San Diego Tuesday, August 1, is a busy evening at Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee. People of all races begin filling the lobby at 7:00 to get a window assignment for visitation. Unlike the downtown jail, these visitors bring children with them, and the children run around and play (a video-game machine is in the lobby). A young, obese man tells his four-year-old son to sit down so they can see Mommy. At 7:30, the visiting room door is open. A long, narrow room with permanent stools facing glass windows and phones sits empty after a trustee mops its floor. By 8:00, the lobby is busy and expectation hangs in the air. A look behind the electronic glass door reveals four female prisoners in their street clothes awaiting release while the attending deputies take their time. The first prisoner released, a young Hispanic girl with bruises on her arms, does not want to talk. The next woman, a 36-year-old black inmate, is more eager.
Junek Williams shouts at her friend, a large, middle-aged black man, to get her a cigarette. She lights up a Newport: "This is the first one I've had for 48 days!" She is slightly built, with short, reddish hair and an infectious smile. "Today was my court date -- it was my fourth one. I was released on time served with a stipulation of three years' probation, 18 months of alcohol meetin's and...somethin' else, I forgot. I have to read my papers.
"You wanna know why they arrested me? They said I stole a car. I was drunk and I drove myself from Los Angeles by myself in somebody's car to the border checkpoint in Tijuana. I didn't know I was in the checkpoint and I did a U-turn in the checkpoint and they--" she starts laughing -- "they ran my license and found out my car was stolen. Then they arrested me.
"I knew the man, I didn't steal the car -- he let me -- I was on drugs, okay? He let me use his car on June 2. I took his car that mornin', and when I came to bring his car back, he wasn't there, so I kept it. I only kept it for a couple of days, and I parked it. Then, one day I was drunk, walkin' down the street where I parked it, and it was still there, the keys in the glove compartment and everything. That was June 14, the day I got arrested. When they asked me what I was bringin' back to the United States, I was, like, 'What? What do you mean the United States? I didn't know I was outta the United States!'"
A plea bargain and the aid of a public defender got Williams released. "He did a good job for me. At South Bay court, you gotta stay from the time you get there until the bus comes at 4:15. At San Diego, downtown, they got three buses, one at 11:00, one at 3:00, and one at 5:00. But at South Bay, you gotta stay there all day in a cold-ass room! Freezin' cold, to the point where you don't want to eat, you're chatterin' so much! If you know about that place, then you'll bring two pair of socks and put one of them on your arms."
Williams describes her daily schedule. "First they wake you up at 5:15 and tell you to get up. That way you can wash your face, brush your teeth. After they do that, half the people do not get up. Then they wake you up at 5:25. Then they'll call count at quarter of six. After that, you can go back to sleep, then they wake you back up at 6:30 and you go to breakfast. After breakfast, you can go back to sleep, unless you go to school, and I was in school in here. You go to school for three hours. After school, they take you back to your dorm, and you stay there until lunch at 11:00. After lunch, it's lockdown. You stay in your dorm until 1:00. Then you can come out on the yard or use the phone or watch TV. The TV will be on. That's until 4:00 until lockdown for dinner. Then they make you stay in the dorm until dinnertime, which is between 4:30 and 5:00. After dinner, they do the second count for the shift change. That's at quarter to six, and then after that count you stay in your dorm till 7:00. At 7:00, you come back out on the yard and you can use the phones. A lot of people play checkers, dominoes, and cards. Lights out is at 10:00. I had a top bunk, and the light was right above mine, and they just dimmed it, and it was hard to sleep. It's noisy for about a good 30 minutes, but after that, [the guards] come in and start yellin' that they gonna start writin' people up and stuff. Then they'll go to sleep."
The jail library offers inmates books to check out each week, as well as providing Bibles. Williams didn't spend much time reading from the library because she was in school. "I already had a G.E.D., so I was in computer school. They got a good computer school in here. I didn't take it long enough to get a job, but it was an experience I would like to get into. It made me wanna go to school and take it up." She discusses her brief education. "If you go to school, they give you a lot of homework. The school here is very good. It makes your days go by faster."
Most inmates don't care for the food at Las Colinas. "Oh, man! The food is horrible. If you want to survive and not starve to death, you gotta eat that shit. But the best thing to do is use the commissary, where you can buy food. You can order noodles and sausages and sugar to go in oatmeal. Otherwise, they give you one little pack of sugar for this big ol' glob of oatmeal. They don't give you no real meat. I had roast beef in sauce, pre-cooked sausage and...well, I been here 48 days, and we only had real meat three times. The rest of it is all processed -- eggs and shit that's not real. They have eggs that's round like an over-easy egg, but it's not real."