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Phoenix inmates at Tent City get cold towels to help deal with record heat

Photo by Corbin Carson

PHOENIX — It’s so hot out that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was handing out ice-cold towels at his controversial county jail called Tent City.

“It gets hot, but these guys are OK,” Arpaio said.

“By the way, we have women in these tents, too. I’m an equal-opportunity incarcerator. You think the women don’t live in these tents? They’re living under the same temperature.”

There were 800 inmates in Tent City when Arpaio handed out a few towels during the record-breaking heat Monday.

Arpaio even tried a towel himself.

Since the tents were set up in 1993, there has been controversy over the heat in the tents that can reportedly reach as high as 140 degrees.

Arpaio even measured one of the tents at 129 degrees, and it was still early in the afternoon.

“We’ve had over 500,000 people that have come through these tents,” Arpaio said.

Arpaio, who is up for re-election, said he has never had any heat-related illnesses or deaths at Tent City during that time.

The first inmate to be handed a towel by the sheriff said it helps a little.

“It makes a difference for a little bit, maybe about 5-10 minutes,” Santos Mendoza said. “Then you got to get another cool towel. It gets a little hot in the tents, but we do what we can to stay alive out here.”

Inmates don’t get cold towels very often, said Mendoza, who has been in Tent City for 10 days.

“Honestly, they kind of do slack on the towels and the cold water a little bit,” Mendoza said.

Arpaio is known for saying the inmates can handle the heat, since our men and women fighting overseas live in the same conditions.

Arpaio said even he has previously slept for two nights in Tent City, but when he was asked if it was during the summer, he had a simple reply.

“No, I’m not that stupid,” Arpaio said.

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