By Johnny Utah
We parked in front of the Probation Office. My stomach churned. I double checked that the car was locked. We walked over and rang the bell. Trooper Shaw was in the office, he was not in uniform. He strutted up to the door and unlocked it. “I wasn’t sure if you two had the balls to show,” he said. “OK, get in here.”
“Did you both take a piss before you got here?”
“Yes Sir,” we said at the same time.
“OK, just remember it’s a long trip, if you even think you have to go, do it before you leave here. Come on into the back office.”
We went into the back office.
“Empty your pockets. I’m gonna put all your stuff in these two envelopes. All I had was my car keys and driver’s license. Make sure the inventory is right then sign on the bottom line. Belts off too. The transport guard will frisk you before they put you in the back.”
“Time to get you chained up.”
I had butterflies in my stomach.
“You first,” he said to Ryan. He had Ryan put his right-hand palm down and then his left hand palm facing up over his stomach, then put on the handcuffs. Then Trooper Shaw took out a plastic box and put it over the cuffs making them a solid unit. The chain went around Ryan’s waist and then connected the box to the waist chain and the to the leg shackles.
I got exactly the same treatment.
At 9:35 the was a “honk” outside. I could just about see out the back-office door through to the front windows. Sure enough, there was a van with West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation pulled up in front of the Probation Office.
“OK, time to go,” Trooper Shaw said.
Ryan and I shuffled out into the front office, then out into the parking lot, our shackles making a “ching” noise on the asphalt with each step.
“Did you search em?” asked the first West Virginia Officer.
“Yeah, but follow your normal procedures.”
“Move to the side of the van.”
The West Virginia Officer reached inside my pockets and pulled them inside out, went around my beltline, ran down each leg to my ankles. He kept going up into my crotch, making sure he went in firmly. He gave my ass a going over with both hands.
“OK, time to get in, let’s go!”
Ryan and I shuffled to the back of the van. The door opened, revealing an inner metal door with big holes punched in it. Down the middle of the van was a divider of metal. Ryan was put in first on the right. They took him all the way to the back of the van, sat him down and put a seat and shoulder belt on him. I was put on the other side of the divider, same procedure with the seat belt.
The West Virginia guards fiddled around with an inner metal door and finally got it loose and slammed it shut. We were caged. Our view was restricted to looking out of the few holes in the inner door. Then the outer van doors were closed, shutting out the outside world. Ryan and I were in our metal cage, shut off from the world, only able to talk to each other through some small holes punched out where the dividing wall met the ceiling of the van. There was a long wait before we started moving.
I was thinking, “what is taking them so fucking long?” I was able to say to Ryan when are we going to get going, and as soon as I did the van started moving. We had couple of stops here and there, must have been traffic lights. Then a slow buildup of speed. We had hit the highway. We had no idea of time. Ryan and I talked a bit in the beginning, but we eventually stopped and settled into our own thoughts. I fell asleep a few times.
I noticed we were slowing down and making a few turns. I said to Ryan, “I wonder if we’re there?” We stopped and we just sat there in our cage for a while. Then there was the sound of the door lock and light came streaming in, along with nice fresh air.
“OK, we’re stopping to get something to eat. Either of you two gotta piss?”
We both answered yes. I didn’t really need to piss, but I wanted to get out and stretch my legs.
“OK, hang on,” one of the guards said. The door shut and we were back in our isolation. The door opened again, and there was the smell of hamburgers. We were either at a Burger King or McDonald’s. One of the guards crawled in and let Ryan out of his seatbelt and told him to stay seated. The guard got out and then ordered Ryan to slide out slowly. Then it was my turn to slide out and get out of the van. We were parked way in the back of some kind of rest stop or a place with a really big parking lot. There were some RVs and trucks not too far away. Families and truckers going about their business or enjoying their vacation. We were inmates going to jail.
We got one hand uncuffed form our belly chains, which surprised me. My left hand and Ryan’s right hand were free. That little bit of freedom was paid for, however. The guards used a pair of handcuffs to connect our belly chains at the hip. There was about five inches between me and Ryan.
“OK, you two,” one guard said, “get up to the front of the van, no one will see you up there, take a quick piss.”
“I’ll be behind you with my taser.”
Ryan and I shuffled to the front of the van like two guys tied together in some kind of three-legged race at a church picnic. Except we were going to jail. It wasn’t easy but I got my dick, but it took a while to build up the urge to go.
When we were done pissing, we were taken to the back of the van again, the doors were still open.
“We’re goin’ to let you two eat outside. Any fuck ups and it’s back in the van and you’ll get nuthin, understand?”
“Yes Sir,” we both said.
“You two keep your eyes front, no talking just chew and swallow, got it?”
“Yes, Sir,” we both said, and we stood facing toward the inside of the van. We stood there for a while; I had lost all sense of time. One of the guards came up with a McDonald’s bag. We each got a plain hamburger, small fries and a small water. Real hospitality! Using my left hand, I ate my hamburger and drank my water.
“OK, back in the van!” one of the guards shouted. Lunch was over. Back on the road to jail. We went through the procedure of getting into the van and getting strapped in. No more free hand either.
We drove and drove, most of the time we must have been on the interstate judging from the speed we were going. After a while I know I fell asleep. I didn’t try to talk to Ryan too much. I woke up when I could tell we were slowing down and there we a lot of turns. We must be at the jail!
The van stopped and then moved just a bit, then stopped again. There was the sound of doors closing and then the doors were unlocked. My first thought was, “Hey, it’s dark out.” A guard came in and unlocked my seatbelt.
“OK, get out!”
I slid along the bench inside the van. Ryan was helped out first, then me. We were outside standing just inside a vehicle gate. We were cuffed, shackled and in jail! We were escorted into the nearest building marked “In processing.” I looked up and saw a giant sign that said, “The introduction of any contraband into this facility is a felony.” Ryan and I shuffled into the first room we had seen in this new jail. It smelled of new paint and some kind of pine/bleach cleaner.
“Kneel on the bench,” one of the guards said. We had our leg shackles taken off.
“Stand up, turn around.”
We had our belly chains unlocked and cuffs taken off. It was strange not having cuffs and chains on. The paperwork packets on each of us were handed over to a female corrections officer behind a counter.
OK, let’s get your in-processing mug shot first. Ryan went first. He stood up a blue wall with white lines marked of in inches. It was exactly as you see on TV. Look straight ahead, turn to your left, turn to your right. I followed Ryan, no other guys going to jail tonight. I tried to look tough for the mugshot.
We were taken to a bench and told to “sit there until your called.” Eventually a guard came over and took me to a scanner type machine. Time for fingerprints. I put my hands on a screen that digitally took my fingerprints. I was kind of expecting ink and paper fingerprint cards. I’ve been watching too many old movies. Somehow being scanned that way by machine made me feel like I was going through the self-checkout at Target. Just barcode my ass. Next stop was a cold reality.
There were these plastic boxes that looked like milk crates.
“Take off your clothes, everything. Socks and underwear in the blue trash can everything else in the crate.”
We had to sign an inventory for our remaining clothes, keys and our driver licenses. The Property Chief took our separate clothes out of the crate and put them in a red mesh plastic bag hanging from a hanger. Our driver licenses in a manilla envelope when in the red bag too. The Property Chief hit a button on the wall and the bags disappeared on a contraption like you see at a dry cleaner.
We walked over naked to a metal shelf of shower shoes.
“Grab one pair, get em on yer feet!” said the escort guard. We walked around a corner. Now I admit I have a big haircut fetish, but when I saw that lone plastic chair and a guard holding a pair of clippers, I did not get excited in any way. I was aware that the hamburger and fries I had all those hours ago was now sitting like a rock in my stomach. I didn’t have to be ordered, I robotically walked over and sat. The was that electric power “buzz/click” as the clippers were turned on. Starting from the front, my already short hair was buzzed down to stubble, fast. The guard took care to make sure he took care of any stray hairs that had missed the blades of that clipper set to “0.” I got up out of the chair, I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t have to worry about that for long. The guard said, “Go stand at that wall, nose and toes to the wall!”
No problem about what to do. Ryan was next and got the same buzzcut. In just a few minutes we were both at the wall, buzz cut and waiting for what was ever next. “OK, get moving! Go to your right!” Everything seemed to be yelled at this place. A flat concrete floor with a plastic green matting on it was in front of us. I saw the shower room just ahead of us. I knew what was coming. The orders got barked out like an angry dog seeing a stranger:
“Put your hands on top of your head!”
“Face the wall!”
“Squat down and cough hard three times!”
“Put your hands up over your head!”
“Open your mouth, stick a finger in and pull your cheek out to the side, now do the other side of your mouth!”
“Lift up your left foot, OK, put it down. Now lift up your right foot, OK put it down.”
“Lift up yer balls!”
Another guard brought out a big plastic bottle with a handle on it. The guard pumped it up and down a few times then stuck a spray hose on the bottle. “Hold yer breath when I tell you, keep your eyes closed tight, this won’t take long,” the guard said.
I got the spray on my head first, then the chest, and then between my legs. “Turn around and bend over!” A shot of spray right in the ass! “OK, stand up!” was the order. Fuck, it was some kind of stuff to kill lice! “Get in the shower, there’s soap in the wall dispenser!”
I didn’t have to be told twice! Ryan was right behind me.
We got a few minutes under the shower. It was hot. I got all the lice spray off me. “Get out! Get one towel and dry yer asses off quick!” said the guard. “Get over to uniform issue!”
We scampered off to a long metal table. A really bored looking guard tossed us a pair of orange boxers and a pair of orange slide shoes off a shelf. We pulled on boxers.
“The regular quartermaster isn’t here yet, so you’ll have to find yer stuff by yourselves.” At the end of the table was a pile of orange jumpsuits, like a mountain. “Find yer size, quick!” the bored guard said. I fumbled through 4XLs and XSs until I found a XL, the same size as the jumpsuit I have at home.
Home, now there was a thought. I was pretty far away from it right now. Ryan found his size. We shrugged our way into our jumpsuits got into our slides without socks. “Over to the wall,” the guard said, pointing to a wall with height lines painted on it. We got another mug shot taken. I guess this was so they had a before and after pic of us. Coming in in street clothes with hair and after processing, buzzed and in orange inmate jumpsuits. Like processing meat, I thought.
“Grab a mattress pad, one pillow, one sheet, and a blanket, let’s go!”
Ryan and I gathered up our shit and stood there waiting to be told what to do.
“OK,” said another guard, a sergeant, “time to get to your housing unit, stay against the wall don’t cross the yellow line that goes down the middle, and stop when I tell you to stop.”
We walked along a maze of white painted corridors; I was lost. I couldn’t believe how big this place was.
Finally, we got told, “Stop!” We were outside a glass wall, the kind of glass that has a wire mesh in it. This was our new home for the rest of the week. A metal door with a rectangular window opened up, controlled form somewhere we couldn’t see.
“OK, get in the pod.”
We walked into a big open space with six metal tables with metal stools bolted to the floor. On three sides were blue pained doors with numbers. The cells! We went into the middle of the pod. The Sergeant said, “Stop!”
“OK, this is your Pod. It’s Pod A. You are both in cell 12. Go put your stuff in the cell and come back here.”
“Yes, Sir,” we both reflexively replied. Our cell was at the far end of the Pod. We got to the door; it was slid back on an overhead railing. It was really basic. Two metal bunks, a toilet-sink combination right by the cell door, a concrete shelf in the very back of the cell and a narrow window about 4-by-24 inches. I couldn’t see a thing through it. That was it. I got the bottom bunk. My mattress pad slid down on the metal. I threw my pillow and blanket on top of my pad. We got out quick, we were going to have plenty of time to study the inside of our cell. We got back in front of the sergeant.
“Maybe no one told you two, but when you are with a guard, unless you are carrying something or are chained up; you keep your hands behind your back, got it?”
“Yes, Sir.” We did just that. We didn’t want any trouble, not on our first night.
“Since you two inmates got here late, we only got bag lunches on the way up for dinner. The kitchen is supposed to be up for a full test run for breakfast in the morning, but we’ll see.”
“Sir, where are the other inmates?” I asked.
“You two are the first. We expect 20 in the morning for a in-processing exercise.”
“It won’t take too long,” the sergeant said. He must have seen the puzzled look on my face. I was thinking about the haircuts and the showers, that would take a long time for 20 guys.
“I know what you’re thinking,” the sergeant said. “How are we going to do all that showering, haircuts, and the lice spray so fast?”
“Well, we’re not. You two are the only ones to go through that. Trooper Shaw requested that special for you both,” he laughed.
There was another guard coming into the pod with two brown bags — our “dinner.”
“You got 10 minutes to eat,” the Sergeant said. Our first meal in jail was a white bread bologna sandwich with a slice of American yellow cheese. To wash it down was a carton of 1 percent milk and, I was surprised, a really good orange. It didn’t take long for Ryan and me to scarf down our meals. We just looked around the pod while we inhaled our dinner. There wasn’t much just cells and metal tables. There was a TV up on the wall under a metal grill, but it wasn’t on.
“Go get in your cells, it’s light’s out,” the Sergeant said.
“Yes, Sir,” Ryan and I said in unison. The half the pod overhead lights went out. There was no light in our cell except for what was coming in under the door through about a half inch gap between the door and the floor. I didn’t have any idea of what time it was. The in-processing had worn me out and I’d lost all sense of time.
The pod main overhead lights came on, we still had no idea what time it was. The door to our cell slid back.
“Head count! On the line! Let’s go!”
Ryan and I swung out of our bunks. Both of us had slept in our jumpsuits. We got outside our cell and placed our feet on the blue line in front of all the cells.
“OK, the two kitchen managers are here, they need help setting gup for the intake.”
“You two are on kitchen detail in 15 minutes, go get ready.”
I went back to the cell to brush my teeth. Ryan got sent to wait by a door for a pair of rubber boots for us both. Ryan said he had to use the toilet, so I left him in the cell. I went to one of the metal tables in the center of the pod and pulled on the rubber boots. Ridiculous as it sounds, we had to wear these clear plastic hair net things. I didn’t have any hair. We had been shaved down to stubble, but those were their rules. Ryan came out to the table with his boots on. We stood by the door hands behind our backs.
The kitchen was hot. The pod was freezing; they must keep the A/C cranked on high there. One guy in an apron and wearing a paper hat like you see in the old movies came up to us. “I’m the Day Shift Kitchen Manager. It won’t be too bad only 25 meals to prepare.”
“You,” he pointed at me, “will get the trays ready to go on the line.”
“You gotta get ’em out of the tray washer, watch out they get washed at 200 degrees for 15 minutes.” He tossed me a black pair of thick rubber gloves.
He turned to Ryan. “You get to put the first two items on the tray.” Above the metal counter — what the manager called the line — was a picture of how everything was to be put on the tray. I guess you didn’t need to know English on how to set up breakfast.
The tray was divided up into six compartments. A long skinny one on the side for a spork, the square compartments of the same side on the top of the tray and two larger rectangular compartments below that. All the trays go out through that hatch pointing to a metal sliding door. All the empty trays come back trough that one and into the cart. There we sound from outside as I got some trays laid out on the counter. Ryan had to put on these clear plastic gloves and get some ladles ready. There was a knock on the sliding metal hatch.
“CHOW TIME!” rang out. Ryan and I started putting the trays together. Each tray got half a banana, three microwaved pancakes, small ones, a carton of low-fat milk, a dollop of oatmeal, a quarter cup of syrup, and two pats of margarine. Last item on was a spork. The Kitchen Supervisor said, “after we’re done serving you get 10 minutes for your breakfast. You eat over there standing up, but you can have extras if you want, but you can’t take any food back to your cell, that will get you a week in the hole. Got it?”
“Yes, Sir,” Ryan and I said.
Then, looking around the kitchen, I saw a clock for the first time in this whole jail. It was 6:15 a.m. I thought it was 9 a.m. or something.
To be continued …