24 Hours in the dent county jail thesalemnewsonline.com gas evolution reaction

“I would say I’m sick 75 percent of the time I’m working here,” Smith says. “I started working last April, and it’s fair to say I’ve had some kind of a respiratory illness for about seven or eight months of that time. They say when you first start working at the sheriff’s office you have to build up immunity. It’s because of the mold.”

Mold is not an invisible threat at the sheriff’s office but an overt hazard. It covers nearly the entirety of the cells’ east-facing walls and can be seen leaching into the deputies’ work areas from the ceiling. The shades of mold include black, blue, yellow, brown and rusty red. Their product is a musty, humid waft you can feel coat your lungs as you breathe.

“This is how much Benadryl we go through in a week,” Smith says, holding up three large bottles of pills. “In addition to whatever their doctors prescribe them, we can give inmates over-the-counter medicine like Dayquil/Nyquil, Ibuprofen, Tums and Tylenol. They are all constantly sick, so they’ll take whatever they can get their hands on.”

“Chris and I are the only full-time jailers, but only one of us is on duty at a time,” Smith says. “Based on the number of inmates we are actually housing there should really be two jailers working at once. That means most of the time I’m just trying to wing it with whatever happens.”

The first task for Smith is getting each inmate’s medication and medicine measured and labeled. However, as he’s doing that there’s trouble in the women’s cell because one of the new entries is going through withdrawals and has diarrhea in her pants. Meanwhile, another inmate has posted bond and needs to be prepared for release. Since Smith is busy, that means deputy Austin Shelton has to be pulled off patrol duty to complete the task. But while all of this is going on, the two females locked in the interview room have to be continually escorted to the bathroom because it has no toilet. Smith knows because both women pound on the walls and yell whenever they need attention.

Due to the extra tasks, the regular lunch meal of peanut butter and jelly and ramen noodles was served an hour late. As a result, profanities fill the air, and the inmates run at the heavy metal cell doors to fly kick them, making a loud, gunfire-like bang.

Immediately after Smith serves lunch, he pivots to remove the two female inmates from the interview room. Deputy Canyon Goodbar needed the space to talk to a victim with a young child. So the two females were shackled to the bench of the office’s booking area. The booking area is really just a cramped hallway that inconveniently sits as a bottleneck into the sheriff’s office entrance. After the victim and child arrive, they have to walk through a crowd, past the shackled inmates, all while the jail inmates’ curses and screams can be heard.

Just then a fight breaks out in Cell Four, which houses the jail’s violent male offenders. Smith has been busy collecting disposable razors from inmates, but one is missing from Cell Four. After it’s found, Smith discovers the razor has been broken in two, and one of the blades is missing. Those in the cell think their fellow inmate, Ralph McDowell, is at fault.

Just as McDowell is locked down, however, sheriff Wells and the deputies arrive back from Bunker, with Robin Brawley and Jason Remster in handcuffs, bringing the inmate count up to 55. As a result of the raid, the two were allegedly found to be in possession of methamphetamine and were being put into the jail on a 24-hour hold pending formal charges from Dent County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Curley.

Smith can’t book the two new inmates because he’s again busy with one of the women in the interview room who needs to go to the bathroom. On the way there she starts aggressively lobbying Smith to remove her cellmate because she says she won’t stop manically laughing and keeps repeating, “I wouldn’t kill my child” and “I just want to get raped.”

With the situation deteriorating, Wells makes the call to send 10 inmates for housing in the Texas County Jail. Texas County’s facility is large enough to take inmates from overcrowded neighboring jails at a cost of $40 per inmate per day, plus travel expenses. It will cost local taxpayers at least $400 daily for Thursday’s 10 inmates, and they’ll likely be in Texas County for at least 10 days.

Stephens helps pick the lucky 10, and once pulled out of the Dent County Jail they dance and celebrate like they’d just won a car on the Price is Right. Smith, Shelton and deputy Derrick Marfitt have to work late making the two-hour trip to the Texas County Jail and back.

By the time things quiet down the evening shift has arrived just in time for dinner: mac and cheese with bunless hotdogs. With the removal of the 10 inmates, the jail’s isolation cell is now open for The Salem News to spend the night incarcerated. It’s the same cell in which Jason Hall committed suicide by hanging two years ago.

Once in the cell, the first thing to go are your sinuses. The walls and trim are coated in mold. The ventilation system functions, but only makes the problem worse. The vent’s face is caked in mold so dense, dust-like spores can be seen blowing into the room under the ever-present florescent glow.

Your eyes then develop an itch and glaze over. Then, after both nostrils become inflamed, you’re forced to start taking deep, heavy breaths through your mouth. After a few minutes you develop a hacking cough that gets more aggravated with each spore-pronged breath. Meanwhile, the inmates in the adjoining cell confirm things are just as bad for them by talking through the vents.

Only books are available to occupy one’s mind. There are no television, radio or cell phones. Inmates without a bunk have to sleep on the cold, damp floor with only a plastic mat and blanket as soft as a corn stalk for comfort. From this vantage your bones creak from the pressure of the floor due to the thinness of the mat. You can fold your mat in half to increase the cushioning, but that exposes your legs to the frigid concrete. So you endlessly toss and turn, passing the strain from one hip point to another.

“Sure we made mistakes, but we’re all still human,” Rusty says. “I’m 42 and this is the third time I’ve gotten sick to the point of puking in two months. All I’m guilty of is getting high. And all I want to do is see my daughter again. But in this place, I’m telling you, I could die tomorrow and it’s so cold in here they’d never find out until it warms up and I start stinking.”

The politics of building a new Dent County Jail can be espoused morally or financially, and incarceration within its walls can be described in physical, emotional or even spiritual terms. The conditions therein can further be viewed from the vantage points of impacting the inmates, their families and the men and women wearing the badge of Dent County, who struggle every day doing their best with what they’re provided.

The incarceration experience chafes and can’t truly be communicated with a mere assemblage of words. It can only be lived and witnessed. The sheriff’s office will soon hold open houses and tours for the public Tuesday evenings until the election. In consideration of future decisions, the banal can simply read this article and move on, but those wanting to make an informed decision April 4 can go see the jail themselves and decide whether they want the name Dent County branded with its conditions.