Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Tent City (Part 3 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
Sheriff Arpaio is quick to point out that inmates living in the tent jail are happier than inmates living inside the buildings. In many respects he is telling the truth. Some of the jails are old, and even inside a new one like Lower Buckeye jail, filthy air-handling units fill the air with particles of dirt-laden lint. The tents are polluted too, but they not as bad as the indoor jails. It is during winter and summer that Tent City’s population suffers to the point of danger and death.
Inside, the jails have their own dangers year round. A prisoner’s movement is restricted inside, and employees can harass prisoners freely without worry of a news helicopter or a large number of other inmates viewing. In the tents, there is freedom of movement and public viewing to ward off an employee’s errant behavior. Except for the extremes of climate, life in the tents is safer with more relative freedom than the indoor jails. Of course, there is a price to pay for that privilege. Every resident of In-yard is a slave. Prisoners who refuse to work are evicted and returned to the indoor jails.
In-yard prisoners prepare the food, clean the jails, clean the ancillary facilities such as the animal stables, and provide chain gangs to harvest fruit from local residents which is given (fresh or rotten) to the prisoners to eat. Chain gangs even bury the county’s indigent dead. Inmates work seven days a week to provide free services to the county for the less than sixty cents a day in food that is given to them by the sheriff.
The hard-hearted reputation of Maricopa County’s penal system has reached as far away as Ireland, whose government refused to extradite an accused child molester because of the dangers he faced if returned to Arizona. There are, of course, those who benefit from a jail the size of a small town. Inmate clothing which is sewn in Central America and toiletry products purchased from China export much needed tax payer dollars abroad. It is commonly believed among prisoners inside the county jail that the sheriff’s friends and family receive lucrative contracts as commissary and clothing suppliers, but no one has filed charges that such corrupt nepotism exists. Still, because of the ferocity that the sheriff attacks anyone who delves into his secretive activities, it made me wonder.
By the following afternoon, I was meeting new people and adjusting to the In-yard routine. William was on the local Inmate Council and had coordinated the effort that had saved my life the night before. I was sitting on my bunk absorbing the sunshine entering the tent from the sinking sun. William was sitting on the bunk adjacent to mine.
“I would have died last night if it hadn’t been for you guys,” I said.
“I know,” William replied. “Some people do die. We look out after each other as best we can. Sometimes we hang out in the Day Room at night, but the third shift DOs usually run everyone out who doesn’t have to be there. They’re not supposed to lock it down, but they do it all the time.”
“William, if you don’t mind my asking, why are you here? You don’t seem like a hoodlum.”
William laughed. He lowered his head, found a pebble, picked it up, and flipped it thoughtfully through his fingers. “I’m here because I was screwing around on my fiancé.”
“Come on; nobody goes to jail for that,” I commented.
“Seriously, Andrew Thomas paid to have me extradited from Louisiana for a case that had been thrown out of court twice.”
“All right. I won’t pry.”
“It’s okay. Sort of funny really,” William admitted. “My fiancé and I swapped vehicles for a week. She needed my truck to move some things, so I used her car. She came into a shopping center near my house the next Saturday afternoon and saw her car parked there. She pulled up alongside to say she was finished with my truck and saw me making out with another woman, a damned hot woman, too.”
“Okay, that might be a reason to shoot you, but even Andrew Thomas can’t find a law to prosecute that,” I said.
“My fiancé reported her car stolen, and the police arrested me. I explained it all to the officers, but they said they had no choice. Two different judges threw the case out of court. After that, I moved to Louisiana to get out of this stinking county and got a job working on an oil platform. It’s shift work, on a week — off a week, because they have to ferry you out to the rig in a helicopter. Anyway, I was on my week off when I got pulled over for speeding. The cop ran a warrant check on me and said I had a warrant outstanding for car theft in Arizona. I explained everything to him, but there was nothing he could do. He didn’t even arrest me. He had me follow him to the police station. Andrew Thomas is a crafty character; I’ll give him that. Apparently, he has people dusting off old files and re-opening cases like mine to prosecute them. This time I was indicted for ‘Theft of Means’. The prosecutor told me I would get probation and wouldn’t do any time if I signed a guilty plea. I was sick of fighting this county. I didn’t have the money to spend on a third lawyer, plus, public defenders really suck.”
“What’s ‘Theft of Means’?” I asked.
“It’s a weird law. I’d never heard of it either. Basically, it means I told my fiancé I was going to use her car to go to work. Since I went somewhere besides work, I’m guilty of the crime ‘Theft of Means’. It’s something like that.”
“Yeah, I’m on probation and doing time, too,” I said.
“Oh, I didn’t get any jail time,” William said. “Their trick was for me to sign an agreement for Intense Probation Supervision. I didn’t know there were different kinds of probation, and IPS is the worst. The guys in here call it ‘In Prison Soon’ because almost everyone on IPS gets busted for something sooner or later and ends up in here or in prison for a probation violation.”
“So what happened?”
“My probation officer made a surprise visit to check up on me. They do that. Well, some friends were helping me unload my stuff from Louisiana at the time and I had bought a couple of six packs of beer for us to drink while we worked.”
“People do that all the time.”
“I know. I didn’t think much of it either, but the conditions of IPS call for no alcohol. The probation officer took a picture of me with a can of beer in my hand and busted me for a probation violation. Now I’m doing six months in Tent City.”
“You have be kidding! What does alcohol have to do with car theft?”
“Nothing, but it’s all part of their game, man. Almost everyone I’ve met in this place is here for using drugs, DUI, or a probation violation. So, what’s your story?”
Click here for Part 2.
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.
Jail Survival tips. Survival Tips Video. BBC Video.
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Shaun P. Attwood