OGDEN -- Twenty-five Weber State University students went to jail on Friday.
They made their way through booking, then through multiple corridors with heavy security doors that required the last to be locked before the next could be opened. The students were led to cells, but finally allowed to leave the 12th Street jail facility.
"Let's break out of here," joked their guide, Lt. Frosty McWilliams, of the Weber County Sheriff's office.
The WSU criminal justice students were on a field trip to the corrections facility to preview one of the possible career paths that awaits them after they complete their degrees.
"It was different than I expected," said Stephen Garner, 20, Layton. "I want to work in law enforcement, not corrections, and I'm more sure now than I was before. It seemed a little claustrophobic to me, and maybe almost gloomy. I don't know if I could work in corrections."
Amanda Ritchie, 26 and from North Ogden, had the opposite reaction.
"This was definitely a good experience to have," she said. "I thought it would be dark, and there would be lots of bars. It's a little sad, but probably better than I pictured."
Weber State criminal justice professor Bruce Bayley takes his students on a jail tour every semester.
"About half of them have an interest in corrections," said Bayley, a former officer with the Sonoma County (Calif.) Sheriff's Office.
"The big benefit to this visit is that I can show pictures and movies, but I can't recreate the sounds and the smells of a corrections facility, and that sense that once a door closes behind you, everything you do is watched by someone else and you can't leave. For some people, it's a rude awakening to reality to be in a lockdown facility."
The tour started in the sally port that law enforcement vehicles enter to pick up prisoners for transport. A giant metal door clanged shut and locked, the sound echoing in the large space. Only then could a handcuffed inmate be led out to a car, where two officers would take him or her to another facility.
The giant metal door unlocked, allowing the car to leave, then thundered shut once again. With that door secure, a door to the booking area and holding cells could open to let the touring students in.
McWilliams explained that most people who are arrested arrive drunk or on drugs, so multiple procedures are in place to keep the corrections staff and handcuffed prisoners safe.
McWilliams showed students a prisoner-searching station. Decades back, at the Keisel Street facility, an inmate who weighed 500 pounds managed to sneak in a tiny Sony Watchman TV in a skin fold under his chest.
"He knew he was going to be in jail for the weekend, and didn't want to miss the big game," McWilliams said. More common are prisoners who try to sneak in small guns or drugs.
Several doors later, Weber State students got the chance to enter an unoccupied cellblock.
Cells are tiny, with two bunks, a toilet/sink fixture and a desk-like shelf with a metal stool bolted to the floor. A tall window slit reveals a thin band of sunlight, and the chain link fence a few feet away.
"I could never go to the bathroom in front of people," one student told her friend.
Cell doors open into a small common area, a room with chair and table units bolted to the floors and surrounded by security glass rather than bars.
"I'm glad I'm not in here," Ritchie said, of the inmates' area. "It's good to know people can't get out, but it's nice that there's at least a little sunlight."
Students got glimpses of the kitchen, the laundry, areas for worship, small lending libraries, and the outside of a control center with a long list of security measures in place.
McWilliams said he often takes Scout and community tours through the facility under the strictest security conditions, but this Weber State group would get a special treat. Cpl. Eric Fryer, a canine officer with he Weber County Sheriff's office, would demonstrate his work with a police service dog Cody, trained to detect the faintest scent of marijuana.
Cody, anticipating his ultimate prize of a tennis ball, ran straight to the spot where Fryer had placed the scent.
Fryer talked with students about his love of canine police work while Cody quickly skinned and gutted a pink tennis ball.
"Some students leave knowing this isn't what they want to do," Bayley said. "Others come out with big grins on their faces. It's a great opportunity to see the environment and see the reality of the profession, and meet officers face to face.
"The Weber County Sheriff's office is a great community partner to Weber State. I can't say enough good about them. The citizens of Weber County should be extremely proud of the sheriff's office they have."
Ritchie said she left the tour feeling more committed than ever to her future career.
"I think the work is important and rewarding," she said.
"You can make a difference in people's lives. It's hard, but it's a real opportunity to help people."