Last year I was invited to tour Sheriff Joe’s Tent City prison facility on West Durango in Phoenix. I don’t know of anyone who isn’t familiar with the place as it is internationally known for its 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.
Former star and announcer for the Diamondbacks, Mark Grace, is currently serving four months and being the guy he is, is making the best of the situation. He works for the D-Backs during the day and to reports back to Durango by 6:00 pm. He says it isn’t so bad other than at this time of year it is really cold at night.
Sheriff Joe and his crew run a tight ship which becomes obvious the moment you set foot in the 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 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 get up to 3½ hour 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. 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, 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 learn 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 but prison is prison so you do not want to be there. The place is effective and no silly, expensive, and disgruntled recall of Sheriff Joe will change that.
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Bio: Jim McAllister has been a Plugged-In Scottsdale blogger, an Arizona Republic Sunday Plugged-In contributor, and a Scottsdale Republic columnist since 2005. He has also written for the Sonoran News and did a weekly column from 2004-2006 for the Scottsdale/Paradise Valley Independent. In 2004 he wrote a 7 part series on The History of Television for TV TOME (now TV.Com). A veteran of the U. S. Air Force, he has done hosting and commercial work in radio and TV and currently does a blog at jmcallister.blogspot.com.