Don’t Use the Stairwell

December 3rd, 2017

Another Sunday, another trip to the Kenosha County Jail. It’s amazing how quickly we adjust to new patterns in our lives. What initially seemed horrendous is now the new normal. An arrest and incarceration of a family member is shocking at first, but then it just becomes an accepted part of our reality. The visits to the jail are just as much part of a typical Sunday for us as going to Mass is. Now, it’s just what we do.

Karin and I went to the jail early, but we were not the first ones there. There were already two other people in the lobby, and they seemed a bit confused. I don’t think that is all that unusual. The jail is an environment that breeds confusion. Visiting hours are usually only on the weekend, and there is often nobody available during that time to give direction and guidance to the people who are showing up for the first time. It’s not a good system.

A woman in the lobby of the building spoke to Karin and me as soon as we walked into the place. She said,

“Whatever you do, don’t use the stairwell!”

“Ooooookaaaay…”, I replied.

She went on, “I was here on Friday, and tried to use the stairs. I got myself locked in the stairwell!”

I wondered about that. There are signs in the hallway indicating where to go. The signs clearly direct a visitor to the elevator that goes to the second floor of the jail. Why would this woman use the stairs? How did she get out of the stairwell? Why was she even here on a Friday?

I shook my head to clear my mind. The lady kept up her monologue. It was pure stream of consciousness. I tuned out most of what she was saying. We all took the elevator to the second floor. We walked down another hallway, and she said,

“Look! The office is closed! There is nobody at the window!”

“Uh, no…that’s not the correct window. We have to go a little further down this hallway.”

“Are you sure?”


We arrived at the window where we had to fill out a small slip of paper and show our ID cards. The woman had clearly never been to this place before. It was all new to her. I kept wondering, “So, where was she on Friday, if she never made it here?”

There was a already a crowd of people waiting in the narrow hallway, and visitation didn’t even start for another ten minutes. The seats were all taken, so Karin and I stood next to the wall. Karin took out her drop spindle, and started to spin raw wool with it. A man near us was rather impressed with Karin’s skills. Karin always has some knitting or spinning with her. She is never bored.

The visits started. Each person only got ten minutes with an inmate, so things went fast. I saw our loved one first, then Karin came into the room immediately after I was finished. Our family member was in good spirits, relatively speaking. There wasn’t that sense of utter panic and hopelessness. I was grateful for that.

On our way out, I stopped at the kiosk to put more money into our inmate’s commissary account. When I finished using my credit card, a black woman came up to the computer kiosk to do the same thing. She had never used it before, so I stayed and walked her through the process. Like everything else in the jail, this device is not user friendly. I was lucky that somebody held my hand when I first tried to enter money into the account. Otherwise, I am sure that I would have eventually given up in despair. I took the woman through each step. Even so, it was still a tedious task. I get the impression that this kiosk was designed by somebody who knew that it would be the only option available to people, and that there was no need to worry about them taking their business elsewhere. Monopolies don’t have to be concerned with customer service.

We’ll try  all this again next Sunday.










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