“The cleanliness and maintenance of this facility is exceptional,” read the letter to the Carver County sheriff, neatly printed on notebook paper.
“Also, your bailiffs, program staff and all corrections officers have been nothing short of patient, respectful and encouraging; adding humor on the days when it’s needed most.”
Letters from jailed inmates expressing thanks for respectful treatment aren’t unusual, Sheriff Jason Kamerud said. Praise for conditions inside the 25-year-old Carver County jail, however, is less common, he said.
Nevertheless, jail officials were surprised when the letter made national news after the Sheriff’s Office posted it on social media this month. Kamerud guessed the word might have spread because people were happy to see “finally some positive comments about government.”
It was written by Michelle Lee Schmid, a 51-year-old former suburban wife and mother who since 2012 has visited her share of Minnesota jails, running up a string of nearly three dozen convictions for assorted drug, theft and driving violations. She has seen the inside of the state women’s prison in Shakopee and jails in every metro county, save for Anoka and Ramsey.
In a phone interview from the Carver County jail, where she has been held since her arrest in November on a warrant for damage to property, Schmid explained why she praised the facility. For one thing, she said, she won’t feel the need to take a shower immediately upon her release.
“When you get out of some jails it’s so gross you can’t get it off your skin,” she said. “It’s just jail on you.”
Cmdr. Reed Ashpole, who supervises the Carver jail, said he’s proud of the facility, which is maintained by employees and cleaned by inmates. “It’s cleaner than most homes,” he said.
The cells are typically small, with two cots, a desk and a metal toilet. Each has a tall, narrow window — the lower area frosted to block views, the top with clear glass to let in daylight.
Schmid is grateful for such touches. In most jails, she said, “You don’t see the sun, you don’t see the moon, you don’t see the rain, no snow, no nothing.” In Carver County, she said, “You can see the sunset.”
And she likes that her cell door is made of oak rather than clanging metal. Carver jail cells are marked with signs of encouragement rather than numbers, and Schmid’s cell door reads “HOPE.”
“This place lets people like me have hope,” she said.
Schmid said she made mistakes for years that left her life in shambles. In 2008, she was living with her family in a four-bedroom house in Shakopee, working in a job she liked as an intake worker at United Behavioral Health. Then her older son was in car accident and lost his leg, and her father died, she said. Schmid said she developed a drinking problem that evolved into drug abuse, and she lost “lots of money” at casinos.
According to her lengthy rap sheet, she has been convicted numerous times for drug possession, drunken driving, theft, trespassing, forging a check and numerous probation violations. She missed meetings with probation officers, drug tests and court dates — sometimes because she was locked up in a different county.
Given her record, Schmid said she expects to do time in another county jail after she gets out of the Carver facility. In the meantime, she said she is taking the opportunity to contemplate her life and is grateful that, as she wrote to the sheriff, she has “a safe environment for personal reflection and growth.”