Letters From Jail

Time is one thing prisoners have plenty of. What to do with all that time?
When they're not conjuring diabolical plots to steal county-issued underwear, some of them write to us.

What follows is a mere sampling of the prose, poems, diatribes, sketches (there's even a "restaurant review") sent to New Times by inmates of the Maricopa County jail system in the past six months. Some are funny and inventive. Some are disturbing. Some are poignant. The poetry is dreadful.

All this correspondence was unsolicited. The letters have been edited for clarity in some cases, and for spelling in most cases. Names of jail employees have been deleted.

It's Just Not Fare
. . . For five months now I've been given certain foods with my meals that have printed expiration dates on them as late as August '95--foods such as marshmallow munchies, weight watcher ranch snacks and beefsticks.

It is my belief along with most other inmates that nearly all the food we are given is donated. Most meals (I use the term meals loosely) we are served are quite ridiculous. The dinner before last was a soft pretzel with barbecue sauce poured over it. Last night was the same as most nights . . . rice and beans. We've been getting these tiny paper cups with about a spoonful of Jell-O or gelatin with all three meals for about a month now. Before that it was whole cucumbers (without any way to cut them or slice them).

At least three times a week here at Towers there is a most foul odor pumped in through the swamp-cooler vents. The putrid stench is enough to make us sometimes gag and even throw up. Each instance will last 45 minutes to an hour (and) . . . will have all us inmates breathing through our socks or towels. Another inmate told me a few months ago that there is (a facility) very close by that cremates animals a few times a week. I don't know if there is any truth to that but I will attest that the smell is much like the burning of flesh and/or the singeing of hair.

I am sure you've heard Arpaio's pitch about how he is going to save the county so much money by replacing the disposable cups and spoons with "issued" plastic cups and sporks. What he has failed to mention is that we have no way of sterilizing them. We have no access to hot water and hand soap is the only detergent we are allowed to possess. Inmates like myself do our best to keep these and ourselves clean but many others coming in off the street do not because they've grown used to neglect. I predict a rise in illness among all the Maricopa County jails.

Last night after lock-down, an elderly man "rolled" into our pod. Two . . . inmates started shouting through their cell doors, "Motherfucking snitch, I'm going to beat your ass." The old man (about 65-70 years old) ignored them. This morning when our cell doors opened for chow (breakfast), an inmate again started calling him a "snitch" while we were all standing in the chow line. When the old guy got up to the detention officer, he told him he thought he was in danger and to please be moved. The guard just told him to "move on," then the guard looked up at his partner in the tower and chuckled as if it were funny. About 20 minutes after chow was served I saw the two inmates coming out of the elderly man's cell after I heard him yell, "I didn't do anything." When he came out of his cell he looked like a bloody Boise potato carrying his broken teeth. He is now in the infirmary at Madison . . .

Tonight's dinner was the same barbecue sauce poured over a single slice of bread. No joke.

R.S. Brown

Lingering Bitterness
A guy in my cell went home today. The guards pulled the typical bullshit on him. When they told him to "roll-up," they wouldn't tell him where or when he was going. Two guards told him that he was being "page-two'ed," which means being taken back to Madison Street Jail on new charges. Another officer got on the speaker and told him that the computers were down so he wasn't going anywhere for at least 12 hours.

He actually left a half hour later.
Cruel how the detention officers fuck with you even up to your last minutes when you are anticipating freedom.

Scott Simmons

One Flew
After six requests, I was finally granted an interview with a psychiatric worker at the Madison Street Jail. I was allowed fifteen minutes of his valuable time only after filing a grievance wherein I suggested his early retirement might be the only solution to the current logjam of inmate requests.

I cleverly stretched the fifteen minutes into thirty by pretending to be insane.

John Thomas Munsey

A Savage Review
There's one valley eatery no one has given a review of yet. Let me be the first to review Skimpy Joe's in the Durango Jail Complex. First of all, the location sucks. The atmosphere and furnishings remind me of a bad Cagney prison movie, as it should. It's jail. Cold, dirty tables and seats made from re-recycled steel with a bad tan and brown paint job that has not seen a good cleaning in who knows how many years. The service is even worse. Dished out by other inmates and sadistic guards who love any diversion to stop serving halfway through the meal only to resume after it's cold, usually hours later.

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