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.
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
- 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.