I wrote up my experience of my class' jail tour today. Spoiler Today, I toured the Genesee County Jail in Flint, Michigan thanks to one of my criminal justice class professors. As I made the quarter-mile drive from UM-Flint's campus down Saginaw Street to the jail, I had a feeling of foreboding, with the butterflies going in my stomach. Probably a toned-down version of what someone who's just been arrested and is being transported to this place is feeling. The current iteration of the Genesee County Jail was built in 1988 and opened in 1989. Like any jail, it houses people charged with things as minor as shoplifting and as serious as murder. It's a beige, nondescript building that you might mistake for an office building if not for its long, skinny windows. When a person is arrested, they're driven into the building's garage and then brought into the booking area. Before they go through the process that everybody knows (fingerprinting, mugshot), they have to be searched. Everyone who comes through the jail, no matter how minor the charge, must be strip searched. The jail staff keeps anywhere from 2-30 inmates in a single holding cell, though problem inmates are kept in single cells. When we walked through, the inmates would stare at us through the feeding slot or the tinted windows of the holding cell, but none of them would say a word to us. The jail's medical staff then does a physical exam on you, and they begin the verification process for your medications. Because of the sheer numbers of inmates they process, the process of verifying with your doctors that you take the meds you say you do can take up to two weeks. This makes for some volatile situations for some people with conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar. You stay in the booking department until they find a bed for you upstairs. That can take up to 3 days. The inmate is then issued his uniform, dayglow orange for general population, and white for the trustys (More on them in a minute). If you are suicidal, extremely intoxicated, or committed a DUI-fatality crime, you are dressed in a suicide smock. This is a green, tear-proof vest that covers you and also keeps you from harming yourself. They dress DUI-fatality suspects in these smocks as a precaution for once they sober up and begin to realize what they've done. While you are still in intake, you are fed two Nutraloafs and one hot meal per day. A Nutraloaf is all the leftovers: beans, bread, vegetables, etc. all baked into a loaf that meets all your nutritional needs. The hot meal served for dinner today was bologna, some vegetables, some pasta, a couple slices of bread, and Kool-Aid to drink. They never serve actual fruit juice because the inmates could ferment it into alcohol. After you're booked in and are ready to be sent to a housing unit, you're issued what's known in jail slang as a "Happy Bag." This is your cup, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, and body wash. The inmates receive single-use packets of soap and shampoo because bars of soap can be molded and put in a sock to make a mace-like weapon. We then went upstairs to see the housing units. Every inmate housing area smelled like the deodorant the inmates are issued. Aside from protective custody and problem inmates, each inmate is housed in a cell with a cellmate. There are three and a half floors that house men, and one pod that houses women. The male floors are separated by age. Younger inmates are kept separate from older inmates. The housing areas are called "pods" in jail vernacular. There are two pods per floor. You have two rows of cells, one on top, one on bottom, two long steel tables with steel stools, and plastic chairs made to resemble couches in front of three TVs on mute with the closed captioning on. There is one deputy in each pod, as well as one deputy in the vestibule areas between pods. The general population inmates are woken up at 6:00 AM, and after a headcount, are fed breakfast in the day room. The inmates have until 6:20 to eat; if it takes you 15 minutes to get out of bed, you'd better eat fast. The inmates are then locked down in their cells until 9:00 AM. At 9:00, they're allowed out into the day room to watch TV, play cards, or mull about until 11:00. At 11:00, they're fed lunch in their cells. They stay in their cells until 3 PM, when they're allowed back into the day room, where they remain until 10 PM. Dinner is at 6, and at 10, they're locked down for the night. The cells are like what you see on TV. Two bunks fixed to the wall, a green vinyl mattress (filled with Tempur-Pedic material), with a steel toilet/sink combo. I sat down on the mattress and as I looked around at the cell, I immediately felt pretty claustrophobic. Those four walls do cave in on people, and this is why so many inmates are going crazy in solitary confinement. Every day there is a religious service of some sort that the inmates are allowed to attend if they behave. Chaplains of almost every faith and denomination make rounds with the inmates as well. Many inmates who don't believe in any faith attend just to get out of their cells. Inmates in protective custody are held in the medical wing, across the vestibule that holds all female inmates. PC inmates are only allowed out of their cells 2 hours per day. You have to request protective custody, meet with a lieutenant, and have a valid reason for being in protective custody. Inmates with gang affiliation, certain charges (most commonly sex crimes against children), or young inmates are offered protective custody during booking. Inmates who are charged with non-violent offenses and have a bond amount below $10,000 can do facility jobs in exchange for lower security and more privileges. These guys are known in jail vernacular as "Trustys." They do kitchen work, laundry, and even some maintenance work. They're housed in cells with unlocked doors, and have a common bathroom with stalls which is more dignified. Any person who's arrested and has cash in his pocket has his money placed in a commissary account. Any person arrested anywhere in the state of Michigan is charged a $12 booking fee. $2 of that goes to the state, the other $10 is used by the county to fund the training program for new deputies. When we went upstairs to see the pods, we stayed in the vestibules and peered in through windows. Some inmates waved, some looked at us in disgust, some smiled, and one made a lewd gesture at us. We were first told not to engage the inmates, but once we got upstairs one of the pod deputies informed us it was okay to wave. Some inmates did walk by us, both general population and trusty. The inmates that walked by mostly ignored us. Some inmates in a religious class stared at us until they were redirected by the deputies. The tour took about an hour and a half and we were led by a female deputy. Women are allowed to supervise and even strip search male inmates, but men are not allowed to do anything with female inmates. The deputy told us she prefers to supervise the men instead of the women. The male inmates tend to be mostly respectful of the deputies, and they treat female deputies better than men. In her words, "With women, when they're pissed off, they're going to let their fury fly and everybody's going to feel their wrath." The deputies actually don't want to know what the inmates are in for. Our guide told us that it's much easier to stay objective and be respectful to the inmates if you don't know what they're charged with. The inmates here will mostly either bond out, be released pending the outcome of their case, or be held there if they can't post bail. The longest you can be sentenced to the county jail is 1 year for a misdemeanor. If you're awaiting trial, you can be there for years. As I walked out of the jail, I thought about how scared that person going there for the first time would be. I also thought about how that place is basically a country club compared to where those felons are headed after they're convicted and sentenced: state prison. We're going on a tour of a state prison next month, and I'll write up that experience as well. Stay tuned.