Solano County Jail

There were rooms, one on each side, off the foyer.  Things seemed to be happening there, but I could not see for sure what was going on. That was the first thing I was to learn about Solano County. Things always happened just outside of ones ability to see and document them.

Inside the building, just beyond the foyer, and away from the cold where we sat, was a large room. An elevated platform area, maybe 50 by 30 feet in dimension and sitting about five feet above the floor sat adjacent to the wall on the right. This elevated area created the feeling of a hallway on its remaining three sides. Across from this area were the holding cells; empty, drab, poorly lighted harsh cubicles with benches built into the walls and a toilet strategically placed in the line of sight from the platform.

This area, the platform, obviously served as the brain center of the facility. The back wall was lined with large electronic machines, probably servers for computers, and a monitor was present at each station.

It was clear that inmates gained access to the facility only through here.  The few people sitting at floor level, well below the women working on the platform, were apparently in different states of processing – at least by their expressions: some smiled, others looked tired and beaten.

Officer Ramirez was the first person I was to meet on this leg of my journey.  At about six feet tall, slightly pudgy, dressed in black fatigues that suggested he was a storm trooper (and was combat ready) he painted an imposing figure. Uniforms – particularly of this nature – are designed to inspire fear.  The purpose is to suggest power, numbers, and brute force.  This, I was to discover over time, was only the beginning of the constant psychological assault designed to break and dehumanize the inmates.

Ramirez escorted each of us, individually, into the room on the left wall. There was a large computer/Xerox/copy machine looking thing with a screen at the front sitting alone in the small room. In a world of miniaturization and innovation, a machine of this size seemed a throwback to the 1960’s. It actually looked out of place, and so did we, stuffed into this small place, forced to be closer than actually was comfortable for either of us.

The goal, however, in taking us to this room, was to establish, once and for all, that the people in black were, in fact, the people in charge. Ramirez, after punching a few buttons, pulled up my booking photo and personal information. In a deadpan tone and a military cadence, he reviewed thedetails of my arrest with the images right in my face. He wanted me to know they knew everything about me.  He continued the deadpan look, his eyes attempting to stare me down, but for all his pomp and circumstance, his display was impotent.  His questions were to the point, but he really had no idea of what they meant, why he was asking them, or what to do with my responses to his questions. That became particularly evident when he reviewed my medical history. I suspect that had I not known the meaning of it all, his ruse would have been successful. But the dumb-founded look on his face when I began to elaborate told it all. He wasn’t a doctor, or a nurse, or any kind of health professional for that matter and I could tell as I started to engage him about my heart history that he wasn’t getting any of it. He scribbled down some notes but was quick to push forward; detail, it would seem, was something with which he was uncomfortable.

After a few more questions on diet, medications, and drug or alcohol use, Ramirez concluded our interview and returned me to the foyer. I again took a seat.

Officer Prior, a shorter, stockier man, also dressed in combat fatigues, then approached and asked me to remove my shoes and socks. He examined them and then the soles of my feet – from a secure distance I might add.  This was my ticket, my pass, to gain access to the room on the right, which was where I saw a nurse who offered me a seat,

Officer Prior stood authoritatively near, as she repeated – for clarification – the questions previously asked by Ramirez. She was no more interested in my responses than Ramirez had been and the interview proceeded without her ever looking up from her desk.  Prior, though, proved more interesting to me than either of them had. He did not shrink from eye contact. He was personable and polite but remained guarded and a lot more professional as he took me from that room, past the elevated platform of workers to a small holding cell once the nurse had finished with her interview. He also returned my suit jacket to me; the one that had been taken at the courthouse before my joyride to the jail.

A seat in this holding cell offered a much better vantage point of the room.  I sat there for more than an hour – alone – and was able to watch the staff go about the task of processing inmates.  The second psychological technique that I noted in play, in addition to the uniforms, was confusion:  inmates were  brought out of one holding cell to talk with one of the workers at a particular station, but they were never returned to the same holding cell, often being taken to one at the other end of the corridor, or a room next to the one they had just vacated. But never, ever were they returned to the same cell.

When Officer Prior finally returned and as I was being transferred to another cell, for reasons I could not know, a woman sitting on the platform asked, “Who is he?”

“Adams,” Prior said.

“Sit him right here”, she said pointing to the chair below her station “I need to update some information.”  I sat in a chair approximately five feet below her- psychological play number three- as she repeated the information Ramirez, and the nurse, had taken, only as she read, she typed into a computer. She asked for my name, address, configuration and number of tattoos, and gang affiliation to confirm, without a doubt, that I was, in fact, who both I and the system said I was.  When she was done, she motioned to Officer Prior who was standing diligently by. I was then placed in another, different, holding cell.

Another hour or so passed and this time, when Officer Prior arrived, he walked me to a station at the opposite end of the platform. The woman manning this cubicle was an older black woman, well-groomed, and she was a lot more personable than anyone else I had had the privilege to speak with.  Our conversation had to do with my housing arrangement, and at best, seemed odd to me, because I didn’t think it was my decision to make. Nonetheless, she was concerned with my prejudices – and to my dismay there were few – and wanted to know did I hate white people, black people, or Hispanics.  She too inquired as to my status with any of the gangs, and “was I, or had I, ever been gay”.

I was confused by her line of questioning. Clearly she already had on her computer everything there was to have on me. She knew everything. No one was getting in here that they didn’t know. Furthermore, it also seemed to me that if you had ever “been” gay, you probably still “were”. I also thought of my friend, Wynn Katz. A running joke for him was to assure people that I was in fact quite prejudiced and yet the perfect human being because I was equally prejudiced toward everybody. And to a point he was correct. I hate the degradation of any human being regardless of his race.

Her purpose though was to arrange “compatible” housing.  Regardless of my take on her questions, Solano County is a dangerous situation and the possibility of violent conflict is always there, just below the surface.  The last thing they needed was to put members of rival gangs or ideologies in the same closed space.  It would be a recipe to ignite conflict all over the jail.  Under those conditions, no one in the building would be safe.  It was best to be proactive.

As we continued to talk, a strange odor of acetone, a sweet smell of sugar and alcohol filled the air. Both of us, the interviewer and me, noticed it immediately. “Have you been drinking?” I asked her.

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” she said.  Then we both laughed.  We each took another sniff and then turned to Prior.

“Don’t look at me,” he said.  “It isn’t me.”

“Well, it wasn’t here before” she countered. And then, we all laughed again.

When Mrs. Jones, that was her name, had completed the interview, I was taken to another holding cell. To the naked eye, the system seemed archaic and inefficient – the long winding walks down short repetitive hallways with identical doors and windows; some leading into offices and others leading only to other short hallways that branched to the left or right; another turn, another monotonous hallway of doors all leading nowhere but to the next cubicle where yet another disinterested worker in black fatigues fired the same questions in the same disinterested monotonous tone until you become confused as to who had asked you what and for what purpose. But the operation was not inefficient; they had you in this place.  The goal was disorientation.  The goal was to confuse you as to just how you got in, so as to discourage any attempt at getting out – at least out without their blessing.

I remained in my holding cell only a short time, when another officer – whose name I never got because neither did he introduce himself, nor did he ever turn to face me so that I could read his name tag – arrived with two brown paper bags.  He suggested that I follow him down the hall to yet another room.  Yet he pointed me ahead of him and proceeded to walk behind me. I could hardly see how I could follow him if he insisted on being behind me. Apparently, it is a safety issue, and they are instructed never to let an inmate get behind them. Good advice!

About halfway down the hall, which resembled all the other halls, I turned right into a room which was empty except for a window in the wall opposite the doorway. There was also a bench that spanned the wall to the right. The officer instructed me to undress completely, including socks and underwear, and then disappeared.

A few minutes later another officer appeared at the window.  He began by asking me my sizes and as I answered he made notes on a pad. Without announcing his departure he turned and left the window. I just stood there dressed in nothing but my birthday suit. He returned a few minutes later with what he called a “bedroll”. He also presented me with clothes to put on.

Nothing fit despite our previous conversation. I told him I wore an extra large top. I received a 3XL V-neck, short sleeved shirt with bold three inch wide alternating back and white stripes. I told him I wore an extra large, 34 length trouser. I received matching striped cotton pants, 2XL, 36 inch length, with no pockets and a fake flap where most trousers would have had a zipper. I also received two pair of 4XL white cotton underwear – which I could have stepped through twice. The officer informed me that that was the best he could do.  The alternative was smaller medium underwear and to his credit, he thought the 4XL at least would be more comfortable.  I considered myself lucky under the circumstances.

I also got two pair of white cotton tube socks and two cotton tee shirts.  I was also given a clear plastic bag – much like a sandwich bag – that contained a booklet, Inmate General Information, Custody Division Rules and Disciplinary Penalties, 17 grams of fresh mint fluoride toothpaste, a two inch long finger held tooth brush – apparently one of my colleagues had been stabbed in the eye with a tooth brush in the past and this thing was now standard issue – and a five inch black plastic comb.

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