The Big House

Last week I went on a 3-hour tour through our county jail to see how our judicial system functions at the prison level.  Surprising to some, they let me out.

A few lessons and afterthoughts follow:

  • Not all criminals are the same. As criminals wear different colored stripes depending on their crime, the unfortunate thing is that about 40% of the prisoners suffer from severe mental disabilities.  And so in the midst of overcrowded mental health institutions, some of our society’s mentally ill have to be subjected to standard prisoner treatment by prison guards untrained for mental health complications.
  • There’s some credit to your crime. Outside of “the big house” the more severe the crime, the less respect you attain.  However, inside the prison walls the more severe the crime, the more respect you receive from your fellow inmates.  In particular, the prisoners I viewed in red and/or orange strips (pertaining to extreme, violent crimes) definitely walked with a swagger, unafraid to sit and stare you down.
  • Stagnation is maddening. One of the key things you noticed with each cell block was the lack of productivity, activity, and functionality.  It was simply guys sitting.  Either sitting in their cell, in the commons, or at a card table.  Very few words spoken with extremely little too do.  I couldn’t imagine spending 1 hour in their position let alone 1 year.
  • You can feel fame. It was interesting how electrified the small group I was with became when we approach the actual jail cell of Jeffery Dahmer.  There was a sense of great mystery, sensationalism, and an awkward awe realizing you were in his “past-presence.”
  • We’re all criminals. It became apparent that the more I was in the prison seeing these men and women, the more I realized the only difference between them I was the thick glass and bars that separated us.  Another friend and I mentioned on the way out the sobering thought that we are all only about two stupid mistakes away from joining them.  Sure, I have never killed a man, but I have definitely hated some…and in spiritual terms, is all the same.

If you’re ever wanting to know more about the prison system, its current issues, and what life would be like behind bars, check out this episode of 30 Days.  An extremely accurate portrayal from what was described by our county police chief.


~ by Dave Smith on April 14, 2010.

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