48hillsjail1

Inside the county jail at San Bruno

By Tim Redmond

The first thing you notice about the San Francisco County jail in San Bruno is how (relatively) chill it is.

I’ve been in plenty of jails, sometimes as a journalist, sometimes as a prisoner, and I can tell you: They don’t tend to be mellow, relaxed places. Your typical county lockup is overcrowded, hot in the summer, cold in the winter, filled with very unhappy people – and tense.

The minute you walk into most jails, you feel the pressure, simmering, everywhere. You sense a seething anger and frustration as a large number of men are crammed into a small space that they hate – typically with nothing to do.

The guards are on edge, too, just waiting for the problems they know are about to explode.

At San Bruno, where I recently spent half a day (yes, voluntarily, they haven’t caught me doing anything illegal in a while) there’s a very different vibe. I wouldn’t say the prisoners are happy, exactly; hard to be happy in jail, no matter how nice it is. But that scary edge just isn’t there – and it’s easy to see the two reasons why:

For starters, everyone’s busy most of the time. Inmates are either in class, getting a GED or learning a skill (bicycle repair is popular) or they’re in violence prevention sessions, or they’re meditating.

Yes, they teach transcendental meditation in the SF county jail. It’s the kind of thing you might expect from a sheriff who was once a Green Party member, but it’s actually working. You can tell by walking around. (more after the break)