Confined within concrete walls and razor wire topped fences are those who dwell there, not of their own will, but at the will of society. A prison or county jail is where thousands are incarcerated, yet long for some freedom. Some, attempt to gain freedom, without actually leaving. Such was the case when I was making my rounds, cell checks in the county jail where new deputies are assigned.
“Floor Officer – Housing Unit One” squawked my radio as I was nearing the end of my trek on the upper tier of Pod “G.”
“Go ahead to floor officer” I replied.
“Floor officer, the nurse is trying to get an inmate’s attention for pill call and he is not coming out of his cell in “C” Tank.”
A sudden feeling of fear and dread gripped me like a knot in my stomach. I had just walked through “C” tank a few minutes ago doing cell checks there. The purpose for cell checks is to ensure that inmates are not trying to kill themselves or others, and to prevent escapes and violations of law and jail rules. Did I miss something? I wondered. I quicken my pace in finishing the cell checks in “G” Tank, and then responded to “C” Tank.
When I arrived at the “C” tank unit, the nurse was standing in a sally port waiting for the inmate to emerge from the dark cell. I stepped into the dark cell, into an unknown situation.
Laying in his bed, just the way I had seen him just a few minutes before, the inmate seemed to be in a peaceful slumber under the jail issued tan blanket. It was smoothly laid over his body, covering him up to his neck almost as if he was a corpse and someone had laid the blanket there with some respect.
I called out his name and tapped his nearby foot to wake him. He must be sleeping, he must be, I thought. After a few taps and calling his name loudly, he began to rise, like a Frankenstein coming to life. Slowly he rose up, bending only at the waist as his eyes blink rapidly showing only whites.
Both hands were under the blanket and knowing what I was trained, hands can hurt you, look for the hands. I stepped back, not knowing if this was an ambush, did he have a weapon under the blanket? I wondered. I reached for my pepper spray, yet somehow I knew this was not the case.
The inmate seemed to wake up as he sat up. Dark, sad, empty eyes finally starred at me. Slowly, he brought his left hand out from under the blanket. No weapon, good, I thought. With this hand he pulled the blanket off his body and let it slump to the cement cell floor. He slowly lifted his right hand with the aid of his left. A small plastic trash bag wrapped around his right hand and arm was bulging to near full capacity with his own blood.
At this moment I realized what was happening. I instructed him to set the bag carefully down on the floor and to lie down. Deep cuts were on his wrist and forearm, floodgates open to allow his life to escape the confines of his body, a try to free him of the prison he felt he was in.
I called the nurse into the cell and we administered the first aid to prevent his escape from this life. The inmate was transferred under armed guard to a local hospital then returned. He would live another day and many more as I understand it.
On another day, in another housing unit, I again was making my rounds. In a multi-purpose room, walled by glass walls, and concrete bricks on the other side, another inmate stood, pacing around. Prayer and a song of praise to God filled this small room. Praises that floated through the concrete walls and over the razor wired fences, free to connect with his Creator. This one thing I could tell, in spite of being behind the concrete walls and razor wired topped fences, this man has found freedom in the county jail.
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