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Room 7021: a penthouse in prison

Los Angeles, Nov. 17: There is no question as to which is the most exclusive penthouse apartment in the City of Lights.

Among the amenities there are soaps, conditioners, razors. A continental breakfast is offered; a picnic-style lunch and a warm beefsteak dinner. The pillows are feather, the complimentary slippers are canvas, the bed garments orange. There is a library and plenty of solitude. The suite occupies a corner lot, the view is unique and the security is excellent. The bellhops dress in green and wear white gloves.

All this at the very reasonable rate of $53.45 a night. Even so, leave your wallet at the front desk. Your money is no good here; taxpayers pick up the tab.

Do not bother to call for reservations for Room 7021, for none are accepted. It is the domicile reserved wholly for men whose reputations are drifting from famous to infamous and for a smaller circle of men whose actions are said to be so heinous even bad men despise them.

Welcome to the Los Angeles County Jail protective custody unit. The cellblock that includes Room 7021 is known as the Hospital, as it was formerly the infirmary. Room 7021 has no name, though some officers have christened it The Heisman, after O.J. Simpson, who spent the better part of a year there while on trial in the murder of his wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman.

The guest list at Room 7021 has been an extensive one, its guardians say. Robert Blake, better known as the 1970s TV detective “Baretta”, now resides there, awaiting trial on murder charges stemming from the death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakely. Last Wednesday, the California Supreme Court denied bail to Blake, 69, until a preliminary hearing in the case next month.

Robert Downey Jr., once nominated for an Academy Award, has also spent time in Room 7021. In 1997, Downey was sentenced to 180 days in jail for repeated parole violations of a prior drug conviction. At first, he was placed in the general prison population. But then he appeared in court looking like a raccoon, his forehead split open by an overzealous inmate. For his own protection and the sustained tranquillity at the Men’s Central Jail, he was upgraded to Room 7021.

“This is not a hotel, and we don’t give celebrities special treatment,” said Captain Richard A. Adams, the man in charge of the 7,200-inmate jail, the largest under one roof in the country.

Adams, whose office is decorated with plaques and a painting by Norman Rockwell, simply has the best interests of his inmates and his officers at heart, he says. “If we put these type of people in general population, will they be victimised'” Adams asked. “Well' These guys in here will prey on them and eat them alive, so off to protective custody they go. I don’t want anyone getting hurt in here.”

Among the other guests have been the actors Sean Penn and Kelsey Grammer; musicians Tommy Lee, Ike Turner and Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots. Comedian Richard Pryor appears in yearbook photos; Richard Ramirez, the so-called Night Stalker, slept there; Kenneth Bianchi, half of the Hillside Strangler duo, and one of the Menendez Brothers — though guards can’t remember which one.

When more than one famous man is on the block, as in the Menendez case, the unlucky one gets a lesser room down the hall, a cell with a slot in the door and no view of the guard booth.

Room 7021 is a veritable palace when compared with the rest of the jailhouse. It is 8 feet by 10 feet and painted a clean eggshell-white. The window in the door is 9 inches by 9 inches. The door is solid steel, no slot. The bed is bolted to the floor and accommodates a private phone, sink and toilet. There is no graffiti, and the shaving mirror has not been shattered.

The rest of the Los Angeles County Jail is a madhouse, full of bad people with bad hygiene. Sometimes a dozen men shower together, many of whom are waiting for a bed in state prison where they will begin serving life sentences.

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