Rank #1: Away from home: An audio journal
Every year, tens of thousands of people are booked into L.A. county jails. Their absence from home, even if short, can be felt deeply by family members and loved ones.
Nancy Rivera lives in Panorama City. Her boyfriend, Daniel Caceres, has spent the last year in jail. While he's been away Nancy's had to get on with work, school, and looking after their baby. KCRW’s George Lavender asked Nancy to keep an audio journal as she dealt with Daniel's time away, his court dates, and his potential release.
In the final installment of our series we bring you a few entries from that journal
Photo: Nancy Rivera with her son Elijah
Rank #2: In and out of the biggest mental health facility in Los Angeles
Across the United States local jails are often filled by people with serious mental health issues. Here in Los Angeles, the Sheriff’s Department says one in four jail inmates are being treated for their mental health. When mentally ill inmates are released they often end up living on the streets where they’re frequently rearrested in a matter of days. On this episode, we meet LePriest Valentine, who kept winding up in the only sanctuary he could find after getting out of jail: Skid Row.
Photo: LePriest Valentine (George Lavender)
Rank #3: There's no glamour in a jailhouse wedding
On average, there is a wedding in a Los Angeles County jail every other week.
At Pitchess Detention Center, the large jail complex in Castaic, California, weddings are performed through the glass of the visiting room window. This is where Elizabeth Wenkuna will marry inmate Hans Ritter. He's about to be moved hundreds of miles away to a state prison where he'll spend at least 10 years. She's 22 years old. Hans is her first boyfriend.
"I don't like to tell people that I'm married to a man in jail because then they look at him as a bad person, and he's not a bad person. He made a bad mistake," she says.
All prisoners have the right to marry. But there are lots of restrictions like, "No provisions shall be made for special religious or other ceremonial requests" and "No rings shall be passed to the inmate."
A jailhouse wedding can be complicated, so Elizabeth found a wedding planner who knows how it's done. Cindy Richardson has helped with lots of weddings, and explains why so many people get married even though they're separated by many miles and a layer of thick glass.
Photo: Elizabeth Wenkuna and her mother outside the jail (George Lavender)
Rank #4: Lost weekends
Thousands of Los Angeles County prisoners are housed in Pitchess Detention center, 50 miles from the inner city neighborhoods where police make many arrests. The closest bus stop is a mile away from the jail, and visitors can either walk the last mile or get a ride from Mama Betty.
The journey, which can take hours, ends in a 30 minute visit with the person behind bars. "It's like the whole journey the whole process is longer than the visit itself," says 25-year-old Nancy Rivera, who has visited the jail countless times.
Reporter George Lavender finds out how this weekly journey to the jail has made a community out of the visitors, and an unlikely hero out of a woman named Mama Betty.
Photo: Betty Peters, known as Mama Betty, shuttles jail visitors along the last mile of the journey. (George Lavender)
Rank #5: Bail: How to buy your freedom [Explicit]
Whether or not someone is able to bail out of jail can have major consequences on sentencing and conviction. A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that people who remained in jail before trial were more likely to plead guilty to a crime, and more likely to be found guilty by a jury.
Plus, forty percent of those in the Los Angeles County jail system are pre-trial. That means about 6,500 prisoners are not serving a sentence for a crime, they're just waiting for a resolution to their case.
If you have the money, getting out on bail is pretty straightforward. But if you don't, you need to hire the services of someone like Clay Potter, a bail bondsman.
In this episode, George Lavender talks to Potter about how he decides whether or not to help bail someone out. Then, Lavender follows two arrestees as they wind their way through the bail system. Finally, Lavender asks a criminal defense attorney whether she thinks the current system is fair.
Photo: The Los Angeles bail bonds office of Bob Swann (George Lavender)