In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, here’s a combined entry on my night in Cole County Jail and my 12:01 review of Harry Potter 7 (2). Spoiler alert, they’re more alike than you might think:
Harry Potter: I’ve seen three of the previous films at midnight, so it would seem a shame to leave out the grand finale. It’s kinda fun to say you were among the first to see it. Alas, I wasn’t crazy enough to attend the eight-movie marathon playing in St. Louis (which started at 5 a.m. and ended at 2:30 the next morning). It’s my favorite of the series, and not just it solidifies the romantic connection between Luna and Neville.
Cole County Jail: For the past two years, I’ve watched this thing go from a hole in the ground that blocks my entrance to my parking lot a giant behemoth of a building that only two weeks ago stopped blocking the entrance to my parking lot. I had to see the inside. Plus, how many times in life do you get to spend the night in the slammer and it not go on your record? I was the first to ever sleep on that “mattress,” and the first to ever eat powdered eggs off of that tray. What an honor!
HP: We wanted to be in the middle and get seats together, so we arrived 3.5 hours before showtime. Once 12:01 arrived, there was still a 10-minute delay.
CCJ: Booking takes a LONG time. It seems like that’s half your sentence served right there. Really, that’s what jail time is: waiting. You eat dinner then there’s literally nothing to do but wait for lights out. In our case, we ate dinner at 8 then waited until about midnight for our “VIP” tour.
HP: Not good. Terrible, even. The lines were very nebulous and kept shifting. I know it’s not an every day event for the theater staff, but they didn’t do a great job keeping things organized.
CCJ: Nothing if not controlled. In my cell, jailers could see in, but I could never see out. There is no privacy, even though there is a toilet and shower in each 6×12-foot cell. ZERO PRIVACY.
There are eight “pods” (I call them “blocks”) in the jail, with 12 cells in each pod. Each cell sleeps two inmates. Blocks are arranged in a ring, with the cells on the outside and each has a common “day room” toward the center. In the very center of everything is a satellite control room where a single jailer can see into each pod’s day room through one-way glass.
HP: The Battle for Hogwarts did not disappoint. Aside from the distinct lack of galloping desks (more on that later), it is probably the best action sequence of the eight-movie series.
CCJ: If there is a riot in the “pod,” the jailers warn you to go back to your cell and shut the door. If you don’t, they release a “grenade” loaded with a hundred “superballs” which ricochet around the room, each hit stinging and giving you a nice bruise. If that doesn’t work, they have an “emergency response team” that will enter the pod, the lead man carrying a riot shield that also acts as a giant taser. If that’s doesn’t work, the next guy in line has the short-barrel shotgun that shoots bean bags, then the next guy has the taser shotgun. They wouldn’t tell us what comes next, but they don’t anticipate ever having to go beyond the “grenade.”
I kept count, and when I was in my bed with my cell door closed, there were nine locked doors between me and the outside (and only one of those nine could be unlocked at the same time). And these weren’t like the locks on your house door. They didn’t budge, rattle, give or flex. Once they locked, it was like they were carved in stone.
HP: I loved that David Yates kept things very quiet and very still, especially in the opening moments. Until the finale, there’s very little music in this movie.
CCJ: In the day room, voices echo and bounce around like one of those “superball grenades.” If I was in for an extended stay, my fellow inmates and I would have to have some rules about volume. Things weren’t too quiet in the cells either, even with the doors closed. I didn’t hear any snoring or conversations, but I very clearly heard each and every flush of the toilet. I think this may be intentional.
HP: The one thing above all else I was looking forward to in the HP finale was the galloping desks McGonagall magic-ed into protecting the castle. They were in the book, but not in the movie. FAIL
CCJ: Suspended from the wall in the cells.
HP: I got a little bored waiting in line, but the people watching made the time go by pretty quickly.
CCJ: If you’re an inmate in CCJ, boredom is your life. You never ever leave your pod. You shower in your cell, and eat in the 700-sqft day room (that you share with 23 other inmates), so you don’t ever have any reason to go anywhere. If would be worth getting sick just to visit the infirmary. The only colors you ever see are white (walls) and orange (prison garb). You don’t even get to go to a visitation room; there’s a video visitation station in the day room. You have an “exercise yard,” but those quotes around the words are there for a reason: one hour a day (if you behave), you get to go through the locked door into an adjacent concrete room about the size of your day room. It has vents that bring in air from the outside, and if you stand near the wall at an angle, you can see daylight through a grate about 25 feet up. This is the legal definition of “fresh air.”
From what I understand, prison (as opposed to jail) is much less boring and much less strict, though there’s significantly more chance of violence.
Costumes to show enthusiasm?
HP: It wouldn’t be a HP premier without ’em. I particularly enjoyed two very pink and frumpy Delores Umbridge fans, and a very convincing Bellatrix and Ron practiced their wand-dueling (see video here). There were tons of Harrys and Hermiones, but I liked it when someone busted out a lesser character like Luna (lots of radish earrings), a Death Eater or Professor Tralawney. But nothing can beat Hedwig from HP7(1). [Affectionate sigh] Nerds.
CCJ: Surprisingly, yes. A great many wore stripes, and one woman even sported a homemade shirt that said “Prisoner to Zumba.” There were also quite a few wearing shirts memorializing Elizabeth Olten.
Outside food or drink?
HP: Nope, although if Megan had let me, I would have left her in line and purchased some H2O and snacks at a nearby convenience store.
CCJ: Absolutely not. I only brought in my chapstick, my car key and wallet. I was quite sad I couldn’t bring my camera or iPhone, but I understand the desire for a measure of secrecy. And really, as long as I have my chapstick, do I really need anything more in life?
HP: The usual fare: popcorn, nachos, boxed candy and various carbonated beverages.
CCJ: One of the things I was most interested in was trying “prison food.” Dinner was served warm (not hot), and was turkey + noodles, coleslaw, navy beans, cornbread and bread pudding. My fellow “inmates” and I discussed picked the raisins out of our bread pudding to make jailhouse hooch, but we didn’t have the time. I ate everything but the navy beans and coleslaw. Breakfast was lukewarm at best and consisted of “scrambled eggs,” grits, coffee cake and turkey baloney. The coffee cake was quite good, but everything else was terrible. I asked one of the guards the food rotation, and he said it’s two weeks, meaning it’ll be 14 days before the prisoners have to repeat the baloney/eggs combo. I think that’s more than generous. The sheriff told us that a common prisoner complaint once they get out is that the jailers starved them. To guard against this accusation, they weigh each prisoner during booking and when they’re released. On average, they gain three pounds.
HP: Yes, although I’ve got to say that I’m over the whole 3D thing.
CCJ: Yes. At times I was convinced I could reach out and actually touch that prison toilet if I wanted to.
HP: Yes. Very. It’s a dark movie anyway, and once you add in the 3D murkiness, it was even darker. It’s almost black and white, with very little color.
CCJ: Just barely. When the guards said “lights out in five minutes,” you’d be justified in thinking that 300 seconds later the lights would be turned out and you’d be able sleep in darkness. You’d be wrong. They want to be able to keep an eye on you even at night, so they lower the lights to about the level of a 40-watt bulb instead of a 100-watt bulb. I was on the lower bunk, so I was at least in the “shade.” It would take some serious getting used to. Not only does incarceration take away your freedom, it takes away your night.
HP: It was sold out. There were 980 people crammed into the theater lobby, which has got to be a violation of some fire code.
CCJ: Inexplicably, the spend-a-night in jail program was not sold out. They can house 180 prisoners (expandable to 360 in the future), but there were only about 95 of us there. I had a private cell. Coincidentally, it was absolutely up to fire code. The only thing more common than security cameras were fire sprinklers. And that’s in a building that has virtually nothing that will burn!
Did you sleep?
HP: I was tired, but after waiting in line for 3.5 hours, I was not about to fall asleep mid-movie.
CCJ: Not really. I was exhausted from my HP thing the night before, but we didn’t even get back to our cells from our tour until 2:30. They woke us up at 2.5 hours later at 5.
Free fortified calcium beverage?
HP: We got Harry Potter-style rounded 3D glasses, but to be honest, I didn’t like them. Normal 3D glasses are a pain with regular prescription specs, and these were even worse.
CCJ: A free t-shirt and a mug shot. Now that I think about it, it probably would be in poor taste to have a jailhouse gift shop full of Wish You Were Here Postcards.
HP: If you count the dozens of lightning bolt scars Sharpied onto peoples’ heads, then yes.
CCJ: My fellow residents of my pod got ink pen tattoos on our arms, showing that we were from C-Block and proud of it (see the video linked below). We were the fun group, in case you didn’t realize it. Seriously, some people heard we were enjoying ourselves and requested a transfer from boring old E-Pod.
Was it worth it?
HP: Yes. Go see the movie if you haven’t already. The kids have grown into fine actors, and the adults are absolutely incredible to watch.
CCJ: Yes. Not only did it satisfy my curiosity AND get me and my tattoo on the evening news, but it gave me an entirely new respect for the sheriff’s department. They don’t lock people up because they get a kick out of it, they do it to protect the other 99.995 percent of us on the outside. They truly are professionals with a heart to serve their community.
What could have been better?
HP: Somehow, some way, I would have loved to have seen Ginny written out of the movie. Bleh. Go away, Ginny! Go away! Boo!
CCJ: I would have loved to be able to wear the orange pants, orange shirt, orange sock and orange Crocs (yes, inmates wear Crocs). I’m also sad my prison nickname never caught on.
Would you go back?
HP: Yes, hopefully in 2D.