Posts Tagged With: inmates


When I arrived at the jail yesterday, the first change I noticed was a new solar array spread along the hillside above the jail.  New Sheriff Ahern is young and modern, and as a solar advocate, I was delighted to see this.

A second array, also new, inside the jail fencing.

When I arrived at 9:30, a maintenance person was walking the roof which is also covered by solar panels. It was the biggest installation of solar in the United States when it was built in 1985.  I expect the people of Alameda County are proud and grateful for the savings in taxes they realize from solar technology.

Volunteer Bud Harlan showed Ron Heinsma, a retired deputy sheriff visitor for the day,  a piece of equipment retired to the archive. Never used, in fact. The electrified shield was designed and purchased to go into a cell and  remove a recalcitrant prisoner who decided he didn’t want to go to court that day and was ready to put up a fight.  Years ago, an officer went into a cell with a mattress to get someone out. This device delivers a stunning shock. It flashes blue lights and sizzles and scares the fight out of a recalcitrant, and thus, it has never been used against a man.  Officers use pepper spray in the jail and deputies have to endure pepper spray themselves, during training, before they can use it against an inmate.

Also new since my last visit was a beautifully tooled holster, gloves and spurs belonging to an old-time posse member. Alameda County’s Posse was made up of ranchers and others who owned horses, to aid the sheriff in finding  lost people, or escapees or evidence, or getting to difficult areas in the foothills. They were deputized by the sheriff and assisted as volunteers without pay. They no longer use the posse for police work.  The Posse is still considered an auxiliary unit to the department. Members  wear badges,  have a presence at the county fair and parade,  and at one time did fund-raising for community events associated with the sheriff’s office.   Our last Sheriff to be a posse member in uniform was Sheriff Frank Madigan.

New President, Bill Rhodes, has made many positive changes to the archive and for those who have visited, it is worth a another visit to see them. The non-profit group, the Alameda County Archive Association, is raising funds to rebuild the old guard shack we rescued and donations are needed and can be sent to: ACSO, 4043 Crest Ct., Pleasanton, CA 94588.  Any amount, no matter how small, is appreciated.

The guard shack in the old days was considered an outdoor assignment. It had no electricity in the early years of Santa Rita, and the officer had nothing but the stars and limited space in which to move while he struggled to stay warm and awake to make sure no one escaped the “prison farm”.  Prison farms in the 1940’s and 50’s, were the  newest innovation in jails. Santa Rita had a hog ranch, raised cattle, and produced their own food in a truck garden. At one time Santa Rita was considered the best rehabilitation center in the nation and was viewed by other states and countries as the way to handle criminals.


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When I started travel blogging, I neglected old haunts and activities. The Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs Archive Association is a powerful pull for me and I was grateful to be home in time for the March meeting. Instead of comptometers, teletypes and adding machines,  we have electronic gadgets of superior performance that replace them. The jail I knew was a friendly place instead of a lock down prison as it is today. Much has changed. One officer told me:  “This place is probably safer for both officer and inmate, but it has no soul.”

I’m  going to cite some simple facts about incarceration today just as food for thought.

The United States has earned the distinction of being the world’s largest jailer, ahead of China and Russia. With 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

We have well over 2 million people in prison. Two million people not working, not supporting their children and living off the taxpayers for their room, board, and medical care.  And, they are enduring mandatory longer sentences so we will be caring for them much longer than any danger they can present to society. We also render them “non citizens” who cannot participate in our democracy, who because of stigma, can no longer work or be productive without draconian effort if and when they do get out.

Mandatory sentencing, War on Drugs, Tough On Crime, Three Strikes Your Out, all political sound bites turned into hard legislation, have done little to protect the public. We now have overcrowded prisons burdening taxpayers.

White Americans commit crimes at the same rates as people of color. Biased enforcement and sentencing make a disproportionate number of Blacks and Latinos pay the price.  One in nine young black men (age 20-34) is behind bars.

Nearly half of all state prisoners are locked up for nonviolent offenses. We are seeing a resurgence of debtors prisons. Thousands of people are jailed because they are two poor to pay fines for traffic tickets or other misdemeanors.

The U.S. Prison population rose by 700% from 1970-2005, outpacing the general population rate and the crime rate.

Spending on incarceration in 2007 was $44 billion rising 127% from 1987.   In that same period of time spending on education rose 21%.

Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo, as promised, has implications far beyond the fate of men detained in prison. Indefinite detention is an erosion in our personal liberties, and our American values.

I don’t pretend to know the answer. I know it alarms me.

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My husband, (deceased) was an Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy. He learned from inmates a lot about controlled substances. For instance, inmates could buy cigarettes, if they could afford them. There were fights, including stabbings over cigarettes. When they issued inmates freeline tobacco, (a cheap, loose tobacco for roll your own cigs) fights over cigarettes ceased. (Now, for health reasons, inmates are no longer allowed to smoke in jail.)

Sugar was given to inmates in guarded amounts to control ants and the making of hooch. Thus, sugar became contraband. Inmates would smuggle it and sell it to other inmates. Fights would ensue and as a consequence, the ant problem and hooch-making spread. Once they put sugar on the tables freely, the fights over sugar disappeared and the hooch makers were easier to control.

California legalized marijuana for medical use. The Federal Government, under Obama, chooses not to prosecute marijuana use in legal clinics and now,  the 250,000 physician strong American Medical Association, has suspended its ban on marijuana research. They’ve asked the Federal Government to remove its classification as a Schedule 1 dangerous, restrictive drug. This opens the way for decent research on the benefits of cannabis. Their major objection stemmed from delivering it by the unhealthy practice of smoking it.

Thirteen states have legal medical marijuana use laws and others are considering it. The Federal Government at one time classified Marijuana as causing a homocidal mania. The culture is changing and it is no longer considered the evil weed.

Dispensaries all over California are going through growing pains; unhappy neighbors, distrustful officials concerned about inadequate oversight. Clinic robberies, questions about permits and advertising. Can you put flyers on neighborhood cars advertising your business? How many clinics can you have in one neighborhood and are clinics allowing marijuana abuse? How close to schools can they be? Oh, the shakeout is coming and it needs to happen. But, the good news is, marijuana is coming out of the closet for treating cancer, glaucoma, HIV and pain. So, if we tax and regulate it like we do cigarettes and alcohol, some people will get rich, and the state, cities and counties would have a new source of revenue. And, it will lose its cache as contraband. I never thought I’d be a proponent of marijuana, but I’m part of that changing culture.

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