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The man known as the toughest sheriff in America has come up with novel idea for his television-watching inmates he calls “Pedal Vision.”
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Phoenix says he allows his inmates to watch TV only if they power the tube by riding a stationary bicycle. The bike is able to generate 12 volts of electricity.
If the inmate slows down while pedaling, a noise warns the exerciser that the TV is shutting down.
According to Arpaio, the program allows inmates to get in some much-needed exercise while engaging in their favorite pastime.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is well accustomed to working under a spotlight – literally and figuratively. Constant scrutiny has also become commonplace at the sheriff’s office.
Federal investigators have been examining deputies’ anti-illegal immigration enforcement for most of the past year.
However, the probes announced this week are far different from their predecessors. They are taking place in full public view and, should the FBI find violations, the federal government can impose restrictions on how the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office operates, a first for a police agency that regularly boasts its independence.
“It changes the tenor and content of the investigation,” said Paul Charlton, former U.S. attorney for Arizona, “and it signals that there’s a new administration who has decided to dedicate a significant amount of resources to this issue.”
The U.S. Justice Department launched a new civil rights investigation of MCSO on Tuesday. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Michigan and chairman of the House judiciary committee, on Wednesday announced plans to hold congressional hearings on local immigration enforcement and call Arpaio as a witness in the coming months.
MCSO has targeted human smugglers, their cargo and day laborers for three years. Deputies have arrested roughly 1,000 illegal immigrants in that time and attracted a horde of racial profiling allegations.
Last year’s investigations by the FBI, the Government Accountability Office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were largely kept quiet.
The FBI would not even publicly acknowledge its probe. ICE audited MCSO’s immigration enforcement program as well as the federal agency’s Arizona office oversight of deputies’ work in September, but has refused to release its findings.
“It’s been a year. Nothing’s happened,” Arpaio said of the earlier FBI probe.
The Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability held numerous demonstrations at the county Board of Supervisors meetings last year in a largely vain attempt to increase scrutiny of MCSO immigration enforcement.
But with President Barack Obama’s inauguration, and more specifically his nominating Eric Holder as U.S. Attorney General, the federal government is heeding community activists’ calls for extensive investigation of Arpaio’s office.
Holder told congress during his confirmation hearing that “safeguarding our precious civil rights” will be one of his chief concerns as the nation’s chief law enforcer, right after fighting terrorism and protecting public safety.
Raquel Teran, project director of the citizens group, said the political and public responses to their concerns have been stark.
“Things are different colors now,” Teran said from Washington D.C., where she was attending a Conyers’ press conference announcing the planned hearings.
Arpaio said this round of inquiry is simply a rehash of the same racial profiling allegations his office has long denied.
Further, he now plans to skip the hearings, arguing that he doesn’t need Congress to attract an audience. Arpaio regularly makes his case defending his deputies’ illegal immigrant arrests on the major cable news shows, like “Lou Dobbs Tonight” on CNN.
“I don’t know that it’s a big stage, if you call C-SPAN big,” Arpaio said. “I’ve been before Congress before. They have hearings every hour, on the hour. This is nothing different.”
The justice department’s investigation is under civil law, which means that it is not pursuing criminal complaints against MCSO officials. However, a finding of police misconduct can prompt the federal government to dictate changes to the police departments’ practices and policies.
“When they do take place, they’re a no-kidding look at what the law enforcement agency is doing,” said Charlton, the top federal prosecutor in Arizona from 2001 to 2006 and an Arpaio critic.
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales fired Charlton along with eight other U.S. Attorneys as part of a controversial justice department purge.
Conyers’ office is inviting the sheriff to attend and hasn’t yet considered whether to seek a subpoena to secure Arpaio’s testimony.
“He hasn’t communicated anything directly to us,” said Jonathon Gottfried, a Conyers spokesman.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is important beyond Arpaio’s outsized persona and controversial immigration enforcement operations.
MCSO has by far the largest contingent of officers trained and cross-designated as federal immigration officers in addition to being deputies. A hundred sheriff’s detectives and deputies have federal powers to enforce immigration law, most importantly the authority to question people’s legal residency with little probable cause. MCSO has 60 detention officers that ICE trained as well as access to the federal illegal immigrant database.
ICE partnered with the sheriff’s office in early 2007 as part of the “287(g)” program, named after the section of federal law that created it.
That program, which is the focus of the upcoming congressional hearing, permits ICE-trained local officers to act as federal agents.
Of course, the sheriff’s operations themselves are of particular interest to federal investigators.
MCSO started its own immigration enforcement work in March 2006 with patrols of rural roadways popular with human smugglers. Then, in October 2007 and early 2008, the sheriff’s office launched massive crackdowns targeting day laborers in Hispanic neighborhoods.
A Tribune investigation, published in July, found the operations were conducted without evidence of criminal activity, in violation of federal regulations intended to prevent racial profiling.
Deputies used their federal authority extensively in these operations, commonly referred to as “sweeps,” as MCSO sent its SWAT team and K-9 unit to arrest illegal immigrants.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas issued the sheriff’s office legal advice regarding how to conduct such operations within constitutional limitations.
“To my knowledge, he has followed that legal advice,” Thomas said. The county attorney noted that Arpaio sought legal advice after MCSO had already conducted multiple operations.
Thomas said he believes the justice department investigation is a “good faith” effort to assess MCSO’s immigration work.
Arpaio said he isn’t so sure.
“If they had a big problem, why didn’t they do this last year?” Arpaio said.
The previous administration did not make such law enforcement investigations a priority, Charlton said.
Past investigations took place in the background.
“The folks in Washington are telling you, ‘Yes, you should do an investigation. But treat it as you would any of the other 150 investigations you have going on,’” Charlton said of how inquiries of MCSO likely began previously.
“On the other hand, if they tell you, ‘Unless you have a terrorism case that you’re working on, this is the case you will be working on,’” he said, “it’s a much different message.”
In Arizona, seeing Sheriff Joe Arpaio on TV is nothing new. But the self-described “America’s toughest sheriff” now has a national platform to pursue lawbreakers that stretches beyond the 5 o’clock news.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the state’s most populous county, has a starring role in “Smile … You’re Under Arrest!,” a new reality show debuting Dec. 27 on Fox Reality Channel.
A cross between “Punk’d” and “Cops,” the program sets up elaborate sting operations to snare people wanted on outstanding warrants. Actors and undercover deputies play along in faux scenarios where scofflaws are enticed to have a good time before doing time. The “gotcha” drama comes when cast members reveal the prank and waiting deputies slap handcuffs on the offender.
Arpaio, who has been accused of being publicity-hungry more than once, says the show is not about fame-seeking. The show’s producers approached him, he added.
“This is just another outside-the-box effort to join forces with the private industry/Hollywood to use certain techniques,” Arpaio said. “It’s entertainment. But on the other hand, we’re able to accomplish a mission and also arrest people out on warrants.”
While it has yet to air, some are already casting “Smile” as just the latest in a laundry list of quirky actions taken by Arpaio.
The sheriff is known for overseeing the Tent City Jail, where inmates are housed under surplus military tents. In Maricopa County jails, inmates don old-fashioned prison stripes and work on chain gangs. They also wear pink boxers — the color supposedly discourages inmates from swiping them.
But Arpaio has fielded harsher criticism in recent years for how things operate behind the scenes. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has paid millions of dollars in settlements involving dead or injured inmates. Still, county officials have generally approved of inmates’ treatment in the jails. Between these occurrences and the sheriff’s controversial crime sweeps, Arpaio has attracted his fair share of detractors.
“The reality is the man has lost complete touch with reality,” said Michael Manning, a Phoenix attorney who has won settlements for clients against the sheriff’s office. “He’s spending time on something like this as opposed to getting those felony warrants executed on our streets. He’s demonstrated how he’s completely out of touch with what he needs to be doing. If it weren’t so serious, I’d say it would be funny.”
Arpaio, meanwhile, said he’s just doing his job. His critics, he said, are the ones out of touch and gunning for publicity.
“It’s the same little group of people that try to get me defeated. Well, I was just re-elected for the fifth time. The people like what I’m doing,” Arpaio said.
Producer Scott Satin, the show’s creator whose credits include “Who Wants to be a Superhero?” on the Sci-Fi Channel, looked at multiple law enforcement agencies before extending a legitimate offer to the sheriff.
“I just think he’s quite the character and he’s great on camera. Sheriff Joe, he’s willing to go out and get these guys and do whatever he takes,” Satin said. “The problem is there’s so many outstanding warrants, there’s simply not enough man power to go out and execute these warrants.”
For Arpaio, it was hard to see a down side to accepting the free resources that came with the show. Producers paid for all the materials, Satin said. And it was up to deputies if they wanted to participate off the clock.
“It’s a service that we did,” Satin said. “Like I said, they don’t have that much manpower. No big city does. We stepped in and saved them a fortune. Police didn’t have to go in and find these guys. They were able to focus on more serious criminals.”
The program, which filmed episodes around metropolitan Phoenix last year, sent thousands of mailers from a phony promotional company offering a $300 prize to fugitives they considered low-level — not involved in violent crimes. Those who responded got invited to a staged event usually littered with tongue-in-cheek behind-bars references.
In one episode, “J.L. Thyme” limo service chauffeurs an unsuspecting wanted man to a Scottsdale nightclub. He is then coaxed into strutting down a catwalk for a new fashion line that also happens to include a black-and-white striped jailbird Halloween costume. Meanwhile, Arpaio is mainly seen watching from a nearby command center with officers and “Smile” staffers.
So far, three half-hour episodes are in the can. Depending on the ratings, the network is open to doing more, Satin said.
Arpaio also credits the mailings for at least 400 arrests due to fugitives still answering them after the show wrapped.
Every arrestee featured on the show must sign a release form giving the network permission to air the footage. So far, nobody hauled away on camera has refused.
“I think they wanted their 15 minutes, even if it was spent in handcuffs,” Satin said. “Not one person tried to run or raised their voice. Their attitude was like when your brother plays a trick on you. I can’t tell you how many times I heard ‘that was a good one.’”
Police commonly lure wanted felons with fake solicitations — just not to the level that “Smile” does.
“This is spawned from real police work … ultimately what we were doing was taking that as a jumping off point,” said Dave Sheridan, one of the show’s actors. “What they’re already doing in police work, what if we’re doing some really elaborate pranks where people have to go through hoops and barrels?”
Sheridan doesn’t think the series compromises the integrity of officers either. It’s the suspects who are mocked, he said.
Arpaio said taking part in the TV stings didn’t deter him from his regular work. In all, he only spent a few hours on the set during filming.
“I can sacrifice one hour to participate in one program to take bad guys off the street,” Arpaio said.
Arpaio said the show sends a message that evading the law isn’t worth it.
“All you people that read this article, Joe Arpaio’s got one word for you, ‘surrender.’”
Sheriff Joe Arpaio, TV star? It could happen when Smile … You’re Under Arrest! premieres in December on the Fox Reality channel.
“Sheriff Joe is an absolute natural,” producer Scott Satin says. “He should have his own late-night talk show. He’s wonderful on camera because he’s not acting. He is a very sincere person.”
That sincerity will be spotlighted in the show, filmed last year in the Valley. The premise involves elaborate sting operations used to nab people with outstanding warrants.
“It’s Punk’d meets Cops,” says Satin, whose reality credits include Who Wants to Marry My Dad? and the Sci-Fi Channel’s popular Who Wants to Be a Superhero?, in which contestants are tested in such areas as bravery and courage. The latter series helped inspire his latest offering.
“After that show was done, I was thinking, ‘How can I do this for real?’ ” he says. “That’s how it came to be.”
The producers scoped out law-enforcement agencies nationally before settling on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. The reason?
“Sheriff Joe was fantastic,” Satin says. “I knew he was our guy, and I hoped he would help us and agree to let us help him.”
Lisa Allen, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, says it wasn’t a snap decision to agree to participate.
“A lot of thought and a lot of meetings went into it,” she says. “It was a unique marriage between law enforcement and entertainment, and we had to make sure it was right.”
So far, it looks like a successful marriage: About 400 warrants were cleared through the show. The show targeted people who had warrants issued for their arrests after failing to show up for court dates.
“That’s what we hope people take from the show,” Satin says. “If you have a court date, don’t blow it off. That will get you in trouble.”
Of course, the real entertainment comes in watching the felons get busted. In one sequence, a felon believes he is modeling Halloween costumes for a fashion show. Of course, one of the outfits is a prisoner’s black-and-white stripes.
In another segment, lucky criminals think they are touring the set of a sequel to The Green Mile. The film’s name: The Lime Green Mile.
Obviously, the show doesn’t make a case for Arizona having the brightest lawbreakers.
“You may have smart crooks, but we have really smart producers,” Satin cracks.
Not only are our crooks gullible, they also love the spotlight. Every person caught in a sting signed a waiver to appear on TV.
“It’s the Andy Warhol phenomenon,” Allen says. “A lot of these guys think being on TV is a cool thing.”
Three episodes have been filmed. They will air at 5 p.m. Saturdays, beginning Dec. 27. After that? Satin says the plan is to produce more shows if ratings warrant (pun intended).
“Everybody learned a lot from the experience,” Allen says. “We’re entertaining the thought (of doing more), but we haven’t committed to anything yet.”
Satin hopes that will change.
“I love Arizona and I love Sheriff Joe, and I can’t wait to come back and do more,” Satin says, though he knows of one other element needed to keep the show in the desert. Namely, that our criminal element doesn’t wise up.
“Hopefully, a lot of people with warrants in Arizona don’t have cable.”
It seems almost ironic now, but at one time Chandler police Sgt. Tom Lovejoy was an avid supporter, even a defender, of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Lovejoy remembers a point in February 2007 during a conference of police officers in Las Vegas when he heard some fellow police talking trash about the sheriff.
“I was a little bit irritated about that,” Lovejoy now recalls, “to the point where I actually defended him to those people.”
Since then, things have changed radically.
The way Lovejoy described it in an exclusive Tribune interview this week, his interactions with the sheriff’s office led him into a modern heart of darkness in the past year, in which he has seen the worst side of Valley law enforcement.
It wasn’t so much that sheriff’s deputies arrested and investigated him on suspicion of animal cruelty in the death of his police dog, he said.
It was the way the sheriff and his publicity team handled the whole thing – holding a national news conference on the arrest, publicly disgracing the veteran sergeant and stonewalling his defense team on information nearly every step of the way.
“It’s a dark place inside the sheriff’s office,” said Lovejoy, who was acquitted Friday on a lone misdemeanor charge that resulted from it all.
At times, Lovejoy’s defense team had to rely on secret sources inside the sheriff’s office to get simple reports and documents the agency was withholding, he said.
“The information that we got was almost like clandestine meetings in the middle of a dark alley in Phoenix in the middle of the night,” he said. The people who gave them some of the most useful information, “were afraid they were going to lose their jobs.”
In a half-hour interview at Lovejoy’s house in a county island near Gilbert, the sergeant and his wife, Carolynn, talked about the past year of their lives, their troubles with the sheriff’s office and the steps they hope to take next.
The interview intentionally avoided the details of Aug. 11, 2007, the day Lovejoy forgot his K-9 partner Bandit, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, inside a police vehicle for nearly 13 hours, killing Bandit.
Those events are already documented through media reports, public records and in court testimony from the daylong trial.
Instead, the questions mostly focused on what Lovejoy’s family experienced throughout the ordeal.
The whole thing showed Lovejoy something he never expected to find, he said, “I was quite shocked at the level of corruption that is inside that department.”
For its part, the sheriff’s office called Lovejoy’s allegations of corruption, hypocrisy, and his contention of stonewalling, “ludicrous.”
“This agency fully cooperated with the court and Lovejoy’s attorney,” sheriff’s spokesman Capt. Paul Chagolla wrote in an e-mail. “We are proud of our investigation and our policies against animal abuse & neglect, and we have no intention of changing our stance.”
However, Lovejoy said he’s looking at a way of breaking down that resolve.
Minutes after he was acquitted, he told a gaggle of reporters that Arpaio needed to be held accountable for the highly-publicized investigation and arrest.
In the interview, he said that means he is considering bringing a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office.
“I’m not one to make a quick decision … until we can really understand everything that’s happened,” Lovejoy said. “This is so fresh, we need to make sure that we’re making the right decisions.”
During the yearlong case, Lovejoy remained on the Chandler force as a sergeant, though he was removed from the K-9 unit and put on the graveyard shift in patrol.
He said the experience has changed the way he looks at police work and suspects on the street.
On traffic stops and interactions with the public, he said, the thought of being a defendant for a year is fresh on his mind.
“I certainly got an education of what it’s like to be in the defendant’s seat,” he said, “and a little bit of what a defendant’s feeling.”
With the trial over, Lovejoy is finally able to speak about his case. Before that, he always had to rely on his wife to speak for him in public.
Carolynn Lovejoy said she was merely trying to correct the record whenever she saw a mistake or lie in the media.
The situation was “already devastating with the truth,” she said. “And when people start putting lies on top of it to make it worse … that’s when I started having an issue.”
The couple noticed a distinct change in the media coverage when Carolynn started talking to the press, they said. The coverage shed a more human light on the tragedy.
To this day, Lovejoy said he still believes he was targeted so the sheriff could earn publicity.
“That’s dangerous when you have a sheriff that only enforces the law for people that are going to get him some votes,” Lovejoy said.
Carolynn Lovejoy added, “That was all for show. That was just the big Joe show.”
We have a sheriff in America serving in what used to be called “The Wild West” who has a unique approach to reducing crime in his county. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. He has been reelected every two years since 1993, now serving well past his 75th birthday. Maricopa County is where the city of Phoenix is located and this county has more than 3.3 million people, more in population than all the other 14 counties combined.
I had the pleasure of visiting with Sheriff Arpaio on the telephone several years ago and wanted to give you an update on his crime prevention methods, in light of what it is costing to house jail and prison inmates in our nation. The cost is now more than $60 billion per year or $30,000 to $35,000 per inmate. This means that it costs every person in America more than $100 per year, and when you consider that millions of Americans don’t pay any taxes, you might want to check your wallet.
Prison inmates write to me all the time and they know, as another human being, that I care about them. However, prison life should be so hard that inmates who are released do not want to go back, but are given more support after they are released. This is where we have dropped the ball in our country. When an inmate has it harder on the outside than they do on the inside, who could blame them for wanting to go back?
But back to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the sheriff who created the now famous “Tent City Jail.” He has meals down to 40 cents a serving and charges the inmates for them. He stopped smoking and porno magazines in the jails, took away their weights and cut off all “G” movies. He started chain gangs so the inmates could do free work on county and city projects. Then he started chain gangs for women so he wouldn’t get sued for discrimination. He took away cable TV until he found out there was a federal court order that required cable TV for jails. So he hooked it up again, with only The Disney Channel and the Weather Channel.
When asked why the Weather Channel he replied, “So they will know how hot it’s going to be while they are working on my chain gangs.” He also cut out coffee, since it has zero nutritional value. When the inmates complained he told them, “This isn’t the Ritz Carlton, if you don’t like it, don’t come back.” When the temperature got to 116 degrees and set a new record, about 2,000 inmates living in “Tent City” were given permission to strip down to their government-issued pink boxer shorts. Again when the inmates complained, Sheriff Joe said, “It’s 120 degrees in Iraq and our soldiers are living in tents, too, and they have to wear full battle gear and these men and women did not commit any crimes so shut your _____ mouths.”
Here is the bottom line. Maybe if there were more law enforcement officials like Sheriff Arpaio and more jails and prisons like his “Tent City,” there would be a lot less crime and fewer repeat offenders.
If you read my column on a regular basis, you know that I would never want or suggest that any person or animal ever be treated inhumanely, but criminals, especially repeat offenders, should be punished for their crimes.
They should not live in luxury until it’s time for their parole, only to go out and commit another crime so they can get back in to live on taxpayers’ money and enjoy things that taxpayers can’t afford to have for themselves.
While it must be on a case-by-case basis, there may be a silver lining here as well. I have never been to Joe’s “Tent City Jail,” but I have seen a number of feature stories and reports of his program on television. If you took note of the terminology, you understand this is a “jail” and not a “prison.” The most important thing to be considered is that, for the most part, these are not hardened criminals but men and women who are there because of less serious crimes; I suspect many for the possession and sale of illegal drugs. In other words, this is a minimum security facility and most of the inmates are waiting to go to trial or enter a plea agreement, and will be released in due time.
There is hope for a high percentage of these individuals that they can be rehabilitated. What I would recommend is to put each inmate through a battery of tests to determine literacy levels and personal interests. Once this is done, start each one on a track to learn a trade or get a college degree. Some are already hardened criminals and will return, but many others need and deserve a second chance. For what we are spending to incarcerate these individuals, we could well afford to help them financially for a period of time after they leave jail or prison. This could be a win-win.
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 29, 2008 02:26 PM
A new $7 million shooting range for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office opened Friday 10 miles south of Buckeye.
The Buckeye Hills Shooting Park, 26900 W. Buckeye Hills Drive, replaces a facility near Surprise that had been the target of noise complaints by Sun City Grand residents.
The new 120-acre range, west of Arizona 85, is surrounded by land owned by the Bureau of Land Management and is removed from housing.
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It’s a state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly park, said Sheriff Joe Arpaio. For example, it’s solar-power, making it a “green facility,” he said.
It also features a classroom, a firearms training simulator, a 300-yard rifle bay, two 40-shooter pistol bays and turning- and running-man targets.
“I am pleased with the new range and even more pleased that it will make our training more proficient,” Arpaio said.
The former range was on flood-control land northwest of Surprise near McMicken Dam, northwest of the Loop 303 bridge over Grand Avenue.
Last year, Pulte Homes donated $500,000 to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to help relocate the shooting range away from Surprise. The county hired Phoenix’s D.L. Withers Construction to build the Buckeye-area shooting facility.
Law-enforcement officers from through the Valley, as well as Arizona and other states, are expected to use the new range.
PHOENIX – Super Bowl celebs, beware.
Sheriff Joe’s sign is flashing “Vacancy” above his outdoor jail, and one certainly gets the impression that America’s toughest lawman or its biggest publicity hound – take your pick – wouldn’t mind locking up someone famous before the week is out.
“I hear Paris Hilton is going to be in town,” Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said. “She better behave herself. We’ll put her in one of our female tents and get her on one of our female chain gangs.”
Just to eliminate any confusion, he’s not talking about the chains used for measuring first downs on Super Bowl Sunday. These are the kind that bind together inmates before they are sent out to pick up trash along a busy highway, paint over graffiti or bury the indigent in the county cemetery.
Even though I hail from the East Coast, I’ve heard plenty about this county’s swashbuckling, 75-year-old version of Wyatt Earp. I certainly couldn’t resist the chance to get a look at Arpaio’s most acclaimed or notorious creation (either one applies):
The Tent City Jail.
The sheriff department’s Web site openly advertises tours of the “internationally famous” facility in southwest Phoenix, and a couple of phone calls later I’ve got a 10 a.m. time to go behind the 15-foot-high fence, topped by curly strips of razor wire.
Accompanied by a photographer, we are shown the sign that greets visitors as soon as they step through the gate: “The next time you want to complain about Tent City, STOP! Instead, think how hard life is for our soldiers in Iraq.”
Another menacing sign warns illegal aliens – another of Arpaio’s high-profile targets – that they are banned from visiting anyone at the jail, or they risk winding up here themselves.
Our guide, sheriff’s Sgt. Rhealea Scheffner, shows us a sample of the spartan meals that inmates get twice a day, costing the taxpayers all of 43 cents. No three square meals in Sheriff Joe’s jail. Heck, the animals he takes in – abused cats and dogs, along with pigs, horses and even a turtle – get better food than the inmates.
Brunch is a plastic bag with a roll, bologna, two small oranges and two packs of “meat sticks.” Dinner is a hot meal, but the only thing I can make out is the cinnamon bun for desert. Even one of the guards quips, “There’s some sort of slop in the middle.”
I try to stay positive: Heck, it would only take a few weeks in this place to lose those 20 extra pounds I’m carrying around.
Finally, it’s time to see those tents.
Working our way to the outer yard, we emerge into the sunlight on a rather cool morning. There they are: surplus, olive-green military tents held up by now-permanent poles, more than a dozen metal bunk beds lined up side-by-side under each covering.
During the summer, when temperatures soar past 38 C in the desert, a large fan hanging from the ceiling is the only relief. And what about now, when temperatures can dip below zero at night?
Well, each inmate is allowed five blankets to keep warm, and more if they need them. But there are no heaters.
“It’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” said Kevin Kaye, who’s two months into a four-month sentence for parole violation. “It’s just cold at night. It was really cold last night with the wind blowing in. Other than that, it’s like a little city without the girls.”
Some inmates are still buried under their pile of blankets, trying to get some sleep after working a 10-hour shift the night before. Those who work during the day are already up, strolling around the gravel-covered yard.
One man with a sour look drags a rake up and down between the tents – his punishment for getting caught with a cigarette. More serious offenders wind up in lockdown: 23 hours a day spent alone in an indoor cell.
The inmates all wear black-and-white striped outfits, but their undergarments – socks, underwear, thermal shirts – are dyed pink.
Arpaio claims it cuts down on inmates trying to swipe the garments for use on the outside, but it comes across as just another publicity stunt.
The sheriff treats his critics with the same disdain he might have for a drunken driver. He doesn’t answer to any government agency, only the voters, who put him in office in 1992 and have re-elected him three times since.
They don’t seem to have any problem with the job he’s doing, no matter what the civil libertarians might say.
“I report to the people,” Arpaio said. “How come I’ve survived all these years? I’m the toughest sheriff, so a lot of people have tried to shoot me down to get their name in the paper. But I’m not going to change my policies.”
There are no TVs in the yard, of course, but inmates will be allowed to watch the Super Bowl inside on Sunday, as long as they’ve stayed out of trouble and followed the numerous rules.
(One example: Shirts must be tucked in at all times, which prompts me to look nervously at my own get-up, the black shirt hanging loosely OVER my tan slacks. Fortunately, the guards give me a pass.)
If Xavier Martinez can stay out of trouble for a few more days, he’ll be home in time to watch the Super Bowl. The Phoenix man is scheduled to be released Sunday morning after serving a few days for parole violation.
“Basketball is my favourite sport,” Martinez said. “But I’ll watch the Super Bowl. I’ll be pulling for the Patriots.”
If he gets in trouble again, there’s always a bed waiting for him at Tent City. Arpaio, in another of the publicity stunts, hung a flashing “Vacancy” sign – akin to something one might find at a Motel 6 – atop the tallest guard tower.
Says Scheffner: “There’s always room at the inn.”