90 guests spend a night in Cole County Jail, for the experience

Saturday, July 16, 2011 | 6:19 p.m. CDT; updated 10:25 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 17, 2011
Belle Fennessey and Laurie Wildhaber look into a women's cell block Friday at the new Cole County Jail. The block has natural light coming in through the ceiling, and the lights surrounding it dim to match the outside light.

JEFFERSON CITY — John Wilbers spent a night bonding with his mother, Sally Kurt, before he goes off to Los Angeles for college in the fall — they spent the night together in jail.

They drove from St. Louis to join 88 other people at Bed, Breakfast and Bars Friday night in the new Cole County Jail. Guests and media alike came from across Missouri to downtown Jefferson City and paid $30 to be "incarcerated" within the facility for a night, before inmates will later be moved in.


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The fee covered dinner, breakfast, a mug shot and a T-shirt. Some of the proceeds went to the United Way of Central Missouri.

People had varied reasons to willingly spend a night in a place that most people try to avoid. Some, like Sallie Jacobs, viewed it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"I'm 67. Hopefully I'll never have to go (to jail) again," Jacobs said. "But I wanted to see what it looked like."

Jacobs works in the emergency room at St. Mary's Health Center.

"I've seen a lot of people coming through the ER from jail looking for drugs," she said.

Annie Willis, a civil lawyer with a background in criminal law, also came to the event because of her job.

"I wanted to know what it was like," she said.

The guests arrived around 5:30 p.m. Friday and then waited to be admitted in small groups for booking. During booking, cell phones were confiscated and mug shots were taken.

After being booked, the guests were taken to their "pod." There are eight pods in the jail, most of them with a dozen cells that can house 24 inmates. On Friday night, pods A through E were occupied.

Hannah Silvey and Kate Leskee, both from Jefferson City, shared cell D-3.

"It's a unique thing to do on a Friday night," Leskee said.

Silvey and Leskee said they chose to spend their Friday night in jail instead of going out for frozen yogurt.

"I've never been in jail before," Silvey said. "I expected a less realistic experience." Their cramped living quarters had only a metal bunk bed, shower and a multipurpose toilet/sink.

Some people used the occasion to celebrate in an unusual and memorable way.

"It's my birthday," Kylee Binder said.

Binder, who turned 25, stayed in the jail with friends Lauren Arn, who organized the getaway, and Heidi Cornelius. The three prepped for the night by listening to Johnny Cash during their drive in from Kansas City. They even brought their own harmonica, but were told they couldn't bring it inside the jail.

Greg Havener also celebrated his birthday at Bed, Breakfast and Bars. Havener, who turned 48 earlier in the week, said it was his wife's present for him. She dropped him off Friday afternoon and said she'd pick him up Saturday morning after his stay.

"I've never been in jail for real," Havener said. "It was her idea."

While the Friday night guests intended to have an unforgettable experience, the guards at the jail were working.

"This is all a training exercise to us," Jail Superintendent Russ Bemboom said.

The guards were practicing for the eventual move of the hundred or so inmates from the old jail to the new within the next few weeks. Sheriff Greg White said the move would be done in one day.

"We've never moved this many inmates at one time," White said.

Dinner was served after everyone was safely sequestered and had been given a sheet, a blanket and a roll of toilet paper. The meal included:

  • Turkey and noodles
  • Cole slaw
  • Navy beans
  • Cornbread
  • Bread pudding

Donna Sherwood drove to Bed, Breakfast and Bars from St. Louis with her friends Gloria Kuehn and Paula Lester.

They were underwhelmed with jailhouse food.

"It sucked," Sherwood said. "The cole slaw and the beans were good. Other than that, it was just horrible."

"I hope they don't do wedding receptions," Kuehn said.

Despite the terrible food, the women were happy to cross "staying in a jail" off their bucket lists.

"It's something different to do. Something to talk about at a cocktail party," Lester said.

They were not alone in their loathing of the dinner. Binder was already looking ahead to the next morning, saying her friends owed her breakfast at IHOP.

After dinner, White gave a presentation in each pod to discuss operating procedures in the new jail. Topics included riot suppression, the use of Tasers, interrogation techniques and the features in the new facility.

"The technology is phenomenal," White said.

Some of the technology was on display during a tour following the presentation. A major change from the old jail to the new is the almost exclusive use of video courtrooms and video visits.

"Contact visits make inmates depressed," White said. "Video visits make family depressed. We have to deal with the inmates."

After the tours, some of which ran until after 1:30 a.m., guests were led back to their pods for bed. "Lights out" in a jail, however, is not darkness like most would expect, but instead a dimming of the overhead fluorescents. In some pods, televisions blared until well after 3 a.m.

"I didn't sleep too hot," Kurt said. "The night light was pretty bright. It was cold."

For Kurt, the night at the jail was interesting anyway, despite the lack of amenities.

"Just being in the cells, it's scary," she said. "I locked myself in. That was kind of cool."

Her son also said that while he wouldn't come back, he had a great time.

"I met a lot of cool people," he said. "It could be a scary place with scary people in here."

Breakfast was served promptly after the lights and televisions were turned on at 6 a.m.

The breakfast menu was:

  • One slice of turkey bologna
  • Cream of wheat
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Coffee cake

The entire breakfast was cold. The cream of wheat had the consistency of gelatin and the scrambled eggs tasted like they were made from a powder and carried a distinct aftertaste. The coffee cake was edible, despite the fact that no coffee was served to accompany it. Instead, the breakfast beverage was a pale, orange-flavored drink. Water was available from the sinks in the cells, but was either a milky white or light brown.

The breakfast was ignored and uneaten by a majority of guests.

Chances are they will see Binder and her friends at IHOP.

"We're going to have a pancake breakfast," Leskee said.

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Mike Hughes July 16, 2011 | 8:52 p.m.

Sounds like the new jail is EXACTLY like all jails & prisons should be: a VERY uncomfortable place with institutional food

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks July 17, 2011 | 8:05 a.m.

Odd. I can log on and read about what it is like to spend time in jail and peoples experiences yet we still do not know anything about the dining train other then people with disabilities do not like it.

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett July 17, 2011 | 8:52 a.m.


Folks that can state, "I have never been in jail, but I'll pay to go..."

On the other hand - Interestingly enough, some folks who have been in jail (for real) state that living conditions in jails are far better than for those who have never done anything remotely aspired to being put into jail, at all, and who have to contend with the struggles in the world beyond the bars of secluded privacy of jail. Isn't it interesting the benefits those in jail get - for free? Even safe behind locked doors with paid guards with the free meals, while some of us have to take our chances with the nut case, or so, that lurk nearby. Never knowing if we are safe, or not - but go on with the normalcy we work hard to have in everyday life. Am not encouraging anyone to do anything to be put in jail, but merely repeating observations made by others - who also suggest the bill/tab for the stay in jail should await the person incarcerated, upon the "jailbird" release, even if it takes years of installment payments to pay it in full - for use of any and all just like we do in the outside-of-jail world. Such payments should save a lot of money in the budget of any state in America, and if college students have to pay for their education, for years-on-end sometimes, then why do inmates walk free on all the things they have had in prisons? So, some of these folks would seem to have a valid argument on who pays for jail time, and who does not.

: )

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett July 17, 2011 | 8:57 a.m.

Pssst- train is another thread, and have spoken my piece on that. They got the train, they running it - but they took public money to help run it. Public is free to state facts on the train. No access for handicapped is on public-funded train. 'Nuf said.

Not all people who state this are disabled. It is fact in the archives of legitimate sources.

: )

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett July 17, 2011 | 9:02 a.m.


far better than for some of those those who have never

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 17, 2011 | 9:43 a.m.

Forcing inmates to pay for their expenses while in jail or prison might sound appealing and even "fair" but would almost certainly be unconstitutional.

But that's no problem if you don't subscribe to our federal Constitution. :) There are those who don't, you know.

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett July 17, 2011 | 12:47 p.m.

"Cruel and unusual punishment" for incarcerated to pick up their own tab for health services rendered, room and board, and food - plus education gained? Some people hold the definite idea that the innocent folks should not have to pay the tab, when no one pays the tab for the innocent folks. How many of the incarcerated would then be "repeats" and where would this leave the overcrowding in some of the prisons? Privatizing prisons? Repayment in full as if a loan to the private establishment?



(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 17, 2011 | 3:16 p.m.

Any legislative attempt to force payment would be struck down by the courts. "Cruel and unusual punishment" can apply to monetary matters as well as physical ones. There's little doubt as to where the federal courts and the United States Supreme Court come down on the matter.

Let's put the "payment" idea to a test, to see if it's been thought out. Most persons on discharge from prison or jail have little or no finances and may have difficulty finding a job in order to lawfully earn money. Their families may already be in debt. By what means are the released persons to pay?

They might turn to committing more crime in order to come up with the money.

A concept that could facilitate additional crime. That's marvelous!

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 17, 2011 | 3:25 p.m.

We should kill the poor...

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 17, 2011 | 4:12 p.m.

I don't know, Paul, your comment sounds a tad extreme.

Maybe if we first shoved them all into ghettos and made them wear yellow arm bands it would be easier for us to handle them when the time comes. [Sieg Heil!]

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett July 17, 2011 | 4:45 p.m.

I agree that parolees would have a difficult time of finding a job, in some cases. Their finances would be in the negative side, at first; however, there is an old advice-stance that one could/should/would pull oneself up by one's own bootstraps. As the stats show, many of the parolees go right back into the prisons/jails, at some point, and that - in itself - is discouraging to those who do give them a chance to heal and move on in a productive way, once the parolees have been released the first time. Too, it is a given that a lot of people, who have never been in trouble with the law, have a difficult time of finding a job in today's economy - yet they are expected to pay their own way in our society. The idea that there would be a lot of money saved/returned - if parolees had to pay expenses of incarceration - appeals to some folks, no less.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 17, 2011 | 5:43 p.m.

I neglected to point out that this proposal is the sort of thing ACLU attorneys dream about. Not only the federal judiciary but the ACLU would stomp on such a proposal - and they should.

Normally I might not agree with the ACLU (I'm not a fan), but here it is all too easy to do so.

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett July 18, 2011 | 3:04 p.m.

Payment of/for incarceration?

: )

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley July 18, 2011 | 3:30 p.m.

Why would anyone that is "adjusted" to life in prison(or "institutionalized"), pay to be there? I mean what would the state do if that person did not pay? Lock them up again? LMAO!

Why wouldn't an inmate or parolee just refuse to pay, sit in prison, and make society continue to pay for their stay in prison?

Of course prison does not sound pleasant to us ("free" people), but it is all conceptual... If a person is in prison for a year or two, what seems unpleasant to us might not seem so unpleasant to them....

Ricky B. Gurley.

RMRI, Inc.
(573) 529-4476

(Report Comment)

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