Between El Pueblo and the Los Angeles River, in an obscure corner of Chinatown tucked behind the bowels of Union Station, sits the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, also known as the LA County Jail. According to an unofficial website, it is “the world’s largest jail”—a 1.5 million-square-foot complex opened in 1997. Its appearance from the outside, however, strangely belies its true nature. Designed in a bland, unassuming, international/brutalist style, the two buildings could easily be downtown government office buildings; a series of extremely narrow slits for windows are perhaps the only giveaway that this is a prison.
“I’ve never been in there, but I have friends who have,” says artist Rafa Esparza. “They all say the conditions in there are pretty bad. It’s the kind of place where you get staph infections. Everyone is always really happy to get out.” We were standing on the street, cattycorner to the prison, and directly across from Bad Boys Bail Bonds. The Men’s Central Jail, which was built in 1963 and has an even worse reputation than the Twin Towers, was also close by.