What Life is Like in the Memphis Jail’s Drunk Tank


For drunk Memphians, of which there are many during the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift at the jail, it’s the city’s most exclusive nightclub (fewer than 100 get in on a typical night). To find out exactly what happens inside, the Memphis Commercial Appeal spent a night in the drunk tank. On this night, the staff was still rattled by an incident a few nights earlier when one man was so enraged and empowered by his intoxication that he bit a police officer’s forearm down to the bone

Inmates are processed through a series of rooms and cells, stripped and dressed in navy jail clothes and black Croc-like shoes. They have the freedom to use a phone, drink water, go to the bathroom, and watch two television channels. One shows a looping orientation offered by the sheriff and chief jailer; the other is cable television. “They don’t think of it as jail,” said officer Rachel Ciaramitaro, 37. “It’s clean for them. It’s quiet. They get their own room, three hots and a cot.” Many drunk inmates, though, are scared. “They’re criminals but they’re scared to be around criminals,” said Sgt. Tony Masters Jr., who watches over them. “They try to be put somewhere else so they say they’re suicidal. That’s not smart.” Those cases get moved down the hall, to cells that are much less hospitable — cement beds, for example — where they are stripped except for suicide-proof smocks.

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