That was the the important lesson last Wednesday night when I went through orientation for the jail. We were a mixed group: some AA/NA volunteers, several women who work with women in transition, a health care provider, a mental health care worker, an Americorps volunteer (who looked like he was just out of high school, but I'm sure that was due to my failing eyesight) and me, the new Catholic chaplain.
We had four hours to learn the ropes and the important stuff and take a brief tour. About the physical plant: no windows can open, if you're lucky enough to be in a room with a window. There is some fresh air in the exercise yard, but, the jail is built right next to the freeway, so the "yard" is all concrete and the air smells like exhaust. "There is no fresh air in this facility," we were told.
On our tour, we went to a floor that housed about 20 people per section. Everyone was dressed in red jumpsuits. They spend all day in that room. The calendar has turned to official summer, but it hasn't been very warm in Seattle yet. I could imagine a hot stretch of days in August, sitting in the same stinking clothes. I remember what my brothers' rooms smelled like. I'm sure this isn't a pleasant spot.
There are 1200 people in the jail, stacked up in a building that is 12 stories high. The top floor is dedicated to the fixing of electronics. Otherwise, the higher you are in the building, the more security there is, the more serious the offenders. It is a delicate balance to place people where they will not be hurt, or do harm to others, or be an occasion of uproar. Things shift often.
We got hustled out of our multi-purpose room because "we're bringing in a bunch of people." So off we went to the booking area to get our pictures taken for badges. Two dozen people were on their way to be booked into the jail--no, not the new volunteers, two dozen of the protesters who had closed down a busy downtown street at the height of rush hour for three hours. (Immigration reform is a hot ticket here.) Pictures taken, on to the tour.
We were done just after 10.
The end result for me? Friday I got my badge, in what I hear is absolute record time. As of Monday, the computer chip will be activated and I'll be able to get into the bathrooms! Even better: I'll be able to go above my office floor, start helping out with services, and start talking with the folks. That's what I've really been missing.
And now you know. "There is no fresh air in this facility." That's why I keep the office door open and the fan going.