Thanksgiving in Jail

November 23rd, 2017

Today is Thanksgiving. Somebody I love will be spending today behind bars. I am sure that individual will find it difficult to think of reasons to be grateful. I know that I am struggling to feel gratitude in this situation.

Jails are all pretty much the same, at least in the United States. Granted, there are obviously variations with regards to the manner in which prisoners are treated, but all jails have certain common characteristics. I have often been in jails, usually as a visitor, and once as an inmate. After a while, you begin to notice certain things.

The Kenosha County Jail has the usual physical hallmarks. The place has cinderblock walls, painted in a dull, bureaucratic green. There are few, if any, windows. There are doors, but none of them open. Most of what is posted on the walls has to do with rules and regulations. There can never be enough rules. It is rare to interact with another human face-to-face. Generally, the other person, be they inmate or guard, is shielded by a window made of Plexiglas, and their voice comes out of a speaker somewhere.

It’s all about control. The state has to control the prisoners, and it employs guards for that purpose. The state also uses an endless number of walls and locked doors to maintain this control. Keep the inmates separate from the guards, and keep everybody separate from the public. Maybe separate the inmates from each other. The separation isn’t just about physical contact. Control is also about minimizing communication. Allow only outbound collect phone calls. Only permit brief visits from friends and relatives. Allow only snail mail correspondence between prisoners and the outside world. Watch everybody all the time.

Jails are expensive. I am not talking about the tax dollars required to house inmates. Jails are expensive for the inmates themselves and for those who care about them. I have had several calls with the family member who is currently incarcerated. Each call is about $15 a pop for a maximum of fifteen minutes of conversation. The prisoner needs money from an outside source (in this case the money is from me) to fund a commissary account, so that the person can get basic personal items (soap, paper, postage stamps, pencils, etc.). There is a fee for almost everything. If a person is not broke before they go to jail, odds are good that they will be when they get out.

A person in jail makes few decisions. Somebody else is running that person’s life. That can be oddly liberating at times, but it is also scary. The person I love is scared. She has a history of anxiety and panic attacks. She is not in a place that will make it easier for her to deal with those problems. This person is worried about the future, and it will be months before her path becomes clear. She may be stuck in jail or prison for several years. Her fate is not yet decided. In the meantime, she waits in a sort of limbo. Justice in America is not swift, and often it is not just.

Would it be better if the person I loved was out on bond? I could post it, if I wanted to do that. However, this individual has often managed to harm herself, although perhaps not intentionally. If she were on the street, would she survive? I don’t know if she would, but I do know from experience that I would have no control on her actions. In jail, she is relatively safe, at least for now. Outside, maybe not. What is the better choice: living as an inmate or dying as a free person?

Should she be thankful on this day? I don’t know. The loved one has to decide that.

Should I be grateful. Yes. She is alive. So, there is hope for the future. Things can get better. Maybe they will.


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