15 Jun 08

Tent City (Part 1)

Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Tent City is probably one of the most brutal jails in the world.

“You got out of Tent City when?” I asked.
“Two weeks ago,” said Jay (my ex fiancée’s youngest brother).
“Why were you there?”
“My second DUI.”
“Let’s start with the food. Is it still red death?”
“Oh yeah. Every night. First of all, the red death covers a mushed-up rice that’s no longer rice. You can spread the rice like butter.”
“What did the red death look like?”
“It’s like a gravy with chunks of mystery meat sticking out of it. It comes in various reds and oranges, but it seems to be going more orange this year. The meat is cubed or shredded. It's more like pet-food meat than meat people can eat. You get two little things of butter on wax paper with it. The packages are hidden in the red death. The butter melts, so the first thing you have to do is fish the wax paper out of the slop. There’s usually a piece of fruit. It’s chopped-up fruit. I tried to eat it twice and there’s no possible way you can eat it because it’s too hard and not fruit consistency. The side salad’s on the other side of the tray. It’s some little shreds of cabbage. It’s not lettuce, it just looks like lettuce. It’s all wilted and nasty.”
“The only other meal of the day is the Ladmo bag in the morning right?”
“Yeah. You get consistently bad breakfast bread. It’s either mouldy or insanely hard and stale. If you eat the bread it dries your whole body out, and you can never get enough to drink, it’s that dry. The breakfast meat is all ham now. I couldn’t eat it. You get two different types of ham in the same package. Some of it looks almost like deli ham – like you may be able to eat it. The other is the same type but with huge sections of hard brown spots. You just don’t eat anything those spots have touched including the good ham. You get expired cookies from Mexico – like expired over a year ago. The package has all Spanish writing on it. You get two oranges. For the last ten days I was there, they were all mouldy – it was a black mould on the oranges – which sucked ’cause it was the only thing I wanted to eat. To drink, you get children’s milk like they hand out at lunch lines. That’s it. Two meals a day of crap you can’t eat. There’s people in there so hungry, you have to be ready to fight to protect your commissary. Also, I had a friend who worked in the kitchen. He said every single thing he saw in the kitchen was expired by at least one year. They put the food in freezers, so you can’t tell when they expired, so they can say they were in there the whole time. He said Safeway donates all kinds of good food – cakes, Gatorade – but it all goes to the people who work for the jail. The inmates never get it.”
“How about the bugs?”
“A kid got bit in the face by a brown recluse spider, right on the jaw. It was eating his face away.”
“Is the jail’s policy still not to treat insect bites?”
“They wouldn’t treat it. They don’t care. He went home looking like that. I had lots of other visitors.”
“What kind?”
“Rats. The rats visit you every night. There’s a slab of concrete where the tent pole goes in. They make holes under the concrete. They kinda live down there. At night they come by and run around.”
“Did they jump on you while you tried to sleep?”
“No. I was on the top bunk. They get the guys on the bottom bunks and they jump in their drawers and eat all of their food.”
“So if the prisoners don’t take your food, the rats will?”
“Yeah. On the top bunk you get all the flying bugs and spiders. I constantly got bit by a whole bunch of shit. I’d wake up with bites all over my arms and head and anywhere I didn’t put a blanket over. Sometimes it itches as they’re nibbling on you. It wakes you up and you kinda sweep them off.”
“When you wake up like that, what do the bugs look like?”
“Bright florescent coloured bugs with wings. I even got bit on the knee by a spider while playing cards.”
“Tell me about the gangs and the rules they enforced on you?”

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Copyright © 2007-2008 Shaun P. Attwood


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insight Shaun. You know, being in San Diego County jail, I must say things are a hell of alot better. The "Hotel California" stigmatism suits it to the teeth. To compare jail conditions, we had it way better. And things haven't changed. True, the treatment is inhumane, but man, for breakfast it was cold serial (usually rice crispies in a little sealed plastic square container), milk, juice, coffee, toast, an orange, and a hard boiled egg. It wasn't bad by any means, except the cold hardboiled egg, which pales in comparison to complaints in Joe's citadel.

For lunch it was always a bologne sandwhich (they even came with Mustard/Mayo packets), and two really good cookies, freshly baked and a juice. Believe me, it wasn't bad by any means.

I have a question Shaun, and I would like to know if anyone who did time pre-Joe Arpaio.

How were conditions with the previous sheriff? My google searches have proved fruitless, so if you can shed some light on how it was by all means please share. Also, does anyone know if there are term limits for the sheriff? Here in San Diego County, the Sheriff can keep being an incumbent and hold the post as long as he isn't beaten by another candidate.

Do you know if there are any changes in the future? How is Joe's health? This guy seems to be like Al Davis (the owner of the Raiders), refusing to hand over the reigns until his death. Thank you and I appreciate it. Best wishes. -Jose in San Diego.

Jon said...


For more Joe Arpaio info, check out the entry for him at Wikipedia. He's running again in November. I'm told one of the people running against him is a lady whose son died in Tent City. Although he keeps winning, his margin of victory has fallen each time. I'm unsure how the jail conditions were pre-Arpaio.



Sue O. (aka Joannie, SS) said...

That's an interesting comparison-thanks for the info, Jose. It seems like every prison/jail is so different in terms of what's available and the way things are run. I think I heard that inmates used to be able to receive packages and things from home? I understand the security risks, but I wish that were still the case!! In my son's case, commissary has been changed to a pre-order system, which he says definitely has it's drawbacks, but he is fine in terms of daily survivability. It just takes forever to get things done.

Anonymous said...


How bad is it inside the tents? Is too hot to sleep OK?


Anonymous said...

Here's an idea. Stay out jail.

Sue O. (aka Joannie, SS) said...

Great idea-when you figure out how to make human nature perfect, let me know. Meantime, it's a reality in a lot of lives-even good people.

Anonymous said...

Wow right man, that GED sure is paying dividends in critical thinking now isn't it! Another Einstein is born every minute.

Here's an idea: Leave.

Sue O. (aka Joannie, SS) said...

Oh well, back on the soapbox again-I don't mean to make heroes or saints out of inmates. But here's the thing-if you've never struggled with drug addiction or alcoholism, count your blessings. If you've never made a serious mistake or really bad choice in your life, be grateful. If you've never suffered from neglect, abuse, peer pressure, generational incarceration or gang involvement, thank God or whomever you would. If puberty was smooth sailing, you're in the minority. If you don't have some sort of untreated mental illness or some legitimate need to self-medicate and can't get help, know how lucky you are. Are there career criminals out there and truly negligent people? Yes. Does everyone who belongs behind bars get there? No. And those who have little other options in life often do. Yes, the best advice is don't go there, but so many who thought they never would be are.