The Jail Visit (3/5/01)

Fairly often, my job requires that  I run out to the jail to visit an inmate at the Wise County Jail. I am now of the opinion that everyone should do it - at least once.

You begin the odyssey by checking in at the lobby, filling out a short form, and beginning your wait of approximately 10 to 15 minutes. (A sidenote: Sheriff Phil Ryan should be commended for the fine staff he has working the front desk. Always courteous. Always efficient).

The waiting period should be uneventful but it hasn't been. I've already been questioned by one lady waiting in the lobby: "You the DA?".

"I was until the first of the year," I replied (feeling remotely famous for the moment).

"No, it's Greg Lowery, now," another man piped up.

"Close," I thought, but decided I might as well let sleeping dogs lay.

On another occasion I met a woman who claimed she met Elvis in Reno, Nevada, while she was playing slot machines as a child. ("Playing slot machines as a child" I thought to myself as a large question mark formed over my head).

"Yep, I was mad at my momma for not giving me any more money, and I look up and there's Elvis. He's wearing the white cape and everything! He reaches down and gives me two dollars. And you know what? I wasn't the least bit impressed. Can you believe it? Elvis Presley gives me two dollars, and I wasn't the least bit impressed."

I told her that I was impressed.

After a few minutes of riveting conversation, I'm finally alerted that I may see the inmate that I requested to see.

The room is very small. The walls are painted cinder blocks and I am separated from the inmate by a strong metal mesh cage with a 3" X 3" opening for paperwork to be passed through. There is a small counter to place a yellow pad on so that notes may be taken.

The inmate is always seated when I walk in. Based upon his eyes and smile of anticipation, you would think I was the Second Coming walking right through the door. So far they have all been incredibly polite. "No, sirs" and "yes, sirs" abound. And they all want out of jail. Badly.

I write down everything the inmate tells me in my indecipherable scribble that I will immediately take back to the office and type up. The inmate watches everything I write down. He volunteers every possible piece of information that he thinks might help him. (Some of these guys are pretty darned funny).

Some deserve to be there, while others do not.

I've visited with a person alleged to have committed sexual assault. (Before you think Amber Hagerman, this kid was a teenager who allegedly tried to get handsy with some girl two years his junior. She slapped him and he stopped. This kid, by the way, sat in jail two weeks). I've  visited with many alleged to have possessed drugs (a crime that will one day go the way of Prohibition). And I've visited with hot check writers (even though there is no "Debtor's Prison" in Texas, there sure are lots of folks locked up for not paying their debts.

But those in jail awaiting trial have one universal bond: they are all poor. The rich have bonded out the day after their arrest. The rest sit and wait for someone, anyone, to come visit them. And help them.

Like I said, everyone should visit a person at the jail - especially you "lock 'em up and throw away the key" Rush Limbaugh disciples out there. But I suspect that you never will. In my church last Christmas, a program was developed where small "care packages" would be sent to inmates of the Wackenhut Correctional Facility in Bridgeport. Small donations were requested to fund this small gesture of compassion.

The last time I checked, it was a miserable failure.

Barry Green served as District Attorney for Wise and Jack Counties from 1993 through 2000. He is now a partner in the Decatur law firm of Smith & Green, P.C.

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