Mass Incarceration

Mass Incarceration
Semhar Gerensie Teclay
Nonfiction, Heard/Arlington County Detention Center writing contest, August 2019

Arlington, Virginia, 1435 North Courthouse Rd., 7 a.m. Shift change shift change stand at your doors full uniforms on with wrist bands shown at your doors, shift change shift change stand at your doors, what you are about to witness is Mass Incarceration.

My mornings start at 4 a.m. with triage with a diabetic glucose check and then medication. At 4:30 a.m. I’m headed to the kitchen to start my day off working as the prep man. It’s a job that keeps my mind off things I can’t control. I get paid six dollars a week which is terrible but I get to eat what I want if you know what I mean. In order to work in the kitchen at the jail, you must be low or medium custody level; any violent crime will eliminate your chance to work. The things I see in the kitchen you wouldn’t believe, for example stealing, sending kites throughout the jail including females, selling onions, green peppers and sugar, everyone has a hustle including me. Around 6 a.m. trays are delivered through the whole jail one hour before shift change. Once the jail is fed the kitchen crew gets to eat. As we sit in the break room inmates pull out all the hidden goodies making sure staff or cameras don’t lead on. All the inmates come together and break bread, whatever I need you might have and whatever I have you might need. In the background all you hear is, yo who got some cheese while another says who got the onions let me get a little bit. Then it’s quiet as we eat together and forget where we are for about 15 minutes then it’s back to work.

At 7 a.m. the whole jail is locked down as the deputies are changing shifts. Inmates are locked in their cells as the deputy makes his or her rounds to check status of the inmates. For those who’ve never been in jail let me explain, stand at your door with your armband showing inmate number 1231417 and if you don’t you suffer the consequences. To me that’s nothing. I’ve been in ten different jails my whole life, give me a radio and some books and I’m out of your way. I feel bad for the guys here for the first time waiting for sentencing not knowing the seriousness of their case, expecting to go home in less than a month. Fear starts to penetrate into their heart to a point where they are desperate asking fellow inmates for legal help and advice, reason is their public defender won’t contact them til the Day of Judgement, can you blame them? I won’t. I’ve been there before.

From 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. it’s recreation time. This is when and how you determine the type of inmate you come across. First you got the inmates that are on the rec yard lifting weights doing their exercise routine, these folks got their time and is what we call Bidd’in. Then you have the folks at the tables with their paperwork laid out preparing their strategies to present in court, either for sentencing or filing a motion for reconsideration. Then you have those people lying all day long about their material possessions on the outside that are worth nothing on the inside, those folks we call crash dummies. Private investors call them investments.

12 p.m. it’s chow time, we gather at tables and eat cold cuts and potato chips. Later on in the day we start our programs to better ourselves. That’s what they tell you; see most of the jails don’t even have programs anymore, they don’t have the funds to keep a program going, it’s all a front. The prison industry to me is the new holocaust without the gas chambers, people of all kinds, I mean good people, screaming for help, waiting for the super power as if it was America saving Germany during WWI.

It’s 4 in the evening dinner time last meal of the day also known as another day gone. Most of us inmates like to watch a movie or write a letter to a friend or lover, or read the paper. A simple phone call to our family with a cup of coffee preventing bad thoughts or feelings to linger in our minds. Playing card or board games with a friend that you’ve done time with. For me reading the Bible seeking new wisdom keeps me calm at night. 11:30 p.m. lockdown, just sitting here preparing this paper to educate people on what goes on in America’s prison systems. Not all of us are bad, I happened to make a mistake and did some jail time, then I was put on probation and I’ve been stuck ever since.