YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Los Angeles

Pay Phones Let Inmates' Fingers Do the Walking

The busiest public lines in Los Angeles might be those near two downtown jails.

October 27, 2003|Michael Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Night and day, they rush to use "The Phones."

Inmates of the Men's Central and Twin Towers jails daydream about being freed and walking about 160 steps to the corner of Vignes and Bauchet streets to make a call on one of the eight most coveted pay phones in all of Los Angeles.

Twenty-four hours a day, the phones are destination No. 1 for hundreds of released inmates of both jails.

"Those phones are definitely among the busiest in the city," said John Britton, director of corporate communications for SBC, which owns the equipment. "I talked to our man in Los Angeles who knows about pay phones, and he laughed when I asked him how busy they were. I don't know, but they might be the busiest."

In this age of pocket phones, pay-phone usage is decreasing nearly everywhere but here.

"The pay phones at LAX used to be very busy too, but nowadays everyone there is on a cell," Britton said. "But those phones near the jail, well, I guess if you're just getting out of jail, you probably don't have a cell phone with you."

You probably also don't have change. So many inmates head to Vignes Place, a mini-mall filled with bail bonds businesses.

"I get anywhere from 15 to 20 people a night coming in here asking for change so they can use those phones," said Ralph Ramirez, who works at Montana Bail Bonds. "I'm here until 2 in the morning, and people are constantly using those phones."

Seconds after he spoke, Wess Dorner, 18, came in to ask for change.

"I've been thinking about those phones a lot lately," said the North Hollywood man, who had just spent two weeks in the Men's Central Jail for a parole violation.

On one of the phones, Deanna Craig, also just released after a parole violation, was calling her boyfriend.

"I'm standing on the corner wearing your jacket," she told him. He said he would call a cab to bring her to their skid row hotel.

Forty-five minutes later, she was still waiting.

Usually, though, a couple of cabs are parked nearby, knowing people on this corner are anxious to go home. Cabdriver Miguel Quellar, who usually swings by when business is slow, said, "Those are the busiest phones I have ever seen. When there's a lockdown [in the jails] and they hold people back, then have a big release, I've seen people running to those phones."

Shalana Goodi, 25, of Compton had just phoned her boyfriend to pick her up. After serving almost two months for an assault charge, she smiled as she made her plan.

"Now I'm going to get my ride, go home and take a nice hot bath -- just soak in some hot water."

Just then, a recently released man walked by, muttering, "A nightmare. A nightmare. A nightmare."

"That's messed up," Goodi said. "That guy don't even have nobody to call."

Los Angeles Times Articles