Sunday, May 17, 2009

Saturday at the Towers.

In LA County, there are several jail facilities that house prisoners who are either awaiting trial or serving out county jail sentences. There are 3 facilities in Downtown LA; Men's Central Jail, and what are referred to as the Twin Towers; Towers 1 and 2.

Normally, when attorneys go to jails to visit their clients, they go during the week. However, since I live only 10 minutes from Downtown, every so often I'll visit a client on a Saturday. Yesterday, I had to take a promotional exam for work. Even though we were allotted 4 hours within which to complete the exam, I was done in 45 minutes, and afterwards went Downtown to visit a client.

The Towers are relatively new; they were completed less than 10 years ago, so they are not fraught with all of the problems that you hear about across the street at the Men's Central Jail. Lots of light, modern amenities, the building looks pretty plush for a jail.

The downside of seeing a client on a weekend is that it's the same time that inmate's families are allowed to visit their loved ones behind bars. So, I have to deal with a really large crowd of people who are also visiting.

For me, it's really easy to come do a visit. Because I am a Public Defender, I get to park for free by only flashing my PD badge. The general public has to shell out $7 for a space. And if they get here late in the day, there are no spaces to be had. Once I park, I walk into the tower that my client is housed at, walk right to the counter, provide my ID and my visiting slip, and I am allowed to go upstairs immediately to wait for my client. Everyone else has to wait in a 30+ minute line just to get to the counter. Once at the counter, they fill out a slip, and have to show the deputy ID, and then the deputy verifies the ID, and begins the process of setting up the visit. The visitor is told to wait in the waiting area until their name is called. The ones who arrive first thing in the morning wait about 1/2 an hour to make their visit. Those who arrive later wait longer. Once they go up for their visit, they are only allotted 30 min. to talk to their loved ones. Factoring in the fact that other inmates have to leave first, the visit usually is closer to 20 minutes. That's it. Whereas I can stay as long as I want with a client.

For me, visiting clients on Saturday is just an exercise in people watching. So many people go visit loved ones in jail. I see lots of wives, girlfriends, and baby's mommas there, and in various states of dress. As I was driving back home, I saw a very attractive young woman, couldn't have been older than 20, wearing leggings, knee high leather boots, and a pretty expensive looking shift. She was headed for the Towers. I was curious as to who she could be visiting.

I see a lot of mothers. Lots of inmates are in their upper teens and low 20's. A life of crime is usually for the young, and there are a lot of mothers in that line. And you know that this isn't their first time there. They go every weekend. It is amazing to think about having to see your child only once a week, and only behind bars. And then the children. Lots of children. From newborns to teenagers. These women have no one to babysit, so they bring the kids with them. And some bring the kids so their father can see them, even behind glass. I find myself wondering what it must be like to talk to your father behind glass; having to use a phone to hear him. What if you're a young boy, and you've spent more time seeing your father behind glass than in the flesh? What does that do to the boy?

And then, you're upstairs in the visiting floors. It's a long room, with 6 booths. Each booth has a phone, so you can talk to your loved one. In that room, there are usually 20 or so people, all taking turns talking to their loved one. One person is on the phone, and every one else is waiting for their turn; siblings, children, parents. It's really loud, because everyone can hear everyone else's conversation. Usually, I get to visit my client in a private booth reserved for attorneys. That way, I don't hear anyone else's conversation. But, there have been times that I had to talk to my client in the main room, surrounded by all the other visitors. I listen to "I love you"s, and conversations about kids and parents, about how the rent is going to be paid, about what the lawyer is doing or not doing, about when the inmate is getting out. All done behind glass.

And as I leave, and walk to my car and drive away, to my nice suburban life, I wonder what will become of me; I've spent my professional life with these people and their families. I know more about human misery, frailty and suffering than most people. And I wonder how that changes me. I've spent more time in jail facilities than most religious people have spent inside of church. I've heard such stories of sadness, anger, desperation, stupidity, recklessness and pure evil. How can I remain unchanged?

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