My son didn’t come home that Saturday night, January third, and I guessed what had happened.  He’d been anxious lately, and I figured he had been harassing the neighbors and gotten himself picked up by the cops.

The next morning I saw I’d gotten a call in the wee hours from an 800 number, and it turned out to be the Butte County Jail.  The number was useful only in that I learned that it was at the jail—inmates can’t get phone calls so I couldn’t get through to my son.  I’ve always heard—and you too, probably—that arrestees get one phone call.  I obviously don’t know about you, but I’ve thought of it as a free phone call, since recent arrivals at the hoosegow might not have correct change.

You’ll be pleased to learn that should you find yourself a guest of the Butte County Jail, you will be allowed that precious call at no cost to you.  You might want to think carefully before you make it, because not only can it make all the difference to your personal experience, it’s gonna cost whomever you call $14.99.  Right.  One phone call, fifteen minutes, fourteen ninety-nine.

Why would a single 20-mile phone call cost that much money?  Because the Butte County Board of Ignoramuses gave a monopoly on calls from the jail.  Any new inmate has to go through for $14.99, a sweet deal for the corporation, not so much for the poor boob who just landed in the slammer, and who now has to remember the number of somebody willing to spend $14.99 to hear what he has to say this time.

I’ve heard that in old Rome some guys would use slaves to carry water to a house fire, and if the owner wasn’t a customer, he would watch it burn until the householder paid him off through the nose.  If you don’t meet the terms, you don’t have a house, an elegant gouge, cruel and lucrative.

Access Corrections have their own deal and promise to provide much cheaper calling from the jail, if your loved one is gonna be inside a while.  It sounded like just the thing, so I gave them some money.  Rash move.

I was thinking he had been in for two days, but I couldn’t be sure because the arrest logs for Saturday weren’t ready yet, maybe because of a weekend surge, maybe because bureaucrats are hard to get rid of.  The logs eventually went up on the jail’s website. He was there, and I still haven’t found out why the money I paid Access Corrections didn’t let him call me.

I opened an account on and sent my son an email through Access Corrections—to which he could not reply and which cost $5.95—telling him to find out how to make the call on his end.  That combination worked, and we got to talk the next day. Securus and Access Corrections are all-American capitalists, getting over like a fat rat on the backs of the poor, as usual, this time with the connivance of the Butte County Board.  No matter who thought it up, no matter who gets a piece, the Board of Supervisors approved it.

I went to the hearing, or maybe it was a trial, and he got probation and fines of $402.50, including a $40 Court Operations Assessment and a $30 Conviction Assessment.  He’s set to start paying off an $800 fine from last October in a couple of weeks.  If he misses a payment, he goes to jail. If he were well enough to earn any money, he wouldn’t have gone where he wasn’t wanted and be sitting with his back to us in an orange jumpsuit.  It was hard to hear the judge, but I don’t think anybody mentioned mental illness, although I’d left a message to that effect with someone at his public defender’s office.  Public defenders are assigned alphabetically, so he got the same one he’d had before, and for whose services he now owes Butte County $157.50.  I thought public defenders were free for people who can’t buy a lawyer.  Actually, they’re just cheap.

With time served, he’d be out in four days.  That’s what I thought, because he was sentenced to fifteen days, and it was his eleventh day inside. Instead, he fell through a crack in what passes for a system and called me that evening from the Home Depot down the road from the jail.  He has a mental illness, he had refused his prescribed injection, and he was turned out in the dark 20 miles from home.

He had no cash, but he did have a check for $25, the money I had put in his account so he could buy stuff at the commissary.  I had used a debit card at the machine in the lobby, and it cost $5.95.

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