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Tent City Diary, Part 2: 'These People Are Good People'

Lone Inmate In Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Tent City
Al Macias/KJZZ
editorial | staff
Inmates escape the August sun at Tent City. On this day in 2012, temperatur​es reached 110 degrees.

MCSO's Tent City in Phoenix is one of the state's most notorious jails. In Part 1, we heard from a woman named Alex who was sentenced to 36 days in Tent City for a "super extreme" DUI, meaning her Blood Alcohol Content was 0.2 or higher. Alex was on work release, which means she went to jail at night and on the weekends and was let out to go to work during the week. She recorded entries as she was on her way in and out of jail.  We heard her talk about the process of detoxing from alcohol while in jail, as well as dealing with mental illness while serving time. In this installment, Alex talks about the people she met in Tent City.

HEAR MORE: Complete 'Tent City Diary' Series

This past weekend was pretty crazy. I just almost slept the entire time and thankfully nobody woke me up.

It was all good news when I was told when my actual release date was and when I thought it was two days sooner than than it actually was. So, here’s lookin’ up.

So, I was brave this past weekend. There’s not really a lot of girls around on Saturdays. I hear that Sunday is the big day in. But you get to chat with the various people that are around. And I got to know a girl in my tent a little bit better who was very sweet. And she just seems like one of those people who made a bad mistake.

She’s got a great boyfriend; she’s got a great support system. And she’s one of those people who can easily bounce back from this — having it be her first-time DUI — and not really come back and visit the tents like most of us second-time offenders do.

It really amazes me the types of people who come in and out of there. There’s the 24- and 48-hour surrenders who are absolutely terrified. They act like it’s the worst thing in the world.

And I feel bad for them, because they really think that the tents are the worst place on Earth. But there are far worse places that I would rather not be.

Just because you have to sleep outside with 20 other girls for one night, isn’t gonna kill you. And hopefully it’ll stop you from coming back. But like I said, the chances of a first-time offender repeating that same offense — but to a higher degree — is crazy high.

Ten days left, according to the detention officer  that I spoke to this weekend.

It’s not too bad. It’s actually gone by pretty quick.

I’ve met a super great group of girls in my tent that I plan on keeping in contact with after this.

You read on Facebook when the girls get out and they say, “Oh, I miss you,” and, “It’s great that I can still depend on you for things.” That’s more than I can say for 95 percent of the friends that I’ve made in Phoenix the last five years that I’ve been here.

Jail can break you. I broke down the first two, three days I was in there. Because it’s just — it’s hard.

You don’t know how to handle a whole new group of people. And you’re in this super vulnerable state and it’s really overwhelming at times. You’re not eating at first and you’re not sleeping because you’re not used to the environment. And it’s uncomfortable all around.

Eventually, you find your niche and you find those couple people you can talk to. It really does make a whole hell of a difference in your outlook about jail in general and the people that you meet there.

These people are good people. They made a mistake; they may have made a mistake several times. But just because they make bad life choices, it doesn’t make them a bad person.

PART 1: Tent City Diary: 'The First 48 Hours Were Horrible'

PART 3: Tent City Diary: 'It's Kind Of Like A Different Hangover'

PART 4: Tent City Diary: 'I'm Only On My Way Up Now'

Sarah Ventre produces KJZZ’s two-hour daily program, The Show. Prior to working at KJZZ, she was a producer and editor at NPR headquarters in Washington for a number of shows, desks, podcasts and the national newscast. Her reporting ranges from understanding the relationship between faith, culture, and community among those who have left the FLDS church, to political implications of world music showcases at SXSW. Ventre’s work has been featured on Weekend Edition, Weekend All Things Considered, and on member station WAMU. Ventre also freelances for the Phoenix New Times, Bitch magazine, and several other publications. Ventre grew up in the Valley and is a founder of the nonprofit organization Girls Rock! Phoenix, which puts on a rock ’n’ roll camp for girls, trans, and gender nonconforming youths every summer. She also participates in live storytelling events, and occasionally performance art. Ventre holds a degree in anthropology from Arizona State University. She is always up for a good laugh or a great chile relleno, and is happy to have returned to her hometown to tell stories within her community.