The time finally arrives to be transported to the real jail. My hands are cuffed and feet are chained. I’m herded along with the others into the back of an armored looking vehicle.
The back is divided into 2 cages. One side is for males and the other for females. We are packed in. There are no windows. It’s extremely uncomfortable.
I get my first introduction to jail talk between men and women. I’ve heard vulgarity before, but nothing like this. The women are 10 times worse than the men. I’m floored at what they openly ask for, reveal, and talk about sexually. It is flat out filthy, obscene, vulgar, and nasty.
I didn’t know there were human beings who could so naturally act in such an animalistic manner. Worse than animals, actually. The entire ride to the jail, I have to deflect nasty, descriptive advances and propositions by the hideous, foul women inmates.
When we finally arrive, we’re corralled into this large, grungy holding room.
It’s like the night of the living dead.
It’s full of dirty, grimy people, all of whom have been arrested that day for various reasons. People are scattered all over the floor. Many are lying down. Some are passed out. It’s a logjam of people!
There are a couple of things I learn really fast. First, in this place, you are never told what is happening, what’s next or when. Second, there are no clocks anywhere and they go out of their way to make sure you don’t know what time it is.
I wait in this holding room for hours. I sit, lie, stand, pace, etc. It has hard concrete floors so getting comfortable is impossible.
When my name is finally called along with several others, we’re taken to what’s called a holding tank (I call it a human dumpster). They pack us in and the officer slams the sliding metal door shut and locks it. The room has 4 concrete walls. There’s a window built in the metal sliding door. A toilet is out in the open. It stinks and is nasty. If you have to use the bathroom, you do it out in the open in front of everyone.
There is trash everywhere. Old dried food is smeared all over the cold concrete floors and walls.
Below is a little view of a holding tank. Only it’s clean.
We’re told nothing. Nobody knows how long we’ll be packed in this place, and no one knows what happens next.
This is the beginning of a very strategic, planned design to psychologically break you completely. They call it going through “processing.” It should be called going through “hell.” “Processing” lasts for a full 2 1/2 days.
The intent is to break you mentally so you’ll sign any plea agreement put in front of you. That saves the state money by not having to litigate your case. It’s a very effective strategy!
We’re in the next holding tank for at least a couple of hours. I end up lying on the wretched, cold concrete floor next to strung out, dirty people. I attempt to use my arm as a pillow. I close my eyes and try to bear it.
In my mind, I envision what my wife would think if she could actually see me now. I know she has no idea what I’m going through. In her mind, I’m locked up in some nice clean cell getting 3 square meals a day. She has no idea the torment I’m in and getting ready to go through. I have no way to communicate it to her.
After a couple of hours of misery in that tank, an officer finally comes and leads us all out. It’s a huge sense of relief.
Not for long.
He directs us down a hallway. He slides open another heavy metal door, and motions for us all to enter. When I look inside, to my horror, it’s another mangy holding tank, only smaller.
The officer won’t answer any questions. He just slams the sliding doors shut and locks it. We’re left not knowing again how long we’ll be in there, why we’re in there, or what we’re waiting for. I’m starving, confused, disoriented, and still suffering major withdrawals. The concrete floors have all but taken their tole. I can’t lie down cause the floor is just too hard and cold.
I actually find a dude to talk to. He’s been through this several times. I divulge to him it’s my first time ever in jail. He kindly informs me of all the do’s and don’ts to stay safe. He explains what to expect, how the gangs work, and the rules for trading or fighting for food.
He warns me the next 48 hours are going to be hell.
After about a couple more hours, a lady finally opens the door. She has a clipboard in her hand and she reads off about 10-12 names. My name isn’t read. The people called, get to leave. Where they go no one knows. She slams the door shut again and locks it. We wait and wonder.
At least a couple of more hours pass. An officer comes and opens the door and tells us all to get up and follow him. We walk through what seems like a maze of hallways until he stops us. He unlocks another metal sliding door and tells us all to quickly get in.
Unbelievably, it’s another holding tank.
It has to be early in the morning by now. The officer just locks us in and leaves. I’m so exhausted. I try standing up, squatting down in the corner, sitting down, lying down. Nothing I try brings any relief.
After about an hour, someone brings us bags of bread and soy peanut butter. Everyone devours it. All the leftover trash and smushed soy peanut butter are just thrown on the floor.
After resigning myself to my fate and deciding to let myself sink into the misery of it all, they come take us to some rough, raunchy, dirty cells with metal beds.
We’re told to sleep. The lights on the ceiling right above me (I’m on the top bunk) are left on. I look under my old, torn, worn pad and there is old food smeared everywhere. There is food smeared all over the walls. It’s revolting. I lie there in this nasty place and toss and turn. I don’t come close to falling asleep. About 2 hours later, guards come. They get us up, chain and cuff us, and lead us away.
For the next couple of days, we hop from one holding tank to another. When our name is called, we get our fingerprints or our pictures taken or we get evaluated by a medical doctor, or we turn in our regular clothes and put on the pinstripe jail uniform.
We get our fingers printed at least 15 times. They ask us the same questions over and over again. Most of our time is spent in these concrete holding tanks not knowing what day it is, the time, or when “processing” is ever going to be over. I don’t sleep one minute for the 2 1/2 days.
By the end, I’m broken. I’d sign anything they put in front of me. I’d plead guilty to anything to get out of this horrible, dark, and disgusting place. The incessant vulgarity alone taxes my nerves to the max.
I think about my family the entire time. I imagine the worst. That they’ve already moved on without me and forgotten about me. I picture them sitting around laughing and telling jokes at my expense. They have no clue about this underworld and what I’m really going through. How could they? It’s nothing like I had ever imagined.
After being tortured for 2 1/2 days, processing is all over and it’s time to be escorted to our pods. Pods are large rooms with several individual jail cells inside. Below is a partial picture of a pod at Durango Jail.
Most pods have about 20 cells in them. In each cell, there are 2 bunk beds and 4 inmates. When a pod is full (and most of the time they are), there are up to 80 inmates confined in a very small area. There is always tension in the air.
Below is a picture of a holding cell at Durango Jail. It might as well be mine because it looks exactly like it.
They give you a nasty worn out pad, one sheet to put over it, and one small thin blanket. No pillow.
I’m used to sleeping on a king size sleep number bed!
I’m put in building D4, Pod D. It’s the medical pod since I’m in acute withdrawals. They check my vitals twice a day and keep the temperature cool. Everyone in there are heroin, meth, and cocaine addicts. It is a rough, violent crowd.
As soon as I arrive at my pod, I’m shown my cell and bunk (51-3, cell 51, bunk 3). I walk out of my cell and the first person to approach me is a guy named Nubs (Everyone in jail gets a nickname). He’s Nubs because his right arm is cut off right below the elbow. Below is a picture I found of him on the internet. Meet Nubs. I go from waking up to my wife every morning to waking up to this beauty.
He asks if I’m a Chicano or a Wood. I’m confused. I tell him I know what a Chicano is, but not a Wood. He says, “Oh, this must be your first time in here.” I tell him it is.
He informs me Chicano’s are Hispanics that have lived in America for all or most of their lives. They can speak English. A Wood is a white person. With my dark skin and hair, it’s hard to tell. I tell him I’m a Wood. He next asks if I want to fight him for food. For some reason, I didn’t think he meant real fist fighting. So, I tell him, heck yes, I’m in. I’m starving.
Here’s how it works. This jail feeds you only twice a day. Bread and soy peanut butter at about 7-8am in the morning. No lunch. Then about 5-6pm we have “chow.” Another name for chow is slop. It is so incredibly horrible tasting, it must take enormous effort to make food taste this bad. That’s all you get.
If you have money in your account, once every 2 weeks you can order up to $100 in commissary. Commissary is various kinds of “real” food or snacks. I arrive the day after commissary is ordered. So, I should be out of there before the next round of ordering happens. In the meantime, if you don’t have commissary, you either starve or you fight for food.
Once two people decide to fight, anyone who wants to watch the fight has to donate 2 items of commissary food. The winner gets 70% of the donated food. The loser gets 30%. My cellmate has a black eye and a busted lip when I arrive because he fought the day before for food. He’s a Chicano. He got the 30%.
Once I find out what kind of fighting Nubs really means, I tell him, I’m not fighting him. There is no way I’m jeopardizing anything. I plan on being on my best behavior.
So, I’m all locked up. My first night, there are 4 fights. And, when I say fights, I mean brutal, bloody, violent brawls. Below is a picture of an inmate at my jail who was beaten. This is very mild compared to what I witness.
I never allow myself to watch one fight. I only see the beaten guys afterward. Here is how the fighting and violence works if you’re not fighting for food.
The Pods are run by the inmates. Everyone is divided up by race. Each race has a name.
Whites – Woods
African Americans – Kinfolk
Hispanics who speak English – Chicanos
Wetbacks or Hispanics who can’t speak English – Pisces.
Native Americans – Chiefs
Each “gang” or race has a head. There are 1-2 assistant heads. There are 2-4 torpedos. Torpedos attack other inmates at the order of the head, many times in their sleep.
One of the assistant heads of the Woods, Russia (that’s his nickname because that’s where he’s from), takes me to the head of the Woods. His name is Holliday. Holliday is schizophrenic and bi-polar. Holliday indoctrinates me on how important following the rules are and the consequences of breaking them. He’s very cordial and respectful toward me.
He tells me if any member of any other race messes with me to inform him and he’ll take care of it. He then tells Russia to give me a tour of the place and explain all the rules to me.
Russia is 18 years old and is facing a minimum of 10 years in prison for drug charges, grand theft auto, and various other felonies. He’s a fighter. He has to be. He has no family and no one on the outside to put money on his books. The only way he gets food is to fight for it. He’s skinny, but strong. He’s 6’3 and his head is shaved bald.
There are strict rules made by the inmates. Violating rules results in consequences.
Below is a list of consequences from least to most severe:
- Chin Check – You’re taken into the bathroom and punched one time in the face.
- Smash – 2-3 members of another race take you into the bathroom and beat you for 90 seconds. You’re typically left unconscious.
- Rainbow Smash – 2 members of each race (10-12) inmates all gang up on you and beat you for 90 seconds. Almost always left unconscious or worse.
My first night there, there are 4 Smashes. They all happen in the bathroom away from the cameras. Almost everyone donates food to watch the fights. I stay in my cell. The thought of someone defenseless getting beat like that makes me angry. I can hear from my cell the fists hitting their faces and heads in each fight. I can hear their bodies being thrown against the wall.
Two of them are left bloodied and knocked out cold. One is hit so hard he craps in his pants…twice. He gets picked on cause he’s weak.
There are a few things you never do if you want to survive this place.
You don’t show weakness.
You never cry.
You never, ever, ever snitch. Any person who is a snitch is either attacked by torpedos in their sleep or rainbow smashed.
Below I’ve included these 6 videos that document the jail I was in. I include them because they are very accurate in their coverage. The videos focus on Tent City. I was held in a place called Durango. They’re right next to each other. The only difference is one is inside and the other is outside. All the other information given in the videos about Tent City is the same for Durango. Just if you’re curious…
To be continued…