Marion County Jail inmates adapting to life with no hot water
Incarceration in a jail is typically an experience best avoided. Being locked up at the Marion County Jail became even less desirable last week after Sheriff Jimmy Shinn authorized turning off the facility’s boiler, meaning no hot water for things like meals and showers.
Shinn’s action was not meant as punishment for those housed at the jail in Palmyra, but to prevent a potential disaster.
“We shut it down basically out of safety concerns at the recommendation of Peters Heating and Air Conditioning. They felt it was in such jeopardy that it was about to explode,” said the sheriff, who authorized shutting down the boiler at mid-afternoon on May 12.
Shinn said the boiler’s demise was due to old age and not a lack of maintenance.
“It was 12 years old and they said the natural life for one of those is usually about 10 years. It had lived out its natural life,” he said. “There was no more patching they (Peters) could do and they said it was to a point where it was dangerous, so on their recommendation and for the safety of all I had it shut down.”
According to Lyndon Bode, presiding commissioner, the County Commission has no problem with how Shinn handled the situation.
“He asked different times if it could be restarted and if it would be safe. They (Peters) didn’t want to guarantee it. We didn’t want to have any type of accident so we shut the system down,” he said.
The search for a new boiler started almost as soon as the old boiler was declared dead. A replacement, which was located in Canada, is now on its way to Marion County.
To pay for the new device, on Monday the County Commission authorized payment of $13,500, plus labor.
“We did that through declaring it a special emergency bid,” said Bode, presiding commissioner.
Shinn is hopeful the new boiler will arrive and be in service before the end of this week. In the meantime, the jail continues to function, minus hot water.
Almost as soon as he realized the old boiler — the third since the jail opened back in the early ‘90s — was history, Shinn set out to prepare those housed there for what life was going to be like in the immediate future.
“I went back and visited with every inmate last Thursday afternoon and explained the situation regarding the cold showers,” said the sheriff. “For the most part they have been understanding.”
To help foster some patience Shinn has provided the jail’s population with one hot meal a day.
“They are getting cold breakfasts and cold suppers, however, we have contracted with the Hannibal Nutrition Center to provide a hot lunch for them. We’ve been going down and getting those hot lunches every day about 11:30 a.m. at the nutrition center and getting them up to them. They’ve appreciated that,” he said.
The meals are hauled in one extended-cab pickup that is owned by the Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s full of coolers to keep everything warm,” said Shinn.
Purchasing the 90 to 95 hot meals a day is not putting a crimp in the jail’s budget.
“The meals are not hurting us to an extreme,” said Shinn. “It is costing us roughly $400 per day for the meals.”
Bode applauds Shinn’s efforts to deal with the significant problem.
“He and the staff are working through the situation and they’re doing a good job,” he said.
Reach reporter Danny Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org