By JB Clark
TUPELO – Antonia Anderson and Brandi Best go to work every day with no idea what they will see or what personalities they will encounter in the front lobby of the Lee County Adult Jail.
But they do it because they enjoy being able to help Lee County residents when they are at their most vulnerable state.
“Yesterday we had some people coming in the lobby who were hugging and crying and we were trying to figure out what was going on and how we could help them,” said Anderson, a Tupelo native who started working at the front desk late last year but worked in the jail itself for three years previously. “We see them when they’re vulnerable. It’s amazing what we see in this front lobby.”
Best, 25, is the jail’s receptionist and Anderson, 42, is a correction officer, and both wear many hats at the jail’s front desk.
Best, a Brewer community native who has been at the jail for 15 months, said they try to understand what they people in the lobby are going through.
“There are times when we’re very sympathetic and offer a lot of help and attention to the folks who need it,” she said. “They might have a contempt of court charge and the momma comes in here in a panic. We get to explain, ‘It’s just a contempt of court, go pay the fine and it will be OK.’ It’s good to be able to console them.”
The lobby isn’t always hugs and sympathy. “We see a lot of frequent fliers,” Best said.
Many people who enter the jail lobby are already tense from finding out a loved one or friend is behind bars and can be confrontational from the get-go.
“A lot of people will come in here with the attitude that it’s our fault they or their family member got arrested,” Best said.
“And that’s when I try to tell them I’m not going to be their enemy and I’m here to help,” finished Anderson.
The two have to work as a team. They take turns answering the constantly ringing phone all day.
“We get a lot of phone calls wanting names, phone numbers and addresses,” Best said. “Sometimes it feels like we’re the yellow pages.”
Anderson worked at the jail’s booking desk for three years before moving to the front lobby, which gives her more knowledge of the process and the ability to help families navigate incarceration.
Best’s father has been incarcerated for three years, something she said gives her empathy toward families in the lobby.
“I have a soft side,” she said. “A lot of times it takes a toll on the family and kids more than the person incarcerated. And, it’s a difficult system to navigate. A lot of people don’t know what to do or what steps to take. My experience helps me let them know who to call next or how to get to the next step.”
They agreed the best part of their job is helping those who really need help finding a loved one or bonding a loved one out of jail, and the hardest part is seeing the people who are brought back in on the same charges.
“It’s difficult to see people who come in and out on the same or similar charges without learning,” Best said.