I’ve been saving up this blog post, mostly because I want to do it the justice that it deserves. But tonight I realized- why not just write ongoing articles about it?
I’m volunteering as an advocate to go into the jail once a week and meet with a person going through the system. My job is to provide emotional support and a listening ear- as well as help with small things on the outside such as phone calls to family or lawyers.
I have currently been visiting a man in the jail for the past three months. These are a few observations I have to share.
1. The jail is very clean and new compared to the old prison we were at in Kansas. Apparently the city rebuilt their center just last year- so it’s really new and looks more like a business building than a jail downtown.
2. The treatment of inmates is the same as it is within prisons- but the important difference is that everyone in jail is still legally innocent, as they have not been to trial yet. Also- people who have money are not there. While prison has mostly impoverished people- jails have almost all impoverished people simply because they cannot pay for their bail- which is generally set outrageously high. No one can tell how long a person will be in jail waiting for their trial- some people are in jail for years awaiting their trial simply because they are too poor to pay for their bail.
3. State appointed lawyers are not always working in their clients best interests- and are not necessarily trained as advocates for the poor, mentally ill and marginalized.
4. Many times court appointed lawyers work with the DA to try to keep people out of the bloated criminal court system. I think like 96% of people take plea deals or something like that in this county (don’t quote me — I can look up real statistic- but it’s high as hell) and it still takes forever to get to trial! Most of the time this is just the court system trying to wear the people in jail down and get them to take a plea deal because they just want to start their time instead of sitting in jail waiting for it to start.
5. Family and friends cannot give anything to their loved ones in jail because you have to order books for inmates through the appropriate prison catalog from a certain company. No personal touches.
6. For a person in jail here- calling someone in the area code is $20 an hour. For calling someone outside of this area code it is like 10 times less. Phone companies making a killing inside. Also- a pack of ramen noodles costs $1 inside- while it’s 10 cents out here.
7. My current weekly visits usually last about 45 minutes. The person I visit is super grateful to me for visiting every week- and tells me so. I am the only person he’s able to talk to in person about these things as it is hard for his family to get to the prison. I have much easier access as an advocate than people visiting family and friends do.
8. My visits with my client usually begin with him telling me whats been going on with his case and his lawyer- and then how much he misses his family. He’s usually drinking a cup of jail coffee. Halfway though his news, which is usually quite sad- he always brightens- and starts to make jokes and try to make me laugh. It’s important for him to tell me his story- but it’s also important for him to make sure that I see him as a person who can make others laugh in light of really hard things.
9. Today he was probably the most depressed I’ve seen him- but as always he takes a breath halfway through our visit and starts to smile and make jokes. I really appreciate it. He is really voiceless in the system. And there is nothing I can do. But he tries to make me feel comfortable.
10. So I listen.
11. And then I return home and face my own demons of germaphobia as I tell my partner not to touch any of the clothes I wore into the jail, and I jump into the shower.
12. The man I visit was telling me today how, if he ever gets out, he wants to do something similar to what I’m doing as an advocate for the mentally ill, the addicts and the imprisoned.
13. Did I mention that this man also has wicked anxiety about germs/ diseases?
14. I see myself in him, and I hope that if I’m ever in jail- someone would be there to see me. That’s why I keep going back.
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© Copyright 2018 Annie Windholz