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Saturday, January 07, 2012

A Scottsdale guy tours Sheriff's Arpaio's Tent City

Recently I was invited to tour Sheriff Joe’s Tent City prison facility on West Durango in Phoenix. It is internationally known for its prison striped uniforms, pink underwear, and outdoor sleeping accommodations of 22 to a tent. It’s also where you may wind up if you are caught driving with a snootful on a Saturday night.
Sheriff Joe and his crew of officers run a tight ship which becomes obvious as soon as you set foot in the front door.

After entering, you report to a glassed in window where a sheriff’s deputy announces your arrival to an officer who will be your guide. The waiting area is prison stark and for a bit of irony, someone has decorated the check-in area with a string of Christmas lights to add a little cheer to the place. It helps but with surveillance cameras everywhere, it’s hard to forget where you are.

Our guide was Officer McVaugh, a short but strong guy who looked like he could handle more than someone his size in a scuffle. His only protection was pepper spray as no guns are carried by officers.

He mentioned that prisoners usually get up to 3½ hour long visits but visitors have to remain in the lobby and visit via a monitor. There is a day room near the lobby that prisoners can use if they are not involved with something else. It is open 24/7 but the prisoners have to live outside in the tents. Most of the guys in the day room had a clean cut look that might hide the fact that they were residents of a prison facility.

Tent City is considered a minimum classification jail which means it houses prisoners not in the general prison population. It holds about 1,000 with the ratio of men to women about 5 to 1. Inmates are there to serve one year or less for crimes like DUI or lesser crimes. Some are given permission to go to jobs during the day after which they must report back that night.

When they return from outside, they are thoroughly searched while nude because of their propensity to be imaginative about places on the human body to hide contraband.

The inmates who stay full time must pull duty in the kitchen, the dog pound, or the laundry. Some are also used on the chain gang. They have the opportunity to earn courses toward GED certificates and receive 20% off purchases at the prison canteen. They are fed twice a day with food presented in “Ladmo Bags”. As far as green baloney being served, Officer McVaugh said that is not true and that he eats the baloney all the time.

Prisoners are allowed to receive special diets and there is medical care available for $10. During the holidays, a Christmas tree is on display near the tower with the “Vacancy” sign.

Tent City may be better than the state pen in Florence, Arizona but prison is prison so you do not want to be there. As for me, It was comforting after my visit to head east on the 202 and see the “Welcome to Scottsdale” sign!

Welcome to Tent City, AZ

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