So everyone, in case you wanted to hear about my visit to Twin Towers yesterday: I got there late in the afternoon as most of the staff was leaving. You walk into a waiting room that looks as much like the DMV as anything else. The waiting room was empty because I was there outside regular visiting hours, escorted by a "release coordinator" from the jail (I was surprised they had those! I would have assumed you just kind of get pooped out onto the street).
After the obligatory showing of ID and credentials, they locked my cel phone away and gave me a little key to the locker. No cel phones in jail so you can't take video/pics of what is seen in there. Phones need to get locked in a locker, the guards leeringly informed me, to keep us from snooping through them to find naughty pics.
We walked down a long, windowless concrete block hallway with lots of oblique bends to an elevator, and rode up to the top (7th) floor, which is the "high observation" floor where the people on suicide watch reside. As you get off the elevator there's a bank of little booths with the glass and the phones as you often see in the movies. However on the inmate side it's actually a little cell that looks almost like a chicken coop, and the inmates are brought in in cuffs and locked in the cell so they can talk on the phone. One wall of the hallway was a large pane of glass looking out into an empty space that looked almost like an atrium, completely deserted.
The striking thing was how dead silent everything was. I asked my escort why it was so quiet and she mentioned that it's normally incredibly loud, with yelling and banging, but apparently it was chow time. After my visit, as I was heading back to the elevator with my escort, the person I was visiting was left alone in his little coop. As we were heading down I asked, "is someone going to come back for him?" and she said, "oh yes, they know we're done." She gestured to some little holes in the wall of the elevator and told me, "there are microphones everywhere, everything you say is listened to no matter where you are." Not surprising, I guess, but still made my skin crawl (especially given the skeeviness of the guards downstairs).
The odd juxtaposition between the experience of desolation and emptiness with the knowledge that the place is absolutely packed to the gills with human bodies was hard to wrap my mind around. I literally saw four people while I was there: the two guards at the entrance, my escort, and the guest of the facility I was visiting (the guard escorting him was completely invisible behind the door to the coop).
A friend of mine to whom I was describing my visit said it best, "it's more like Cold War era communism... isolation, no proof of anything, just an expansive fortified building and only what you need to know, the feeling that you can disappear there just as quick as the inmates."
Anyway, I'm assuming some of you besides UncleC have visited a penal institution (perhaps even as a guest) but in case you were interested in a little step outside of the mainstream, there you have it.