Among the first things you see after going through the squeaky doors and entering the lobby at the Spokane County Jail are a big white “Secret Witness” banner and a red sign that says “Vandalism Will Be Prosecuted.”
But chances are, most first-time visitors probably focus on the people. After all, even if you’re not one to buy into crime-show stereotypes, it’s natural to ask: What sort of folks would you find waiting to visit prisoners?
Thursday morning, it was an utterly normal-looking group of about 10 women and men. You know, sports-team jackets, jeans, discount hairstyles and need-a-cigarette fidgets. And if it weren’t for a bail bondsman fussing on a phone about someone’s release and this one woman listing the Northwest penal institutions where she has visited incarcerated relatives, it wouldn’t have seemed much different from a driver’s license waiting area.
Well, except for the steady stream of lawyers and talk about lockdowns.
The chairs were tired, the overhead lights harsh and the piped in music was Classy 99.
Every so often, a woman behind a curving counter called out the names of prisoners. And those inmates’ visitors would step forward and then be directed to a security checkpoint out of view.
A few minutes after 9 o’clock, a truly hellacious alarm sounded for maybe two seconds. “Don’t worry about it,” the woman behind the counter called out in an amused tone. “Stay calm.”
At 9:25, a woman with long, pulled-back brown hair entered the lobby from outside. She was carrying a baby encased in a puffy pink body suit with a hood. A preschool boy walked by her side.
She knew the drill. She signed in at the counter. Then she sat down and extracted the chubby infant from its soft outer garment, speaking softly as she did this.
The little boy leaned over and touched his nose against the baby’s, which made the baby smile.
The woman might have been in her 20s. But there was something leaden about her eyes that made it hard to guess with any certainty.
Before long, she got called up to the counter. She carried the baby. And the little boy uncomplainingly lugged the baby’s pink suit and milk bottle.
For a moment, it seemed there might be some red-tape snag that would prevent the visit from happening. The woman’s face fell about a mile.
But everything got cleared up.
They stowed their coats and stuff in a small locker. And then the three of them headed toward the security checkpoint.
As they went, the woman started rehearsing her smile.