If you read Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker article on the Baltimore jail scandal (which you should! it’s fascinating!), you may have wondered how he got so many people to open up about what it’s like inside the Baltimore City Detention Center. It turns out it wasn’t that hard at all: He went to McDonald’s.
In a recent blog post on the New Yorker’s website, Toobin explains that Maryland authorities wouldn’t let him interview current inmates:
Without much of a clue about what to do, I took the train back to Baltimore. When I arrived, I strolled down the row of cabs, leaning over to ask the drivers if they knew anyone who had done time in the jail. A half-dozen or so told me to go to hell, in various languages. When I was ready to give up this line of inquiry, a driver who had overheard my questions called me over and gave me some advice. “Walk about four blocks that way,” he said, pointing. “Turn left, and go to the McDonald’s. They’re all in there.”
Sure enough, right there in the McDonald’s on “Baltimore’s gritty North Avenue” (his words, not mine!), Toobin found lots of young men who had been inmates at B.C.D.C., and some of whom were happy to open up about the sometimes dismal conditions inside the jail. More from Toobin:
In the course of nearly two full days at the McDonald’s on North Avenue, roughly two-thirds of the men I approached had been inmates at B.C.D.C. All were African-American, as were virtually all the customers at the restaurant. It’s one thing to consult books like Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and read about the mass incarceration of African-Americans in the United States, but it’s another to see former prisoners filling the seats at a fast-food joint. Somehow the McDonald’s was even more shocking to me than B.C.D.C. itself, where virtually every inmate I saw was black. My informal McDonald’s survey brought home to me how ubiquitous the experience of being in jail is in certain parts of America.