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Going to Jail? What to Expect in the Booking Process
by Jeanne Sparks-Carreker
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JEFFERSON COUNTY JAIL-From Mayberry’s local wino who took up residence in a cell especially kept for him to cable television’s OZ, the “free world” is shown a side of life that is happily unknown to many people. Because it is natural to fear what is unknown to us as humans, there are different things with which the average citizen should make himself aware in the event that they ever find they are going to jail. County and city jails across the nation differ in great extremes, however, leaving one to integrate this knowledge into their own “jailhouse rules,” respectively.

The first thing to remember if you ever find yourself in a circumstance resulting in you going to jail is to remain calm. If the arresting officers are serving an outstanding warrant, it is not up to them whether you can or cannot be arrested. A judge decides the results of the charge, ultimately, but the arresting officers are only doing their job. Bearing this in mind, do not become agitated, do not curse, raise cain, nor, God forbid, lash out when being arrested. Do exactly what the officers request of you, within reason, of course, but do not think that obedience to their commands will result in you not having to go to jail.

Therefore, the only way to effectively abide by the above suggestion and, as a result, cause no harm to your upcoming case or to yourself, is to accept that you are indeed about to go to jail. If you have had no prior experience in going to jail, this can be somewhat disturbing. Many first - time inmates succumb to the stress of the whole ordeal, and some even break with reality temporarily. This is usually the norm when a “first – timer” is on either drugs or alcohol, but stress can be a fickle thing to us all. Therefore, it is vitally important to be aware of what to expect when going to jail.

Upon arrival to whichever jail is in the city or county of your alleged crime, you can expect to be “booked in,” or “processed in.” This, as does every single course of action in any jailhouse, takes time. Though the routine itself does not take very long at all, sometimes there are waiting periods between each step.

Upon going to jail, one begins with the “booked in” procedures. In many jails, this involves simply obeying orders. Normally, you will be un-cuffed and directed to stand on two neon-painted shoeprints on the floor and then told to “look up.” Upon your obedience, you will find yourself looking into something high up on the wall that could only be a retinal scanning device. If you guess this to be the case, then you are smart enough to handle the rest of the “going to jail” journey.

If you are of the inquisitive type, as am I, and find that you simply must inquire about the equipment in the booking department, do so respectively, quietly, and absolutely do not seem as if you are “casing the joint,” or asking too many questions.

If you ever find that you are going to jail, the next step will actually be completed by standing before an officer who will take down all of your information on a hand-written form. He will also load this information via keyboard and mouse into a computer. Answer him to the best of your knowledge and do not have an attitude with the officer, as he has the power of time on his side.

Also, this officer will give you two pieces of paper: one is an explanation of your charges and the amount of your bond, if any is permitted; the other will have a number that the officer writes down on the paper by hand, explaining the way to make a phone call on the inmate phones located within each cell block. As the officer will tell you at that time, do not lose that piece of paper, nor let any other inmate have it or see it, as they can use your Phone Call ID Number to input their own list of phone numbers into the five “spaces” allocated to your number. Normally the number is a combination of your Inmate ID number and an intake number. If ever you find yourself going to jail and then losing the number or being the victim of possible theft of your number, report the problem to a deputy immediately by explaining that you need your “phone calling number rolled back.” This takes time, but they will do this for you, and you will not be classified a “snitch” when the request is done in that manner.

Following the dictation of your personal information is a visit with an officer who doubles as a professional photographer. This officer will direct you to look to a large camera lens, facing first to the front, and then to either side. Listen closely to the directions, lest you hear the horribly embarrassing phrase, “No, dummy, you’re other right.”

Also, if you are one of the happy types, as am I, who believe that tension and awkward moments may be alleviated with the expression of a smile or a humorous comment, take into consideration the mood of the officer/photographer immediately. If he/she does not seem to be receptive to a booking inmate smiling for their mug shot, consider instead a nonchalant or content approach. The reason for this is important: if ever you find you are going to jail, the last thing you want a deputy to surmise is that you have the attitude of a “smart-ass,” this being the very term which will be used by them to express their disdain with you.

After your portrait is made when going to jail, you will be told to approach the fingerprinting counter. Advanced systems now involve having your fingers sprayed with a water-based solution followed by each finger being pressed in a rolling fashion from left to right (or vice-versa) on a computerized pad which inputs your fingerprint information into the computer. Each finger and thumb of each hand is “printed,” then the four fingers of each hand are grouped together in one print each. There is no clean up of messy black dye with this method.

Finally, when going to jail, the last procedure of the booking process is with a nurse who asks questions concerning your medical history, possible pregnancy for females, known diseases, drug usage in the event that withdrawal medication is to be ordered, and current medications which may need to be administered during “pill call” by a nurse during your stay. All of the information indeed does find its way into your “file” and sits in front of your judge upon your illustrious court date, but I recommend honesty with the nurse.

After the medical interrogation, the nurse will ask you if you have had a TB (Tuberculosis) test recently, and no matter your answer, she will give you the needle-prick test anyhow. She will also draw a small tube of blood for testing of certain diseases that will decide on your placement in either general population or medical segregation. Most jails do not test for drugs, and I am certain that this decision is based on the many tax dollars that would be required to carry out such massive testing, especially the accumulated dollars spent on “repeat returnees.”

Finally, booked and processed into the system, if ever you find you are going to jail, you have the right to one free phone call. If you are going to jail for the first time, you may find yourself standing in front of the phone with a blank expression on your face because you do not remember anyone’s phone number immediately. Take a deep breath and relax. There is a time limit, but the officers will work with you if a ridiculous amount of time is not required. Stress creates circumstances we cannot always control, but we can control our reactions to it. Close your eyes and think harder and the numbers will arrive soon enough.

You normally have 15 minutes for your one free call, and if at first you call a number that does not answer, you may try another, until someone answers. Of course, the allotted 15 minutes may depend on whether you were considered a “smart-ass” by the mug shot photographer/officer, so bear in mind that your attitude when going to jail can have a domino effect on the rest of your stay.

The important thing to remember when making your free phone call is that anyone with a phone can be contacted from the booking department phone, even though it is identical to a payphone in appearance. Later, when you are using the phone on a cellblock which requires the special number that you were suppose to keep up with, some phone service subscribers may have a “block” on their phones, even if they are not aware of such a block. Also, make sure the person you are calling from a cellblock phone can receive collect calls to their number. If you encounter a number which does not accept the call, or which has a “block” from calls from a correctional billing service, this number does not take up any of your five allocated spaces you are given. Only numbers in which your call was accepted takes the space of “1,” “2,” and so forth.

After your free phone call, you will be asked to lean against the wall with your hands and legs spread, padded down, then placed in a holding cell for an undetermined amount of time. If you are not bonded out or have no bond, you are then more thoroughly searched and directed to change into a standard inmate uniform. When going to jail, you will be given flip-flops to wear for shoes (as they lessen the likelihood of quick movement in flight, fighting, or threat to the guards). Many jails allow you to keep your socks on and slide your foot into the flip-flop with the sock still in place. You should do this if allowed to, even though your attire now looks like a striped Charlie-Chan. The cell and adjoining blocks are usually kept at a cold temperature to prevent the spread of germs, mainly, but also because a colder climate controls anger (i.e. people get ill when they are too warm). If allowed, keep your socks on.

When going to jail, the thing to remember is that you should relax. There is no getting out of the mess you have allowed in whatever circumstance resulted in you going to jail unless you listen to orders and know that they will not keep you forever. The tax payers just would not allow that, and you can only be sentenced to serve a year and a day in a county or city jail. Any sentence requiring more time than that is served under the state’s jurisdiction, in prison. So, smile, knowing you are actually that much closer to being released, and as always, that you will be able to tell an interesting story about going to jail.

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