Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Tent City (Part 2 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 men in my assigned tent, strangers I couldn’t recognize in the darkness, got out of their bunks and went to work after one of the prisoners realized my condition. Several of my new tent mates were dispatched to roam the tents for more clothing and blankets. While we waited, a young man showed me how to make a ‘Laurence of Arabia’ style head covering by ripping apart the thin, pink towel I had been issued. Its purpose, he explained, was to keep the body heat from escaping my bare head. Other inmates offered temporary blankets to protect me from the bite of the frigid air. They showed me how to make a bed for survival, tucking in the bedding in a fashion that minimized the escaping of body heat to create a makeshift igloo and encapsulate what warmth my body manufactured.
The bed sheet, more densely woven than the blankets, was used as a top cover. The flimsy foam mattress flattened under the weight of a prisoner’s body, allowing the steel frame to suck precious body heat from hips, knees, and shoulders. Two blankets were placed over the cold plastic-coated foam as a bottom sheet to partially insulate me from the danger of the steel frame beneath.
When the runners returned with four more blankets, three of them were placed beneath the foam, fully insulating it from the cold steel’s icy grip. Five more blankets, tucked in on three sides, were placed on top of the sheet. A plastic garbage bag was ripped open and draped across the foot of the bunk. Its purpose was to keep my feet from becoming frostbitten. Lying on my side, curled in a ball in my makeshift igloo, sleep was impossible. Shivering and in pain from my aching joints, I silently prayed — God, let me live until the sun comes up.
Thanks to the generosity of strangers, these young men who had been branded as less than human by the authorities of Maricopa County, I survived my first night in Tent City. The next day, two pair of tattered, but newly laundered and neatly folded, thermal underwear appeared magically on my bunk, the generosity of yet another prisoner working as slave labor for the sheriff.
Not long after sunrise, everyone was forced to roll-up and tie the tent’s sides so the DOs could see all activity inside each tent. Periodically throughout the day, DOs roamed the compound and stripped bunks of more than the standard issue six blankets, throwing the contraband bedding onto the rocks that covered the yard. Prisoners were randomly chosen for searches and patted down for contraband. Wearing more than the standard issue two pair of tattered cotton thermals was strictly forbidden. Prisoners were forced to strip on the spot, tossing the protective clothing onto the rocks. As punishment, some of these inmates were forced to walk the yard to clear it of contraband blankets and thermal underwear taken from other prisoners by the guards. By the next evening, new blankets and thermals had reappeared. Slave laborers work around the clock in Tent City, and when their shifts end, smuggle more survival gear back into the tents. Other inmates, transferred out of the tents, left their bedding behind for those remaining. This was a well-practiced ritual, and I suspected that some of the nightshift guards didn’t have their supervisor’s hard-hearted (and dangerous) approach to warehousing county residents.
Click here for Part 1.
Click here for more information on Daniel’s book, Accidental Felons.
Click here for more on Tent City by Pearl Wilson whose son was murdered there.
Click here for my video on surviving Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail system.
Click here for my jail survival tips.
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Shaun P. Attwood