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We came, we saw, we sat down in the streets and raised hell. Now we're...

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

As long as civil disobedience continues it might be a good idea to collect
reports on the quality of jail facilities to which we might find ourselves
sentenced from time to time. Perhaps we could develop a comparative rating
scale, with a five star facility the ultimate in comfort, inmate/guard
friendliness, food, and activities.

With that in mind Iím submitting the following notes for any who have a
fondness for data bases.

I spent 5 days at the Elmwood Correctional facilities and have previously
wiled away 3 days at the Marin County Jail when it was known as ìThe Farmî,
(sadly torn down and replaced by one of those godawful modern
and efficient structures) so I have little to go on in the way of
comparison other than to say that Elmwood ranked far below Marin in nearly
all respects. Most particularly food.

Age is an important factor at Elmwood. If you are over 50 (Iím 67) you will
be placed in special minimum security housing, affectionately dubbed the
ìbed-wettersî barracks presumably for the incontinent as well as
incompetent. I found myself in the company of 24 mellow inmates of mixed
races with whom friendship was easily established. In such facilities, the
ìIî immediately becomes a ìweî.

ìGuard friendlinessî was mixed. Most seemed to carry out their assigned
duties with the indifference of an average worker on an assembly line
toward their product. A very few seemed actually kindly disposed toward us,
while some others took obvious pleasure in making the life of an inmate a
little more miserable.

I have only one thing to say about meals. Awful and Iím not picky about
food. Breakfasts were at 4:30 AM, lunches at 10:30 AM, and dinner at 4:30
PM. A bit of shock to a late riser like myself, but it doesnít take long to
get into the routine. What takes longer to adjust to is being part of a
process in which a calculated number of calories are administered to a
maximum number of sentient animals in the most modern and efficient time
saving manner. Thus some six or eight hundred inmates are metronomed out of
their barracks to form a long continuous moving line that proceeds to the
to and through a stainless steel feeding enclosure, only stopping briefly
to pass some edible contents from a tray into the stomach. One then resumes
a place in this ever moving line (no food allowed to be taken) back to the
barracks. The whole ordeal takes about 15 minutes.

The food itself was very plain, with little to distinguish one meal from
another. A typical meal would include baloney. Many meals included
baloney. It had a curious purple cast and tasted as though it had been
lightly washed in a weak disinfectant. It would come with a couple of
slices of bread, a small package of cheese crackers or something similar,
an apple or tangerine, a plastic bag of milk, some raw cabbage with about a
teaspoon of Italian dressing, and maybe a fruit cup. Meals were conducted
in silence.

As for creature comforts, we were given two blankets, two sheets, and a
thin foam mattress to place on an iron bed frame. The foam had small effect
but my fellow inmates were happy to show me ways of cobbling together
materials for a pillow and mattress supplement. The barracks had heat and
hot showers and surprisingly the ubiquitous tv was NOT always on and there
were plenty of books to read in the ìdormî. It is important to note two
things. One: You are not allowed to bring anything in with you, even
reading glasses if they are metal framed. Two: Commissary privileges are
once a week on Sundays. (I never got to use it).

I had the curious coincidence of reading a book (Best Essays of 2003) which
had thoughtfully been left by Ed Ehmke one of our ìLockeed 52î!! He had
apparently used the organization ìFriends Outsideî that has an arrangement
with the prison. Thanks Ed!

So rating by category I put:

ìInmate Friendlinessî ÖÖÖÖÖÖÖ. 5
ìGuard friendlinessîÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖ..3
food ÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖ1
Creature ComfortÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖ..3

I should probably add another category. ìWas the overall experience worth it?î

Speaking for myself Iíd say definitely yes (though I think it might depend
on length of stay). I caught a mild version of the flu toward the last day
or two.

To describe the actual learning experience would take many pages, much
dealing with various aspects of power, control and resistance, class
division, solidarity, and so on.

For this I have nothing but gratitude to those hard workers in the affinity
groups that allowed me to gain this enrichment. Thanks all.

Bill Hard
January 12, 2004

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