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WROUGHT-IRON ROUND-UP: San Francisco County Jail
Johnny 99 checks in from the City by the Bay.
My detour through the system at Miami-Dade was a blow to the spirit. It’s one thing to get thrown in the pen for the sake of journalism, quite another when you’re just minding your own business in an appropriated Oldsmobile just off the freeway. Either way, it’s no vacation.
In picking my next assignment, I thought it might be a good idea to work myself into something a little off the beaten path. Lately, I feel like I’ve been on such a crusade to check into hall-of-fame dungeons like Cook and Maricopa, that maybe I’ve lost sight of the hundreds of less infamous facilities all across this proud Prison Nation.
I chose San Francisco because I thought it might be interesting to see how the accomodations are in a town where “ACLU” is more than just a four-letter word. Plus, I’ve been getting the boots put to me pretty good over the past year, and I was looking for something a little closer to the powder-puff level for this one. Certainly, if there was a place where arrestees got the white glove treatment, it was in the City by the Bay, right?
So, how do you get yourself arrested in an anything-goes town like San Francisco? How the hell do you even get noticed? I quickly checked off all my typical means–public drunkenness, drug possession, and indecent exposure–from the list, knowing that it would take weeks to even catch the eye of a cop with such a conventional approach.
For a moment, it occurred to me that roughing up some endangered species would likely raise the ire of the locals. Nobody gives a shit if you roll a homeless guy or get into a slapfight down in the Castro District, but if they catch you slicing filets off a Green Sturgeon or putting the beat-down a Short-tailed Albatross, you can rest assured the authorities will soon be involved.
Only problem is finding one. And then catching one.
At this age? Next idea.
I’ve found that sometimes the best idea is just to wander the streets of a given locale and wait for an idea to strike. San Francisco is a good walking town, so I started hoofing it, and before long, I found myself down in the Financial District.
In short order, inspiration struck.
Across the country, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been largely mocked and suppressed to the point that, for the majority of the country, public apathy has set in. But San Francisco is a city of idealists, particularly if your ideals involve fairweather participation, weed, and minimal hygiene, and a decent-sized contingent of the OWS movement is still representing itself.
Wearing the ravages of a week-long hitchhike across the country, I fit right in.
One of the nice things about being overcome by a riot squad is the opportunity to engage officers of the law. If you chuck a 9-volt battery at, say, a beat cop catching up on paperwork in the parking lot of a Circle-K, odds are you are going to either get beaten in a life-altering way or shot in a life-ending way. In a protest environment, the cops not only expect physical engagement, they come dressed for it. They expect a little flying saliva and some fisticuffs to fly in the process.
Unless, of course, your fellow protestors are half-assed. All I know is, as the squad started moving in, I tossed one tennis-ball sized rock in the line and suddenly I felt like the guy who stagedives into a crowd of people who don’t want to get their hair mussed: every motherfucker got right out of the way. I got one good haymaker in before a platoon of about four boys in blue moved in on me.
STAFF AND AMBIENCE — So, I made such a point of getting into the spirit of things, I managed to be the only guy down there who got hauled away. Wouldn’t you know it? Dirty hippies. Here I’d expected to lock arms with my brothers-in-arms and lead sing-a-longs in the holding tank while as we awaited our Day in Court together. Now, I was just the dirty fucker who slugged Officer MacNally, sitting on a hard bench with a bunch of common hoods.
I was booked into SFCJ #1 on Seventh. As a result of the nature of my arrest, I received some appropriately rough handling throughout the initial phase of my experience. I must have made, at the very least, glancing contact with every wall I was led past en route to holding. In addition, I’m pretty sure they held up processing so that I might spend as much time as possible in the tank. So, keep in mind as you are reading this, I may not have had the standard experience, at least in the early going.
It was probably close to thirty-six hours before they finally dragged me out to roll me for prints. There was no real exchange between me and the crew during process. No admonishment or smart-alecky dialogue. Basic information only. Fingerprints. Mugshots. Back to holding with maybe a couple jabs to the ribs on the way. No biggie. Grade: B-
ACCOMODATIONS — San Francisco County sports pretty standard equipment. The holding tank is miserable, but falls short of cruel in that there is a frosted window that allows a partial view of the city. You shit and piss in front of everybody like anywhere else, but that’s to be expected.
After arraignment, the lock-up was a welcome sight. Some modern touches meshed with old-world sensibilities. Overcrowding at a medium level. Worse than Cook County, not as bad as Miami-Dade. The doors slide shut. None of the hokey high school swinging door cells like what I found at Cook. SFCJ #1 is a jail that knows it’s a jail.
I had expected a higher level of humane treatment in the Bay City, as I mentioned before, but even in the evaluation phase of the arrest, I found no excesses in the way of civility. Again, my experience may be tainted by the disposition of my arrest, but I get the feeling that they just throw fuckers in the slammer here just like anyplace else. Grade: B+
CUISINE – Here again, I found myself expecting something different, due to the nature of the locale. Free-range eggs or gluten-free bread. Something. Not the case. The first night in holding I got precisely nothing. At around 4:30 the next morning, San Francisco’s finest served up a plate of lukewarm oatmeal with lukewarm milk, a cold scoop of hash browns, a butter pat, and a sugar packet.
Lunch, that same afternoon? The same lukewarm milk with soggy PB & J. Grape jelly. Repugnant. Grade: A+
CUSTOMER SERVICE — Bit of a disappointment, here. I honestly expected better, by which I mean worse. The fair and largely indifferent treatment that I received once I got through processing and out of arraignment may be the only evidence of a history of intercession by ACLU-type lawyers. At any other jail, for a hack up on officer-assault charges, opportunities for abuse by the guards would have presented themselves early and often. Even under a barrage of verbal abuse by yours truly, the guards stayed as calm and stoic as Beefeaters. Grade: D
THE LAST WORD — San Francisco County Jail is almost a literal representation of the average of what you can find in a big city jail here in the United States. They exhibit nothing out of the ordinary in any phase from processing to arraignment to bail. Overall Grade: B-