Today I took a tour of the Juvenile Detention Center for Multnomah County. I had a blast. Besides the fact that I think the digs were better than my apartment in Eugene, I couldn’t help but compare it to what juvenile detention facilities look like where I am from. I don’t imagine that juvenile criminals in Los Angeles live in swanky “pods” like their Portland compatriots. This was later confirmed by my personal “tour guide,” the director of the whole she-bang.
First, we walk through all of the locking, sliding, slamming metal doors that all prisons in the movies have. The interior decorator went with paint named Mint Majesty, which the guide tells me was an effort to promote happiness in the children. Go figure. It reminds me of my great grandma’s nursing home. We walk down the corridor to the Main Control Center, where two women watch several monitors that switch between images of doors and hallways. Above the monitors, each woman has a personal computer. One woman is on Facebook. The other is paying her Comcast bill. Michael Scofield would run all over this place.
While walking to one of the pods, a food cart rolls by with different individual meals and a bevy of condiments. Instantly, my mouth waters for some Tapatio. My guide tells me that the center has switched to a different meal service. Instead of piling each prisoner’s plate with every food option available and having most of it thrown away (read: vegetables), the inmates order from a daily menu. This has cut down the food waste by 68%! Pretty remarkable, especially as these kids will probably never eat their green bean casserole, nor do they have sleeves in which to hide their broccoli so they can flush it later. What, you never did that?!
Each of the pods houses sixteen kids. They are placed with the same sex, age, and offense level as reasonably possible. Each inmate has his own room equipped with a metal toilet, metal sink, and a mirror that previous occupants have turned into a circus distortion mirror because there are so many carvings reppin’ gang signs or professions of love. “Fernando + LaQuesha + baby boi” was my favorite. The cots resemble wrestling mats and there are no pillows. Outside of the rooms is a sitting area with circular tables that you would see in the outdoor seating area of In-N-Out, a TV corner with no chairs, and small area were the kids organize ping pong tournaments. I can’t help but ask, “I see that there are no chairs in the room. I assume that is because they are considered a weapon.” The director nods. “So, a chair is a weapon but a ping pong paddle is not…?” The director draws in a deep breath and squeaks out, “Yes, there have been incidents.” I imagine inmates turning that paddle into a shiv in two seconds flat. Maybe I think that because I saw it on Oz.
To Be Continued…