View from the Tower

View From the Tower: Stations

By John Schick, Retired Department of Corrections, California

(This post was originally a comment to Hal and Ed’s post about their police stations. It was so good, I had to post it on John’s own column.–Thonie)

Prison_guard_tower_(2967623823)Ok, so we’re talking about antiquated work buildings. CIM (Ca Institution for Men where I worked)) was opened in 1941. It was the only prison ever built by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during WW-II. Originally it was a honor farm work camp: It had no walls. It has four facilities: Reception Center West, Reception Center East, Reception Center Central (RCC), and CIM-Main (minimum custody level 1 inmates.) The entire facility (with additions) held 6,500 inmates. We ALWAYS had more. It was the ONLY Reception Center in southern Calif. until Otay-Mesa (Donovan) was activated in 1987. We used to receive jail buses from the counties of LA, Riverside, San Diego, Orange, and San Bernardino. It made for a busy day every day.

Prior to the installation of electric cell doors EVERYTHING was gang box manual cell control. If you’ve ever toured Alcatraz, you saw manual levers for opening and closing cell doors. Ours was very similar. It took some getting used to. Ofttimes the doors wouldn’t lock, so we had to secure them with handcuffs. Almost every cell block had three tiers. After 8 hours of running up and down stairs you were ready to hit the gate UNLESS you got ordered over due to staff shortages. THEN you got 16 hours of stairs to handle. No overweight people were overweight for long.

On the West yard where I worked most of my career we had one story 150-man dormitories. They were a dilapidated to say the least. Toilets were clogged. The showers quit working. The heaters broke. A/C? Nah! Every Spring the dorms would be overrun by termite queen swarms. They were crawling on the walls. They were flying in your face. They would fill up the overhead light covers. You had to shake out your uniform and belongings to make sure you didn’t take a queen termite home with you. Our maintenance department was ineffective, to say the least.

In the RCC higher security building (erected in 1951) was a concrete dungeon. All it needed was a draw bridge. At night you could count on a visit from either Mr. Cockroach, OR Mr. Mouse, or both. There were THOUSANDS of them. The basement was an adventure. Usually half full of water it was a home to Olympic-sized cockroaches. I measured one at almost three inches in his bare feet! Despite efforts to eliminate their numbers they thrived. It was cool down there. It was moist and smelled like a putrefying bog. Perfect!

dairy cattleI should mention that CIM had a dairy herd of about 200 milking cows on grounds. The flies and smell of manure was in the summer horrific. The ammonia was enough to clear your nostrils! Not only did WE have dairy cows, but the entire end of southern Chino was at one time the largest dairy reserve in the world. So, there was an unending supply of manure aroma to satisfy the most sensitive noses. At night we would get thick fog that would pick up the manure scent and carry it into the dorms.

I heard an inmate complain one particularly stinky night, “Man! That’s 100% bullshit!”

I had to concur.

By Thonie Hevron

Mysteries to keep you reading through the night.

Welcome to Thonie's world!

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