On my behind-the-scenes visit to the Blackhawk County Jail, I learned a variety of valuable information. This information ranges from the history of the jail itself, all the way to what the stresses, difficulties, and major-decisions Sheriff Tony Thompson has to go through on a regular basis.
To start the tour off, the class was placed in the courtroom. I was surprised at this as I had no knowledge that the courtroom was actually inside the jail. Also, to my surprise, Sheriff Thompson mentioned that the jail houses 272 total inmates and is worth about $20-$25 million dollars. This surprised me as I didn’t know we had that much crime around Cedar Falls and Waterloo.
Sheriff Thompson also went on about some of his experiences he’s had during his tenure with the Blackhawk County Police Department. His most memorable story, for me at least, was when he had to go to LaPorte for a call that a baby was having a cardiac arrest. This stuck with me as he looked me right in the eyes and said “the baby ended up not making it.” This was very disheartening to hear for everyone in the courtroom and I could tell by Sheriff Thompson’s voice that it was difficult to speak about.
Among the several stories the Sheriff told us, he made sure to touch on the whole police controversy. I knew exactly what he was talking about as cops, especially as of lately, have a bad reputation because of some controversial shootings that have taken place around the United States. “A couple bad apples and now all cops are bad people” and “No one really wants to be a cop right now, it’s kind of sad.” Both of these quotes by Sheriff Thompson were memorable because they were genuine. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he truly wishes more people wanted to become cops and that being a cop wasn’t viewed as a “negative” profession.
I also learned that typically 80% of the population is male and that the age ranges from 13 to 80. The idea of a 13-year old being in jail was appalling to me, especially since I have a brother at that age. The idea of him being eligible for jail was something I never thought could be possible.
Although I learned a bunch of background information, perhaps my most memorable and useful experience from the visit was actually seeing inmates. Not only was I able to see criminals in their cells, I also got to see people being taken into the jail, the general procedures by officers for when people are brought into jail, and the limited clothing and hygiene items that all inmates have at their disposal.
When I first entered the inmate area, I saw a teenager, probably just a little younger than me, pacing back and forth in his cell. As mean as it sounds, I felt good knowing that we were in the jail for different reasons, him being in trouble with the law, and me being on a tour.
I also got a first-hand look at the control room and exactly how complex the operators jobs are. Two people are in-charge of everything, which amazed me. Everything inside the jail is under surveillance, every door is controlled by the operators, and ultimately there is no privacy whatsoever.
Next, I saw the actual inmates. I went the main cell area and saw all of them playing basketball, playing chess, and socializing. I’ll be honest, it was weird. The inmates all glared at our group, as I expected them to. Again, I felt good knowing that although the inmates and I were both in jail, it was for entirely different reasons. Although it’s none of my business, I also couldn’t help but wonder any of them were innocent, what were their childhoods like, and why did they choose to travel down the criminal path.
Lastly, I learned some things that I never really thought about. I learned that it’s not free to go to jail. Honestly, prior to this visit, I thought the state pays for the food, clothing, and ultimately everything for inmates. However, to my surprise, it actually costs $70 a day to stay in jail and inmates are expected to pay it. I also learned that deputies start out at $22 an hour, which makes me actually wonder why more people don’t want to become cops. Yes, I know the United States are in the middle of some major controversies with police departments, but $22 an hour as a fantastic wage.
Overall, my experience at the Blackhawk County Jail was truly unforgettable. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that most people don’t get the chance to experience. I feel extremely fortunate to be taking this Journalism & Law class because of this experience and because of the useful and firsthand information that I was able to receive. Although a lot of things appealed to me, being a police officer is still not a career possibility for me, however, i gained a major amount of respect for those who do choose it as a profession and ultimately put their lives on the line day in and day out.