Twittering Time at the Washtenaw Jail

Anonymous writer answers five Chronicle questions

A new local Twitter feed appeared on April 25, 2009. In the “bio,” the anonymous author describes it this way: “I spent 5 months in the Washtenaw County Jail in 2008. I had never been in trouble with the law before. Here’s what I experienced – 140 characters at a time.”

In his second Tweet: “I will not yet reveal my identity nor my alleged crime. I will say that I was 42 years old when I served my time and had never been in jail.”

The author agreed to answer some questions for us.

But first, a sample from the Twitter feed. Note that the entries read in chronological order, most recent first.

A nurse comes with medication. I tell her how many hours I have been
in jail without my phone call. She does not look very interested.
Wed, May 6, 2009 9:51 AM
It is the loudest flush I have ever heard, filling the cell with
sound, halting all conversation for about 30 seconds.
Wed, May 6, 2009 9:21 AM
"Flush on 2!" Fred yells. "Can you give us a flush on 2?" We do
not operate our own toilets.
Wed, May 6, 2009 9:14 AM
Fred pounds a few times until he has a guard's attention.
Then makes a twisty motion with his fingers.
Wed, May 6, 2009 8:57 AM
By now the stench is approaching unbearable. Fred gets
up and pounds on the cell window.
Wed, May 6, 2009 8:33 AM


Q & A

We confirmed that the author was jailed at Washtenaw County jail at 2201 Hogback Road during 2008. The Chronicle acknowledges that this is one side of a multi-faceted tale, some of which predates the author’s incarceration. However, the narrative provides a literate insight into a tax-funded facility that most readers of The Chronicle will not experience first hand in the same way as the author. And we were curious to know a bit more about this writing project than was reflected in the Twitter bio.

1. Describe the writing process. Do you ever have to shave down sentences to fit 140 characters? Did you write out the whole thing in advance? Given the level of detail, you must have taken notes, right? Do you try to leave the last Tweet for the day as a “cliffhanger”?

There are a few parts that I took notes on during my stay in jail and I’ve referred to them as reminders, but the writing, itself, is all as I remember it – 140 characters at a time. Not as difficult as I thought it would be and it’s forcing me to tighten up my usually wordy writing, anyway.

As for “cliffhangers,” when it’s your first time in jail, every moment is a cliffhanger. I had no idea what to expect. Also, in the first couple of months, before I knew what my final sentence would be, every day seemed to be a cliffhanger to me.

2. Do you keep in touch with anybody you met in jail?

Yes, I have corresponded with, and called, a few people I met in jail. There are so many stories in each individual person I met, and some of them wanted me to help them write their personal stories. I am following up with them as time permits. I am also still in touch with one corrections officer – one good one who really does care about the people she is placed in charge of. I will get to her in my story much later.

3. Do you have a favorite euphemism for the time gap on the resume – like “independent projects?”

This was a very sad time in my life. It froze my career and, more importantly, separated me from my young children. They think I was away on a long “work trip,” and the psychological impact of me being away is still being noticed. I don’t have a favorite euphemism. They are all bad.

4. At home, with family, or at work, you find yourself citing your jail time as evidence that you’ve seen and experienced more than the average bear can even imagine? Or is it something that’s just taboo?

No. It is an experience I do not wish on anybody and I hope most find out only second-hand through people like me. It is not a taboo subject at home, but it brings up a great deal of pain that my wife and I still need to sort through.

5. Any idea how much it cost to house you at the jail for five months?

I have no idea, but probably not as much as it might look on the books. I will bring this up later in my narrative – how the system not only takes away your rights and freedoms, but robs you blind by giving you food portions that are not enough to feed a grown man and then making you pay for anything “extra.”


  1. May 7, 2009 at 8:28 am | permalink

    A fascinating story. Has the Chronicle considered getting comments about the issues it raises from our new sheriff, Jerry Clayton?

  2. By Bob Martel
    May 7, 2009 at 2:36 pm | permalink

    I agree with Dave. A truly fascinating thread. I added the RSS feed to my home page so I could follow.

  3. By Virgil
    May 7, 2009 at 8:38 pm | permalink

    The subject’s twitter feed is fascinating. The interviewer and his choice of questions much less so.

  4. By rodii
    May 7, 2009 at 10:52 pm | permalink

    Indeed–you seem intent on a kind of smirky take on something that must have been devastating.

  5. By Dave Askins
    May 7, 2009 at 11:31 pm | permalink

    It’s been pointed out to me that one set of original scare quotes meant to designate non-literal meaning could have the opposite effect. I’ve removed them from the question, as I don’t think they had an impact on the answer. Otherwise, the somewhat familiar tone struck in the questions likely reflects a prior acquaintance with the author, something that might have been better included as a note in the original piece.

  6. May 8, 2009 at 1:21 pm | permalink

    i had a very similar experience. i must say that the atmosphere is not conducive to reform and betterment, but the treatment you receive further polarizes you and pushes you to the abyss. i look forward to following this and seeing how my experiences compare to his, and maybe we can all learn a little something from it.

  7. By Dan
    May 20, 2009 at 5:27 pm | permalink

    As of this afternoon, the Twitter account is gone. Using the old link, Twitter says: “That page doesn’t exist!” I wonder what happened. Dave, can you follow-up with the author?

  8. By Dave Askins
    May 21, 2009 at 10:13 am | permalink

    For folks who were following the Twitter feed, we’ve heard back from the author who had this to say about that:

    “I deleted the Twitter account myself for two primary reasons.

    1. Reliving my time in jail is proving to be emotionally painful for me and my family, especially around this anniversary of my
    incarceration. Exactly a year ago today, I was at the lowest point in my life, sitting in Bam Bam, begging for my phone call.

    2. I’m trying to get rid of a great deal of “clutter” that does not
    meet my core responsibilities of getting emotionally and
    psychologically healthy after that horrendous experience and to meet my financial obligations in this economy. In short, it was taking too much time and attention away from my daily work.”

    In his message, the author indicated that at some point in the future, he might be interested in picking up the story again, but not as a Twitter feed–perhaps in serialized form in The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

    For The Chronicle’s part, we’d be pleased to publish such a serialized work if he decides to pick up the thread at some point. In the meantime, the brief glimpse into the author’s experience made it likely that we’ll try to follow up at some point with the Sheriff’s Department (see comment [1]) to the extent that our resources allow.

  9. By Mike Garrison
    May 29, 2009 at 10:35 am | permalink

    Thanks Dave, I was wondering what happened to the feed..

  10. June 26, 2009 at 10:36 am | permalink

    I found this article very interesting. It isn’t often we get a first-hand perspective as a person is going through it. Being an author of several prisoner-related books, I receive a lot of mail from inmates that is gut-level sharing and important for those of us on the outside to better underrstand. Personally, I have been to this jail but fortunately as a volunteer and not a prisoner. As the co-author of “Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul”, “Serving Time, Serving Others”, and “Serving Productive Time,” we’re pleased to have some of our books at this jail to help give the inmates hope and inspire them to use their time productively.