“On a scale of 1-10 how bad is the Lynwood jail?”
“6,” texted my lawyer friend.
A stream of unfortunate events involving drugs, alcohol, and domestic violence ended with my friend being arrested and put in jail two weeks ago. She is the furthest thing from a criminal, but with the way her life has been going the past few years it was either this or death. To be honest, I felt a sense of relief upon hearing this news, only because she is in a (relatively) safer place than where she was living.
But then I read the Yelp reviews (yes, prisons are on Yelp): “The mental and physical abuse in this place makes it nothing less than a concentration camp,” and, “male guards watch the women shower,” and “this place doesn’t get cleaned very often (staph) and constantly reeks of vomit.”
I mean, it is a jail, what should I expect the reviews to be like? “Had a wonderful time here! Gonna miss taco Tuesdays and sharing a cell with a crackhead who woke up screaming at 4am every morning from a recurring nightmare about the Punky Brewster episode where Cherie gets stuck in a refrigerator.”
I was, however, surprised at how easy it was to schedule a visit. There’s even an app for it! Now I can manage my inmate visits with all those felons I’ve met through PrisonPenPals.com. My friend Virgil (not his real name but Virgil is kind of a great name) and I scheduled a 30 minute Sunday visit. We had to arrive at least an hour before to check in. The building was in a very remote location, 15 minutes south of downtown LA, in a reeeeeeal shitty neighborhood. An elementary school seemed like it was located way too close to the jail, but what do I know? The only city I’ve been a mayor of is my Sim City named STETTENVILLE that went bankrupt and became overrun with garbage because I put too much money into building a marina instead of getting incinerators.
Virgil and I walked into the building labeled “Century Regional Detention Facility” carrying our beverages from the fast food we just scarfed down and were instructed to go downstairs. We definitely looked like a couple of hipster assholes who were in way too good of moods to be visiting a jail. It was an adventure, for sure, but we were both clueless as to the state of mind our incarcerated friend would be in. Virgil is always one to lighten moods, asking the woman who checked us in if she was in the YouTube video on the front page of jail’s website. It wasn’t her, but then she jokingly said we had to remove our shoes and socks before entering. Virgil actual believed her. Prison humor, guys.
We put our belongings into a locker because we were only allowed to bring IDs through. As we waited for our group number to be called, I looked around at the other 20 people waiting to talk to their loved ones. I could only assume the small children and babies were there to see their mothers, because it seems a little too traumatic to take them to visit an aunt or sister. But who knows.
Our group was called and we walked through the metal detector, down a very long hallway, and into an elevator that took us down a couple more floors. It felt like I was going to a (insert Jesse Ventura voice) top-secret underground bunker. The elevator door opened up to a small room with one door. Through that door was a long counter partitioned off to 5 stations, each with one metal stool, a phone, and a view of your inmate through the thick glass.
We didn’t know what to expect. We did know that this was the first time our friend had been sober in a few years, even from prescription pills. Alcohol detox can take anywhere from 7-10 days, and she was right at the peak. Cutting off anti-depressants cold turkey is also never good, which I know from experience.
It was quickly established that she wasn’t in a good mood, yelling “take that fucking smile off your face,” to me. Virgil and I looked at each other concerned, then squeezed uncomfortably onto the metal stool, facing our friend in a white and orange “LAX County Jail” t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Even in prison she knew how to make her attire somewhat fashionable. Her face looked surprisingly refreshed, which could be attributed to the lack of alcohol.
We both tried to listen through the phone but the speaker was terrible. I didn’t need to hear that she was upset, though, because her face said it all. She talked about how fucked up the system is and how she shouldn’t be in there. We both agreed, but tried to steer the conversation in a more positive direction by telling her we’re doing everything we can to get her out. I asked about the food and other women, but she snapped back with “they feed us dirt with no nutritional value and I’m stuck in a freezing basement with no blankets.” She did say that her roommate was nice, which was the one and only positive thing we took from this visit. I could barely look in her eyes when I spoke, it was so awkward and miserable. I didn’t really know what to say, other than we care about her. She was too angry, though, turning around for five minutes because she couldn’t stand to look at us, and then spitting at the glass right before telling us we’re terrible friends.
I handed the phone back to Virgil and tried to hide my tears with my hand. I didn’t want her to see my crying, because I knew it would upset her even more. I know it was the alcohol and drug withdrawal making her so angry, but being told you’re not doing enough to help when all I’ve been doing the past year of my life is trying to help her, really fucking hurt. I don’t want to see her distressed and in pain either; she doesn’t deserve any of it. She needs to be in a supportive environment where she can regain her faith in humanity. She got taken advantage of by a horrible manipulative person who preyed on her selflessness and unresolved mental issues. The judge she spoke in front of didn’t believe her story, which is unfortunate, because I’ve witnessed the abuse firsthand. He is the one who deserves to be punished, not her, but there’s nothing we can do about that now. Hopefully the “system” works out, but after hearing from her lackadaisical lawyer, it doesn’t seem too promising.
Our visit was supposed to be 30 minutes, but she gave up after 15, slamming the phone against the wall and stating she was much happier before we showed up. She walked away and we sat there wondering if she would come back for the last few minutes, but she never did. We walked towards the exit, passing a child sitting on a woman’s lap with the phone held up to his ear, looking at a young woman on the other side of the glass smiling at him.
Virgil and I didn’t say much on the ride home, except something along the lines of, “I can’t believe this is where she ended up.”