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My Time at Sybil Brand Institute

In 1977, after graduating from the County of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Reserve Class No 43, I was assigned to Sybil Brand Institute.  A women’s jail located in Monterey Park, Los Angeles County, California.  The jail was built in 1963, I was then, 13 years old.  It was eventually closed in 1997, twenty years later from when I set foot inside, as a fresh graduate Reserve Deputy.  The jail received its name from American human rights activist, Sybil Brand.

The jail has its own history and fame, used in several drama TV shows and series, among them, Perry Mason.  Even actress Hedy Lamarr was briefly jailed there for shoplifting.  My story begins here…

The day I graduated from the Reserve Sheriff’s Academy; I was just shy of my 27th birthday.  A single mom who was working as an LVN in the nursing field, wanting to pursue a second job to give my daughter a better upbringing than what I had.

I was assigned the jail and seeing these women, some younger than I in jumpsuits, looking sad and angry made me curious as to why they were there.  I was assigned to a senior deputy who had worked at Sybil Brand for some time. She was a few years older than me, and her demeanor was to be in control at all costs.  I learned that the inmates were given pink slips, which were like gold to them.  These pink slips allowed them to obtain certain items that they considered to be luxuries and allowed a certain amount of freedom within.   If you took away their pink slip, it was a punishment that they considered harsh.  Too harsh for some.

As I watched over the next several months how these inmates reacted to how they were treated by the deputies, I learned what to look for and what made things work in getting their cooperation, but I also learned how getting on their bad side could result in possible harm.  I always put going home to my daughter as a priority, which made me take my job seriously, even later when I went to patrol as it was difficult enough having to leave, and not seeing her for a day or two because of my shift assignment.

There was a rule when checking the pods where several female inmates were housed. You entered as a single deputy through the initial metal door, which closed and locked behind you, while another door slid open as you enter the pod.   When pat downs were to be done, the female inmates knew ahead of time who would be checking the pods, and although there were male deputies in central control, you were basically alone the entire time when searching each pod, while the supervisor deputy remained outside, and eyes were fixed on you.  The doors would close and lock behind you, only to be opened again by the outside deputy, so if you needed help, it would be several seconds before the calvary came to help.

No one cared for my supervisor.  Often as she walked by, I would hear the derogatory comments made regarding her, and the not-so-kind words that came from many of them. Threats that they would love to catch her alone.  One day, as the females were In line heading back from chow, a few were talking, which was not allowed.  I pulled one female aside while the others passed and in so many words said, “one more word out of your mouth you will lose your pink slip”.  As I instructed her to re-enter the line, my supervisor came from the front and pulled this inmate out of line a second time, and without warning, took her pink slip. Her freedom and luxury ticket gone! As time would show, this was the last draw from this inmate towards this supervisor.

As it happened, I was supposed to stand guard that night while my supervisor did the bunk search.  But the switch was made that I would do the bunk search instead.  Not knowing what the female inmates in this pod had decided to do, I would quickly find out how a deputy can either be killed or harmed.  As the main door slid back and then closed and I walked towards the second door as it opened, I found myself landing squarely on my back and several female inmates surrounding me.  Although I could hear the alarm outside, (which meant help was en route), I knew until they arrived the doors would remain closed and locked.  As the female inmates circled me, I heard one of them say, “no, not this one”, “not this one”, “she’s not supposed to be doing the search”.  “This one is cool; this one is cool”.   Within seconds, but seemed like long minutes, I felt myself being pulled from the floor and into the main hall, hearing the metal doors slide shut.  Sounds of the females yelling and banging on the metal bunks.

I learned later that what had been spread on the floor was cooking oil from the kitchen and that the main target was my supervisor, hated by many in that pod.  Those responsible were dealt with during my leave of absence and what I learned was that because I dealt with the female inmates with some compassion and respect, they respected me as well.  I was thankful that I made it home to my daughter that night.

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Lynn Forrester-Pitocco
Lynn Forrester-Pitocco
LYNN is Retired from Law Enforcement as a Police Officer, with a background in nursing and previously a member of the Search and Rescue Team with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, A retired member of the Orange Police Department, she became the first female SWAT member on an elite team while becoming a member of the Olympic Shooting Team during the early years on the department. A mother and a grandmother, a devout Catholic who currently resides in Houston, Texas. Her hobbies include writing, painting, and a contemplative prayer life. She is in love with her faith, but the love she carries for her two grown children and grandchildren who rest in her heart surpasses everything except her faith in God. Since retirement, Lynn has done private investigation, worked as a gang counselor with middle schools, A member of Bl. Mother Teresa’s Order called the (Lay Missionaries of Charity), she is also a pro-life advocate, often called upon to give testimony and speak to youth groups, as well as adult forums. She has published a children’s book entitled “The Children’s Garden” and is currently working on two additional children’s books. She is currently working on the major one focused on her experience in Law Enforcement entitled “Heels and a Badge”. (copyright). Her paintings and sketches, writings, can be viewed on her Pinterest boards (click on the Pinterest ICON below). Her dream is to one-day write a movie for Hallmark. Dreams do come true … See Lynn’s entire collection of thought-provoking Articles by clicking on her byline. Lynn is a contributing author to the inspiring book Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change.

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9 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Lynn, great article/story. I had a friend who worked as a Deputy at the Onondaga County Jail. He later became a Syracuse Police Officer and eventually Chief of Police for the City of Syracuse. He had some very interesting stories about his time at the jail. Sometimes having to dodge urine and feces thrown at him or other guards and minor assaults among the inmates.
    Listening to his stories I knew that it took a certain kind of individual to work that type of job. Not sure that I could have.
    Thankyou for your insight.

    • Thanks Tom, are were more stories I could write and when time permits I will.. What I learned regarding individuals who really needed to be there and some not so, taught me to be on guard at all times regardless. Working in the jail with inmates, male or female is so different than working the streets.

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