I was shaking as I walked down the narrow corridor. My heart was pounding heavily in my chest. I couldn’t believe it; I was actually going to jail. The elevator button was pressed, we were headed to the 13th floor.
Not only was I scared out of my mind, I was feeling superstitious, too. What kind of building has a 13th floor, for goodness sakes, usually the buttons skip from 12 to 14?
Suddenly, the doors opened and before me I saw the jail’s visiting booths. You know the kind with the phones and thick glass walls. I stepped to the left and walked towards huge steel doors.
This place is a fortress!
A small slot in the door opened. A gruff voice told me to hand over my identification. Slowly the massive steel panels slid open. I felt faint…
I had made some bad decisions in my day. Was this really the path I wanted to follow?
It would be my first day of nursing on the Jail Ward.
Armed sheriff’s deputies manned the front desk. Behind them, the wall was lined with semi-automatic AR-15’s, at the ready for any riot. A no-nonsense sergeant gave me a large, bangle-like metal ring with a key on it. “Before you go in there,” he said sternly, “there ’re a couple of things you’ll need to know.”
“When you want to go into the inmate’s room you will first knock on the door. The prisoners must all sit down on their beds,” he said. “They shall remain there until you leave. No sharp objects are to be brought into the room. If you receive anything but full cooperation, report it to an officer immediately. If an inmate is well enough to harass a nurse, they are well enough to return to jail.”
Following this debriefing, he told me how to locate the charge nurse. Down the hall and to the left I found the jail’s emergency room. Just outside the door, a fully restrained prisoner laid on a metal gurney. Froth flowing from his mouth, he was growling like a wild animal. Despite the restraints, he bounced the heavy gurney off the ground. A nurse walked out from the adjoining room. Seeing me, a wide eyed rookie, she glared with contempt and then, looking down at the patient, muttered “PCP…I’ve had enough of PCP”.
Glancing over my shoulder in disbelief, I hurried on down the halls. The ward was clean, but cold, and without personality. The dull gray floor tiles were freshly mopped, the smell of institutional disinfectant was strong and a bit irritating. Coming to the first of two nurses’ stations, the charge nurse greeted me. “This your first time on the Jail Ward?” she asked.
Was it the deer-in-the-headlight look that gave me away?
After another brief orientation, I found myself on my own. The night nurse was ready to give me report. She ran down the patients’ medical conditions, but conspicuously omitted any mention of their criminal histories.
“What did this guy do that he’s in jail?” I cautiously asked, pointing to one of my patient’s Kardex.
“We never know what crimes the patients have committed,” she said dryly. “It’s better that way.”
Better? What have I gotten myself into?
(to be continued…)