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Public Safety

Phoenix Tent City Jail Celebrates Anniversary

Socorro Lopez (left) and Kristal Stamper stay cool with "Sheriff Joe Fans" during the 18th anniversary celebration of Tent City.
Devin Browne
Socorro Lopez (left) and Kristal Stamper stay cool with "Sheriff Joe Fans" during the 18th anniversary celebration of Tent City.
Tent City Anniversary
Tent City Anniversary

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio celebrated the 18th anniversary of his signature incarceration project, Tent City, on Wednesday. The party included cake, an Elvis impersonator, and Arpaio's own serenade to the inmates: Frank Sinatra's My Way.

The event was supposed to feature the inmates at the forefront. They would eat cake and see Elvis sing, according to a press release announcing the event. Some of the women were so excited by this, they painted their eyelids with colored pencils (there's no make-up allowed in Tent City) and choreographed a dance routine to perform for the crowd.

They said they weren't interested in being on TV, that this was just for fun, so they were surprised when Arpaio's lead public relations person, Lisa Allen, approached them before the show and said: "If you have a little dance routine that you're just dying to do, do it off on the side."

Allen went on: "If television gets it, they do. If they don't -- I'm sure they will. But we don't want your dance routine to try to take over, because that's not right."

Arpaio was the keynote speaker for the event.

On Tent City, he said: "I didn't do it to save money. I feel this is a deterrent."

Many of the inmates said they agreed, though some of these women, like 20-year-old Kailey Brestel, were already on their third tour of Tent City.

"I thought I was smarter. I thought I could run from it, could get away from it," Brestel said. "But I was young and dumb and got caught for it... again."

Earlier instructions aside, Brestel and several other inmates eventually took the stage, alongside the Elvis impersonator, to dance to Jailhouse Rock.

Tents City opened in 1993 when Sheriff Arpaio obtained surplus military tents and set them up next to a jail in Phoenix. The sheriff saw the tents as a solution to jail overcrowding and to insure inmates serve their complete sentences.

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