Officers Nicholas Denton and Pete Feeley watch tape to make sure nothing inappropriate was happening.
While the day may have started out slow, my chance to follow along with the officers at the Essex County Jail went by faster than any in recent memory.
The morning started at 6:30 a.m., when I met Capt. Tom Murphy in the lobby to the Public Safety Building in Lewis. He took me down to the morning briefing, where it was announced that the jail was currently filled with 95 inmates - with three others who would be coming at the end of the week to serve weekend jail sentences.
Following the briefing, we walked into the jail facility, through several locked doors that were controlled by a central area, and awaited shift change.
That was the slowest part of the day, because while I am working on it, I have very little patience. Officers from the morning shift waited with those from the night shift as the supervisors made sure that everyone was present and accounted - both officers and inmates.
After that, it was into the jail with the officer I was assigned to, Nicholas Denton. We started the day in B Block, where the female population was housed and being served breakfast. Denton did mail call while there, yelling out names and handing mail out to inmates. Three inmates who were not lucky enough to get mail came up asking - almost imploring - if Denton was sure that was all the mail for the day. One even claimed her mail was being withheld.
That was one of the first glimpses into what the consequences were for those who made the choices that had them wearing the ECCF sweatshirts - the lack of outside contact and the desire to attain it.
I was shown the other blocks, including the segregation and workers areas, as well as A and C blocks.
A block was where I next got a taste of what poor choices can lead to. The big debate of the morning in the most populated male area was the fact that some of the inmates were not allowed to watch the end of game one of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder (first question: why would you want to watch the NBA, but that’s for another column). The game, which started after 9 p.m., lasted well after lights out at 11 p.m., and the call was made that game one of a seven game series was not that important (again, has there ever been an NBA game that important since Jordon retired, but I digress).
Either way, it was an issue that came up because the people in there made choices that now restrict their ability to do what those on the outside can do - watch something past 11 p.m.
(It was also an issue that was forgotten as the officer overseeing the block said that the inmates turned from complaining about not watching the game to why I did not ask them any questions after I left the area).
Another was watching some of the inmates walk around the recreation area. The enclosed space included a stationary stand that could be used for pullups or other exercises, a sky light and tables, but was confined to an area where it would take many laps to walk a mile. When I walk, I go around the town, which is a lot more challenging and fun.
I also got to see the officers book a pair of new residents, which was again eye-opening. The officers worked with the soon-to-be inmates to make sure that they were stable, able to have all of the information they needed, and in one case, looked up a phone number for someone that needed to call a family member to ask about bail.
All of them said that working with the people coming through booking and being civil with them will allow the person heading into the jail to drop the defenses that they may have had up with the arresting officer, although they added that is not always the case.
In the end, I left the facility over five hours after I entered. But with as busy as Denton and the other officers were, it seemed like I had only been there for a couple of hours after the shifts were changed.
So, a big thank you to the officers who let me hang around and pester them with questions while they were being kept very busy by their tennants. Stay safe and thanks for the visit.
Keith Lobdell is the Editor of the Valley News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org