By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
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By Jill Stewart
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But because there are so many bodies coming into the pre-trial facility and space is an issue, 10 days later Scott is sent to the minimum-security facility at Lerdo, known as “The Farm.” Scott soon notices that even at The Farm, federal population caps force county authorities to rotate a certain number of inmates out of the system each week, as the jail gets too full. “The maximum population is 900, so when they hit 850, they start looking for people to kick,” Scott says.
So, sizing up the situation, he decides to play Kern County’s game — placing people behind bars at a rate exceeding capacity — to his benefit. He applies again for work release, and this time informs officials that his high blood pressure places him at risk without access to a private physician. “I could just sit there and do nothing, or I could try to be reunited with my kids,” he says.
Scott is sitting with his wife at the Olive Garden in Bakersfield last Wednesday, having just been released from Lerdo. After paying a fee of $400, he has been assigned to a maintenance job at Cerro Coso Community College in Ridgecrest for the next four months. He cannot say exactly why his release was granted. “Kern County is a money machine,” Vanessa says. “They will take all your money, put you in jail, then for a little more money you can get out and work for the county, for free.”
Vanessa rests her head on Scott’s shoulder as the two describe some of the more hapless inmates they met while at Lerdo — people with worse stories and perhaps less resilience and luck than they. There’s Miss Helen, a 65-year-old woman with Crohn’s disease who had never been convicted of a crime in her life, but who was serving a year for Section 8 housing fraud after failing to notify authorities that she got married. And there is a woman named Lopez, who is also serving a year for welfare fraud. Authorities went all the way down to Florida to get her, Vanessa says, but never charged her husband, as they did Scott.
While in maximum, Scott says he met a man named Sutton, who was tried and sentenced to 15 years on a drug charge even though the only material evidence found on him was $97 in his pocket. “I could have been fighting my case on appeal for the next five years,” Scott says, oddly grateful for accepting his plea bargain and not going to trial.
Reflecting on the last month in Lerdo, Scott says he had tried to steer clear of trouble, including prison guards. Word had spread quickly that “Li’l Monster” was there, he says, and young Crips had made their way over to him to pay respect, offering him anything and everything, including drugs. “I gave them respect back,” he says, a bit perplexed by his enduring legend. “But these guys have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into, or where that life is headed.”
Portrait of an American Family:
Kershaun Scott with wife Vanessa,
sons Vanse (with dog) and
Shelton, daughters Kathryn (top) and
Kaprice, and dogs Taco and Tequila
It is inevitable that Scott will always look over his shoulder, he says, wondering if the past will come back again to haunt him. Being in jail only heightened that anxiety, “right up until my feet left that yard,” he says. But the past may never catch up with him in as surreal a fashion as it did in Kern County, he says, turning his attention to Vanessa and her reports on how their children are doing.
He smiles at a group of elderly people singing “Happy Birthday” one table over. Nothing really he can do but look forward, Scott says, a little unsure of what he may do when his four months is up. There is a possible speaking engagement in Arizona, but that depends on his work release schedule. Whatever it is, trying to guide his children will be his highest priority. He and his only friend in Kern County, a retired Raymond Avenue Crip from Los Angeles, have taken to calling themselves “FGs” now, he says: “family guys.”
Scott says the only thing that’s for sure is that when his time is up, he will be leaving Kern County, maybe for Los Angeles, just not South-Central. As they pay their check and head out for the long drive back to Ridgecrest, climbing into a used Monte Carlo, he says, “It’s going to be good to get home.” Wherever that may be.