It becomes apparent that Stewart lives a complicated life. Jail is just one more complication she doesn’t need. “If you do what you’re supposed to, you’re treated fairly. There’s a lot of times when I question the way the deputies act and how things are done, but I have to say that when you first come in — no matter what your charge is — they treat you as guilty until proven innocent. It’s unfair and inhumane, the way they treat you when you first arrive. They treat you like you’re a criminal the minute you walk in the door, no matter what you have done. You’re stripped of your rights, you’re stripped of your morals, you’re stripped of everything. Your pride, your integrity, everything you have about you is stripped at the front door once you walk in.
“Once you’ve gone through the first six hours of jail, the rest can either get better or worse. It just depends on how you act the first six hours you are here.” This last stay was not as bad as in the past, she says. “I know the routine. I keep my mouth shut, and I do what the deputies tell me. I am not looking for any trouble, and this is not a place where you want to have any trouble.
“I’ve been here a few times, and each time has been different. Things are getting better. Five years ago, when I was in on drug charges, things were very, very bad in here, very inhumane. People were treated very badly, inmates weren’t listened to, they wouldn’t let you be clean. They still don’t give you products that you should be getting. I understand that they pay jails $50 a day for each inmate from the taxpayers, yet we have a hard enough time getting toothbrushes when they’re stolen.
“There are fights in here. The really mean girls are kept in a different section, but if the girls fight, they are immediately taken apart, and everybody goes on lockdown. Things have gotten better. But as far as deputies being somewhere when they’re supposed to be, doing what they’re paid to do, I don’t see that happening a whole lot. For instance, earlier tonight — we got back from court today and there’s a room right here — there was an elderly woman in there who had weak bowels. Diarrhea. She dirtied herself, and we sat in there for 45 minutes trying to get a deputy to come over and help her. She was probably 80 years old. We were trying to eat in the same room. I know that there are 15 girls that are going to write their congressman and the mayor — we vowed to write a letter to the effect that we tried to get someone in here while we were all eating dinner.
“I gotta say this, out of the 100 percent of the deputies here, 20 percent of them do their job. That’s it. The other percentage come to work and hate their job. If I came to work with the attitude they have, I’d get fired.”
Stewart has managed to make friends in this unfriendly place. Three different girls approach her for cigarettes and continue to hang around while she talks. She is happy to share her tobacco and moves on her bench to make room for a newly released inmate with bloodshot eyes and a sad face. The girl is even smaller than Stewart and looks as if she couldn’t be older than 16.
In spite of the violence, it seems the greatest rigors of jail time are mental. “I miss my family most. I miss the fact that I have a life besides being in here — my freedom. You do a lot of thinking. It changes you to become a better person if you want to become a better person. At night I’ll lay awake thinking about my mistakes and how I can better myself. I’m just speaking personally, because I’m so different from a lot of these people in here. I’ll think, What can I do not to get myself in this situation again? Finish my classes and do what it takes not to get back in here again.”
Stewart makes no excuses for her past. “I’ve served time on drug convictions, but I no longer do drugs. I used to be a dancer, and to stay skinny we all did crystal. There’s been no more drug convictions in five years, and I should have gone to my classes for domestic violence or I wouldn’t be in there this time.”
Unlike most newly released prisoners, Stewart has a law-and-order ethic that colors her view of jail. She credits her jail time five years ago for getting her off drugs for good. “I’m sure other people miss their drugs. I hear constantly how everybody just wants to get out and do their dope — just go back to the same old bullshit that got them in here before. They’re reducing everyone’s sentences here, which I think is kind of bad. Honestly, there were two girls in here that I was in court with today. They were caught at the border with 100 pounds of marijuana. You serve one day for every pound. These girls will be out in a month! There are women in here who are total drug addicts. They release people with no teeth, people who look anorexic. A lot of these people are in here for drugs who are not serving their [full] time. When I was doing time for drugs years ago, I got stuck to the wall with my sentence. I got no slack, no leniency, and no reduced time. I was in here for five months one time. That and losing my child — that’s what got me off drugs. I said, ‘Enough is enough.’ That line was not worth losing my one-year-old child to him.” She laughs and points to the young man. “He’s the one who called the police on me! He’s totally the opposite of me. I try to date guys that are totally the opposite of me. They don’t smoke, they don’t do drugs, they don’t drink or do anything I’ve ever done in my life. It kind of leads me down the right course.” The young man smiles.