This week in the Citizens Academy we visited the county morgue and jail.
Astute readers might notice that I seem to have skipped the week two recap. It's true. During week two one of the prosecutors came in and went through a case from beginning to end. The beginning was a five minute 911 call from a neighbor that started out as a fairly standard domestic violence call (the upstairs neighbor had just come home from work then came running down the stairs with bruises on her neck crying that her husband had just tried to kill her, but they'd seen the husband drive away so there was no rush) and then halfway through the call they found all three children strangled in the apartment upstairs. It ended when the guy accepted a plea deal that will keep him in jail for the rest of his life. (For the record, I am totally on board with the decision to offer him a deal -- aside from the inherent problems with the death penalty, his wife was the one most affected and she just wanted things over and done with and not have to see him in court for the next ten years of trials and appeals.)
Anyhow, that week was just pretty traumatizing and mostly what I learned is that people who listen to 911 calls for fun need to examine their life choices.
Week three wasn't quite so traumatizing. We were sent a list of things not to wear, so I made sure that I wasn't wearing my usual getup of a tube top and a mini-skirt then drove over to the other side of town. The first time I went to the county animal shelter years ago I took a wrong turn and ended up at the county morgue, so at least I knew where I was going.
The morgue is tiny. The scale is outside, then inside the building there's a little alcove with a portable x-ray machine, a room where supplies and samples are stored, a small walk-in cooler that smells pretty awful (because death coolers always have that smell), a smaller freezer for longer term storage and two small autopsy rooms. On the other side of the autopsy rooms is a viewing room though they don't normally have people watching -- they almost always do identifications with fingerprints, dental records, or tattoos, so the whole Hollywood scene of having relatives identifying the body at the morgue doesn't really happen there. The only exception is with small children and luckily that's a pretty rare occurrence.
The most shocking thing of the whole morgue tour was when our guide opened a locked cabinet to show us the stored samples. In vet school we were taught there should be a 10:1 ratio of formalin to tissue. In other words, there should be big containers with small blobs of tissue inside. I saw a bunch of little jars filled with large tissue samples, topped up with formalin. The human pathologist who is part of our group started muttering about improperly fixed samples. I can only hope they don't send her samples from that cabinet.
The most annoying thing about the morgue tour was the people in the group. Turns out that now that we've spent over five hours together I've almost hit the limits of my ability to overlook certain behaviors. There's the person who is constantly commenting when someone is giving us information ("oh", "tsk", "that's so sad", "um hmm"). There's the person that interrupts someone answering one question to ask a completely unrelated question.
And then there are all the people who have so little spatial awareness that they follow the guide into a small room and block the doorway so no more than five out of the twenty-five people in the group can get in the room. During the evening we probably went through at least twenty doors and each time the same people had to be asked to move out of the way.
Every. Single. Time.
Be proud of me. I did not end the evening in custody.
The county jail is right next to the county morgue, so when we had finished looking at big samples in tiny jars we walked next door. After we saw the sally port that the police cars bring the prisoners through, the two officers leading the tour made a point of telling us that if anything happened while we were in the building, the policy was that they don't negotiate with prisoners for any reason. With those comforting words we went in and started the tour in the intake area. That area also has about six cells where they keep people who need close supervision, in this case three people on suicide watch, one woman who had chronic mental health issue (who I assume was going to be transferred to the hospital for evaluation), and someone coming down from drug ingestion. They get checked every fifteen minutes.
A bunch of people in my group were excited to see the blank wall where they take the mugshots, which I found odd. I mean, it's not like it's a portrait booth at a party -- it's literally a blank wall.
Then we went into the depths of the building, through one door after another (opened by someone in a control room), pushing the people who stopped right inside the room out of the way so the rest of us could get through the door so the door could close again so that, you know, we were protected from the felons. There are a couple of buildings and they have about 350 people housed there right now, with a limit of around 500.
The jail is fairly clean if a little worn, but at one point I felt and saw an ant crawling on my hand, and another on my neck. (Since I hadn't touched anything inside I think I may have brushed up against a branch before we went into the building.) So then I was listening to the sergeant talking while feeling imaginary bugs crawling all over me, which made me start scratching and that got all the mosquito bites I'm currently sporting get into the act and I'm sure I looked like I was on something by the time we moved out of that area.
We passed a couple of different pods, one of which was medium security and housed mostly members from one specific gang, and another where they keep the prisoners that can't come into contact with anyone else (either because they are too violent or because they are in protective custody). The medium security prisoners in the common area were doing their best to see through the tinted windows to see who was in the hallway and to attract our attention. The high security prisoners each get one hour per day out of their cells in the common space. There's sixteen of them. I feel kind of sorry for whoever had the midnight to one AM slot.
After another couple doors, pushing the same people out of the goddamn way because they still didn't understand the concept of not blocking the doorway, we went into the pod where the women are housed. Oddly, they can house women in different gangs in the same pod without it being a problem. That's when I had the thought that women are generally more civilized than men while at the same time wanting to harm the women who kept blocking the doorways. Life is confusing sometimes.
Anyhow, it was an interesting evening. I've decided that I would have a really hard time as an introvert in jail, so I've decided to continue to try to not end up there. The morgue, too.