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November 13, 2008

Neal’s significantly significant experience, Part III

Filed under: Incarceration research, Neal's writing — Tags: , , — llcall @ 12:58 am

For Part I, click here.

For Part II, click here.

Another guy we interviewed sat across the table from us, fidgeting constantly. He cried after nearly every question we asked, always apologizing. “I’m sorry, guys. I don’t know why I’m crying so much. I hardly cried at all last week.” We asked if he had a good relationship with his parents, and he cried. We asked if he understood how compound interest worked, and he cried. He didn’t know how it worked. The jail nurse came in and gave the guy a paper cup with his pills in it, and one filled with water. When she left, he explained, “I’ve been in solitary for like three weeks now, and I swear I’m going crazy. I just needed to talk to someone.”

We interviewed guys that were in jail for drug charges, for moving vehicle violations, for grand theft auto, for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, for driving under the influence. We interviewed guys that were charged with murder and sexual assault. One white guy who we met with had a completely shaved head and long goatee beard. Like most of the guys we met with, he was muscular, filling out his uniform. He had tattoos and his arms behind his back. But he wasn’t handcuffed like we thought; it was just his way of strolling. He’d been arrested for dumpster diving.

We never really knew whether many of the men had actually done what they were charged with. Our research was not concerned with guilt or innocence, just with gathering specific financial data and personal feelings about jail and family member relationships. But some admitted guilt without hedging. Others admitted they deserved to be in prison, but that the charges actually brought against them were bogus. Others said it was their first time, and they were scared. Far fewer than I expected actually said they were innocent.



  1. Wow, this is really fascinating stuff. I really can’t imagine what their lives are actually like. Thanks for sharing your observations and experiences, Neal.

    Comment by Jenn — November 13, 2008 @ 3:17 am

  2. What is dumpster diving?

    Comment by Audrey — November 14, 2008 @ 4:25 am

  3. Dumpster diving is basically rummaging through dumpsters/trash cans for things people have thrown away.

    In this particular case, the man (who was temporarily homeless due to some economic troubles) was making a pretty good living from collecting scrap metals that he then sold to recyclers, etc. Some police knew him and trusted him. The problem came when he started to take a metal fence that was by the dumpster. He thought it was trash, but a woman called the police, saying it was hers and worth $3000.

    He’s an interesting fellow. I’ll write a full post about him someday soon. Something of an anomaly in the jail.

    Comment by llcall — November 14, 2008 @ 3:24 pm

  4. seriously…. so many things that don’t seem like criminal acts. I really want to know why the jailing of people seems like the obvious legal action… unless perhaps, jail provides some of the security that some of them don’t have outside?

    Comment by Robin-Elise — November 15, 2008 @ 4:47 pm

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