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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.


Seductive Musings

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Goldilocks Goes to Jail, Part II — Strip-searched

Here's the second in a series of posts about the time I went to jail as a journalist, just to learn more about what it was like. The experiences I had there fed directly into Unlawful Contact, the next book in my I-Team series of contemporary romantic suspense novels. This is taken from my personal recollection written down the day after I was released.

“Put your toes on the line and look up at the camera.”

Panels flash bright, fluorescent light, then fade.

I’ve already been handcuffed, searched and fingerprinted, and now I follow the guard. The floor is cold on my stocking feet. My shoes have been taken away. In fact, everything I arrived with, except for the clothes I’m wearing, has been taken from me and placed in a black plastic bag with my name on it—earrings, bracelet, lip balm, wallet, pager.

The guard directs me to a small cement-block room called a safety cell, which is equipped with a stainless-steel toilet, sink and shower, as well as a small bench. In the guard’s arms is a stack of jail clothing.

“You’re coming in as a felony arrest, you know,” she says.

I nod. It was my choice — felony or misdemeanor. I have chosen felony, hoping that the additional indignities will help in some small way to make up for the psychological benefit of knowing that I will be leaving in 24 hours. Most inmates have no idea when they’ll be going home again.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” the guard says.

At the moment, neither can I.

Then she switches to a voice that means business. She knows she’s supposed to treat me as she would any other inmate.

“Take off your clothes, turn them inside out, and shake them.”

I do as she says, handing my clothes to her one item at a time until I stand naked on the cold, cement floor.

“Lift your arms. Turn around. OK, face the wall. Now lift your hair and shake it. Let me see behind our ears. Now I need you to squat on the floor facing away from me and cough.”

Cringing, I comply.

“OK, you can get dressed now.” She leaves, locking the door behind her.

I turn and find the small stack of clothes on the bench—white underwear, socks, black tennis shoes, a white T-shirt, loose blue pants and a matching smock. All of the items are numbered, and labeled BCSD JAIL. It’s cold so I dress quickly and am ready by the time the guard unlocks the door again.

“This is your bedding and personal items,” she says, handing me a stack of blankets, a change of underwear, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and a plastic “spork” — a utensil that looks like a cross between a fork and a spoon.

She leads me through a labyrinth of hallways — you’d have to know where you were going to find your way out, I realize, imaging inmates thinking of escape — to a heavy red door inset with thick, Plexiglas windows. From behind the door, I hear a cacophony of women’s voices.

My stomach does a flip. Earlier this morning, I signed a waiver drawn up by the county attorney in which I agreed not to sue should I be injured or even killed during my stay. I don’t anticipate conflict, but then I’ve never been in jail before. I have no idea what to expect.

“If someone jumps on you, we won’t be there to pull them off right away,” one of the lieutenants warned me earlier.

Though guards monitor the women’s unit from the control station outside, there is not usually a guard in the unit. And because of the overcrowding problem, guards assigned to the women’s module are often called down the hallway to help with male inmates.

The guard unlocks the door. The key is about six inches long, the lock sunk fist-deep into the concrete wall. She opens the door and motions me inside.

“You’re in 17,” she says pointing to my cell — or “room,” as they call them. Room? Who are they kidding? This isn’t the Hilton or some kind of youth hostel. It’s a jail.

But I’m not thinking about that so much as I am the fact that I’m about to spend the next 24 hours locked in the women’s unit with complete strangers, most of them repeat offenders, many of them waiting to be transferred to state prison. My heart is pounding. There’s no spit in my mouth.

I am scared out of my mind.

[To be continued...]


JennJ said...

OH Man! Holy moly hon I would have been scared out of my mind too. EEK this sounds truly terrifying. I'm anxiously awaiting the next installment.

JennJ said...

OH and did they actually not escort you all the way to your cell???

Hi, Jenn,

No, they didn't escort me. They just opened the door and I walked in.

Unless inmates are on lockdown — where they're in their cells with the doors locked for 23 out of every 24 hours — they're able to come out of their cells, which are left open, to gather in the dayroom. There are chairs, tables and a TV. That's where most inmate-to-inmate interaction takes place, so lots more on that to come.

So when the door shut behind me, I was just there with the other inmates with my arms full of my personal items. We'll pick up on that in a couple of days.

Debbie H said...

Standing there like that just screamed "I'm new here" Very scary! Glad you made it out to use the experience in UC! I can't wait to hear the rest of the story of Goldilocks Goes To Jail!


Aimee said...

Holy crap. Talk about a flashback.

I love how you write honey, but the memories I could have done without LOL

I am looking forward to reading more though! I would imagine that sdcary as it was... Knowing you are out of there in 24 hours had to have been comforting!

Hi, Debbie H,

Yes, it sure does. "I'm new! Kick my butt!" And there were ways in which I stood that I'll also cover, probably in my next post. It was kind of like wearing a "kick me" sign. But I think being a repoter means that I'm very observant and learn fast. You'll see what I mean. ;-)

Oh, Aimee, dear, sorry about the flashback! I thought of you when I wrote this and wondered what you'd been through. And you're absolutely right — knowing I'd be leaving made it much easier on me than it would have been had I truly been arrested. I cannot claim to know what that's like, but I can made some educated, very empathetic guesses. :-)

Karen said...

Whew, scary. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Sue Z said...

I can tell you right now that I would have NEVER been able to do what you did. I would have been bawling like a baby the entire time of the strip search.

You are such an awesome journalist and I respect the hell out of you. And you did teach me a lot from your experience. I never knew about the lack of adequate medical care. And I had no idea about the female inmates being shackled during child birth.

Bo said...

EEK! I would've been scared shitless! I got arrested when I was 16-handcuffed,fingerprinted,etc.-but they stuck me right back in the car after & took me home to my Mom's wrath.I never had to actually go to jail,thank goodness!

You are one of the most courageous ppl I know.

Sorry I haven't been around lately,family stuff & my OCD is driving me these days.Hope you got my msg the other day.

Sin said...

My little heart is beating so! I just got caught back up and holy moly does this sound like a terrifying experience!

Hi Pamela! Did the inmates have any idea you weren't really a convict? ~Bobbi

Thanks, Karen. Now let's see if I get time to write it!

SueZAY! You are so sweet to say such things! I'm just doing my job, truly. I think there are a lot of things that happen in "systems" like prison that people don't know about. Women are really a hidden and forgotten prison population. Their experience is significantly different than that of men. I've done an interview with Pamela Clifton and have that to share with all of you later on.

Hi, Bo. Yes, I did get your message and was bummed that I didn't get the call. I would love to have talked with you. I hope things slow down at home soon! And thanks so much. I really appreciate you saying that. It means a lot to me. YIKES on your juvenile arrest. I'm glad it didn't go farther than booking. I think they try really hard to keep kids out of jail, though there was a 17-year-old there when I was in.

Hi, Sin. It was pretty scary. I was so glad to get out.

Bobbi, so good to see you here!!! I think some of them had figured it out by the end. My photo used to run in the paper all the time, and I was pretty recognizable (the hair). One of the women at one point said, "Are you interviewing us?" And I thought, "Hmmm. She knows who I am." I came completely clean at the end because I didn't feel right about talking to them and then printing their stories in the paper with them having no say in whether they were interviewed. Literally, they were captive interviewees, and that didn't feel right to my internal compass. But I'm getting ahead of myself here...

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