One of the most difficult things for me to do as a writer is interviews. It seems odd because as a nurse I worked in the medical review department for a health benefits administration company. I often called and asked for information—sometimes personal and delicate information—and I never had a problem. In fact, I had a gift. People usually told me more than I wanted to know.
Maybe because I’m writing about fictional situations, I am reluctant to take up time for busy people at work.
Recently a fellow author critiqued my work-in-progress and said I’d nailed the prison scene. He asked if I’d ever been to a prison. When I said no, he asked if I’d like to go. Oh yes, I would. A retired teacher, he volunteers at the Brevard County Jail Complex, teaching English classes to the inmates, and he kindly arranged my jail tour.
Two things I want to say. First of all, Brevard County residents, you have a jail to be proud of. The jail buildings are well-maintained structures with clean lines and narrow windows. The complex is surrounded by fencing with barbed wire. I met the Programs Officer, a female Corrections Deputy, in the visitor area where I was given a badge. The Deputy led me through various areas of the jail, answering all my questions. Since I write women’s fiction, I was especially interested in the women’s jail. The women are held in an open bay area, divided into two large rooms with rows of cots, unlike the men who are in cells. Women wore either stripes (those who could go outside the fence) or beige pajama-like garb. An officer sat in a raised office which gave her a panoramic view of the two bays. Other officers were on the level with the inmates. There is no privacy for the inmates save a half-wall between the toilets. Everything was clean, and bag lunches were being passed out.
None of this was what I expected. Many of the women were in their twenties of thirties. They were well groomed and appeared relaxed, even friendly with each other.
Programs are offered to the inmates, like anger management and GED classes. The Chaplin’s office provides spiritual help and counseling. The women are permitted three hours a week of outdoor recreation. For those in stripes, there is a sewing program where they make everything from sheets to uniforms. Paws and Stripes® is a program where rescued dogs are trained and cared for by inmates, some of whom obtain employment working with animals upon release. These programs, many instituted by my tour-guide Deputy, have cut the recidivism rate dramatically. When inmates leave, they are given a manual listing every kind of assistance organizations to ease their return to society. I was truly impressed with The Brevard County Jail Complex and its officers. I am grateful to the dedicated Deputy who took time to show me the jail, knowing it was to improve my writing accuracy. Also to her supervisor who approved my visit, and to my colleague who made it all possible.
The second thing I want to say is that since the jail was completely different than I expected, I now know I have to be persistent—think pain in the neck— in going to the source for interviews. The internet provides a plethora of information on any subject, but there’s nothing like the real thing!