From Florence to Low Gap

by Letters to the Editor, December 23, 2009

Editor,

My trip from Florence, Arizona to Mendocino County Jail, and a few words on California prison overcrowding.

I sent Mendocino County Jail a 1381 demand for trial form on October 14, 2009. Mendocino had 90 days from that day to come and get me to take me to trial. On November 11, while incarcerated in Florence, Arizona, I was told to transpack my belongings because I was going to court in Mendocino County. Two days later on November 13 I boarded a California Department of Corrections bus in Florence, Arizona, bound for California. Our driver told us that it would be a 12 hour drive. We were to stop at Lo Palmas, Arizona and pick up 27 more inmates. From Lo Palma, the bus took the most southern route into California. Our next stop was Centenella State Prison. From Centenella our next and final stop was Chino Institution for Men. Chino was to be our layover for inmates going to various prisons in California. We left Florence at 4:30am and arrived at Chino at 6:30pm the same day. After spending 14 hours shackled and crammed into a bus, we spent six hours in rest and relaxation waiting to get housed (a bed). At 1:30 the next morning a CO came in and grabbed ten guys out of the holding tank and told us to follow him. I thought I was finally going to get a bed and some sleep. Boy was I wrong. As we left rest and relaxation into this long hallway I noticed some cages along the right-hand side of the hallway. As we passed the cages I noticed that they had inmates in them. Picture this: these cages were 11 feet long and 4 feet wide and about 8 feet tall with a bench along the back. I counted 10 people per cage. Two on the bench, six on the floor laying diagonally and two more in the hammocks made with sheets tied up high in the cage, one at each end. As we walked along I counted 24 cages, all of them full except the last cage. That was the cage for us, the 10 inmates who just left rest and relaxation.

I thought to myself that this was the craziest thing I had witnessed in my five years in California Department of Corrections custody. I knew that California prisons were overcrowded, that is the reason I was housed out-of-state. But I never thought it would get this bad. I spent the next five days in cages at Chino on my layover. We ate breakfast then we went to the cages (they call them dog pens), then we went outside during the day, then back to the cages at night to sleep. They let us out every four hours for a restroom break. What an experience. Welcome back to California!

On my sixth day I boarded another California Department of Corrections bus heading north. We stopped at Lancaster State Prison then on to California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo. Then it was on to our final destination for the day: Soledad State Prison. Another 14 hour bus ride and another layover.

After arriving at Soledad Prison around 6:30pm we sat in rest and relaxation waiting to get housed again. There were 20 of us doing a one-night layover, all 20 going further north the next day.

At 2:30 in the morning the next day they brought us back to the hole and put us in cells and told us to be ready in one hour to go back to rest and relaxation and then get on the bus. An hour in a cell. Does that make sense? After my short day, and I mean short, we boarded another California Department of Corrections bus heading north. They were going to San Quentin, then to Vacaville, then to Jamestown. I was happy to hear that San Quentin, my destination, was going to be the first stop in three hours. After arriving at San Quentin around 8:30 that morning, I sat in rest and relaxation until 7pm that night and finally got housed (a bed). I spent three days in San Quentin before Mendocino County came and got me. It was a 10 day trip through hell.

I have been out of state for 14 months because of the overcrowding in California state prisons. It was bad then and from what I witnessed it’s a lot worse now. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought I would spend five days locked in a cage with nine other men. They have to fix the overcrowding in California. It is a powder keg waiting to explode!

For the time being I am enjoying my stay here at the Mendocino County Jail. But I am not looking forward to my trip back through hell!

Michael LaFlam
Ukiah

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