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Welcome to Waukesha County Jail

LIVING AMONG THOSE IN DESPAIR OF GRACE

By Edmund B. Miller | April 1995
Edmund B. Miller is a teacher at Aquinas Academy in Milwaukee.

Recently I sat in front of a van taking one George Woodward, professional abortionist, to work. That day the police were particularly dutiful in protecting a woman’s right to choose, clearing us out quickly and charging each with a criminal count of disorderly conduct. The judge and prosecutor were also mindful of statutory duty, each insisting that the case had nothing to do with the moral dimensions of abortion. The jury was rigorously instructed to judge the case solely with reference to Wisconsin Criminal Statute nine forty-three point something or other. And so, without further ado, my co-defendants and I were found guilty. Matt Trewhella and I were sentenced to 33 days, and Dan Holman — supposedly because he latched on to the van with a pair of plastic handcuffs — received 90 days.

What follows are my reflections — midway through my sentence — on life at the Waukesha County Sheriff Huber Law Enforcement Facility. Its inmates are not true criminal types, only those who perhaps drank four or five beyond their limit or were a bit careless with their tax returns. My guess is that what I am finding in here says much about what’s out there.

Waukesha’s Huber facility is a fairly soft jail. It is not crowded, there are no bars on the windows, there are rooms rather than cells, and most inmates are released for work during the day. It has, nevertheless, that essential jail quality: It is depersonalizing. Each day, upon my scheduled return from work I am taken with about 15 others into a preliminary locker room. There we strip, are casually searched, then file into a second locker room where we change into a jail uniform. While wearing this uniform, each inmate at all times must display a zone tag and carry an identification card.

Once we’re in our zones, each essentially a collection of sleeping rooms arranged around a day room, we’re left alone until cleaning time and count time. Life in my zone, Zone A, circulates around the two televisions, one at each end of the day room. These televisions are on from early morning to late night, and attract most attention when airing a football game, “The Simpsons,” or “American Gladiators.” Since I am a teacher and feel obliged on most nights to work on class preparations, I usually hide away in my room (with 12 bunks, the largest in the zone). I lie on the bottom bunk, snatching what light is available (the inmates don’t like strong light), and scratch out class notes on jail-approved paper with my jail-approved pencil.

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