Notes From County Jail
RISING FROM SLEEP
The room measures, at best estimate, about 8 by 15 feet. Walls, ceiling, and floor are white concrete. Two long metal shelves, welded one above the other to plates on the wall, serve as bunks. Near the door is a stainless steel unit — a combined sink and toilet. Finally, opposite the bunks is a small metal table, also welded to the wall.
There were nine men crammed into this room in the Champaign County Jail, four on the bottom bunk, more standing against the wall or in the doorway, and one on the toilet seat. Most of the men in the room held Bibles; I don’t remember the topic for that evening’s Bible study — which doesn’t matter much, for most of the studies so far have devolved to two concerns: court hearings and prison sentences.
The Bible study, then, is when I hear the stories behind the faces. Steve (not his real name) is expected to get more time than most of us, so his story is one better known. It begins six years ago, when one night he came home from work drunk. Infuriated, his wife hit him in the back of the head with a flashlight, whereupon Steve’s hand shot out and caught her under the eye. Both went to jail; the two children went to a foster home. At this point, says Steve, the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services told his wife that, in light of Steve’s history with alcohol, she would not regain custody of the children unless she divorced him. Steve believed he had no choice but to agree.
After the divorce, separated from his children, Steve turned to consolations more potent than alcohol. One night, under the complete control of cocaine, he robbed an Amoco of $136. Now he prepares for his prison sentence.
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