I have no idea whether Gov. Jerry Brown read the letter that was sent to him earlier this week by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And if he did, I have no idea whether he answered it. But if he did, I like to think it would look something like this:
Thanks so much for your letter of Aug. 7, in which you suggest that California deal with its prison overcrowding process the "Sheriff Joe" way: with a tent city in the desert. Brilliant! I know you guys in Arizona are proud of your deserts – heck, your whole state's a desert, am I right? – but we're pretty good with deserts here too. We've got the Mojave, the Colorado, Death Valley, Owens Valley. (And, just between us, the entire west side of the San Joaquin Valley). Even with the suburban sprawl, the solar farms and the tortoise reserves, we've got a lot of space for tent cities.
And I love the way you write that half a million people have "survived their time" behind the fences and in the tents. "Survived!" It's like a TV show! You left out how many people haven't survived, but that's cool. The folks around what we here in Sacramento like to call the "horseshoe" insist that you really meant to say "served," but I'm pretty sure you knew what you were talking about.
Of course, you and I know that the whole thing about "throwing open the jail doors" here in California to let out a swarm of 10,000 prisoners on New Year's Eve is absolute bunk. Don't get me wrong. I like the way you think, but most inmates who are going to walk out the gate any earlier than they would have otherwise are going to some other lockup, like county jails or out-of-state prisons. I really hate to pay for that stuff, but it's better than letting Abel Maldonado give me a hard time in next year's campaign for supposedly letting inmates out on the street. I could explain the real situation to voters, but they don't have much of an attention span, if you know what I mean. And I think you do.
There's something else I want to share with you. Even though there won't be any swarm of 10,000 prisoners, there may be about 1,000 we can't place in some other cells somewhere, and that's been my trump card with that darn court. But here's the thing (and don't tell anyone!): Almost all of those people we like to say would "walk out of prison" are actually going to be rolled or carried out because they're geriatric and medical cases. I'm not making this stuff up – here in California, we've stuffed our prisons with so many people for so long, in really lousy conditions – worse than any tent city – that we have hundreds with cancer, Alzheimer's and all kinds of problems. We're not really "letting them go"; we're pushing them out. Most of them are going directly to nursing homes or hospice care. Really. And even there, they'll have parole agents or probation officers in their faces.
You wrote in your letter to me that you were worried about some of these guys moving to your state to commit crimes, and although I'm pretty sure you were just shooting the breeze, so to speak, I just want to let you know that these guys wouldn't be able to hold out their thumbs to hitch a ride to Arizona, much less hold up a 7-Eleven.
It doesn't look like any able-bodied (or Abel-bodied!) guys will be released, but if they are, it will be at most a few months before they would have come out anyway. I gave counties a whole bunch of money to deal with them (although you know how those folks are with money).
Listen, I know we understand each other because we both are dealing with crazy judges who don't get how hard it is to actually run a bunch of prisons. I've got this silly population-reduction order, and you've had all those civil rights, racial profiling and discriminatory policing investigations and lawsuits. So I appreciate your looking out for me. But I don't think we're going to need any tent cities.
I'd still like to visit, though. I once went out with a singer from Arizona, so after California your state is way up there on my list of favorites. Although you guys never went for me in any of my presidential primaries.
Now, Maryland, on the other hand – that's a pretty cool state.