Voices from Russia

Friday, 30 November 2012

Army-Surplus Tents to Have Room for More Criminals: Tent City Gaol, the Legal Gulag of Arizona

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An inhumane and disgraceful situation has existed in Maricopa County, Arizona since 1993. Tent City is a gaol, where, instead of being locked up, inmates are kept outside in dirty old army-surplus tents, in a gated area. This modern gaol, which can hold up to 2,126 convicts, has an old-fashioned twist on how to deal with criminal offenses. The ham-fisted practises in this facility don’t differentiate between those gaoled for misdemeanours and felonies. Rick Edwards, a former prisoner and now CEO of an Arizona nonprofit named ExecuGive, told VOR exactly how Tent City operates. The majority of prisoners would most likely say that getting into brawls is the hardest part of their day, amongst other annoyances, but Tent City is different from other gaols. Once registered, inmates receive a black and white striped uniform, along with pink boxers, socks, and towels. Edwards told VOR, “This is to embarrass inmates and reduce theft of clothing. It’s become Sheriff Joe’s trademark”.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County is one tough cop, and an oddly creative man. It was his decision to set up army-surplus tents when his gaol reached full capacity. Instead of letting some criminals out earlier, he put up tents to accommodate them. A tall fence topped with barbed wire surrounds the tents, along with lookout posts so that prison guards can watch the facility. Edwards told us, “Inmates, criminals, and persons with direct knowledge of Arpaio and Tent City tend to hate and dislike him more than fear him. Still, many people love him and all that he stands for”. However, more and more people are speaking out against the sheriff… his “good deeds” for the county are starting to look like illogical torture for those under his authority. This past September, charges accusing Arpaio of abuse of office were dropped. Another allegation raising red flags was his usage of the county’s credit card. Reportedly, he used the card recklessly, to charge personal items. None of these claims went to court, as there was supposedly a lack of evidence. Besides all this, Arpaio barely won this past election, winning only 50.7 percent of the vote, his closest race in his 20 years of being sheriff.

Critics and ex-Tent City inmates aren’t convinced that his policing strategies are for the better. For instance, rumour has it that the food he serves is old, past its “use by” date. Instead of three meals a day, inmates only get two meals, which cost the county 40 cents (12 Roubles. 0.31 Euro. 25 UK Pence) per serving. The rules are even more rancid than the food, as he allows no tobacco, coffee, sugar, salt, or pepper. This neglect in providing proper meals isn’t the only accusation against Arpaio. A post on blog.novakazlaw.com claims that a former cook for Tent City saw cockroaches and rats crawling around the kitchen floor. Unsanitary food handling may seem minor, but the public worries about the conditions of the place, even if Arpaio isn’t letting the budget get out of hand. Edwards noted, “The heat’s a problem during the summer. You’re living outside in tents. Frequently, it’s in the 110s temperature-wise in Phoenix. The sheriff says that if it’s good enough for our military, it is good enough for criminals”.

Physically, prison is a daunting place, but Tent City is in a league of its own. Edwards, who’s a recovering addict, counsellor, and relapse prevention expert, said, “I’ve stayed in Tent City many times, some for an extended amount of time (you can be there up to two years). I’ve been treated rudely and unfairly in their continuing effort to rule by intimidation. I’ve also been denied legal rights many times. I’ve witnessed physical, mental, and emotional abuse daily. As an experienced and veteran prisoner, my inside knowledge allowed me to position myself to avoid much of the abuse. I followed the rules and used them to my advantage. Mental toughness and acuity was a strong defensive measure”. Edwards made it clear that medical care is hard to come by and, even if received, is of very poor quality in Tent City.

Edwards isn’t the only ex-inmate who remembers the dump Tent City has become, Deb Allenbaugh also experienced the jail’s “amenities” of portable toilets and fresh air. She got sent to tent city in 2004, and wrote the Tent City Survival Guide after her release. In the end, both Edwards and Allenbaugh learned to take nothing for granted, and to do everything possible to keep out of Tent City. The gaol in Maricopa County is one of a kind; inmates can barely function with inadequate food and scorching temperatures. People talk about the neglectful conditions, but they never seem to find legal proof, leaving its operation shrouded in questions. The modern American gulag has arrived; it’s here to stay, although one can hope for genuine improvements inside Tent City.

30 November 2012

Sarah Neary

Voice of Russia World Service



Nikolai Yaroshenko. Life is Everywhere. 1888

Life is Everywhere

Nikolai Yaroshenko



Editor’s Note:

There are two things to say about Arapaio’s abuse of prisoners. Firstly, the Church would condemn him for cruelty. Full stop. The Church teaches us that prisoners are human beings and deserve mercy (I’m thinking of the famous Russian painting Life is Everywhere depicting a 19th century convict transport to Siberia). Secondly, if a Russian gaol were to have only half the abuses of Arpaio’s crank operation, the US State Department would have a hissy fit. If all things are equal, that means that Joe Arpaio is a abuser and criminal himself… and deserves imprisonment. Reflect on this… the Republican Party supports the policies of this amoral monster. That’s a meaty thought…



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