Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

KUER Reporter Goes to Jail

Kane County Public Safety Building -- Kanab, Utah
Kane County Public Safety Building -- Kanab, Utah

By Dan Bammes

Kanab, UT – Kane County recently opened its 200-bed jail in Kanab. Most of the inmates there will be state prisoners, along with a few from communities in southern Utah and northern Arizona. But for one night, the inmates were people from the community, and I was among the jailbirds.

The line to get in jail stretched out the door on a chilly night. Kane County's new 18-million dollar jail and public safety building wasn't quite finished yet. There were a few electrical glitches to fix and floors to be mopped. But the community responded enthusiastically to invitations to tour the building, and more than 120 of us paid fifteen dollars each to spend the night. We filed into the booking room, had our pictures taken and were shown into the new housing area. My home for the night was Cell H-1 in what would normally be a section set aside for female prisoners.

The cell was sparsely furnished. It had the standard toilet and sink combination. Two metal bunks were attached to the walls with sturdy screws. There was a mattress-pillow combination, and the county was kind enough to provide a sheet and a blanket. Next door in Cell H-3, Totie Anderson set up housekeeping with her 14-year-old son. After some effort, she said, "We found out how the sink works."

The jail includes new medical facilities, classrooms and a chapel, which includes pews and a lectern from another Kanab landmark, the LDS stake center on the corner of Main Street and Center.

It was a party atmosphere all night. Lots of families brought their kids - from toddlers to teenagers. Shan Clark brought her grandkids.

As it turned out, I was in the media and politicians section of the lockup. Two members of the Kane County Commission were right next door, including Doug Heaton. He says the new jail brings 20 jobs to Kane County, and it's been an important part of their economic development. Sky Chaney, the president of a local taxpayer's group, also felt the $18 million cost was money well spent, thanks in part to the $45 per day the county will receive to house 160 state inmates.

It was after midnight when Deputy Marvin Hoyt brought Gonzo the police dog in for a visit. The crowd loved Gonzo's enthusiastic attack on another deputy wearing a padded arm guard.

Sheriff Lamont Smith presided over the chaos with a big smile on this face. His only disappointment is that the district court chose not to move into the new public safety building, leaving the space set aside for the courts empty for now.

The lights stayed on and nobody got much sleep that night. Around 5:00 a.m., the jail staff came in and started making breakfast. There was French toast, bacon, eggs and fruit, but no coffee. It got mixed reviews from some of the teenagers who'd been up all night. Only one said, "It's delicious."

As the sun was coming up, the temporary inmates left the jail, some carrying sleepy kids, all of them with a first-hand look at what prisoners will greet with far less enthusiasm, and without the freedom to walk out whenever they choose.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.