Life In A California County Jail

What is it really like behind the walls of a California County Jail? What does it mean to be an inmate of a PC (Protective Custody) pod?

For the most part, the majority of adults believe they know; through the second, or third-hand tales of others, or by simply reading public information and news accounts, to some extent what it must be like to be incarcerated. However, unless or until one has had the unfortunate experience of living the day-to-day life of an inmate in Protective Custody, one can only, by the greatest stretch of the imagination, attempt to empathize with the situation.

As our son/brother (and by association, our family) enters into his ninth month of his incarceration in a California County Jail, (not even serving a "sentence" yet), we would like to offer an outlook, for those who can only imagine, from the experiences he's had, on what its like on a day to day basis. This information is based specifically on the County Jail in which our family member is housed. Other counties throughout California may have different policies still in keeping with the overall State Regulations.

County Jail is vastly different in operations and policy from State Prison. County Jail is actually stricter in its rules and regulations, as the population housed there is generally housed for a much shorter period of time than the population of a Prison. The main purposes of the County Jail are; to house prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing, to hold prisoners after trial or sentencing for transport to State Prison, and to house prisoners who have received a sentence that would fall under the jurisdiction of the County Jail; normally, a sentence of one year or less.

Some jails, including the one we are personally dealing with, have more than just one PC pod, or tier. Our family member is housed in the "regular" PC. The population of this pod include those accused of sex offenses (Romeo and Juliet's included, which currently make up nearly half of this pod's total population), former gang members, and "informants". There is also a "group" PC (for when the other PC pods run out of room), as well as a "lock-down" PC, which is used for those who are deemed extremely dangerous, those who need to be in PC when they first come in due to certain violations of probation, those who may have a diagnosed mental problem, and those who have committed other offenses while incarcerated, such as causing problems in their pods, or perpetrating any kinds of threats or physical violence against another inmate. In the lock-down PC, inmates are locked in for twenty-three hours per day, seven days per week. They are escorted to and from any visits that may be had during their time in PC. They are not allowed any contact (meals, etc) with other inmates.

The "regular" PC pod consists of single cells, with the exception of two cells which contain bunks, two to each cell. The "tower" is centrally located within, and with the exception of walking through to get to the tower, or to open a door to another pod, the officers are never on the floor with the inmates themselves. They watch and communicate from the glass walls of the tower. These cells are not barred as some people imagine. They are brick-walled, with heavy doors (which are only locked by officers during "lock-down") that contain one near body-length glass window. Inside the door, the cell is comprised of a slab of concrete with a thin sort of a mattress, a desk (built-in) and a toilet. There is, of course, virtually no privacy, as the window provides easy viewing into cells. Inmates are issued a plastic "tote" which they may use to keep commissary items in. These are searched on a regular basis.

Wake-up is at six in the morning, followed by count, followed by breakfast, which varies from cold cereal (usually bran flakes, or Cheerios), hot cereal (oatmeal), or pancakes (dollar-size), and usually accompanied by grapefruit (no sugar). If the inmate would like a beverage, they must supply one of their own, through their commissary tote. There is another count after breakfast, followed by morning chores (mopping, dumping trays, collecting refuse) which everyone contributes to, on a rotating basis. After that, counts are taken every hour on the hour for the rest of the day.

Visitation begins at nine and goes until eleven in the morning, Mondays through Saturdays (closed for holidays). At approximately eleven, lunch is served. Lunch is probably the most substantial meal served of the day. This is when the inmate will usually get something hearty and hot, although portions are notoriously scant. The menu varies, it is for the most part different kinds of casseroles, with vegetable or fruit, and bread.

At one in the afternoon, visitation resumes, and continues until four. Visitation in this jail, is no-contact, through glass, in a small "booth" area, and over the phone. Visits are one hour long, and the inmate is allowed only two visits per week. If there are many visitors to an inmate, they may have to wait weeks at a time to get their chance to visit.

After the four o'clock visitation cut-off, dinner is served. Dinner is the one meal that has very little variation. It is always a sandwich. Sometimes it is bologna (which is almost a treat compared to the other things that are served, according to the inmates). Sometimes it is "phony boloney", an apparently distasteful concoction of what is deemed "mystery meat", between two slices of bread. Other times it will be sliced ham sandwich, chicken sandwich, crab sandwich, tuna sandwich, and the old standby, peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The sandwiches are minus any kind of a dressing, mayonnaise, or mustard. They are simply the meat and the bread. Dinner usually has raw carrots, or some kind of fruit, such as sliced apricots.

Meals do not include beverages, salt, pepper, or any kind of seasoning (many inmates save seasoning packets from Top Ramen packages to put in their food to make it tastier), nor do they have any butter, margarine, dressing, or condiments of any kind, including sugar. If the inmate wishes to purchase any of these things from the commissary they may do so. Their order for commissary must be signed and put in by Friday. That order's contents will be given out on the following Wednesday, barring a holiday, in which case the order may be delayed for up to two days.

Inmates purchase their own coffee, as well as sugar or dried creamer if need be. Other "most wanted" commissary menu items are oatmeal packets, cookies, peanut butter, cocoa, Top Ramen, and Tang, as well as beans and rice, which are both needed to make the pod "favorite" - "Jail Tortillas". These are made with a tricky concoction of Top Ramen, rice, beans, tortilla chips, squeeze cheese, and Tapitio hot sauce. When funds are running low throughout the pod, inmates will come together, each ordering specific items to contribute to the group for making large quantities of "Jail Tortillas". Various snack foods are available in the commissary. No soda is available.

Meals in the regular PC are eaten in the "common" area, which consists of a few plastic tables with molded plastic benches (which are also used to play cards at during the day and evening), as well as a television set with two long benches for inmates to sit at, and the telephone area, which consists of two telephones.

There are two laundry days per week. On one day, the inmates trade in their "colors" ; orange for this pod, red for mentally ill inmates, white for "workers" in the kitchen and grounds, and yellow for "dangerously violent offenders". This is the basic "uniform" worn all week long. One uniform is put in to be washed, while another clean one is given out. There is no such thing as a "personal" uniform. Once traded in for washing, the inmate is given whatever uniform is clean, fits, and is available. Uniforms won't be traded in for washing again until the following week.

The other washing day of the week is for "whites". T-shirts and socks are all traded in for washing. Again, no one gets the same ones in return. These are worn until the following week as well. Most inmates have a personal pair of boxer shorts, which, in order to keep only for themselves, they hand-wash out in the shower at shower-time.

Shoes are issued when inmates first come in. Though they are hardly shoes in the traditional sense. They are flat-bottomed, sole-less, with a thin blue fabric stretched across the top of the foot. Most times, inmates receive shoes worn previously by other inmates. They can be stretched out, worn down, even torn and still be handed out. The inmate may request a switch, but many times, they trade-in for an equally unacceptable pair. Athletic-type tennis shoes (no laces, just Velcro) are available for purchase through the commissary at the cost of $32.00 per pair. T-shirts, as well as athletic shorts are also available to purchase, at $6.00 apiece. The shorts may only be worn in the inmate's cell. The t-shirt may be worn as a regular shirt, but must always have the jail "oranges" over the top.

No medications are allowed to be kept by the inmates. Anyone that is on a prescription medication comes twice a day when they call for "meds" to receive their medication, which is locked up by the jail personnel. There is a nurse on duty, not every day, but most days (not on weekends or holidays). The trouble with seeing the nurse for anything as minor as a headache is that the inmate most likely will not receive the over-the-counter medicine until the next day, or up to three days later in some cases. It has to be approved first. If anyone has a serious ailment, or requires a dentist, they are triaged by the nurse and referred for transport to a larger jail within the county for specific medical treatment. Their stay will normally be anywhere from two days to one week, and more if the ailment is serious enough, before returning to their own county jail.

There is no smoking allowed, and there are no personal items allowed to be kept by the inmates, with the exception of what may be purchased through commissary, such as; pencils; regular lead, and colored, for writing and drawing, letter paper, drawing paper, and pre-stamped envelopes. Inmates are also allowed to keep their own personal toiletry items purchased from commissary. No gifts or packages may be sent to an inmate, with the exception of the (rather pricey) "gift basket", which consists of different items of food and hygiene supplies and may be ordered through the jail online and paid for by credit card.

If one wishes to send magazines or books to an inmate, they must be purchased online with an approved bookseller (Barnes & Noble, Amazon) and delivered directly from that bookseller to the inmate. There is a small library where inmates can check out books, as well as older magazines, and occasionally, someone who has a subscription magazine will pass it around to others once they have finished with it.

Letters to inmates are read and scanned, then kept for future reference while that inmate continues to be incarcerated at that facility. Letters that are deemed "inappropriate" (sexual content, etc.) will be returned to sender with a warning clearly stamped on the envelope.

Legally speaking, it has become more and more popular to use letters, taped phone calls, and taped visits as evidence in trials. Though all regular visitations are monitored and recorded, the inmate's visits with their attorneys are conducted in a booth specifically meant for that purpose, where no audio or visual recordings are made.

Inmates are allowed to receive a total of eight photographs from "home". These photos must be deemed "appropriate" in content, and Polaroid photos are not acceptable. Many times the photos, cards, letters, and postcards are propped up on the individual desks of the inmates in order to feel connected with family and loved ones on the outside.

During the daytime hours, inmates play cards, nap (it seems to make the time go by faster), watch television, and attend any groups or education classes that are available to them. There is a non-denominational church service on Sundays.

Inmates in the regular PC do not go out to "yard". When yard is called, the inmates go to an adjacent "gym" type area. Though it has no hoops and no exercise equipment, inmates find that "necessity is the mother of invention" and have devised a very effective workout program for themselves, using the resistance of another inmate's hand, or their own bodies in resistance to the floor to work out the tension of their situations along with staying physically active in a place where there are little opportunities for physical activity as we know it. Inmates who choose not to work out also have the option of running laps in the gym area. Yard time is not called every day of the week, and usually, inmates don't have a schedule of when it will be called. It lasts for about an hour, and is on a voluntary basis.

At the end of the day, lights out is called at eleven. Everyone must be in their cells at that time, but it is not necessary to be asleep. Some inmates read by the dim light that is always on in the jail (for security purposes), or draw, or write letters. When it is time to sleep, the inmates are not allowed to have pillows, so some ball up their uniforms or sheet beneath their heads. In the winter time, inmates sometimes use their sweatshirts for this purpose, but at this time of year, the jail has decided that the weather is too warm for sweatshirts, as well as for the one warm blanket each inmate had, so those have been confiscated until winter rolls around again.

What goes on between the lines of these very physical descriptions I've given, is sorrow, depression, anxiety, helplessness, homesickness, loneliness, bitterness, anger, frustration, and a certain degree of hopelessness. Tempers are short and emotions run high. The noise level is unbelievable. The time; day in and day out, the "sameness" that is built in to every day seems to be enough to push some to the edge. Any inmate, regardless of their crime, regardless of their degree of guilt or innocence faces all of these emotions and more.

For my son, and others like him who are incarcerated under charges of having consensual sex with their girlfriends, in the context of loving relationships, these days are a living hell. The charges and consequences are nightmarish alone, but the slow, methodical count of days, (especially with no "sentence" yet handed down) is enough to break a young spirit. What will their outcome be? In the near future as well as in the long run? What can they make of their lives after this?

It is for them we write here, we advocate, we participate, we network, we stay informed. It is for them that we fight. It is for them we seek change. It is for them that we tell exactly what its like to live behind the walls of the County Jail.

Inform your families, tell your friends, speak out when you can! Let's put an end to this madness. We hope you will join us.


Unlawful Sex With A Minor - What It Really Means

One of the most common misconceptions we have encountered in our studies, conversations, and networking around the country has been the mistaken idea that Unlawful Sex With A Minor charges apply only to those who have been involved in a relationship in which one partner was a minor, the other partner, an adult (over eighteen years old in California).

It is important to note that Unlawful Sex With A Minor charges include any circumstance in which both partners involved in "consensual" intimate relationships, have been minors, as well.

Many parents, as well as their young teens, were unaware that these charges existed, and were just as serious for two sixteen year olds (for example), or a fourteen and sixteen year old, or any combination of "teens" under the age of eighteen years old.

California law is clear on the fact that anyone under the age of eighteen years old is "incapable" of giving consent, making any intimate contact, even within the context of a loving, boyfriend/girlfriend (or boyfriend/boyfriend, girlfriend/girlfriend, as the case may be) relationship illegal.

Please see our "California Law Statutes" for the precise letter of the law. Educate yourselves, as well as your teens. While teen sexuality may seem a commonplace subject, and teen sexual activity may seem accepted, amongst teens, and in certain circles, "tolerated" to a degree by adults; these charges are extremely serious; their consequences, life altering.

What Is Needed To Convict ? Common Misconceptions

A common misconception amongst teens, as well as some adults, with regard to Romeo and Juliet cases, is that it must be either the underage minor in the relationship or his/her parents that "press charges" in the case.

The truth is that only the District Attorney can actually bring charges against a person to make a case. However, the actual information, or initial "tip" can be passed along to the Police Department by ANYONE.

Countless cases have been charged and prosecuted despite the fact that the minor in question and his/her parents:

-had known of the relationship

-had acknowledged it was consensual in nature

- had actually objected to charges being brought.

Whether or not the other parties object to the bringing of charges is of no consequence, as once it has been reported to the police (and the District Attorney has determined there is enough evidence to bring charges) it becomes the complaint of the state, and is out of the hands of the citizens for good.

While there are mandated reporters; teachers, counselors, doctors, nurses, and daycare providers among them, whose duty it is to report anything of this nature to police, absolutely ANYONE can make a report regarding Sex With A Minor charges.

It is important to note that once charges have been brought, there are only 3 things needed to convict:

1. The "victim's" (legal terminology) initial statement.

2. The "responsibility of assumption" of the "victim's" age by
the defendant.

3. The "victim's" testimony.

Another common misconception is that there must be physical evidence to convict.

Many people assume there must be identifiable DNA (such as a "rape kit", a pregnancy, or other means of identification, such as a shared STD).

However, unlike murder, unlike just about every other type of crime, this "crime" requires absolutely NO physical evidence to convict.

Add to that the Statute of Limitations for "Statutory Rape" and related charges, being up to 3 years in California, and perhaps a picture is beginning to form of just how easily charges can be brought in these Romeo and Juliet cases.

We urge you to read the California Penal Code, as well as the Statutes relevant to these charges for yourself.

Take the time to speak with and educate your teens about the seriousness of these charges, the possible ramifications they may have on their lives, and how relatively easily these charges can be brought.

Each family teaches their own ethics, their own morality, with regards to their teenagers becoming sexually active. But until we can incorporate the facts and fundamentals of teen-related California Sex Crime Law into our student's Sexual Education classes, where we can ensure the broad spectrum of our youth will absolutely be informed; it is our duty as parents and educators to do so.

With the proposed Romeo and Juliet Law for California, we hope to bring a voice of reason to our Sex Crime laws.

We want to save our teens and young adults from mandatory prison sentencing, mandatory lifetime sex offender registration, possible "aversion" therapy, possible lifetime mandatory GPS tracking, and any and all other punishments that were originally created and meant for violent and predatory sex offenses, primarily against children.

Please join us by reading the materials here, sharing with friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and signing our petition!

We need to make the California Romeo and Juliet Law a reality, for the sake of all our young people!

California For Romeo and Juliet Law

Unlawful Sex With A Minor Vs. Lewd And Lascivious Conduct - the Differences

Under California law, there are two separate categories that one may be charged in with regard to Romeo and Juliet scenarios.

The first is "Unlawful Sex With A Minor" (formerly known as "Statutory Rape").

The second is the far more serious of the two, "Lewd and Lascivious Conduct".

These are the two main categories from which other charges (such as "Oral Copulation" or "Sexual Battery") may stem.

Although the general subject matter is similar, the distinct definitions, circumstances, and consequences are vastly different.

UNLAWFUL SEX WITH A MINOR (formerly known as "Statutory Rape"):

Unlawful Sex With A Minor charges are the less serious of the two. The basic definition involves an act of engaging in sexual intercourse with a person below the legal age of consent, but above the age of a child (usually determined to be 14 years of age).

An Unlawful Sex With A Minor case can be charged as either a misdemeanor, or a felony. In legal terms, this is what is known as a "wobbler", and largely depends on the age of the minor involved as to how it will be charged.

With a minor not more than 3 years older or 3 years younger than the accused:

MISDEMEANOR/ Up to 1 year in County Jail/ $1000 in fines.

With a minor more than 3 years younger:

MISDEMEANOR or FELONY/ 1 year in County Jail or State Prison/ $1000-$10,000 in fines.

When the accused is 21 years of age and minor is 16 years of age or younger:

MISDEMEANOR or FELONY/ 1 year in County Jail OR 2,3, or 4 years in State Prison / $1000-$10,000 in fines.

"Consent" is not a defense to these charges, as California law deems that anyone under 18 years of age (a minor) is incapable of giving consent.

All of these convictions require probation/parole.

Unlike the more serious Lewd and Lascivious charges, Unlawful Sex With A Minor DOES have a provision that says if one honestly and reasonably believed that the alleged "victim" was over the age of 18 at the time, one CANNOT be convicted under this law.

The three requirements to prove this are:

Statements made by the "victim" that he/she was over 18 years of age.

General appearance or attire of "victim"(leading one to believe they were older).

Where the accused met the "victim" (as in an adult venue, such as an 18 and over club, or at an adult party).

However, these requirements, in many cases, are hard to prove.

If convicted of Unlawful Sex With A Minor in California, the law does NOT require Sex Offender Registration.


Lewd and Lascivious Conduct charges are by far the more serious of the two.

The main reason someone in a Romeo and Juliet case would be charged with Lewd and Lascivious Conduct RATHER than Unlawful Sex With A Minor, is the age, as well as the age difference, of and between the minor and the adult.

Lewd and Lascivious Conduct involves touching a minor anywhere on the body (even on the outside of the clothing) "with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions or sexual desires of either party".

Each independent act (each touch to different parts of the body, whether they are sexual parts or not) is counted as an "act", or a "count". This means that even if there were only one occasion, or one "incident", several "acts" could be charged.

Sexual Intercourse is not required to be charged under this law.

A Lewd and Lascivious charge is always a Felony charge.

Involving a Minor, below 14 years old/ 3, 6, or 8 years in State Prison/$10,000 in fines.

Parole/Possible GPS tracking device/Possible psychotherapy or behavior modification.

Mandatory Lifetime Sex Offender Registration.

Mistaken belief in the minor's age is NOT a defense to this charge.

"Consent" is not a defense, as California law deems that anyone under the age of 18 years old (a minor), is incapable of giving consent.

Although the exact definition of this law varies from state to state, in California, Lewd and Lascivious Conduct can be comprised of many different charges.

Prostitution, pornography, indecent acts, indecent exposure and co-habitating with an unmarried partner in a sexual relationship (this one is rarely used any more), all fall under the Lewd and Lascivious law.

Validity of the Victim's Testimony Clause

We have recently received mail regarding the question of the validity of the "Victim's Testimony Clause".

The victim's testimony is one of three things needed to convict someone in California in an Underage Sex With A Minor, or Lewd and Lascivious Conduct case.

It happens quite frequently in cases that would fall under the Romeo and Juliet Law, were California to have one, that the "victim" will refuse to testify against their boyfriend or girlfriend. There is a clause in California law that prevents the victim having to testify if it is deemed that their participation in testimony would be detrimental to said victim.

However, it is not often that this clause is upheld. Any aggressive district attorney will subpoena the victim, or at least their testimony (whether or not it is in open court or by deposition). In these cases, the testimony must be given, and to do it by deposition bypasses the clause in that it is reasoned that behind closed doors it is somehow less detrimental or traumatic.

Therefore, it is almost unheard of that the victim's testimony will not be taken, in one form or another, whether the victim initially wishes to grant it to the court or not.

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