Behind The Doors of The Black Hawk County Jail


The trial is over, the criminal is taken by two police officers to a skywalk that will lead him to his new home, the Black Hawk County Jail.

The Black Hawk County Jail is located in Waterloo Iowa and is home to 250 prisoners along with 140 staff members.  92 deputies are on rotation to keep the jail in order and safe to the public around them.  Sheriff, Tony Thompson oversees the jail as the commanding officer.

Opening the doors to the county jail, I was met with a security door and the only way to get across to the other side, was by a telephone call stating the reason why you are at the Black Hawk County Jail.  After stating my reason of taking a tour for my journalism class, I was let in where I than made my way to sit next to my classmates in the waiting area.

Tony Thompson entered the room and we soon followed his instructions to head into the courtroom.

Black Hawk County jail is the only jail in Iowa that has a courtroom inside of the jail.  This room is used for judicial work including detention and parol hearings.

Thompson described the type of prisoners that are held here, “Most of the prisoners held here are for cases against other people or forcible felonies.”  The prisoners housed in the jail are mainly composed of criminals who have committed aggressive acts towards other people.  However, these prisoners are only held for a year or less and than transported to a larger jail to serve their sentencing.

For a small jail in Waterloo, Iowa, big things still happen.  “I’ve had to put snipers on the roof for bad cases.”  Thompson stated as he was asked about the intense situations that occur in the jail.  But the prisoners are not always the wrong doers.

A deputy was caught stealing a $15 tape measure and was soon fired after the incident by the commanding officer of the county jail.  Thompson quoted, “Have to follow the code of ethics, on and off the job.”

Three rules when touring the jail; number one, don’t be a disruption, number two, you will be on camera, number three, stay close.  These words ran through my head over and over again as we entered the jail.  Every step I took, the higher my nerves would go.  All I could think about was the worst situations possible.

Our first stop inside the jail was the command center.  Two adult woman managed the command center, handling all the cameras, security doors and phone calls.  Not once than they turn around to acknowledge the tour for their eyes could not be taken off of their work.

Next, we came across the holding center.  The area of the jail where phone calls are made and the accused are held till further information.  The intoxicated are also held here in a cell know as the “drunk tank”.  One exotic item that caught my eye in the vicinity was a mobile chair with straps around the arm and leg rests.  This chair was for the forceful and trouble sum attendants of the holding center.

Along the way to the jail, we met prisoners doing laundry but did not want to show their face to the college tour.

Stop number three, the medical department of the jail.  Here, nurses, doctors, and therapists resided.  The nurses work for a private medical corporation that takes care of the inmates in the Black Hawk County Jail.  The welcoming and helpfulness of the nurses showed even as they talked to us students about their daily routine.  Our stop in the medical department was over and now, the time had come to take a tour inside of the jail.

The jail has different levels of confinement, from a good behavior pod which is given the most freedom, to the maximum security pod.  The maximum security pod is the most secured part of the prison,  the inmates living in this pod are only allowed to come out of their cells every 23 hours.

We entered the good behavior pod, one guard, a group of computers and a yellow line that protected us, from the prisoners held in the pod.  The prisoners were conversing at tables located in the middle of the pod.  Whenever the inmates wanted to go to the exercise room, bathroom, or library, they had to ask the officer on duty for permission.  The eyes of the prisoners never left the tour as it entered or as we left.

The last stop, the maximum security prison.  Here, the prisoners with the worst behavior  are placed to keep the other inmates safe.  We were taken into the control room of the pod where a officer overlooked cameras of each cell in a dark, cold room.  The shift of this officer resided in this room, with the only light being from the cameras of the control room.  Each cell was equipped with a microphone to hear the pleas and arguments of the inmates.  As we left the control room, the thought of living in this cell for as long as year, felt like Hell to me, and this thought continued with me as we ended the tour.

As we all left the confinement area and headed back to the non barred area, I felt as if a big weight had been lifted off of me, I never want to go to jail.

We conjured in the “Briefing Room”, where the officers are briefed on what happened in the shift previously before getting their assignments.  Thompson explained why he does the tours and asked us all how we felt leaving with a laugh.

The last comment we heard from Thompson before we left the Black Hawk County Jail, hoping to never return, “I hope I showed guys why you never want to go to jail.”  You did Thompson, you definitely did.



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