The Denver Post
We came, each of us, out of curiosity.
We lined up, turned over our wallets, cellphones and paperwork, and waited to be booked into Denver's new county jail.
City workers, adventure seekers and regular folks signed up to do time in the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Facility before it opens for real later this month. By the Denver Sheriff Foundation's count, 107 people donated $60 each for the experience of knowing what it is like on the inside, if only for a night.
Of those, 105 actually showed up Saturday afternoon. Eight bonded out later that evening, unwilling to sleep behind bars.
I had my own antipathy, having written several columns about deputies booking the wrong people and letting them languish in jail, their identities mistaken for weeks or even months on end.
Late as usual, I joined a gaggle of other females — as the officers described us — in putting on our yellow and white striped uniforms and walking single file toward pod 3A201.
We were the first to occupy the housing unit where each of us got a stiff polyester sheet, an itchy wool blanket and a towel that was remarkably thin for being so new. We were told to make our bunks.
"What about anal and vaginal body cavities?" asked one of my more inquisitive pod-mates, as if disappointed that she didn't get patted down more thoroughly.
As incarcerations go, this was pretty hypothetical.
Deputies went easy on us, skipping the background
checks and invasive body searches to which they subject real inmates. They let one woman bring her Bible and another her copy of John Grisham's "The Innocent Man." They even served us cupcakes as they described their difficult jobs. Still, there were indignities — most notably having to relieve ourselves without privacy. The sinks barely worked. And we had to use toilet paper at meals in the absence of paper napkins.
Naturally, too, there was contraband. One man sneaked his BlackBerry in his shoe to keep up on the Rockies score. A woman kindly shared her mint-flavored dental floss. Another managed to slink in a tube of Lancome eye cream, which apparently she never sleeps without.
I'll admit, I slipped an Ambien in my bra that helped me fall asleep about midnight. Even with the medication, I woke at 3 a.m. to the sound of my cellies singing the blues.
"Daylight come and me wanna go home," crooned Dawn Richardson and Theresa Rosales, workers at the U.S. Mint who had watched the Rocky Mountain News building come down and the jail go up in its place.
"The outside is a whole lot better than the inside," Richardson told me in a rare moment of seriousness among an otherwise campy crowd. "You just feel very, very low in here."
By the time our little bed and breakfast was over, one man had passed out from low blood sugar and another had been taken by ambulance to the hospital with heart problems. We had been locked up 41 days less than the average inmate in Denver, with none of the stresses of real criminal charges. Still, we had all heard one too many slammer jokes and were itching to go home.
I bonded out, groggy, just before 7 a.m. Sunday, relieved to have done my time. I have been to Van Cise-Simonet and back, kind of sort of, having had my lookie-loo and grabbed a cupcake on my way out the door.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The Denver Post