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Places: Cell No. 21, Oklahoma County jail

Oklahoman Modified: January 14, 2010 at 4:37 pm •  Published: October 27, 2009


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The stink hits me first thing. Human feces. Stale urine. Whoever occupied this jail cell before me left a fetid stew simmering in the stainless steel toilet, and if there’s any way to flush it away, I sure as heck can’t find it.

Talk about cruel and unusual punishment.

I drift over to the window — not a window, really, but a light source, a promise of something beyond these gray cinderblock walls. It’s a series of frosted glass cubes, about 45 of them in three rows raised more than five feet off the floor. When the jail opened in 1991, inmates discovered they could push the glass blocks out and worm their way through the hole, says Maj. Jack Herron, Oklahoma County jail administrator. One captive would’ve escaped if he hadn’t miscalculated how many bed sheets he’d need to descend six stories.

Now the blocks are covered by a lattice of metal wire woven together like a basket. If I push my nose against the lattice, I can see the world outside, distorted into something hazy and indistinct, like a mirage floating out in the distance.

In here are two bunks and a desk made of gray-painted steel. Air hisses into the room through a grate above the sink and toilet, which are fused together like conjoined twins. A plate of polished metal passes for a mirror; phone numbers are written on it in soap. To its right, an industrious inmate has scrawled a towering, shadowed cross onto the cinderblocks.

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