By Pat LaMarche, 2004 Green Party vice-presidential candidate and 2006 GP candidate for Maine Governor. The following is taken from Green Party Watch and the Epic Journey Facebook page.
I met with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio this week. I was excited to meet with him for many reasons. I was hoping against hope that he could clear up something about the role the criminal justice system plays in the lives of the poor. But all that aside, I thought he might answer some questions that were planted in my brain earlier on our Babes of Wrath EPIC Journey: why in the world kids in Arizona get charged a per diem for their incarceration.
Short answer? He didn’t know. No, it’s not that he didn’t know why, he just didn’t know they were charged at all. The kids are charged in Coconino County, Arizona — but it appears not in Maricopa County. It must be subjective. After all, Sheriff Arpaio decides what the kids in his jails have, including a chain gang. When we spoke, the Sheriff was boasting about his equal opportunity chain gangs. He brought up that he had male and female chain gangs because he didn’t want to be sexist. That’s when I brought up his child chain gangs. He was a little dismayed that I even knew about them, seeing as nobody has ever really protested his putting children to hard labor. When I asked if he still had them he said, “Well yeah. I thought I’d take a lot of heat, [but] nobody seemed to care.”
Joe: You know her?
Pat LaMarche: Arianna? No.
Joe: They don’t treat me very nice, it’s sad really. I get along with all the media, just spell my name right. So let’s get along with this serious stuff, this homeless stuff, if that’s your story.
PL: Statistics show that crime is higher when people are poor. And statistics show that property crime is higher when people are poor. More poor people commit property crime. Do you feel that poverty has had an impact on your county here? And the crime rate?
Joe: Hmm. We have about 8 to 10 thousand people in jail normally, you know every day, they’re not there forever. Let me say, many of them are poor that come into the jail. And I’ve been in law enforcement over 50 years around the world. You do know my back ground? Turkey, Mexico, I can go on and on. As far as the criminal justice system sometimes if you have a lot of money you can get good lawyers that sometimes the poorer people don’t have – you know – the luxury.
I have mixed emotions about the homeless people. Now when I grew up, I bounced from one Italian family, my mother died when I was born but my father had an Italian grocery store – Springfield, Mass – I worked hard in the store. I remember also picking tobacco – just to make some extra money for myself. I still feel the greatest country in the world, that you can do or be anything you want and if you have the drive, I think you can find a job. I really do. It may be washing cars or picking lettuce. We don’t need to import illegals to pick lettuce. Instead of hanging around on streets and just begging with a cup, that person can find a job.
Greatest country in the world, they can find a job.
Now! Sometimes there’s mental problems. I feel sorry for the veterans that come back and are homeless. And yet, I still feel as I say that if you aren’t picky and you want to work you can find a job. On the other hand, right now we have an unemployment problem. Not saying that those people that are unemployed and on welfare could not work a lesser job, but there’s jobs out there.
That’s why I’m not saying that uh, that uh, I don’t know your position.
PL: I ran a shelter for 3 years
Joe: I may be wrong. I just you know, want to…
PL: No, I appreciate you taking the time, and I – my experience in my shelter – was that half the people I had in the shelter had a job.
Joe: They did have a job?
PL: They did have a job they just didn’t have enough money to have a place.
Joe: Right, I see. Well we’ve got to remember another thing. And I spent 50 years fighting the drug traffic around the world. What I just said, if you have a drug problem you get into a different subject right now for homeless people. If you’re high on drugs, even if you did work, you’re gonna shoot up your rent and your food. So I think it’s a bigger picture than just finding a job. I think it has to be a mental problem. You have to have alcoholic sometimes involved. Drugs is definitely involved. So you got to straighten out some of these problems too. You know.
PL: The average age of a homeless person is 9.
So, many – many is the wrong word – a few homeless kids are homeless because their parents are incarcerated. Right? Mom and Dad are jerks and they end up in jail.
Joe: Right, right.
PL: I actually had an opportunity to sit down with about 30 or 40 advocates – homeless advocates – and I told them I was coming here and I said, “What could the Sheriff do for you.” And they said – and I thought this was really interesting – they said that if someone of your stature would speak out publicly in support of their efforts, that that would help them more than anything else you could do for them.
Joe: You mean their predicament they’re in?
PL: No, these are the homeless advocates, these are the social workers and the people who work with them.
Joe: That help the homeless people.
PL: Right, their job is to either get them housing, you know…
Joe: I’d love to talk to them. I talk to everybody. Whether it’s immigration, they hate me. I talk to people. So anytime they want me to talk, I’ll explain what we do, how the jail’s effect people. Who is asking me to do this.
PL: This was, we were at Umom.
Joe: See, I don’t know. I really haven’t been too connected to homeless people. Other than knowing they’re down there [the Sheriff’s office is on the 19th floor of the Wells Fargo building in down town Phoenix] and there’s some crime and they’re sleeping on the street and the, you know – I don’t know why the city doesn’t push more to do something about that. I don’t run this city. But maybe there should uh, I know the mayor was talking about something, but I’d just like to find them jobs. I try to find inmates jobs when they leave sometimes. That doesn’t work too well. A lot of them don’t want to work when they get out.
PL: Now, if I go back to them would you be willing to tour – because that is 155 homeless families that live there.
Joe: In the Phoenix.
PL: In Umom
Joe: That’s in Phoenix. 150
PL: 155, They live in two rehabbed hotels. And it’s a transitional shelter.
Joe: What are they there, waiting to find a job?
PL: No, a lot of them have jobs. Waiting to find housing.
Joe: Housing for, hmmm. To rent a place, apartments.
Joe: Can’t find ‘em, they don’t have money to rent an apartment?
PL: They don’t have enough. If you make minimum wage – which is seven and a quarter an hour – and
Joe: Right, right… they have families though?
PL: Yes, and they – I’ve traveled the whole country being in shelters and I’ll tell you, you have the finest in this city that I’ve ever seen.
PL: Including the one I ran.
Joe: A lot of druggies and alcohol?
PL: There are drug addicts and alcoholics, but I always tell people that those people have houses too. For the most part that shelter – there’re no drugs or alcohol allowed in the shelter – and it’s 155 families. About 600 people.
Joe: Do a lot of them go to jail, keep getting arrested? Prostitution and all that stuff?
PL: Not a lot of them. I’ve had homeless people that became homeless when got out of jail. That was sort of my question for you. You don’t run into that in your population in the jails? Homeless people? That’s not a problem?
Joe: When you look at the percentage, I can’t say. We’ve not got a high percentage.
(There was a staff worker in the room at the request of the Sheriff when he learned that I was writing stories about meeting with him).
Staff member: As far as people that come to jail and are homeless?
Staff member: it’s not a, not a real pr…
Joe: A lot of prostitution, a lot of… about I would say about 60 percent of people in jail are there for drugs or drug related crime. If we could do something about the drug problem we could reduce crime automatically. Been fighting that battle for years. And then the prostitution of course, they turn to prostitution because of the drugs and on and on and on and on. We have a lot of recidivism when you deal with the people that come in on drugs. Hookers, and all that, you know.
But, I never, I’ve just been reading some stuff about the homeless, that the city wants to do something about it down there.
PL: Yeah, we just went down to CASS – which also no drugs or alcohol allowed there – 3, 4, I don’t remember how many days now because we’ve been on this 5000 mile – when I was on Skid Row, you can watch violent sex acts happen in front of you on Skid Row, you can watch people…
Joe: Were you a homeless person?
Joe: But you deal with them.
Joe: Across the nation, in Chicago or where ever?
PL: I have traveled the whole nation meeting and talking to homeless people. When I wrote that book, I lived in shelters all over the country but people knew I wasn’t homeless. They knew it.
Joe: You mean under cover?
PL: They knew, except for when I was in New York City, then I had to lie because they said they were going to arrest me. And I didn’t want to get arrested. They said that if I went into any New York City shelter they would arrest me and anyone that was with me: for theft of services.
Joe: Who would arrest you?
PL: The city of New York. And when I got in their shelter I realized why they didn’t want anyone to see ‘em. They were pretty awful. But I’ll tell you I have not seen any, I even went into your – the sheriff’s office has sent water over to the emergency shelter – and I went in there yesterday and I was so impressed by that place. Really, honestly, you people do a better job with homeless…
Joe: How come I don’t get any nice publicity? All they do is blast me. Especially your, uh, whatever your writing for.
PL: The Huffington, yeah?…
Staff Member: Sheriff, we only have about 3 minutes.
Joe: I’m sorry I was a little late.
PL: That’s ok.
(Diane Nilan was with me to take pictures and she stands up now)
Diane: If you don’t mind I want to just going step back here a take a picture.
PL: You’ve been accused of a lot of rotten things. What would you say the rottenest thing is that anyone accused you of?
PL: Yeah people say you’ve done everything from racial profiling and picked people up just because of what they look like…
Joe: That’s all garbage
PL: Yeah, but what’s the worst thing anyone’s ever accused you of, do you think?
Joe: There’s so many….
PL: I mean I know there are law suits, and…
Joe: I don’t know what the worst thing is. I don’t know, one thing they, they haven’t done. They can’t go after me personally. I’ve been married 56 years.
PL: I read that
Joe: Same gal. so they can’t – I have no skeletons – so the only thing they can go after me for are my policies.
PL: And they have. You’ve been sued a number of times
Joe: Not that many when you look across the nation, regardless of what you read in the papers.
PL: So, what I think people, what I would like to tell people is how you would feel if you had to pay for what you’ve been accused of, if you’re innocent.
Joe: You mean….
PL: If you don’t arrest people based on the color of their skin and you do prosecute sex offenders , but you were punished for it anyway.
Joe: Me punished?
PL: Yeah, either with a million dollar law suit or whatever. Because what people say is that most of the people in your jails still have the attachment of innocence.
Joe: mmmhmmm, ok…
PL: And they’re treated like they’re found guilty
Joe: Like they’re guilty. I don’t have a first or second class airline service. Everybody eats the same food and they don’t even have to pay for it. What I did do in the jail – that nobody talks about – when I took office I took away their pornography. And I won that at the Supreme Court – not on the 1st Amendment – I don’t like my inmates showing nude pictures to my female officers. I want security.
PL: You did do that.
Joe: I took away their R-rated movies, I don’t think inmates should be looking at people killing each other, blah blah blah. I took away their coffee, I don’t think you should be having coffee when you have to pay for it on the outside. I have some great religious programs, 500 volunteers, we have probably the greatest drug prevention program in the United States. I started a high school in the jail for… juveniles charged with serious crimes come to me. So we have a high school, we have GED programs, read to me mommy, girl scouts behind bars. I can go on and on. But you don’t think any media will talk about that because they’re nice programs.
I do understand I have the only female chain gang in the history of the world.
PL: And the only child chain gang too though right?
Joe: Well yeah. I thought I’d take a lot of heat, nobody seemed to care.
But I’m an equal opportunity, I put the men on the chain gang, they volunteer. I think it’s only right to allow women to be on the chain gang too. We should not discriminate against women.
PL: Do you have a jail cam still? Do you still have a jail cam?
Joe: That went away a long time ago. Only because the company that – out of New York – gave it to us free of charge. No, that was years ago where we wanted the public to see what it’s like in a jail environment. And we do have a mug shot where you can go to our web and se everyone arrested that day.
PL: What about the fact that they might be innocent?
Joe: Don’t, well, should we not put people in jail because they might be innocent?
PL: Well, maybe not put their mug shot up if they’re innocent. I mean that’s what I was trying to ask you about you. I mean if you’re innocent of these things people say about you…
Joe: Hey, I’ll tell you what, if you’re arrested and the paper and they put your picture on the front page… okay, if the media stops putting your picture on the front page, I’ll stop putting it in the jail. They get it anyway, so why don’t you complain about the newspapers putting innocent people – every day – on their front page. They’re not convicted yet. So why, I’m running a jail. And the reason I do that – not to be mean – but for example domestic violence, and things like that, I want everybody to know who was arrested. That might act as a deterrent because they may say, “Boy, I’m not going to do anything wrong on that jail. I’m going to be on the mug shot kick. But see, the media can get that anyway. They can get your mug shot so I think you can’t blame me because they haven’t been convicted. Just blame the newspapers, they shouldn’t put it in anyway. Same theory.
Staff member: Sheriff, we’re…
PL: Can I ask you one more question, I’m sorry.
Joe: When I talk I keep talking. I got a million things to say
PL: You can keep talking all you want. I love it. One of the things I learned when I was up in Coconino county was the kids have to pay anywhere from $5 to $65 for their incarceration per day.
PL: Yeah. Now does that happen in this county, is that a state…
Joe: Hold on. They have to pay for room and board?
Joe: The kids or everybody?
PL: The kids.
Joe: Just the kids.
PL: I don’t know about everybody. But the kids. And I’m trying to find out how many states do that and I can’t find that out.
Joe: I don’t know
PL: Illinois and Pennsylvania also charge adults but not children.
Joe: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m gonna start charging the adults – probably next month – for their food. They can help. Those that have the money. Those that don’t have the money, of course they’re going to eat. We’re not going to starve anybody. They get about 2500 calories anyway, a day. So when people say we’re not feeding them, they get more calories than I do.
So, I took away their smoking years ago when it was still fashionable. I did a lot of things, put up tent city 20 years ago. That’s still there. So I did pink underwear, that’s been very famous. Wanna know why I put them in pink? Because they were stealing the white underwear. Smuggling white underwear, three or four pages (sic) under their clothes when they’re discharged. So I figured if you put them in pink they’d know it’s ours because nobody wears pink underwear. And that’s been a big seller, they sell that to raise money for our kids: our youth assistance foundation. Selling it as a souvenir.
PL: You’re going to make it popular and then they’ll start stealing it again.
Joe: *Chuckles* But see, we’ll know it’s our underwear. Because nobody has pink underwear, right? It’s a soothing color.
PL: Pink’s a soothing color?
Joe: Yeah, of course. And yeah, cancer… everyone’s using pink. Even some basketball players, they’ve got pink shoes. So what’s wrong with pink? I think it’s a nice color. I know some people don’t like it, but if they don’t they shouldn’t go to jail.
PL: It’s my daughter’s favorite color. I hope she doesn’t get any from you… she’d have to go to jail.
Joe: Is this your partner?
PL: Yep, this is Diane Nilan and she has actually been living in her RV for 8 years.
PL: Working with homeless people.
Joe: Travel around the country? You sure get to see the United States.
PL: Boy it’s pretty.
Diane: I see a lot of parts of the United States that nobody sees.
Joe: So basically, you’re trying to help the homeless people. Which is very nice of you to do that, because I’m sure you’re not becoming a millionaire doing it.
Joe: It must come from the heart that you want to do something for the people and not the money. Everyone wants to make money, you do know that?
Joe: People have fundraisers, most of the money goes to the people running the … You know that stuff, huh?
PL: Well, you know, that’s why I was so excited that when I talked to those advocates they said if you – because you know you were just in the paper this weekend with Steven Segal about – if you would come and tour the facility you would get them so much publicity and they are doing such good work. I mean, honest to god, I have never seen such a well run facility – have you – this is the best.
Diane: I travel and I’ve been in places all across the country…
Joe: So you – if you know anybody – have them call my secretary and I’ll be glad to talk to them
PL: I will
Joe: I’ll be glad to talk to them. I don’t want to talk to too many. I don’t want a tour. I’d just like to talk to them.
Diane: Actually, let me just interrupt. Because I’ve been quiet. A tour over at UMom would be worth a billion dollars for you.
Joe: I’d love to see it. But I just want to talk.
Diane: Tour and talk
Diane: See what they do
PL: Walk and Talk
Diane: It is beyond what you can imagine.
Joe: I’d love to see it because some of them could have been in my jails.
PL: Yeah, but you’ll be in…
Joe: Or could go to jail, right.
PL: The thing that you’ll really see, that I think will be so amazing to you, is all the children.
Joe: In the place?
PL: In the shelter. Babies and children.
Joe: That’s sad. I know the big picture. You deal with parents that are separated. That’s why I, I, I, publicize when I arrest and make everybody see it on TV. Those who don’t pay child support. I’m big on that. So, if you’re going to have kids, you ought to take care of the kids too. Usually it’s the husband, not the mother, but we got mothers too. You have to have that responsibility to take care of the kids. Mother’s usually have to work 2, 3 jobs just to get enough money to feed the kids and you have lack of supervision and it’s just all so complicated.
Joe: This is a big social issue too, not just a criminal justice issue. If we could solve the social ills, we may not have a lot of people in jail. Right? But is that ever going to happen in this country? I don’t know. We’ve been talking about it for how many years. Huh? Right? And I’m concerned about the military coming back a lot of them have some problems too.
PL: Yeah. You have 800, 900 members of the military every year at CASS, they told me. And there are 2700 members of the military homeless in Phoenix.
Joe: You know what we do? I give them top priority. We hire military veterans before anybody else to work as officers. Do you also know that we hire those here without, not, US citizens? We got a hundred hired as a – on the green card from all over the world that work – as officers – uniformed in the jails.
Joe: Ok? So we do a lot of things to get jobs…
PL: How many did you say?
Staff Member: Well it’s over a hundred have been hired on the green card.
Joe: Another thing I get a lot of heat on illegal immigration, especially going into businesses that hire illegal aliens but the majority we arrest have fake ID. That’s a no no. That’s very difficult. On the other hand when we do – I don’t want to be harsh – when we do arrest those people that are here illegally with fake ID we build up vacancies for those that are here legally. So, I would hope that, I would hope that businesses that do their recruiting…
PL: Do you ever arrest the business owners?
PL: Do you ever arrest…
Joe: It’s very difficult, we’ve had 3 because the laws are so weak. It’s a civil violation to begin with. The employers.
PL: It’s a civil violation?
Joe: Yeah, it’s not even criminal.
Staff member: Yeah
Joe: it’s criminal federal. Federal it is, but they won’t do it. We go in there, we have to show that they knowingly. Then they can lose their license, if they’ve done it for two times, and all that. But we do lock up the people working there with fake ID. Social Security! That’s a serious crime. But I get, I break up families. That’s the old saying. But you know, what I tell the Hispanic … I break up families. What about everybody else? All those people in jail. Do you think they don’t have families too? It has nothing to do with being here illegally. All the drugs and everything, they they’re away from their kids. Why do they just say, why do they say, “You’re breaking up Hispanic families?” A lot of, everybody’s broken up that goes to jail. It’s the big picture. Big picture. But politically they don’t want to say…
Staff member: Okay sheriff, we’re really pushing your time.
Joe: Is this for you?
PL: That’s for you.
Joe: I haven’t read my own book, but I … this is you?
PL: That’s me. Well that’s me on the back. Not this guy, her.
Staff member: That’s not good if you have to show …
Joe: Do they have dogs and cats that are homeless?
PL: Uh, yeah they do. In fact Diane is making a documentary right now about what happens to peoples’ animals when they become homeless.
Joe: You know we put dogs and cats in jail. I kicked out the inmates and I have room for dogs.
Staff member: Sheriff, you have to make sure you clarify that they’re victims.
Joe: No, yeah, they’re victims, they’ve been abused. We get the abuser, throw them in and then we get the dog.
I wonder if we could do something because if we could adopt them out.
PL: Oh if you could help the homeless when they lose their pets. Oh my, that would be so huge.
Joe: We could adopt the dogs out.
PL: We’ve tried. That is really difficult but we’ve tried… we’d post the newest homeless person – what their pet was – it’s just hard to get foster families to take the pets in because when people get a home they want their pet back.
Staff member: That would be tough. Basically you’re giving them an animal to hold for a little while and then when you finally…
Joe: Oh, I don’t mean foster, I mean adopted.
PL: No, see that’s the crime of it. When you lose your home you lose everything, including your pet and you want your pet back. You just haven’t got a house.
Joe: But are you trying to find jobs for them?
PL: A lot of them have jobs.
Joe: And they’re living in a shelter?
PL: Ahuh, yep. The jobs just don’t pay well enough.
Staff member: Seven and a quarter, Sheriff, just doesn’t pay a lot.
Staff Member: At 40 hours a week?
PL: You take home maybe 200 a week and your rent is 600, you lose your house.
Staff member: And that’s a cheap place. That 600.
Joe: Let me give you a poster.
And we moved to his desk and he autographed a poster of himself for me and Diane.