Wearing shapeless, color-coded smocks, they enter the tiny interview rooms, their faces weathered from homelessness, twitching with worry and terror and detox as they look at me through the soundproof glass. They are often desperate. Some don’t register my phone at all, if I have left it on the metal “desk” between us, if I have forgotten to put it in my pocket when visiting clients at the jail.
Others recoil. They see my phone. They see it as exactly what they do not have, as we sit there, as we face each other through the scratched glass, as we shout to each other from three feet apart through the hand-held jail phones connected to the wall with thick metal cords.
Their own phones are locked up in the property room downstairs with their wallets and their pants, with whatever they had when they were arrested. Or they have been seized as evidence by police hopeful for a trove of incriminating text messages, photos and call logs. Here, they can’t idly scroll, can’t text, can’t check the weather. My phone, scratched and dented, contains everything they cannot reach, everything that has been, at this moment, rightly or wrongly taken from them.
In this jail, there is no contact between attorneys and inmates. Perhaps this is why the jailers don’t harass us about bringing our phones: There is no possible way to pass one to anyone here. This is not one of those places with smuggled drugs and contraband phones. Our spheres intersect only through the glass window, through the hand-held phones. Holding these phones for the length of a visit hurts my arm and neck. Theirs too, and sometimes they stand as we talk to relieve the pressure of reaching, because the phones on their side, on the inside, have especially short cords.