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MORE THAN 20 YEARS AFTER A FEDERAL LAWSUIT, KNOX COUNTY OFFICIALS FINALLY ADDRESS JAIL OVERCROWDING By LaRue Cook | cook@knoxvoice.com

22 Knoxville Voice

November 13, 2008


FEATURE I gather it’s about 3 a.m., though I’m not sure because my hands are cuffed behind me and I can’t reach my cell phone to check the clock. My estimate is based on the fact that not much time seems to have elapsed since my friends and I exited Backroom after the bartender announced “last call” for alcohol. Patrons are streaming from the various clubs and pubs throughout the Old City, and I wonder how many of them will soon be behind the wheel of an automobile, likely on their way to any number of local breakfast joints to sober up before bedtime. One of my buddies is sitting in the back of the police cruiser next to me, while the two other guys who’d been pitching horseshoes with us earlier in the night discuss the situation with the officer who arrested us. “Maybe they won’t take us to jail,” my friend says. I see no need to respond. Besides, I find it hard to feign optimism in even the most optimal circumstances, which these are not. I’ll spare my telling of the events leading up to this current predicament — it’d just be the drunk vs. the

cop, anyway. I’ll mention only that we encountered the officer as I was hailing a cab while waiting for a pizza from DaVinci’s. Here is what the officer later reported in his affidavit of complaint: The defendant [23-year-old male: LaRue Cook] committed the offense of public intoxication … on Saturday, July, 12 at about 02:55 hrs. The defendant was standing on the sidewalk on Central Avenue near Willow with another male who was yelling and screaming. Affiant approached the defendant and discovered he was extremely intoxicated. The defendant had bloodshot, watery eyes, a strong odor of alcoholic beverage about his breath and was using a vehicle to support his weight. The defendant was a danger to himself and others … A citation was not issued because the person is intoxicated and a danger to himself.

The cruiser rolls forward, thus beginning my roughly 35-hour weekend in the Knox County Detention Center on Maloneyville Road. Everyday at 8 a.m., without fail, Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, Information and Technology Director Dick Moran, Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones and countless

other county and city employees receive an e-mail in their inbox with the subject line “Jail Status.” Attached is a rather unassuming chart listing the current head counts at each of the county’s three jail facilities. On Oct. 30, 2008, 841 prisoners have eaten breakfast at the Knox County Detention Facility on Maloneyville Road; 178 inmates are sitting at the downtown Knox County Jail located in the lower depths of the City County Building on Main Street; and 67 are resting their heads in the Knox County Work Release Center just across Maloneyville from the detention facility. At 5 p.m., another e-mail will circulate, only this one will also be sent to U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips. And if the downtown jail has one body more than its 215-person capacity, the county will receive a bill of $5,000 a day until the count returns to capacity. So, at least on this day, Mayor Ragsdale and Co. can rest easy, no scrambling to shuffle inmates through the system, moving them hither and yonder to appease the court. The official capacity for the three Knox County facilities at any given time is 1,269 inmates (964 at Maloneyville, 215 downtown and 90 housed at work release). A new pod opened last August, adding 192 beds to the Knox County Detention Facility and bringing

it to the current capacity. But that number can be misleading because guidelines exist for housing inmates, rules stating minimum security can’t be mixed with maximum security, for instance. Such is the stressful protocol for Knox County, home to a prison system long overcrowded and one that must comply with federal mandates stemming from an inmate lawsuit reaching back two decades. Overcrowding had been the norm in prisons and jails throughout the state, though the problem was often overlooked even in Knox County — until Wayne Dillard Carver, a convicted murderer sentenced to life, filed suit in 1986 claiming the overcrowded conditions at the downtown Knox County Jail, then the primary facility, violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Not long before Carver filed his suit, the Federal Court had required the state to offline hundreds of beds in the Middle District because of litigation in the similar case of Grubbs vs. Bradley at a time when the Tennessee felon population was continuing to grow. Knox County countered by blaming the state for the backup, saying Tennessee had severely curtailed the acceptance of felons from county jails to federal facilities. Carver’s attorney John Eldridge simply decided to sue them both. When the court agreed with Carver,

November 13, 2008

Knoxville Voice 23


FEATURE

KNOX COUNTY PRISONS SYSTEM POPULATION ON OCT. 30, 2008: 1,086 KNOX COUNTY DETENTION FACILITY: 841 KNOX COUNTY JAIL: 178 KNOX COUNTY WORK RELEASE: 67 Knox County was forced to rectify the situation. The late Senior U.S. District Judge James Jarvis was given the responsibility of supervising the county’s progress and in a little more than a decade at least three overcrowding assessments were performed, not to mention the construction of the $33 million facility on Maloneyville Road in 1994. Sheriff Jones made a controversial move near the end of this October, relocating the entire male population from the downtown facility to Maloneyville and busing the females from Maloneyville to downtown. The sheriff has been mum on the move citing “safety concerns,” but District Attorney Randy Nichols confirms that only women are currently housed at the downtown facility. “The Sheriff did it for managerial purposes,” he says. Sheriff Jones could not be reached for comment because he was away at a conference, according to his office’s spokesperson Martha Dooley. (Dooley also informed KV that tours of any of the jail facilities have been discontinued. KV spoke to County Commissioner Dave Wright, who represents the district containing the Maloneyville facility, and he said he toured the jail not long after the controversial shift of male and female inmates. “The Maloneyville facility truly is state-of-the-art,” says Wright, who lives less than three miles from the jail.) Still, when Mayor Ragsdale took office in 2002, almost 20 years after the initial suit was filed resulting in Maloneyville’s construction, the county remained in arrears, blatantly ignoring capacity constraints — and the court. “There were just too many people at the downtown facility, so we filed a motion for contempt against [former] Sheriff Tim Hutchinson,” says Eldridge, who once

received daily head counts by fax before Moran’s IT office brought the county into the 21st century. Judge Jarvis set the $5,000-a-day fine for a county that continues to list a budget deficit of more than $600 million. “So we keep them out of downtown,” says Moran, a voting member of the Justice Committee Mayor Ragsdale subsequently formed and charged with remedying the plague of overcrowding. “If we see that number go over 215 at 8 in the morning, then they better be getting them the hell out of there before we get fined.” How to stop the e-mails and just where the “hell” to put the inmates has become the sole task of the Justice Committee, including Knox County judges, prosecutors, defenders, police officers and probation workers. Mayor Ragsdale commissioned yet another assessment of the prison system by the California-based Institute for Law and Policy Planning last summer. Several questions were raised: the efficiency of the county’s pre-trial processes; faulty court systems and tardiness in the collection of court fees; and the sheer number of arrests made by county and city police when a citation would suffice under state statute. “We’re crowded out at Maloneyville right now,” says Moran in his office a level above the Knox County Jail in the City County Building. “I would say that if we don’t manage our population soon, well, we could easily be in another separate lawsuit out there.”

“Excuse me, sir. What are we being charged with?” I ask the officer driving the cruiser, the thought crossing my mind that the arresting officer may have also slapped us with disorderly conduct, a claim I would contend is unfounded.

“We’re crowded out at Maloneyville right now. I would say that if we don’t manage our population soon, well, we could easily be in another separate lawsuit out there.” — Dick Moran, Knox County director of Information and Technology

“You’ll have to ask the arresting officer,” he replies flatly. The arresting officer is still on Central Avenue, so I lean back and count the green mile markers as we drive in search of the paddy wagon to join about 10 other miscreants on our trip to Maloneyville. Upon our arrival, I’m relieved of my belongings and searched several times. We enter one behind the other into the facility and are directed to separate shower stalls. Based on my knowledge of movies and television, I mentally prepare for the delousing powder and a shock stream of cold water. “Strip and put these on,” the officer yells. I do as I’m told. “Put those back on, dumb ass,” the officer says as he throws my boxers back in my face. We all exit the stalls wearing prisonissued, black-and-white striped jumpsuits and blue loafers. I spend the next five hours in a holding cell with mostly pretrial misdemeanants booked on charges of driving under the influence and public intoxication. The room is white concrete, though one wall is Plexiglas, allowing officers to oversee the goings-on inside the cell, which currently holds roughly 25 inmates who share one bathroom. A sack breakfast of two gas-station-sized bowls of Cheerios and one high-school-cafeteria-sized pint of milk is handed out some time after 6 a.m. I learn quickly that a roll of toilet paper is a hot commodity in jail — to be used for wiping and as a pillow. My body slouches down to the floor, and as I lay my head on the TP underneath a metal bleacher bordering the room, I ask my friend to keep

KNOX COUNTY PRISON SYSTEM TOTAL CAPACITY: 1,269 KNOX COUNTY DETENTION FACILITY (MALONEYVILLE ROAD): 964 KNOX COUNTY JAIL (CITY COUNTY BUILDING): 215 KNOX COUNTY WORK RELEASE CENTER (MALONEYVILLE ROAD): 90 20 Knoxville Voice

November 13, 2008

a look-out so I can shut my eyes. Somewhere around 10:30 a.m. I rise to my last name being called. An officer guides me into a room with another officer seated in front of a computer and a telephone on the wall next to him. He proceeds to read my charges, telling me I can bond myself out for some 80-odd dollars or hold out for arraignment. I’ll be released on my own recognizance, granted I plead guilty, because I have no prior arrests. He also informs me even if I bond out, my time will only be cut a “couple of hours.” “What time will I be out if I just hold out?” I ask. “You should make the 6 [p.m.] arraignment and be out shortly after,” he replies matter of fact. I save my money. Instead of fingerprints and a mug shot, I’m shuffled back into the holding cell. Meanwhile, my friend gets the works: phone call, fingerprints, mug shot and his own cell to await arraignment and classification. I’m left behind. The Initial Jail Crowding Assessment is a 41-page document (excluding appendices) that details more than 50 ways Knox County can address prison overcrowding and the related budget concerns. Alan Kalmanoff, executive director of ILPP, presented his report at a heated meeting last July with the entire Justice Committee in attendance. He told the committee that its officers needed to give citations in lieu of arrests more often; a downtown booking center would keep officers from hauling arrestees some 12 miles to the Maloneyville facility for booking, saving $1 million a year in transportation costs; courts should set up morning and afternoon sessions rather than ending the day at 2 p.m.; and court clerks should implement the use of credit cards to pay court costs. “From my personal standpoint, there’s merit in everything that is listed in that report,” says Moran, who served in various capacities for the Federal Bureau of Investigation before becoming project manager for the Knoxville-Knox County Criminal Justice Information System in 1978. “If you ask others on the committee, it’s a lousy report. “Either way, we found what we thought


FEATURE

NUMBER OF CITATIONS ISSUED IN 2007: KNOX COUNTY: 4,289 DAVIDSON COUNTY: 32,316 NUMBER OF ARRESTS MADE IN 2007: KNOX COUNTY: 26,122 DAVIDSON COUNTY: 43,418 COST PER DAY TO HOUSE AN INMATE IN KNOX COUNTY: $74.03 to be 10 proposals that would have the most impact and be least controversial from that study. Then we met with the full committee and put them before the judge in June.” They came to a consensus and two of the short-term goals listed in the report will come to fruition in November. According to Moran, a secondary booking facility will be housed in the City County Building, on-line Nov. 12, where people who receive misdemeanor citations, usually minor offenses such as shoplifting, will be processed within two weeks of receiving a citation and put directly in front of a judge the same day — a “onestop shop.” Previously, people issued citations for lowlevel misdemeanors were summoned to Maloneyville Road for booking at a much later

date. This led to defendants failing to appear for lack of transportation or other “excuses,” forcing officers to make “unnecessary” arrests on a charge of failure to appear. An automated phone system is also being installed to remind misdemeanants of their booking date, because many say they simply “forget.” “We knew we had about 700 people who were in jail last year who wouldn’t have been in there if they hadn’t failed to appear,” says Moran, whose committee went before Judge Phillips in June and must return in December to discuss progress. “If we can reduce that number, then we can reduce how many days they serve in jail.” When Sheriff Jones was asked about the prospect of a secondary booking facility at the presentation of the report last July, he said, “it

requires a major relocation of equipment and manpower and a new facility to house it.” Sheriff Jones was likely still reeling from county commission’s apparent mishandling of the property on State Street, which the county purchased in 1998 for nearly $3 million. Dooley, speaking on behalf of the sheriff, says the Knox County Sheriff’s Office expected a downtown intake center, a place where all inmates would be processed rather than just those receiving citations, halting the countless trips to Maloneyville Road. (The more time officers spend traveling to and from East Knoxville for booking or waiting at various locations to meet the paddy wagon, the less time is spent keeping the public safe.) Instead, county commission remained in a stalemate over the property and recently voted to sell it after a decade of indecision. “Sheriff Jones does agree that the Justice Committee has taken the necessary steps to assess the overcrowding situation,” Dooley says. “The ILPP report, however, does also say by now there should be two more pods, which haven’t been built, and we’ll have to wait and see how [the secondary booking facility and the automated phone system] perform before we comment.” Public Defender Mark Stephens, also a member of the Justice Committee, is rather skeptical either of the implementations will curb overcrowding, especially when police fail to give citations in the first place. “[For example] we want to be able to make 5,000 arrests but have a prison population of 750. If we have an extra jail sitting empty to put them in, then that’s fine,” says Stephens, who filed for relief in June, asking the court to stop assigning his office misdemeanor cases because its some 20 lawyers can no longer handle approximately 12,000 cases spread across seven courts. “[The sheriff’s office] will say it’s all for public safety, and I’m not against safety or law enforcement. But let’s follow the state statute that says issue citations when arrest isn’t necessary.” Dooley says 26,122 arrests were made in 2007 while 4,289 citations were issued. As of Nov. 4, 2008, 20,707 arrests had been made and 4,552 citations issued. (Donna Blackbourne, director of criminal justice planning in Nashville, says officers in her jurisdiction made approximately 43,418 arrests but issued approximately 32,316 citations in 2007.) Kalmanoff, who has performed jail assessments for around 350 counties since 1979, claims building new jails is often the wrong answer and can actually be a mistake. “Building more jails in many cases fans the flames of more overcrowding,” says Kalmanoff over the phone from his office in California. In 2006, almost 75 percent of the prison population in Knox County consisted of pretrial detainees, “largely low-risk offenders … not a threat to public safety … who are in custody only to ensure their appearance while awaiting case processing,” Kalmanoff’s report

reads. “We sit in these Justice Committee meetings and watch all these people walk lock-step and talk about the same solutions that haven’t worked,” says Stephens. “We could solve this immediately if we’d get off our ass and go and release 200 pre-trial misdemeanors, which would not jeopardize safety in the least.” The report also suggests “processing new arrestees in less than six hours and releasing 30 percent of all incoming arrestees brought into incarceration” for lack of threat to public safety. “The math goes like this: How many people are arrested, and then how many days they remain in jail,” Kalmanoff says. “The second part of that isn’t overcrowding, but is called ‘jail bloating,’ because of inefficiencies in the pre-trial processes. We’ve shortened the stay of pre-trial misdemeanors in some jails by just one day and emptied an entire wing of the jail. That was the case in Knox County — it was a slowness of the various processes within the system.” For FY 2007-08, it cost the county $74.03 a day to house an inmate (the U.S. government reimburses the county $57 for holding federal inmates while the state pays $35 for its inmates). “Something’s got to give,” says DA Nichols. “We’re spending $100,000 a day to lock these people up.” One of the short-term goals listed in the Justice Committee’s proposal is an “inmate action plan” for when major overcrowding crises arise. The plan would proactively manage the inmate population level so when the 8 a.m. count goes over, the sheriff would know exactly who has, say, two days left of a 30-day sentence, can be released and given an electronic monitoring device to serve out the rest of his or her time in the community. (Knox County taxpayers bought 40 of those electronic monitoring devices, but only eight were in use when the Justice Committee submitted its quarterly report to Judge Phillips in June. Stephens says his clients can’t afford them at a cost of $10 a day.) “I would say so far a lot of what we’ve done is simply cosmetic, and we really haven’t done much to improve or fix our procedures,” says Moran. “I think if we implemented the inmate action plan then the judge would probably be very grateful to resolve the case.” Releasing inmates back into the community is always risky business. If an inmate waiting out just one day on his sentence is let out and kills someone, the county is held responsible. Which is why Moran, Sheriff Jones, DA Nichols and Public Defender Stephens are working to assess their options, although Stephens wonders if an inmate action plan is actually looking at the person being released or merely the number on the prison uniform. “The committee doesn’t understand who these people are,” Stephens says. “What may work with one may not always work with November 13, 2008

Knoxville Voice 21


FEATURE another, and when you start making sweeping broad strokes, it creates more issues. “What they refuse to recognize is that the people I represent live in a state of constant crisis. The fact of the matter is that having court in the morning is not even in their top three or four crises; it doesn’t even register on their meter.”

The group of young people that had populated the cell when I first arrived is dwindling. Two African-American men on weapons charges enter and a 20-something, barrel-chested white male with teardrops tattooed down one side of his face awakes from his long slumber. Another middleaged white male calling himself “Tumbleweed” shows up and says he was released the night before. “I was just about to take a sip out of my bottle of vodka and they picked me up again,” he complains. The bathroom floor is flooded, but I’m not sure if I’m standing in urine or toilet water. Time crawls by. I’m officially processed by two guards who are nice enough, but do take a couple jabs at me (“LaRue, what the hell kind of name is that?”). I pay it no mind; glad I’m finally one step closer to a cell and arraignment. When I return to the holding cell, a young white male, no older than 21, with scraggly black hair matted to his face, is acting a bit odd. In the situation I figure it best to ignore him. Not 10 minutes later, as I rest on the metal bench with the rock-hard back, the young man goes limp and falls face first, banging his head on the icy, white concrete. Blood encircles him immediately and his body is convulsing. One of the inmates pounds on the Plexiglas to alert the guards. They rush in but I see them do nothing more than grab him up by the shirt collar and dangle him there as we’re told to leave the holding cell. The female inmates, much fewer in number than the men, are uprooted from their holding cell and the 15 of us are crammed into the tight space. I never know what becomes of the convulsing young man. For lunch I was given a cold bologna sandwich, a bag of chips, an apple and

another carton of milk. It’s now past 6 p.m. and the seizure fiasco has set all of our schedules back, so the officers decide that rather than send those of us who have been processed on through, we’ll get another sack for supper. I empty out more of the same, except we get a dessert of animal crackers. Seven o’clock ticks by when I step outside the holding cell once again, this time to receive my linens, toiletries and shower shoes. I’m worried that I’ll be spending the night and I look to “tear drop” who learns I’m merely in on a “PI.” (He’s wanted in another county and is facing a five- to 10-year sentence on various charges.) “Hey, officer, dude’s only on a PI, been in here since early this morning,” he pipes up in my defense. “Well, he better hope he makes the midnight arraignment,” the officer says. The Knox County Detention Facility is one of the best-run jails in the state — auditors from the American Correctional Association evaluated KCDF in May and rewarded it 100 percent on mandatory standards and 99 percent on non-mandatory standards, although the auditors suggested the “intake center should be larger given that nearly 30,000 inmates are processed through the area yearly.” “It’s not correct to say a well-run jail is not an overcrowded jail,” says Kalmanoff of his study. “I assessed the first direct-supervision jail in California, and it had a capacity of around 300, but it got up to 1,200 and was still running safely. There could be a jail that’s half-empty and not be running well. “It’s not up to the jail to determine its capacity; it’s up to the county to create a cap. Jails are residual; they’re on the receiving end.” In 2006, 2,826 individuals were booked into the Knox County prison system two or more times; 1,051 were booked in three or more times; and 395 were booked in four or more times. Anywhere from 18 to 22 percent of Knox County’s prison population is mentally ill, according to members of the Justice Committee, and countless continue to experience drug and alcohol addictions and homelessness once released. At the top of the committee’s list of 10

IN 2006, 2,826 INDIVIDUALS WERE BOOKED INTO THE KNOX COUNTY PRISON SYSTEM TWO OR MORE TIMES; 1,051 WERE BOOKED IN THREE OR MORE TIMES; AND 395 WERE BOOKED IN FOUR OR MORE TIMES. 22 Knoxville Voice

November 13, 2008

“If I were to grade us on our progress, it would be high. But if I were to grade us on our speed, it would be low.” — Knox County District Attorney Randy Nichols priorities is a Knox County Crisis Center, where the needs of those with mental illness or drug and alcohol addiction would be given prevention treatment rather than locked up downtown or at Maloneyville. When the committee met with Judge Phillips in June, it tentatively targeted the building currently housing St. Mary’s Hospital off Broadway, which Mercy Health Partners will close when it builds a new facility downtown. “We would like to set up a crisis center to take them over in lieu of jail, but we just don’t have anywhere to take them and the jail has become a melting pot for the mentally ill and homeless,” says the committee’s special master Chuck Burk, a private lawyer not paid by the county. “A lot of these people come in on citation offenses, but they’re mentally ill so police don’t feel comfortable leaving them out on the street. One of our largest bills is the drug bill for the medication these people need to take.” Bills have been difficult to pay and funds hard to come by in nearly every facet of government from the city to the county to the state to the federal level. President-elect Barack Obama will enter the Oval Office in the midst of one of the gravest economic crisis

in nearly 80 years, while Gov. Phil Bredesen had to cut some $468 million from his FY 2007-08 proposed budget and continues to tighten it as state sales tax revenues plummet along with the stock market. Recent state budget cuts led to the loss of 25 beds at Lakeshore Mental Health Institute and around 30 positions being eliminated after the state’s recent employee buyout plan, blocking more and more mentally ill individuals from treatment and leaving them on the street. The 2007 Annual Report from the Homeless Management Information System in Knoxville reveals the total homeless population is up more than 400 individuals from 2006 to 2007 and 75 new chronically homeless cases have been entered into the system during the same time frame. Knox Area Rescue Ministry’s Web site lists more than 9,500 nights of shelter in the month of September 2008 alone. DA Nichols says the Justice Committee went to Nashville asking for aid in creating a crisis center but was denied. Now the committee is attempting in the furture to secure funds from the city and county by fitting the crisis center into Mayor Ragsdale and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam’s Ten-Year


FEATURE

AVERAGE FUNDS AVAILABLE FOR A COURT-APPOINTED CASE: $1,000 AVERAGE FEES FOR A CASE IN PRIVATE SECTOR: $10,000-$40,000 Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. “If I were to grade us on our progress, it would be high,” says Nichols. “But if I were to grade us on our speed, it would be low.” Sheriff Jones and his staff at the Knox County Detention Facility have put in place 90-day drug and alcohol treatment programs that his office says have been effective. Burk and the committee contend that an entire pod needs to be devoted to this type of treatment rather than merely on an inmate-toinmate basis. “Often times these people will be treated then sent back out into the general population of the jail; we want them to eat, sleep and breathe treatment,” Burk says. “We’re working toward developing a system that operates within itself: If you don’t cooperate with treatment you’re sent back out into general population, but if you do complete the program successfully, then you have leverage with the courts for a shortening of your sentence.” Representatives of Helen Ross McNabb will continue to meet with the Justice Committee and discuss how to structure these treatment programs and the proposed crisis center, but the current system is supervised mostly by prison employees, Public Defender Stephens says. “We need to address these mental health issues and these drug and alcohol issues — if not, we’re going to continue to cycle them in and out,” says Stephens, who frequents the Maloneyville facility to speak with his clients and was seen there recently when KV made a visit. “In theory, the crisis center is a great idea, but when you have jailors designing and implementing it, then it’s not going to be as successful. They say a lot of treatment is going on out there right now, but it’s jailors implementing it. “You sit there and put someone in jail and then turn around and tell them once they’re in, ‘we’re your friends,’ they don’t buy that.” Stephens says “90 percent of the time” the Justice Committee spends its meetings discussing “ways to make money.” Many of Stephens’ clients are declared indigent and aren’t required to pay court costs because the law says no indigent person can be jailed for such an offense. His appointed cases are usually capped at $1,000 while cases in the private sector can cost between $10,000 and $40,000 in total fees. But the Justice Committee, especially Moran, would be interested to see what might transpire if Knox County implemented a similar procedure to one of its neighbors in dealing with an indigent defendant who comes before the judge.

“Judge Bill Brewer in Blount County does ‘Pay Day’ twice a month,” says Moran, who went to witness the event. “People don’t have a lot of money, but I grew up believing there are consequences for your actions. You can’t jail for failure to pay court costs but you can for failure to pay the small misdemeanor fine. So Judge Brewer will put them in contempt when they fail to pay either. “I told him, ‘We’ve got a jail overcrowded already.’ He called his jail to see how many actually stayed overnight: None. Mark Stephens says that’s illegal; our judges argue that it’s circumventing the law.” (Judge Brewer says his court gives defendants ample opportunity before resorting to confinement, though he adds his county is one of the most active in the state when it comes to collection of fees.) As predicted, Stephens submits his rebuttal: “You can talk all you want, but a lot of these people just don’t have any money,” he says. “If they do have money and have to decide whether to buy food or pay court costs, then, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to buy food. Or I’ll go buy beer because it’s the only way I can get through this hell. “But we don’t want to talk about that — we want to talk about automated phone systems and electronic monitoring bracelets.”

The long corridors are immaculate. A bright strip of color runs the length of each white wall of the hallways we pass through. “Walking the mile,” one inmate bellows out, referencing a famous Tom Hanks film and drawing a few chuckles from the long line of us headed to our pod. We arrive and are given blue mats akin to what a toddler tumbler might use for practice rolls. The officer on duty points me to my cell on the upper level. I enter and the door locks behind me. There are no bars; I peer out through a narrow window into the cellblock, watching as each member of my “crew” is assigned. A metal toilet in the cell also has a water fountain attachment, and for the first time, I drink liquid other than milk. The remainder of the cell consists of a metal seat with a little table attached, a mirror and the metal bed frame jutting out from the wall. I lay my blue mat inside the frame, wrapping it in the sheets I was issued. I pace the cell, do sit-ups and push-ups and strain every few minutes to see the lone clock in the cellblock. This routine continues for the next five hours, until 1 a.m. Sunday, when any hope

of being released before dawn has left along with my friend, who is released around midnight, more than 24 hours after we’d had our first beer on Friday. Sleep comes in half-hour intervals, and the sinking feeling of spending the night sets in. Breakfast is served early again. The banana and milk are all I can stomach — the oatmeal and eggs are edible but I consider breaking the cell window with the biscuit. At about 9 a.m., a voice comes over the intercom in my cell telling me it’s time to be arraigned. The officer advises me to plead guilty because I’ll just be out court costs (roughly $160) and set free. I do as I’m told, sure to say my “yes sirs” and “no sirs” to the magistrate, who is broadcast live on a television screen across the table from four others and me. At 11 a.m., I walk “the mile” back, once straying too far to the middle of the hall — “What the hell are you doing? Get back against that wall.” When I reach my destination, a female officer returns

my belongings and I’m allowed to put my civilian clothes back on. Other inmates, still sporting their jumpsuits, are returning to the downtown facility to await trial. Just one other male, who says he’s 20, is being released back into society along with me. I leave the same way I arrived — in the back of a paddy wagon. I want to get a sense of our return route, but all I can decipher is that we’re moving at a high rate of speed, likely on the interstate, and sunlight is streaming in through the few cracks of the wagon. (A month later I’m on the tee box at Three Ridges Golf Course and notice the jail in the distance.) We pull into the garage on the lower level of the City County Building downtown. The 20-year-old, two young females and I open the door out onto Hill Avenue. I give the guy a dollar to make a phone call and give the others an equal amount, figuring they can split it. The sun is high in the sky and it’s past 1 p.m. I trudge up Walnut Street and make a left at Cumberland Avenue. I haven’t showered in more than two days; the sweat is beading on my forehead. I remove my shirt and pick up my pace. Which turns into a jog. Then an all-out sprint as I pray my friend is at his apartment.

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