Beadstork Goes To Jail
I just spent an hour and a half at the local jail waiting to be fingerprinted. I was not unaware of the irony of sitting there in my white collar scrubs, with my Kate Spade bag between my feet. I wish I had some sordid tale to tell you of how I came to be there, but I was being fingerprinted for a job. I have never been fingerprinted before.
I was prepared to be frisked and metal detected when I walked in. I had removed my Kindle and my Swiss Army knife from my purse prior to entering the building. They had a metal detector, all right, but there was no one in the lobby. I set off the detector, I guess with my keys and my phone, and no one came rushing out to make sure I wasn’t going to blow up the place. There was no one to make sure that I even walked through the metal detector. There was no one at the desk.
I sat and looked around to get my bearings. There were quite a few people there, mostly women, sitting in little knots of two and three. I strolled over to the desk to read the sign on it, since there was no one there to direct me. There was no one handing out numbers. There were no numbers. The desk had a list of rules and regulations governing visitors, and personal items that could be brought to prisoners. It seems you can have boxer shorts or thermal underwear. If you are a woman, you must wear a sports bra, no hooks, no metal. Inmates in private cells can only have one visitor a day. Two adults or one adult with two children may come to the visiting area together.
I sat and watched the goings on. It soon became apparent that pretty much everyone in the lobby was there to visit someone in jail. A lot of the people seemed to know each other. I watched to see how they signed in. It must have been intuitive, since there sure were no signs up directing anyone. I had the distinct feeling that most of these people had been here before. They walked up to an all-but-invisible plexiglass window that was reflective except for one little circle, and put their IDs in a little drawer. The invisible person behind the window took the IDs and ran them. When it was time for that person to visit their prisoner, they were called by last name of prisoner and their IDs were returned to them. Apparently names are not kept private in jail.
I walked up to the little window, unsure of how to procede. I saw a man through the little plate-glass circle and I spoke to him through the microphone. “I need to be fingerprinted.” He told me to take a seat and wait, and he would check with booking. I sat back down, clutching my Kate Spade bag and looking around. I spotted one of my patients. I am not sure who she was there to see, maybe a grandson, because she is a very elderly and somewhat frail lady in her eighties. We chatted a bit; she recognized me and said she had been trying to get an appointment with me for a month.
I looked around the lobby a bit as I had some time to kill. Someone had decorated the plate glass windows with swags of dusty garland and lights. A little scrawny Charlie Brown tree sat on the corner of the lobby desk. I noticed that people were walking up to a window box in the wall and pressing buttons. I thought it was some kind of sign in system at first, but it turned out to be an ATM. How convenient.
I discovered that there was a restroom up a little short hall, which was a good thing, because I had had way too much Diet Sierra Mist on the way over there. I noted sadly that the women’s room had a Koala diaper changer. I guess a lot of people bring their babies to see their daddies in jail. There were a few broken down toys in the lobby too.
Other people came and went in the lobby. A very obese gentleman clutching a ratty brown briefcase came to the window, was ID’d and buzzed in. He was the stereotypic jailhouse attorney. I wondered if he saw himself as he was, in a pretty much dead-end job, even as lawyers go, coming in the middle of the night to deal with petty clients with his ratty briefcase. A bail bondswoman came in in tall boots and a tight skirt and was ID’d and given some kind of information form on one of the prisoners. One woman came to bring her son some thermal underwear. Another came to pick her son up out of jail – she gave him a huge hug when they brought him out. There were a lot of women there with kids and little babies.
I waited an hour and a half. I went to remind the man behind the window that I was still there – I didn’t want to bug him and get bumped farther back in the (imaginary) line, but I wanted to make sure he hadn’t forgotten about me. He said that he would check with booking – that they were really pretty busy and that he would get back to me.
People wandered in and out, smoking and eating. The room smelled like stale smoke and fried food. There was a massively obese woman there with flannel pajama bottoms and slippers on. She was clutching a baby while her skinny, chain smoking, bleached blonde mom went back to visit someone. She kept scolding the baby because she kept dropping her toy to the floor, and it was such a massive effort for the woman to bend over and pick it up that she didn’t want to do it again. The baby giggled and laughed at a man sitting against the back wall. He smiled and waved back at the baby. The atmosphere in there was really rather congenial. People were friendly and helped each other out if they didn’t know what to do. They made sure that someone’s name didn’t get called while they were out smoking.
They finally called me back. I was again astonished at the lack of security – after I had flunked the metal detector (that no one was watching), no one made any effort to inspect what I had in my bag or in my pockets. I grant you, I was wearing scrubs, which I suppose lent me a somewhat secure air, but really, anyone can wear scrubs. They led me back through two locked doors that we had to be buzzed through, and I could see through glass into the big control room where the guards kept watch on computer screens in a brightly lit room. The nice man who brought me back took me to the finger printing station. He was not a bit surprised that I was there to be fingerprinted for a job. I was a bit surprised that there was no fee for the service.
They don’t use ink to fingerprint any more. They have a nifty computer screen where they place all four digits together, then one at a time plus the thumb. He could roll the fingers around and watch the prints appear on the screen until he got the optimum view each time. They did some weird thing where they pressed the pinky side of each hand flat to the screen. I asked him what that was for and he said he had no idea; they had never figured it out. Then he put my fingerprint cards that had been provided me into a printer, and voila, a set of beautiful prints came out. He put the date and his signature on the cards for me and we were done. I thanked him for his time and he laughed and said he would be there for a twelve hour shift anyway, he might as well do something. He politely led me back out to the lobby and I was free to go. I got a couple of waves from the people still in the waiting area. I hoped that they wouldn’t have to wait long.
I went back to my van and did my best not to back into the police cruiser behind me. I had a feeling that that would be an unfortunate ending to the evening. The whole scenario was really very educational. I had to wait for over an hour and a half, so the novelty had pretty much worn off by the time I left, but the whole process was relatively smooth, quick and humane. The one thing that struck me was the poor security. I suppose it would be a pretty bad idea to try to walk into a jail with a weapon, as that would pretty much become Death By Cop in short order, but really, what if I had walked in there with a bomb? I hope nobody gets any ideas. So I now belong to the society of Fingerprinted People, and if I ever commit a crime they will come and get me. Somehow the whole scenario left me feeling as if I were a member of some kind of secret society, which of course I am not, as I have never visited an actual person in jail and I hope I never do. But the people in the lobby were just normal people. They weren’t sinister, or rude, or menacing. They were just regular folks who happened to have a loved one in jail and had decided to spend the evening visiting them. And I got to spend an evening visiting the visitors.