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Life behind iron bars, a look inside the Becker County Jail

Brian Basham/Record Becker County Jail Inmate Jamie Totland has been in the jail for seven months awaiting his trial for a felony weapons charge, fleeing police, controlled substance and a traffic violation. The Detroit Lakes man said he does a lot of reading while in jail.

Walking into the Becker County Maximum-Security Jail, an everyday citizen might first view the scene in black and white (with splashes of orange from the inmates' jumpsuits).

There are the good guys with the badges and guns and the bad guys in their cells.

But with a closer look, the scene can quickly come to life with color as stories are told and inmates become more than their orange jumpsuit, but people with families; people with dreams. And although some may be undeserving of them by society's standards, others just may turn their time in the "clink" into the brink of new beginnings.

Bringin' 'em in

Crime in Becker County isn't just a weekend thing -- it happens day in and day out, seven days a week, every single day of the year.

And when it does, those who are arrested are driven straight to the maximum-security jail, which attaches to the Sheriff's Department and by extension, the courthouse.

Perpetrators are brought into a secure garage where they are let out of the squad car only once the door is closed and locked.

Their first stop after passing through the sally port (a controlled, secure passageway into the building) is the booking station -- there are two of them.

"This is where we ask a lot of questions and gather a lot of information," said Jail Administrator Randy Hodgson, pointing to three holding cells in that area. "Here's where they go if they're under the influence, not cooperative or combative -- this is where they'll stay until they can get along with people."

An intoxilizer room for blood alcohol measurements and a decontamination room for showers also sit in the booking area.

Once new inmates are booked and clean, they're assigned a cell.

Where they go depends on their gender, and for males, their personalities.

"We ask them a series of questions," said Hodgson. "The ones that don't play well with others are put in smaller groups like two-man pods, and the ones that absolutely can't get along with others we segregate in places like the holding cell."

Ones with the least aggressive behavior are put together in a larger dorm that can hold up to ten people, which is how the female section of the jail is set up.

"We can hold up to ten females, and right now we have eight," said Hodgson. "Males and females are separated both by sight and sound."

Males that have their own sleeping cell also share a small, cement "dayroom" area with two to three other inmates.

A table and chairs, books and a small television are pretty much all that can be seen in the tiny, white, brick room.

"It's pretty confined spaces, so after a while they can get on each other's nerves," said Hodgson.

This jail can house 47 inmates in all, one of which is 30-year-old Jamie Totland of Detroit Lakes.

Totland is awaiting trial for a felony weapons charge, fleeing police, controlled substance and a traffic violation.

"I've been here for seven months," he says in a soft-spoken voice.

It's not his first time in the Becker County Jail.

"I was here in 2005 for a drug sting operation," he said, adding that he sometimes sees inmates he's known from prior stays.

Although he has no real interest in making friends while he's there, he says he "sometimes" likes the guys in his pod.

"There's people who come through with some different cases that are hard to deal with," said Totland, who says the hardest part of jail life is actually what's on the outside.

"Not being able to see my kids...I have a son in Cass Lake and two daughters in Texas," said Totland, who says he doesn't think they understand what he's in there for.

While Totland faces the possibility of five years in prison, he doesn't think he'll be convicted.

But for the next two months at least, he passes the time.

"I read, watch TV..."

And whether by default or not, he's been clean for seven months, and he says he feels "a lot better."

"When I get out I want to move to Texas and work on some oil rigs there," he said, "I've done carpentry all my life, but I want to give this a shot."

Everyday life

Court hearings have inmates coming and going Monday through Friday -- every inmate in the Becker County Maximum Jail has yet to be sentenced.

Some are there for months before their day in court rolls around.

During that time, many inmates are fed three square meals a day.

"Guidelines are set by state nutritionists for calories," said Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon, who says the food is contracted out through food service.

There is also a nurse that works at the jail three days a week -- urgent situations are dealt with at the ER or the walk in clinics.

Medication distribution is a huge endeavor, which takes one person to do in eight-hour shifts.

"It seems like the last five or six years it's gotten to where the majority of the people are on some kind of medication," said Hodgson.

Some inmates are kept busy, allowed to work off fines with jobs like laundry.

They also get an hour a day for recreation, whether that be in an enclosed, cement patio outdoors or the jail library, which is stocked with everything from law books to the bible to romance novels.

The control room

No matter how much inmates try to stay on the straight and narrow, fights inevitably break out, and when they do, it's captured on camera.

A circular control room sits in the middle of the jail with slightly tinted, bulletproof glass.

Inside, correction officers are watching.

Suzie, whose last name is left out due to safety precautions, is watching 36 different spots in the jail.

"You kind of get a feeling for what's normal and what's not after being around these people for so long," said Suzie. "We watch for body language; if it looks like somebody is getting agitated or if there's some kind of confrontation going on."

It's also from the control center that doors throughout the jail are locked and unlocked.

Corrections officers rotate duties, going from the control center to cell checks to booking to other responsibilities, taking care of each other and the inmates.

Like many would assume, Suzie at times has to deal with unwanted behavior from male inmates.

"But we have female inmates that hit on the guys just like the male inmates sometimes hit on me," she said. "But for the most part, most of the people we deal with up here are fairly decent. It's the golden rule up here, too -- if you treat people decent then they'll usually treat you the same."

And according to jailers, once inmates are in their facility and off drugs and alcohol, most go back to their "real" selves, which is more often just everyday people who made some mistakes and are dealing with some problems.

During their time at the Becker County Jail, many of those problems can be -- if not solved -- at least addressed.

Thirty-two different volunteers for nine different programs come in and out of the jail, everything from teachers assisting with classes and a GED program, to community members offering their time and personal involvement with faith-based classes.

One of those volunteers is Tim Sherman, who goes into both the maximum and minimum-security jails every Friday to provide "biblical treatment."

"We see some pretty amazing results from time to time," said Sherman. "Not for everybody -- I wish I could tell you that everybody gets rehabilitated."

Sherman says his program helps inmates work through everything from pornography to gambling to drug and alcohol addiction, with his secret weapon being the bible.

Hodgson says Sherman's program is "a very popular one" in the jail.

In fact, he says jailers often notice a change in inmates from the time they're booked until the time they leave.

"When you're here, you get to the point where you start to know some of the inmates," said Hodgson, who says he's been seeing some of the same offenders in and out of the jail for years, "and although you do see those repeat, you get a feeling when you know somebody is going to get out and make some real changes in their lives."

In Wednesday's Detroit Lakes Tribune, go inside the Becker County's minimum-security jail for a look at life in that facility.