Syringes to Sobriety

Stories and Advice from a Real Heroin Addict

What is Jail like?

What is Jail like? Most people will never have to ask themselves this question. Most people should be thankful for this. However, a growing number of Americans are faced with serving time behind bars. With 698 per 100,000 people behind bars in the United States, it is no surprise that many people find themselves struggling with the question, What is Jail Like?

The following chart shows how our prison and jail population is divided among housing facilities. Interestingly, the second chart shows how many people are incarcerated in our jails. After reviewing the image, you will see that almost 75% of jail inmates have not been sentenced for a crime yet. This means they have charges pending in court and are waiting for their next court date. Most of these people are forced to stay behind bars before being found guilty of any crime. Judges set bail amounts for these inmates, but the majority of inmates cannot afford to pay the bail. Therefore, they will sit in jail until their case makes its way through the courts. You can bet this takes months, and in some circumstances, if the person does not give up and sign a plea, they may sit in jail unsentenced for years. To make matters worse, once they are given a sentence, the judge has the discretion on whether or not the time spent in jail while fighting a case will even apply toward the sentence imposed if found guilty.

So much for innocent until proven guilty. This country has done a wonderful job of chewing up that constitutionally given right and spitting it out, probably into the very slop they feed the inmates.

Have you ever wondered what a person experiences when arrested and sent to jail? Maybe you are dealing with a court case in which you have been charged with a crime(s) carrying a potential jail or prison sentence. Some of you may already know what it is like in jail and are just curious to see if everyone’s experience was like your own.

Recently, I wrote blog series for a local criminal defense attorney, Robert J. Campos. The article explains, in great detail, what an inmate experiences in the Maricopa County Jail facilities. Follow the following links if you are interested in reading the series, “What is Jail Like in Maricopa County?”:

What is Jail Like? Part One.

What is Jail Like in Maricopa County? Part Two.

Thanks to former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County jails are some of the toughest facilities to serve time in. A Business Insider article reports, Sheriff Joe “made headlines for calling his “Tent City” jail a “concentration camp.” A few years later, with a new Sheriff in office, not much has changed. From the outside looking in, the public sees that inmates no longer wear the black and white prison stripes with pink underwear of the Arpaio era. Instead, inmates are now dressed in bright orange and white underwear. Although the bleach not proving as effective as the administration may have hoped, many inmates still sport underwear with a slight pinkish tint. This is a stark reminder of just how cheap the jails are when it comes to providing necessities for inmates.

The costume change is one of the only differences many inmates have experienced since the change in leadership after Arpaio’s reign finally ended. Another newsworthy change was the closure of Tent City Jail, which some of the public thought of as an inhumane practice.

Would it surprise you to know that the majority of inmates were unhappy about the Tent City closure? Well, it is true. Tent City, a minimum-security jail that housed many of the work release inmates was a privilege for many inmates with good behavior. Not only were they unable to participate in a work-release program, but they were also unable to get some fresh air. In many cases, an inmate will go months without going outside. Tent City looked like a mirage to inmates who had not seen daylight for months on end.

Here, I will answer, in more detail, What is jail like? An article for an attorney, although an honor, is not an appropriate forum for relaying every detail about what jail is like. Here, I will expand upon the articles linked above.

NOTE: RECENTLY, A NEW FACILITY HAS BEEN BUILT IN MARICOPA COUNTY AND I HAVE HEARD THIS PROCESS, AS WELL AS THE RELEASE PROCESS, IS MUCH MORE HUMANE AND A BIT QUICKER. However, we must learn from our mistakes and it is important to realize what our fellow citizens, who are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, were subjected to so we do not repeat our mistakes. This is why, if you can, it is important to study who you vote into the office of Sheriff and stay involved in any decisions about our justice system that the public may have a say in. Trust me, if it is not yourself going through this, in your lifetime, someone you care about will be the victim of our cruel and unusual jail system.

 What is Jail Like?

What Happens After you get Arrested in Maricopa County

“What is Jail Like? What Happens After you get Arrested in Maricopa County? explains what happens after a police officer catches you committing a crime in Maricopa County. Heroin possession is a felony charge in Maricopa County so, in many Maricopa County cities, a person found in possession of heroin will be taken down to the 4th Ave jail to endure the booking process. The information in this post will also be helpful for the family members of the arrested. Little information is available on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department website and it is like pulling teeth to get a concrete answer from the officer assigned to the MCSO jail hotline phone.

The information contained in What is Jail Like? allows you to set proper expectations, and ultimately focus on fighting your case and/or serving your jail/prison time without incident.

I have been through this process seven times. I am not proud of this, but mine is not an uncommon story. Maricopa County Jail Administration has a long way to go in the way of rehabilitating those of us who are arrested for nonviolent drug offenses. I will provide an accurate, detailed account of what a defendant experiences while in custody. Each defendant will endure the tedious booking process outlined below after they have been arrested.

Fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all.

-Yvon Choinard

“What is Jail Like? The Maricopa County Jail Inmate Experience” will address your questions, hopefully eliminating some of the ‘unknown’ and easing your fears about serving your sentence. We suspect we may end up answering some questions you didn’t even know to ask.

Do I Have to Stay in Jail Until My First Court Date?

Some defendants, depending on criminal history and severity of the crime, will be afforded a bond or released on their own recognizance. (this is called being O.R.ed) However, many are not released, or cannot post a bond, and are forced to fight their case from jail. This is determined after seeing a judge.

Whether fighting a case in custody or out, a defendant eventually signs a plea deal or has his case resolved at trial. (A defendant who has fought his case while in custody has already been booked and does not repeat the process described below once his case is resolved.)

To put your mind at ease, we will explain in detail what the process entails in Maricopa county jail. If you know what to expect, a bit of the fear fades away and you can keep your cool and think clearly, which will be beneficial to your mental health and, ultimately, your case.

The Initial Arrest

(These are all real stories, but the names have been changed to protect the identities of the defendants)

Opie Atpopper (yes, it is a play on words for all you ex-junkies out there :)) woke up, happy it was Friday and made his way to work. After a long day of emails and deadlines, the clock strikes five. On his way home from work, Opie stops at George and Dragon pub for a couple of pints of his favorite craft beer. The Suns are playing the Lakers, Kobe (RIP) plays fantastically (like usual), but Devin Booker ensures the Suns get the W, pulling ahead in the last quarter. Opie is careful to space out his pints, attempting to stay under the .08 BAC legal driving limit. He even downs a big glass of water and says goodbye to his buddies at the bar. He only had a couple of beers so he feels fine to drive. As he gets in his car, he pops a Percocet. Initially getting a script for tooth pain, he ran out of refills. For the past few months, he has been purchasing a script from a coworker whose grandfather has M.S. Since he has been taking them daily for a while now, he figures the effects won’t kick in until he is safely on his couch. Unfortunately, undercover Officer Titan DiCuffs, scanning the parking lot of George and Dragon’s for underage drinkers, decides to pull Opie over as he is pulling out of the parking lot. Officer Titan asks Opie for his registration. As Opie opens his glove compartment, the Percocet pills fall out. He is asked to step out of the car and put his hands behind his back. Opie is arrested on narcotic drug possession charges. Officer Titan asks Opie to put his hands behind his back, his car is impounded, and he is on his way to 4th Avenue Jail for the booking process.

Every case starts the same way, with an arrest.

In most cases, when a person commits a felony offense, they are immediately taken into custody. This also happens in certain misdemeanor cases, especially if the person is a habitual offender. Therefore, almost all defendants are subjected to the booking process.

The booking process is grueling, mostly because you have no idea what to expect and, almost like a casino, but not nearly as fun, you start to lose all sense of time in the maze of, cold concrete, white-walled rooms you are shuffled through for the next 12-48 hours.

After an initial arrest, it will feel as if you are never getting out of jail. Don’t worry! Although Maricopa County detention officers have been known to occasionally forget about a few people during this process, most defendants have their names called and get to see a judge.

Whether you are Jodi Arias or Annie B. Rated, before seeing a judge, you can expect the following:

Immediately following an arrest in Maricopa County.

Depending on what city you are arrested in you may not go straight to 4th Ave jail.

In fact, for some crimes, you will only be taken to a city jail. City jails in the greater Phoenix area have a much less traumatizing procedure for booking as there are significantly fewer people going through the process. However, if you are arrested on a Saturday, be prepared to stay the night in the city jail, because, unlike downtown’s 4th Ave Jail, judges do not hold court on weekends nor throughout the night.

Repetitive DUI offenders, dangerous drug offenders, and other felony offenders in Maricopa County are taken downtown to 4th Ave Jail for booking.

Depending on where you are arrested, you may be taken to a city jail first. For example, if you are arrested in Mesa, the officer will take you to Mesa City Jail, where you will be searched, and put in a cell to await transportation. Depending on the city, you could be waiting a while for transportation so try to get some rest while you can. You have a long process in front of you.

Eventually, a vehicle will arrive, and Mesa Police Department transportation officers will handcuff you and lead you into a van. The van looks like an armored military vehicle, with no windows, no seatbelts, and cold metal benches for seats.

Sometimes, there are cages in the back or metal dividers to keep male, female, and/or P5 (this is code for psychologically troubled) inmates separate from each other. Rightfully so, when you are handcuffed, shoved into the back of a van like cattle, and treated poorly, your nerves start to get the best of you. Some inmates will fight this process. Do not be that person, as you risk making your case worse and potentially getting tasered.

Sometimes, the transportation officers will answer your questions and sometimes they will be very rude. The best bet is to just do what they ask, knowing this ordeal will be over soon enough. You may not agree with what is going on, but you will only make the situation worse if you argue with the officers who are tasked to have complete physical control over you.

My best advice: Take a deep breath. Try to ignore your surroundings and keep your cool.

Plus, you will be prepared for everything after reading this.

The ride down to 4th Avenue Jail is unpleasant when you can’t see out of a window and are sitting close to some unsavory characters. However, you will know you have arrived when you feel the van slow and hear a garage door start to open.

The van pulls into a garage-like structure and the officers open the back doors, asking you to watch your step as you exit the van. This is not easy because you are in handcuffs. Remember to move slowly and keep your head down to avoid bumping your head on the door as you exit the vehicle.

Next, you line up outside the entrance. Males line up on one side of the door and females on the other. Handcuffs are removed at this point.

QUICK TIP: This is one of those situations in life where it behooves you to blend in, keep your head down, and listen to directions given by the men and women with the Tasers. If you spot a friend whom you may have been arrested with or know from somewhere else, just keep walking. This is not the time for small talk and the officers will quickly reprimand you.

After Arrival at Maricopa County Central Booking Facility (4th Ave. Jail)

The building used for booking in Maricopa County used to be referred to as “the Matrix” by inmates and staff alike. This name explains the experience very well. You are shuffled through what seems like an endless number of holding tanks and, very quickly, you realize how difficult it would be to find your way back out of the building.

Today, some refer to this section of 4th Ave Jail as ‘the horseshoe,’ but it is technically called the Maricopa County Central Intake Area.

Men’s First Holding Area

After lining up single file, the officers escort you into two holding tanks, one for men and the other for women.

The men’s tank is to the right after you walk through the door. The benches are concrete and line the walls. You will sit in this room until a nurse calls you up to her window for a medical prescreen.

Women’s First Holding Tank

The women’s holding tank is on the left and has two stark differences when compared to the men’s:

1. There is a door.

2. There is an unforgiving, steel toilet in the corner.

This tank is usually trashed with toilet paper and there is frequently urine on the floor. The best bet is to avoid sitting near the toilet while in this tank. Depending on how busy central booking is on the day you get arrested, you may have to wait a while in this tank. However, this is usually one of the quicker parts of booking.

Eventually, an officer will bring little bottles over to the door and each female is instructed to pee in their bottle.

NOTE: THIS IS NOT A DRUG TEST. If it was, the men would be required to provide a cup as well. The urine samples are collected for pregnancy testing only. If you are pregnant, the jail is required to do several things differently, like provide increased caloric content meals and handcuff you in the front, as opposed to behind your back. (This is a post for another day, but it is important to know that you have further rights when pregnant and arrested.)

After the officer collects your completed urine sample, he takes it to the nurses at the prescreen window. You will wait again for your name to be called; at which time you will go to the designated medical prescreen window.

Medical Prescreening

Both men and women are asked a series of questions by the nurse at the medical prescreen. They will ask you whether you are suicidal, you want to hurt others, you have any medical issues, as well as if you are taking any medications. Lastly, they will ask if you are on drugs.

TIP: Be honest with the nurse here. These questions will not be used against. Cold-turkey detox off medications or illegal substances is VERY dangerous and you want to avoid this at all costs. For information on what to expect when trying to cold turkey detox off heroin or other opiates, read Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline.

When asked questions about your mental health questions, take your time answering. You should only report being suicidal if you truly are suicidal. It will not get you out of there quicker if you say you want to die. It will make for an even tougher experience.

Mugshots, Money, Identification, and Immigration

After you finish the prescreening you are escorted back to the initial holding tank. You will wait there until you hear your name called, yet again. At this time, you will walk over to the mugshot area. Stand on a line and have your mugshots taken. Follow the instructions of the photographing officer.

QUICK TIP: Mugshots are posted publically on the Maricopa County Jail inmate information website within the first twelve hours of arrest. No one looks good in their mugshot, but those who do outlandish things in their mugshot have ended up having their mugshot sprayed across the internet.

FUN FACT: Sheriff Joe implemented ‘mugshot of the week’ during his term in office. The public would vote on the craziest, prettiest, weirdest, and so on, mugshots and the pictures with the most votes earned a front-page exclusive on the Maricopa County Jail mugshots page. Thankfully, this cruel contest was stopped a few years ago. However, there is not anything stopping someone from recreating this type of internet contest again. My point is, just look straight ahead and make sure you are not emulating Albert Einstein’s hairstyle.

After taking your mugshot, men are directed to sit on the bench closest to the camera. Women are directed to sit on the opposite end of the bench. One by one, each of you will be called up to another counter to complete the following three tasks/interviews:

  1. Money Collection:

You are required to hand over any cash you have to the officer behind the counter. The officer puts the cash into a machine and gives you a receipt. Don’t worry, this cash will go on your inmate account if you are not released. If you are released, you will receive a prepaid card with this money loaded onto it.

  1. Jail Identification:

An officer will call you up to the counter to make a profile for you. You are asked to put your index finger on an electronic reader and answer a few more questions.

Immigration: Lastly, if you have immigrated to the U.S., you will deal with ICE at this time. They will ask you where you were born and where you hold citizenship. It is best to be honest because they have access to immigration information on the computer in front of them.

There is no specific order, but you will not move on to the next booking stage until each is complete.


After you complete this stage, your name is called again. You are instructed to take your shoes off and strip off your clothes to one layer. Your shoes are put through an x-ray machine and you walk through a metal detector.

Next, you are instructed to place your hands on the wall and an officer of your same gender will perform a pat search. Girls and guys with long hair, you will be told to take out any hair ties, flip your hair over, and shake out your hair, so you better think of another place to hide your drugs! Also, everyone is asked to stick out their tongues, mouths wide open so an officer can examine your oral cavity for contraband. After the pat search, you are taken around the corner to a small room where an officer will watch you undress completely. (Unfortunately, this is not even the most invasive search one endures before finally getting a cot to sleep on, but you will hear about that later.)

Once the officer is satisfied that you are not bringing any weapons, drugs, or other contraband into the jail, you are instructed to put your clothes back on.

Fingerprints, Phone Calls, and Door Cards

Next, you are escorted to a bigger holding tank. Men are placed in one and women in another. Get comfortable, while remaining aware of your surroundings because you will be in this tank for a long time.

Some Friendly Advice: While in this tank, listen carefully to the officers’ instructions and try not to stare at other inmates. Most likely, you will see some people with mental problems or detoxing from drugs. Remember to have compassion for others who are, ultimately, trying to cope with the very situation you have found yourself in.

These holding tanks have payphones in them for collect calls. The first phone call you make to a number will grant you 60 seconds of free time if the person you are calling listens carefully to the prompts and selects the correct option.

Use this time to instruct this person to put money on their phone so you can call them, without a time limit, so you can try to keep them updated on your status.

Also, this is a great time to contact an attorney. Have your loved one do this for you so you do not need to call collect from the holding cell. 

Quick note for family members: We know it can be very scary to get a phone call like this. If you did not get your sixty seconds of free phone time, you can add money to your account by calling this number: (800) 483-8314

It is important to have money on your phone if you want to stay informed. Maricopa County Jail inmate information website does not update in real-time. You will not be able to find any information online for 12-24 hours after arrest.

Calling the jail information hotline is frustrating, with hold times over an hour on most days. Once you talk to a human being, all they can do is confirm someone is in their custody.

The best bet is to put money on your phone, try to relax, and wait for another phone call. (If your loved one does get a bond, they will have one more chance to call you. You do not want to miss this call because they will know their bond information before the website shows any further information.)

For the next few hours, you will be pulled from your holding tank to complete the following:

1. Fingerprinting/DNA. By the time this ordeal is over your fingertips will feel violated. It is unbelievable how many fingerprints are taken. You give the traditional ink on paper prints. Then you stand next to a computer and offer up your hands to a fingerprint technician. Every finger is printed, as well as your palm and the side of your hand. Sometimes the technicians have trouble collecting these prints so try to be patient.

Depending on what you were arrested for, you may have to provide a mouth swab for DNA. In AZ, certain crimes require DNA testing. The officer will let you know.

2. Door Cards: You will be given your door card immediately following fingerprinting. A door card lists the crimes you are being charged with. Some door cards will list an initial bond amount next to the charge, some will say nonbondable, and some will be blank. No matter what your card says, you will still see a judge.

QUICK TIP: As a caveat, you mustn’t discuss your case with other people who have been arrested. At times it will seem you have been in the same room with the same people for an eternity and many inmates start chatting about how they got there. You will start to feel a sense of camaraderie among the people going through this process with you. Some people may be showing their cards to each other. Some will be advising each other. Don’t let these people scare you and take what they say with a grain of salt. They are not attorneys.

You do not have to be rude, but it is in your best interest not to talk about your charges. Remember, you have not been sentenced yet, there is a camera in every room at the jail, and, this may seem a bit paranoid, but, there is a possibility that one of the inmates is there to gather information to escape their charges or may even be a law enforcement officer.

Also, detectives looking to solve other related cases and/or gather more information to use against you may pull any of the arrestees out at any point during this process just to have a little chat. You should have already been read your rights. Please take these rights to heart. Law enforcement uses extreme measures to make you believe it is in your best interest to talk to them. Most of the time, you will end up incriminating yourself so it is better to avoid this situation completely. (If you do not believe that you will incriminate yourself, check out this video from a Regent University Law School Professor about exercising your fifth amendment right:

MY BEST ADVICE: How do you avoid a situation where you feel pressured into giving up information an officer has convinced you will not harm you? FOUR WORDS. I WANT AN ATTORNEY. Okay, let’s make it five: I want an attorney, PLEASE. No need to be rude. Politely ask for an attorney and tell them you will be happy to speak to them if that is what your attorney advises. By law, this should stop questioning.

Pre-Court Screening and Court

You are called out one more time before seeing a judge. During this process, you are asked to complete a pre-court interview. You will answer some questions asked by a court employee, such as where you were born, where you live, where you went to high school, if you are employed, what your expenses are, etc. The judge uses this information when making decisions about your bond. You will complete this rather quickly and wait for an officer to unlock the door and walk you back to a holding tank.

Court is held every 4 hours, 24/7, at Maricopa County’s 4th Ave Jail. Depending on how many people are being booked, you may miss the first couple of court times available while in custody. There is a capacity set for the number of defendants present at each court time and it takes time for staff to get you through the pre-court process.

When your name is called for court, you are ushered into a courtroom. Men are instructed to sit in the back rows, women in the front. Be respectful. This is a real courtroom, with a real judge, even though it looks a bit different. The judge will call your name, ask you some questions and decide whether you are bondable. If so, the judge will give you an amount. You will have an opportunity to ask questions. If you have any, ask. You will not have another opportunity.

After court, the officers escort you to another holding tank. If you are released, you have another 4-8 hours of waiting in a holding tank before being released from jail. If you are assigned a bond, or you are being held without a bond, (nonbondable) you move on to the next step in the process.

What Happens After You See A Judge (Go To Court)

During court, the judge will make one of the following three decisions regarding each inmate that goes before him:

  1. Released on your own recognizance
    1. This is referred to as being ‘O.R.ed.’
    2. This privilege is reserved for first-time offenders and other limited circumstances.
  2. Given a bond amount
    1. A family member or friend has the option of bonding you out of jail. 

If you are fortunate enough to have your bond paid or to be released on your own recognizance, you can fight your case ‘on the outs.’ This term means a defendant gets to stay at their residence and continue with their regular life, as long as he continues to attend all court dates. In both situations, the inmate will eventually sign a plea deal or take his case to trial.

A loved one can post your bond and get you released one of two ways:

1. Pay the cash amount of your bond to the court.

2. Contact a bondsman to post bond.

A bondsman will agree to post bond after receiving 10% of your bond amount in cash upfront with an agreement of forfeiture of whatever collateral you put up equal to or greater than the remaining 90% of the bond amount.

   3.Determined NonBondable or Denied Bail

      a. This means that you do not have an option to bail out of jail, and, as a result, you will fight your case in custody. In this instance, the inmate will stay in Maricopa Couty’s unsentenced inmate population while his case proceeds through the courts. (This is very common in probation violation cases.)

Most inmates are held as nonbondable or can not afford their bond amount. A defendant who has fought his case while in custody has already been booked and does not need to go through the process again once his case is resolved, but this is about the only semi-positive thing about not being able to fight your case on the outs.

What Happens If You Are NonBondable Or Not Able To Post A Bond

If you are determined non-bondable or you are not able to pay the amount set for your bond, you have to endure another 24 to 48 hours of never-ending procedures before being assigned housing in one of the Maricopa County Jails. All county jails house unsentenced inmates. Unsentenced inmates have more rights than sentenced inmates, but this is not obvious during your stay.

It may seem that sentenced inmates get more perks, as they can work, making their time go by faster while in custody. Unsentenced inmates wear the same orange jumpsuits as sentenced inmates with the addition of the word “unsentenced” printed on the backside of their tops.

The procedure after seeing a judge differs for men and women in Maricopa County Jails. Men are allowed to sleep before completing classification and being assigned housing, whereas women do not have this option. However, both men and women complete each step before receiving assigned housing. Therefore, all inmates undergo the same procedures eventually.

First, I will address the men’s procedure.

Male Inmates in Maricopa County Jails

After court, men ‘dress out’ immediately. ‘Dress out’ means changing into orange jail attire. (aka Oranges)

FUN FACT: Until 2019, under the rule of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, all Maricopa County Jail inmates were forced to wear black and white stripes and pink underwear and socks. Sheriff Joe also dyed the sheets and blankets pink. Admittedly, Sheriff Joe did this to try and humiliate the inmates under his control. Another, albeit more practical, reason for dyeing undergarments, was theft prevention. The authorities believed that the addition of pink dye to clothing prevented inmates from stealing them upon release. Supposedly, the pink undergarments are more easily spotted by guards while released inmates dress back into their street attire. 

However, a market quickly grew on eBay. Demand for Sheriff Joe’s pink underwear was unbelievable. Some even raffled off the underwear to raise money. 

QUICK TIP: Do not try to take any clothing upon release. If caught, an office can charge you with theft of prison/government property. 

The ‘dress out’ room has benches in the middle and metal showers lining the walls. Don’t worry, the showers are not used today. I have no idea how many years ago they stopped delousing inmates in those showers but thank God they don’t use this draconian practice anymore. It is cold enough in those jails. 

Putting wet inmates in a dirty holding cell is dangerously unhealthy and should never have been practiced at all.  

Groups of 5-6 men are taken into the ‘dress out’ room at one time. An officer hands each inmate a plastic bag. Inmates are instructed to strip down completely and place street clothes in the plastic bag. Do not worry about folding your clothes because the plastic bag ends up scrunched up anyway.

The officer will ask you what contents you have put in your plastic bag. Be specific here because this is the same checklist used when your property is returned to you upon release. If you are wearing a purple Volcom shirt, tell the officer that specifically. If you have an undershirt on, be sure the officer notes that down on your list.

Although most of this is out of your control, do everything you can the help that officer stay organized. I have witnessed inmates being released who had their property lost after they had dressed out. When this happens, the inmate is handed a paper suit. Paper suits are very uncomfortable and released inmates issued them look like escaped mental patients.

INTERESTING FACT: There are times I have seen inmates grateful for these paper suits. For instance, many inmates who serve significant time in Maricopa county jail, end up gaining a significant amount of weight by the time they are released. Unfortunately, the clothes they went in with do not fit when they are released. Hence, paper suits are issued. 

After your whole group is dressed out, the men are taken upstairs to the second floor of 4th Avenue Maricopa County Jail. Each inmate is handed a mat and a blanket and told to find a bunk.

QUICK TIP: The bunks in this holding area are 3 beds high. As a result, they are very dangerous to climb. Avoid picking a bed on the very top if possible. 

QUICK TIP: Try to get some sleep as soon as you are able. After 6 to 12 hours, an officer retrieves you to head back down to the booking area. 

Again, you return to a holding cell. This time for 24 hours. Near the end of these 24 hours, it is time for classification. In classification, you will speak to a jail employee through a glass window. These are some of the questions you are asked:

-What is your criminal history?

-Have you been to prison?

-How many times have you been arrested?

-What is your sexual orientation?

-Would you like to be placed in protective custody? (Males who have been charged with child molestation or abuse, rape, or members of law enforcement should request protective custody. Below, I will explain why this is a good decision.)

These questions help jail staff determine which security level you are classified as. Your security classification determines which jail you are placed at. 

Durango jail is for minimum security offenders. Lower buckeye jail is for medium offenders and offenders with psychiatric issues. Fourth avenue jail is for medium and maximum security offenders.

After classification, you are taking back to the holding tank where you wait another 4-8 hours. During this time, you are given a wristband with your mugshot, name, and date of birth on it. This wristband also lists your assigned facility.

QUICK TIP: Hold on to your door card listing your charges. In the men’s jail, the population is still very segregated. You will be asked, by other inmates, to show your door card to the head of your race at your housing unit. (You will quickly find out who the head of your race is within your assigned unit.) The ‘head’ looks at your door card to determine whether you are being charged with a crime that would be considered unacceptable to other inmates. 

Crimes against children, including sexual molestation or abuse, are not going to be received well. Crimes against women, including rape, harassment, and abuse, will also not be received well. If these are your charges, whether you are guilty of them or not, it may behoove you to ask for protective custody while in classification.

If you do not do this, you may end up getting jumped, and you will end up going into protective custody anyway. However, you may have a short stay in medical before getting there if you go this route. As a caveat, if you have informed on someone, do not speak to anyone about it. It is something that will not be received well by other inmates.

If you do not want to go into protective custody (aka PC up), you could ‘lose’ your door card before arriving at your housing unit. However, inmates will go as far as having their out of custody family members check your charges on the Maricopa county jail website to make sure you are being honest with them.

If you are assigned to 4th Ave Jail, you are taken upstairs to be housed within a few hours of receiving your wristband. If you are assigned to another jail, you will be sent by bus to that facility a few more hours after classification. You will be searched once more before entering your housing unit. This is the most detailed search male inmates will experience. Males are asked to strip down, completely naked. You will be directed to do the following while a male officer checks in every nook and cranny of your body for drugs and other prison contraband:

-Strip down completely

-Open your mouth

-Lift your arms

-Pinkies in the sides of your mouth and stretch open gums

-lift your privates

-turn around, spread your butt cheeks, bend at the waist, and cough three times

QUICK NOTE: If you are caught bringing drugs or anything else into the jail, you will be charged with another felony for promoting prison contraband. Maricopa County Jail officers take this very seriously. However, I have seen some ingenious ways of hiding drugs from an officer during the strip search. I spoke to inmates who had hidden drugs in their ears, belly buttons, and even between the rolls of their stomach fat. Desperate men will put drugs up their bums, which has gracefully been referred to as the ‘prison pocket;’ While women have been known to do the same, they have two options for drug storage. The hole unique to women is referred to as a ‘prison purse.’

After the search, men are given a bedroll, including a mat, sheet, blanket, toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, and comb, and are escorted to their housing unit to await their next court date. Most of these court dates are scheduled out 30 days or more so you may have to get comfortable for a while.

Women Inmates in Maricopa County Jail

The process women experience after being declared non-bondable or failing to post bond is different because women do not have the luxury of going upstairs to 4th Ave Jail to sleep for a few hours before being classified into a housing unit. After court, women are put back into a holding cell in the matrix. Before a bus arrives to take them to Estrella Jail, the only facility that houses females, females must be dressed out, complete classification, and see medical.

QUICK TIP: This could take another 24 hours after court, meaning you may not see a bed for two full days. You have a right to a mat and blanket after spending 24 full hours in the facility. Once you have reached 24 hours, which frequently happens when booking is busy, notify one of the officers. You may have to be persistent, but eventually, they will bring you a mat and blanket so you can lay down in the holding cell. Trust me, by this point, you won’t care how dirty those cells are. You will be cold and more tired than you thought possible so those mats and blankets will feel like the Ritz. 

While in this holding cell, you will periodically be called out to complete the rest of the process. Dressing out for women is the same process explained above. Classification is as well. However, unlike men, women must complete a full medical screening after court, before they can be housed. Men complete this before court. In medical, a nurse will ask you questions related to drug use, mental health, and what medications you take daily.

Note: Just because you take a prescribed drug every day does not mean the jail doctors will continue to prescribe it to you while in custody. They will prescribe medications that are necessary for survival, like insulin or seizure medication, but they are not known to honor prescriptions for any mood-altering drugs, even if they have been legally prescribed. Keep this in mind when telling the staff what you’re detoxing from.

For example, if you have taken Xanax for thirty years under a doctor’s supervision, you will be forced to withdraw from this drug while in custody and this can be life-threatening. In my experience with Maricopa County Jail medical staff, I had been forced to cold turkey detox seven times and, on two separate occasions, I was denied antibiotic medications that had been prescribed before arrest. Luckily, my infections did not worsen, but you will get no sympathy from medical staff in these facilities. If you have been denied something important to your health, contact your attorney to deal with the jail staff. They are much more likely to listen to an attorney than an inmate.

Finally, after receiving a wristband, females are bussed to Estrella Jail, a short 5 minutes away. Once you have arrived at Estrella be prepared to wait another couple of hours for the jail to receive your paperwork from central booking. Once you exit the bus, your shackles are removed and you are placed into a holding cell in the intake area of the Estrella Jail.

Periodically, three or four women are called out at a time for a strip search. During this search, you are told to strip down, yet again, and put your orange jail clothing into the laundry. As you stand there naked, an officer will instruct each of you to shake out your hair, stick out your tongue, lift your boobs, and lift your feet while an attentive officer searches for contraband.

Lastly, you are told to turn around and face the wall, legs spread about a foot apart, bend at the waist, take one butt cheek in each hand, spread your cheeks, and cough hard 3 times. Once the officer is satisfied you are not hiding any drugs in your orifices, you are handed a clean set of orange jail clothes and sent back to the holding cell.

Eventually, when your paperwork is sent over, you are called out of the holding cell and asked to line up in front of a big door leading into the bowels of Estrella Jail. Inmate trustees (inmates who have been sentenced that work in the intake area of the jail) will hand each of you a bedroll, consisting of a blanket, a sheet, a spare pair of underwear, a rag, a toothbrush, some toothpaste, and a comb if you are lucky.

You will march single-file to your assigned housing units, which are referred to as dorms at Estrella. Once in your dorm, the officer in charge of that dorm will instruct you to sit quietly at the table in the front of the dorm. Depending on how organized the dorm officer is, you will wait 30-40 minutes at the table before being assigned a bunk number., Once assigned, find your bunk, make your bed, and collapse into it. You will be exhausted. Your court date maybe 30 or more days away, so get comfortable.

Thanks for reading and we sincerely hope the system keeps improving. There is honestly no way to go but up because, as you now know, this process is not reflective of the main tenet of our justice system that, YOU ARE INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. These lawmakers and policymakers of this great country need to get this through their heads.

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