Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Tent City (Part 1 by Guest Blogger Daniel Horne)
Daniel Horne spent almost a year in Tent City. He is a business executive, husband, and father of two. Following a car accident, Daniel was not charged with drunk driving, but with aggravated assault – in Arizona’s legal system a car can be classified as a weapon you assault someone with. He is the author of the book, Accidental Felons and blog.
The van pulled into the entrance to Tent City; the entire compound was ringed with razor wire and video cameras. We exited the cramped confines of the van and were led to a holding cell not much larger than a department store dressing room. I thought that worse was impossible after the Matrix, but I was wrong. The small, cramped holding cell was already filled with prisoners when we arrived. The guards crowbarred us inside with the door pressing firmly against the bodies of the prisoners closest to it when it closed. This set a new standard for inhumane treatment by the Sheriff’s Office. On the single bench, long enough to seat three men comfortably, five men sat shoulder to shoulder. The rest of us stood, butt to penis; seventeen prisoners were crammed into one tiny concrete room. The smell of years of body odor and urine in the cell was overwhelming, and the tiny room was hot.
I began to feel claustrophobic. I couldn’t breathe. I was becoming dizzy, so I asked the men around me to catch me if I passed out. A small food tray door in the main door had been left open by the guard. It was our only source of fresh air, and the inmates began shuffling around so I could be near it. At the door, I knelt to breathe through the small opening and get away from the hot stale air. I knelt there for four hours. During that time I realized what was happening to me, the sudden claustrophobia, the difficulty catching my breath, the overwhelming fear — I was having an anxiety attack, a terror I had overcome more than forty years ago had returned.
BAM! The food tray slot in the door slammed shut in my face. The shadow of a guard passed by the door’s glass insert above my head. My peering out of the cell into the open area where the guards were milling about had upset one of them. I closed my eyes and quietly began to pray. I fought to control the feelings of helplessness and panic overtaking me.
It seemed an eternity by the time the holding cell door opened and we filed out to line up against the wall for handcuffs. The lot of us resembling the typical Happy Hour crowd more than a dangerous pack of felons. Our group was led outside the building onto a concrete pad under a large open tarp where laundry bins were filled with clothing stacked in neat piles. We were ordered to strip naked in the frigid air. I stood shivering in the pre-dawn morning of January wearing only my pink rubber bath slippers. The cold wind cut into my skin like microscopic shards of glass tearing at my flesh. My teeth clattered with the loud, rhythmic sound of deer antlers colliding in the mating season.
Two guards dressed in thick winter coats and black beanie hats stood at the end of the line of laundry bins talking and laughing. From their demeanor it appeared they were laughing at us. The humiliation I felt was that of a naked slave at the market. I walked down the line of clothing donning socks, boxer shorts, and another pair of striped pajamas as quickly as the slow-moving line of shivering men permitted. I was issued one sheet, one towel, and six paper thin blankets. (The normal issue in winter, I later learned, was two blankets, but sickness had forced the Sheriff’s Office to allot prisoners four more this year.) The bins that were supposed to contain sets of cotton thermal underwear were empty by the time I got to them. One other prisoner and I stood there, without the much needed protection, waiting to see what would happen next.
“You two guys will have to come back tomorrow afternoon when more clothing arrives from the laundry to request the additional clothing,” the DO said with a shrug, his gloved hands stuffed into the pockets of his heavy, thick coat and a wool beanie pulled down low over his ears to just above his eyebrows. I would need to make due as best I could to survive the night in a cold, arctic air mass blanketing Phoenix that January of 2007. Just two weeks earlier, the temperature had reached a record-breaking low of 14 degrees. Tonight it was 35 degrees and I stood in the night air holding my bedding dressed for the searing heat of summer. I was in trouble — serious trouble.
Part 2 coming next week.
As this is Daniel’s first post for Jon’s Jail Journal, your comments would be greatly appreciated.
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Shaun P. Attwood