A newly-appointed federal monitor will now oversee the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail and the wider LA jail system. Finally, movie nights –and maybe even civil rights– are back.
Changes are afoot, and prisoners housed at 441 Bauchet St., LA’s notorious Men’s Central Jail, may soon be eligible for social skill-strengthening activities and other privileges that have been forbidden since…who knows? 1965? The year after the facility opened? Well, decades, at least.
And that makes me wonder:
- Might newly elected Sheriff Jim McDonnell do away with the Fight Club free-for-all day rooms, with their non-running water, backed up toilets, and rodent infestations?
- Will rampant abuse and neglect in this, the nation’s “largest care-taking facility” for the mentally ill, finally start to slow?
- Will the Sheriff’s Deputies and civilian jailers stop tossing decks of cards through the bars as a substitute for rehabilitation?
- Or will those same individuals continue to celebrate excessive force and use it with enthusiastic prejudice?
- Will the screams of men being sexually assaulted at MCJ no longer stomp bootprints of bad memories into the heads of those fortunate enough to only be plugging their ears?
- Will Badges finally start assigning chores or handing out mops and brooms to inmates other than those willing do “torpedo runs” and other scheming favors?
- Will visitors to the facility at last see an end to beat downs while handcuffed to a bench?
Referred to through the years as “the dungeon,” “the house” and, more recently, “the snake pit” to denote its outrageous levels of corruption, the interior chambers of Men’s Central Jail feel like an older parking structure, sports stadium, or just about any architectural relic initially constructed for County business. And as we’ve seen, most recently throughout the reign of Sheriff Lee Baca, its employees treat it like one, too.
Of course that isn’t entirely fair to the new guy: McDonnell has already begun implementing systemwide reforms and has led his department to look past the plague years of movie-like cover-ups, rouge subgroups, allegations of brutality, scandals, indictments, resignations, convictions, and settlements within his ranks.
But this giant beast, this politically difficult, money wasting, corruption-cursed, constitutionally insufficient labyrinth of corridors has long ago proven that it won’t go down without a fight, without a wrecking ball, and without chewing up and spitting out more than a few lives and careers.
I chronicled the nine months I spent in the interconnecting cavities of that windowless building because I needed to know, at the time, that someone was making an effort to oppose the departmental secrecy that ruled the day at MCJ. And while it may be that those days are almost over, without an open dialogue on whether or not the building, which lacks all trace of natural lighting, should be torn down (let alone what to do with the County’s property), it feels like we’ve seen all this before.
I am, however, hoping for the best. Jim McDonnell was elected on his promise of change, and he has indeed taken some small steps in that direction. So for the time being, Sheriff, I’ll wish you good luck with your challenges and your new federal babysitter.
Now if I could just shed this feeling that my Apocalypse Hoosegow series is far from over…