild, and The Girlfriend and I all went on a tour of the new Pocahontas State Correctional Center, which happens to be only a couple of miles from my house.
The prison is a Level 3 prison, which houses a variety of prisoners, from new criminals to lifers. They have to be fairly well behaved to qualify for a level three. Virginia has 5 prison level.
The prison is brand new, of course, so everything was white and clean and pristine. The razorwire gleamed in the sunlight, and there was a smell of fresh pain.
Our first main stop was the visiting area, which was right near the front door. I suppose that made it more accessible to visitors, but also seemed like it would be awfully tempting for a prisoner, especially since the guards don't carry guns. Their only weapons were a radio and a whistle. Gee, now that would deter me. Wouldn't it you?
There were several rows of chairs for those allowed direct contact with their loved ones, and then four of the phone and window deals like you see so much on TV. The inmates get at least an hour, and may get to visit longer if there aren't too many visitors that day. I can't remember how often they are permitted to receive visitors.
Next was the gym, which was pretty darn spiffy, and then to the laundromat. The washers and dryers were HUGE. The lady giving the tour (who was the prison psychologist) said inmates worked in the laundry, and they got paid anywhere from 20-60 cents per hour. Each inmate puts their dirty laundry in a bag, and the workers throw bag and all into the washer. They don't even have to add detergent - it comes out automatically. I'd love to have one of those washers. I'd only have to do one load a week. Wonder if they would wanna contract their laundry out? Hell, I might even go as high as 75 cents an hour. I'm generous like that.
We were standing next to a black corrections officer (and DON'T call them "guards", they don't like it, and may very well strangle you with their whistle) who looked like the guy from Saturday Night Live. Granddolly insisted on having her picture taken with one of the giant washers.
The next area was "the yard". There were basketball goals out there, too, and two weight machines, which The Boychild said were nicer than the ones in his school gym. Ms. Psyche said the prisoners are allowed an hour a day outside, year round.
Next we went past some offices, and there were water fountains along the wall. I had the big idea of getting pictures of us all drinking "prison water", which I did. Miras los fotos:
Unfortunately, we took so long doing it that we got lost from our group, and had to find someone to get us back where we were supposed to be. Ever the troublemaker, that's me. The next room was to be a small engine repair shop. The cons work on lawnmower and motorcycle motors - stuff like that. People on the outside can bring their things in to be fixed, along with the proper parts, and it only costs $5.
I leaned up against the wall, and felt something depress under my shoulder. It was a red button, which SNL CO said was a panic button. There was one on either side of the room. Evidently, they'd disabled that stuff, because nobody came running, and no alarm sounded. That room was pretty big, and I'm thinking that if I were a prisoner going to cause a ruckous, I'd make sure that I did it where the person in charge couldn't reach the button. Which would be pretty much anywhere a foot away.
Oh yeah! Did you know they get to smoke in there? I thought that you couldn't smoke in prison. Maybe that's just West Virginia. I remember my former friend who spent some time there talking about women hiding dope and tobacco inside their hoohahs. They used pages of the Bible to roll their cigarettes in. I guess they smuggled in lighters, too.
But I digress... in this prison, they can smoke, and they get to have lighters so long as they are clear. Why clear? So they can't hide anything in them. I asked Latino CO what kept them from breaking open the lighter, throwing fluid on someone, and lighting him on fire. Latino CO said, "Thanks, I hadn't thought of that. Now I have something else to worry about." I'm here to help.
We went through the dining area, which aside from being mostly stainless steel, looked like it could have been any pretty much any institution. They have a little slot for the tray to go through, which they said was a "blind slot" because tray giver and tray taker couldn't see one another. This prevented anyone from giving their buddy extra helpings. What prevents them from spitting in the soup? Hey, I've seen these things on TV. Someone even ejaculated into a pot of food once. Now tell me, what was the CO doing that gave someone long enough to pull out his monkey, spank it, and let it throw up in the stew? Psyche Lady said that the inmates also cook for the staff. I'd brown bag it, thankyouverymuch.
We went through part of the medical wing, and learned that the inmates get their teeth fixed and it only costs $5. That is SO unfair. I had insurance the last time I went to the dentist and STILL owed $300.
The next part we went to was the segregation area, where they put the prisoners who don't play well with others. The cells had only one bed, and the shower area was interesting. There were shower stalls, which you could see right into. The doors looked like the ones you might see at the mall entrance. And get this - they were right in front of this little guard area, and they locked you in there while you showered. Neato. The segregated prisoners got to go outside, too, but instead of getting to walk around, they were in a little cage. No ciggies for them.
Our last stop was one of the "pods" which is what they called the group of cells along with the central area that consisted of tables and a 42 INCH TELEVISION. I am not shitting you. They get to watch a TV that's bigger than my office window. Sure, it's only an hour a day, and they don't get to channel surf, but man! They also are permitted a 5" TV in their room. Somehow, watching TV and reading books doesn't sound like a lot of punishment to me. I tested out the sink and the toilets... and if you go potty in the middle of the night, you're going to wake up the whole cell block when you flush the toilet. Those things are loud. The beds, while pretty darn narrow, were pretty comfy. I don't think I would have a hard time sleeping, provided my cell mate didn't keep me up all night. And that's a double entendre if there ever was one.
The showers were behind this half wall, and they looked relatively safe. I don't know how they are set up in other prisons, but it would be awfully hard to take someone against their will in the showers. IF you know what I mean.
The whole time we were in there, my mother was chatting up this Latino CO. My mother will ask anyone anything at any time. She calls it being friendly. I called it flirting. The CO probably called it being nosey. She wasn't really flirting, but it got her wired up when we told her to stop flirting. It was quite amusing. However, if there's anything you want to know about Latino CO and SNL CO, feel free to ask my mom. I'm pretty sure she got their life stories.
Our guide told us that those prisoners transferring in were excited about the move. Well, I guess so. I was rather thinking of moving in myself. Unfortunately, the prison only houses men. Okay, maybe I wouldn't want to stay for a year, but a week or so would seem like a vacation. All my meals cooked, my laundry done, time to catch up on some reading... I could finally finish that vampire novel I did one chapter of years ago.
The one thing that I wanted to get a shot of was the razor wire, and wouldn't ya know it, the camera battery died right before we got to pass under it. There was this one archway that had the wire over the top of it, and also parallel. I tried to stick my finger through so I could touch it (touch it, not slice my finger open, let's be clear), but there was plexiglass between the two layers of fence. SNL CO said, "We put that there because we knew you'd try and stick your finger in there." Hmph!
The whole prison tour experience made me really curious as to what it was really like in there. I mean, if you saw the place, you'd really think that aside from being unable to leave, it wasn't all that bad. Three square meals a day, your laundry washed, air conditioning (excellent air conditioning), a warm bed, entertainment, medical and dental care - heck, they've got it better than a lot of people. The cells were bigger than my office area. So I decided I was gonna do a little research on the subject, and what better way than to talk to real prisoners. There are several prison pen pal sites on the web, and I went to the first one in the Google search. They have pictures and a little bit about themselves, kinda like a personal ad. Now let's get one thing clear here, boys and girls... I am not, I repeat, NOT looking for a hookup. Matter of fact, I made sure that the guys I picked out were just looking for a friend or someone to write to, AND, that they wouldn't be getting out any time soon. I'll be writing my first letters tomorrow. I'll let ya know if I learn anything interesting.