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WROUGHT-IRON ROUND-UP – Shawnee County Adult Detention Facility
It’s not easy for a stranger to draw the attention of the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Department by conventional means. Namely, excessive speed. Most motorists passing through Topeka are so relieved to be out of the Rockies, or Oklahoma, one needs to keep the needle around 95 mph just to keep up with the flow of traffic, comprised mainly of caffeine-addled tourists with fear-blistered palms.
Driving drunk won’t get you anywhere, either. Since the knowing sages of Shawnee County struck down the prohibition of alcohol way back in 1986, the locals have been doing their level best to make up for lost time, and one might find that the stripes on those roads that have been paved serve more as a kind of recommendation than an assertion of law.
Now, combining these two behaviors will probably get you closer to the back of a cruiser, but if you can’t afford to risk it, mixing in a healthy dose of Texas plates and six-foot span of gleaming steer horn on the hood will damn well do the trick. Luckily, if you’re looking for a vehicle to borrow in the State of Texas, you stand a pretty good chance of finding this very configuration in any given mall parking lot in the Lone Star State.
I was gunned doing 114 mph on Sherman Road, near the airport on the northeast end of town. The soon-to-be arresting officer approached with gun drawn. A routine search turned up an open bottle of Wild Turkey, half a joint, and no legal form of identification. As we waited for the vehicle report to come back with the bad news, the officer probed.
“What you doin’ up this way?”
“I need a reason?”
“Naw, but most folks’d have one.”
“I wanted to see where the toothbrush was invented.”
“Right here in Kansas, sir.”
“I never heard that. How you know that?”
“Because if it were invented anywhere else, it’d be called a teethbrush.”
Which is an old joke, but that’s the great thing about Kansas. Everything’s new to them.
STAFF AND AMBIENCE – There was, in fact, a reason I had come up to Shawnee County, and it wasn’t just to uncork stale, derisive jokes on unsuspecting law enforcement officials. I was here because I’d heard that, in spite of its arcane reputation, the State of Kansas has invested a wholly inappropriate level of funding toward the housing of suspected criminals and convicts in state-of-the-art cathedrals of rehabilitation, with the Shawnee County Adult Detention Facility representing one of the signature structures in the state.
I hated it right away. Those who follow this column know that I have no appreciation for the new aesthetic in American corrections facilities, and the facility in Shawnee County, Kansas, is no exception. Gleaming floors? Fresh-painted walls? Steel swinging doors? Even the processing center had a new car smell. What the fuck is this, the Topeka Radisson?
Processing was impersonal, cordial, and annoyingly efficient. I was photographed, printed, and placed in holding within an hour of arrival, with nothing rougher than a firm grip of my arm at any point in the proceedings. Grade: D
ACCOMODATIONS: After being arraigned on a truly dizzying set of charges, I was placed in lock-up. Again, the soft hand of progress has left it’s April fresh mark upon Shawnee County. The facility is laid out in the Modern Configuration, which any fan of Oz will recognize. Cells are laid out in a circular, bilevel arrangement which allows for observation of the entire “pod” from any point. “Pod.” Jesus.
Bedding was firm and fresh, and I was one of four in my particular cell, which, by way of coincidence, was built to hold exactly four. To my immediate annoyance, there was a swinging door with a window, as opposed to a sliding door of bars, crossing the threshold of the cell. A window on the wall opposite the door offered a not altogether unpleasant view of the horizon. Grade: F
CUISINE: The other guests with whom I was rooming had been attempting to warn me about the state of the food at Shawnee, but I knew all along that they were speaking from inexperience.
My suspicions were confirmed when lunch arrived on a sectioned cafeteria tray with no fewer than five courses, including a goddamned cookie for desert.
“Yeah, this is horrible.”
“Boy, you must be crazy if this ain’t the worst meal you ate in your life.”
“Well, you can call me crazy then. I’d have beaten my mother to death with my sister’s decapitated head for a meal like this when I was in Maricopa. A fucking garden salad? Who’s your fucking caterer?”
CUSTOMER SERVICE – From booking to arraignment to lock-up, I was never treated like anything less than the second class citizen that I work hard to be. Interactions with the guards and staff were minimal and dignified. No reason to complain. Grade: F
THE LAST WORD – Well, you may be able to see where this one is going. If you’re going to be traveling to the Greater Topeka Area, and are unable to land a choice hotel reservation, go ahead and rob a liquor store utilising a bicycle as your getaway vehicle. A bellhop in a big white car with flashing lights on the roof will be with you shortly. At no point in your life will you be treated with better care or a higher level of professionalism. Grade: F