It’s going to be a slow process to make changes at Warren County Jail. Obviously, there will be no quick fix to overcrowding now that construction to renovate and expand has been taken from the table.
Did I mention that I took a tour of the jail? I went along with some county commissioners. Right from the beginning, it was as you would suspect – cold and uninviting. The lobby, with its little area for children to read books, does little to prepare you for what lies behind the first locked door.
Then, we went into what I think they called a pod. It’s a space where several inmates are being held together and can move around “freely.” This one, as you can imagine, is overcrowded – no shocker given that the jail has had in excess of 300 inmates for as long as I can remember, but it only holds 251.
As for the space, it is limited. One elongated area had metal bunks along both walls. For the extra people, they had something plastic and a thin mattress. It was so dimly lit and dingy. A bathroom/ shower area had a makeshift curtain for as much privacy as they can get.
There was an attached back room. I have no idea what was back there. All the male inmates were asked to go there, and a guard stood between them and us to prevent interaction. At that time, the thought of what I was doing made me feel bad. I’ve never felt or acted better than anyone. It wasn’t my intent. However, there I was looking around like I was somehow above it all. I mentally apologized for what felt like morbid curiosity.
Little known fact about me: I have anxiety issues and panic attacks. I have those under control, to a large degree. When my anxiety begins to rise, I start to control my breathing. Deep breaths in and slowly let them out. I mention this because my anxiety started to rise shortly after the tour started.
We made it into the control center of the jail. It overlooked the cells. Again, more overcrowding. The cells meant for two inmates had three in them. Guys standing behind the bars once again gave me a terrible feeling. I mentally apologized.
My controlled breathing did little to halt the progression of my symptoms. It was at that moment when my chest started to tighten. That’s my signal that what I’m doing needs to come to an end.
Here’s a shout-out to Chief Deputy Bo Ramsey. I discreetly asked him how quickly he could get me out of there. He questioned why, so I told him about my looming panic attack. He quickly escorted me from the room. It took 20 minutes before the sensation passed.
That tour reaffirmed what I already suspected – I do not have what it takes to survive that type of environment. I know it cannot be a Ramada Inn, but it could be better.
Standard reporter Lisa Hobbs can be reached at 473-2191.