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June '20: How I Got A Look Inside The System
Excerpt: The Text
“The deputy’s text came after 10 p.m.
I’m onshift, it read. If you can get here before I’m off, I’ll take you through. I gaped at the phone. I’d been trying to get inside NCCF for nearly 2 years. I texted her back and we were set. I’d arrive before 6 a.m. And she’d give me a tour of the only super-max jail in America just as the inmates were being served their breakfast.
Some context: if you’ll allow me, it’s important to establish the difference between U.S. jails & prisons. Jails are for holding prisoners in custody awaiting trial (those who cannot afford bail, or have had bail denied), or, in some cases, to serve out short sentences—usually of one year or fewer. Prisons are for those found guilty and—generally, at least in California—given sentences of more than one year. Within these two types of facilities, super-max is a designated security level. It is the highest possible custody priority, & mainly involves extreme isolation (23 hours a day) in a single cell in a specialized block for prisoners deemed extremely dangerous, ongoing security threats. ADX Florence, in my home state of Colorado, is the only super-max prison in the United States of America. This is relatively common knowledge. Now, the reason I tell you all this, is because there is a super-max jail in the USA that few know even exists. Not far from Six Flags Magic Mountain, the North County Correctional Facility was unusually opened by a sitting U.S. President: George H.W. Bush in 1991. The jail is part of the old Wayside Honor Rancho, which has its own fascinating history: once a working rancho, it eventually ended up in the hands of Hollywood, & many Westerns were shot on its land. I’ve been told (though this is likely the simplified version), that once the studio no longer made Westerns, they sold it off to the County, which turned it into a jail complex—one complete with its own power plant, rolling hills, & sniper towers atop those hills. Not only is it essentially impossible to get out of, it’s roughly the same to get in…”
May '20: How A Dinner in Beverly Hills Taught Me About Jail
Excerpt: The Dinners
“We’d met casually a few times at art events, Mister J. & I. Connections frequently happen that way, not entirely dissimilar to Goodfellas. I’ll be told, “You need to meet this person. He’s a friend.” Or: “He’s a homie.” And the tone will convey an added layer of importance. A reminder, almost. To be on one’s toes. Especially if it is an OG (Original Gangster, connoting years of experience & worldliness).
The first real sit-down I ever had with J. was at his request. He’d heard I loved food & had lived in England & Australia, & done home-stays in Japan. (He also knew that when I was 17, my nose was torn out of my face & I required 2 facial reconstructions to put it right; as a result, I lost the ability to smell & taste for about a year. Ever since I regained those senses, food has been a massive part of my life.)
We met at José Andrés’s restaurant, Bazaar, in Beverly Hills. (It was my first time at an Andrés restaurant, & I look forward to going again when restrictions lift; Chef Andrés is doing such great work helping people these days.) This was J.’s call. In my experience, few people love food as much as former gangsters do. Whether growing up with limited means, or having access to good food denied for a period of time (such as during incarceration), they almost unanimously scour markets for the best produce & meat, cook fantastically at home, & seek out fine restaurants all over the city for special dishes. Bazaar was one such place…”