Dispatches from the Academy – Part VI: Notes from a cold place; Or, fear and loathing (and cupcakes) on the road

Editor’s note: ‘Dispatches from the Academy’ is an ongoing series relating Review reporter Luciano Marano’s experiences as a member of the latest Bainbridge Island Police Department’s Citizen’s Police Academy class. Anyone can apply to attend the periodic program, which gives participants a hands-on look at the function and duties of the BIPD and other local, related agencies. Call 206-842-5211 or email policedept@bainbridgewa.gov for more info about the next academy.

Incarceration. Disaster. Injury. Death.

“There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment.”- Hunter S. Thompson

Any way you slice it, those four fearsome factors are the “worst fears” of an awful lot of people. So, it only made sense that I, and my Citizen’s Police Academy classmates, would spend the first nice Saturday in recent memory eschewing the surprise sunshine and trekking around the county seeing, discussing and dwelling on them.

This, I told myself, as I steeled my resolve and the clanking barred doors of jail slammed shut behind me, is what we signed up for.

This is what we’ve agreed to.

“Buy the ticket, take the ride.”- Hunter S. Thompson

Actually, the Kitsap County Jail was just stop Number One in a triad of tense locales we were slated to see. We went from there to the Kitsap 911 Central Command (the dispatch center), before finally ending, well, where else? At the coroner’s office. It’s a good place for endings.

What follows is a transcription of the notes I jotted as we went, my observations as I made them, edited for clarity and spelling (I’m spell check dependent). It was a very enlightening day, all the attendees agreed afterward, and a definite highlight of the class so far.

“As long as I’m learning something, I figure I’m OK — it’s a decent day.” – Hunter S. Thompson

“In the Jailhouse Now”

The doors slam home, we are officially inside now. Not what I expected, not like “Lockup” at all. Much less yelling. None, in fact. It’s really, really quiet in here.

Are we the first group to ever come to jail bearing cupcakes? I suspect we probably are not, though I struggle to conjure a potential previous party who would have had occasion.

* BIPD Officer Carla Sias, the coordinator and host of the academy, is also a notoriously gifted baker, and she brought goodies for the class’ field trip and for our hosts. There has never been anyone I know of who is not glad to see Carla. Except, I assume, criminals. Maybe them, not so much.

At any rate, it wouldn’t do for a new inmate to seem too eager to get to know everybody, I suppose. Cupcakes might send the wrong message in the yard.

There actually is no yard, I just learned. Outdoor recreation is provided in large, enclosed rooms with mesh-covered, but open-air, tops. Lots of concrete around here.

Manners are key, says our guide. He’s been at this a long time. It’s important to keep in mind this is jail, not prison. The people you’re guarding today will be behind you at Safeway next month. Fascinating perspective.

I told an acquaintance of mine, who had his own legal troubles in his younger days, about this trip. “Real good idea, Luc,” he said. “Waste a whole Saturday because, ‘Gee, whiz, I just wish I knew what the inside of a jail looked like!’ #firstworldproblems.” We walk in a line, quietly taking it in like kids at a museum. He was not wrong. The inmates seem amused at our presence, as well.

Prisoners vastly outnumber guards, our guide says. “They let us run the jail.”

That’s the fourth James Patterson paperback I’ve seen floating around in here. Is the man’s work that ubiquitous, or do convicts really love his writing? Is it a matter of simple abundance, and many of his books are donated to jails? Is there a book group, and do you think they talk about the character arcs of Alex Cross and Nana Mama? I liked the early stuff better …

This tour has rattled some of our party, it’s etched on their faces as we return outside and into the light. I think it would be very effective on troubled youths, too. Me? I’m at the wrong point of my life for this. I was born poor, and I was in the Navy for five years — subs and ships. Spartan conditions? No privacy? Bad food? Beastly roomies? Being given a menial job as if it were a gift and being thankful to have it, too, so as to distract yourself from the crushing knowledge that you are stuck there for the foreseeable future with no hope of escape and nobody to blame but yourself for your predicament? Been there.

I could not help but think as we toured the place: As far as jails go, this is really nice. I was expecting worse.

“911 is [not] a joke”

Our guide, however, is hilarious. She’s exactly the kind of cool but tough person I’d want on the other end of the phone, should I need to call 911.

Sometimes, you see something and right away know: “I can’t do that. Inspirational posters be damned, that just ain’t for me.” I’m having one of those moments right now. Guide says senior dispatchers routinely handle three to four calls at once while monitoring police and fire radio channels. Are you kidding me? I can’t watch TV and do the dishes at the same time.

Understaffed and overworked, a predictably tragic tale around here. Pay/benefits are supposed to be good, so is time off when the roster’s full, but it’s just not for a lot of people (people like me).

Teenagers: You are a butt dialing 911 A LOT. They have to call you back and make sure you’re OK. No joke, it’s like the law or something. It takes a lot of time. So please, youngins, make an effort to shut yo’ derrière up (pardon my French).

You know what else is not a joke? The Fourth of July. Holy crap. Kitsap 911 gets routinely double their usual call volume on Independence Day — sometimes more. Please don’t call them about petty neighbor and/or noise complaints, unless it’s really noisy and really late at night. There’s practically nothing they can do about it before then anyway.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper”

*Read Luciano’s 2016 profile of Kitsap County Coroner Greg Sandstrom here.

Did you know the coroner’s office used to be in the basement of a dilapidated house near the jail? Is that a Stephen King story waiting for a title or what?

Wow, you can fit a lot of people in a refrigerator (if, by people you mean identifying samples of blood and tissue, which in this case I do). This is something we all know objectively, but comparatively very few have actually seen done. The whole class now has something in common with Jeffrey Dahmer.

I guess, by elimination, this is the job of the three we’ve seen today that I would be most capable of. I’m not sure what that says about me, if anything.

I’m a child, a 29-year-old child. My first thought when we looked into the (empty) freezer and saw all the empty wheeled tables was: “Wow, I could fit so much ice cream in here, and it would all be at the perfect height to easily get at!”

It was cold in all three of these places. Cold, as in tense and sparse, in the jail; cold, as in actually freezing — Does nobody know how to work the thermostat? — in the 911 center; and cold, as in clean, sterile, in the coroner’s office. We headed back into the sun of the late afternoon and set off for home, thankful.

See what you missed, read all of Luciano’s “Dispatches” series so far:

Dispatches from the Academy – Part I: BI’s top cop talks shop with aspiring citizen grads

Dispatches from the Academy — Part II: Sip sip, bang bang: Bainbridge loves drugs, guns more than you’d think

Dispatches from the Academy — Part III: Curbside crimes and critical cases: Let’s talk about parking and murder (separately, of course)

Dispatches from the Academy – Part IV: You can’t be Dirty Harry in a town that’s more like Mayberry; Or, Examining the implications of police appearance and monitoring

Dispatches from the Academy – Part V: Hard Target: Deadly shootings, body cameras and police monitoring; A Q&A with the BIPD’s primary firearms instructor