Miami-Dade County Jail -The Coldest Place in Florida
Second in a 2-part series on Miami-Dade County Jail.
The first thing a casual visitor might notice about DCJ is that the people working the front desk, despite being in the middle of South Florida, are dressed like it’s January in Chicago. You can literally walk from the blast-furnace that is a summer day in Miami into the front lobby of DCJ and see corrections officers decked out in jackets that make them look like over-bundled seven-year-olds. And according to several inmates, it may be the coldest place in Miami.
“You see the people working there,” says Bryant, “and they’re all in full winter clothes. And you’re like ‘Damn, I wish I had that jacket.”
Upon check-in to East Wing, you are supposedly given a blanket, although Bryant surmises none have been cleaned since somewhere around 1968.
“You can guess where that’s been,” he says.
New inmates are also supposed to get a mat, for those that choose to use them on the concrete “bunks,” although defense attorney Kennedy describes them more as concrete slabs coming out of the walls. They less resemble mattresses, Bryant says, and more resemble a piece of cardboard wrapped in duct tape. This may or may not be an improvement over the urine-and-feces soaked concrete floor.
He says the county allots the jail one blanket per person, but some of the inmates who have been in there for a good amount of time tend to hoard the blankets and make pillows out of them. This is not a great loss, he says, given the relative cleanliness of said blankets.
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People often confuse prison and jail. Jail is where people go who are serving short terms (under one year) or who are awaiting trial and/or arraignment. Prison is where people go for a long time. And Prison is where all those terrible, horrible things you saw on “Oz,” happen.
That being said, you are not exactly rooming with a bunch of Mormon Missionaries either.
“Some of the people in there are terrifying,” says Kennedy, the Miami defense attorney. “Sometimes you hear about things happening in jail, and you wonder ‘how could that possibly happen?’ You think if there are people in the facility with the potential to do that, you would keep them housed in a way that would keep that from happening. But that’s not always the case.”
Vaughn says that going to jail, however, does not necessarily mean you are going to be tricked out for cigarettes and a phone call. People want to get out, he says, so if you don’t act like an idiot, you should be safe.
“There are very few structured aspects of life in East Wing,” he says, “and these guys like them. So make sure you adhere to what they tell you.”
Sanitary procedures, such as using the right toilet are big deals to the regular inmates. As is getting out of bed for the pre-meal headcount.
“If you don’t answer within a few seconds of them calling your name at headcount, they start it all over again. And you don’t eat until headcount is finished,” Vaughn says. “And these guys, they take their food seriously, so don’t fuck that up.”
“One guy, the first time I was there, he decided he wanted to stay in bed for headcount,” he recalls. “It took like half an hour and after he finally spoke up, they gave us the food. After we got it, some of the House Men (inmates who had been in for a long time) went over to this guy’s bunk , and just started wailing on him with one of the phone receivers. This one guard asked a female guard what they should do, and she just goes ‘let it go.‘ She musta been mad he fucked up her headcount.”
The guards’ lack of intervention in a brutal beating is not uncommon at DCJ, says Bryant. Quite often it is easier for them to just let a fight go than risk injury or, worse, an all-out riot. Miami-Dade Corrections would not comment on this, or any other question regarding sanitation and arctic temperatures, but no inmate has disagreed with anything written here.
So while getting arrested anywhere is probably not going to be the highlight of your life, DCJ offers a special brand of temporary accommodation to make your time there particularly unpleasant. Unless you are a fan of lying in feces while you freeze to death and eat weeks-old bologna, you may want to avoid getting arrested when you head to South Beach. Otherwise you better start memorizing the numbers in your cell phone, because the sooner you can get bailed out of DCJ, most likely the better.
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