Earlier this month, as Nikolai Khabibulin's court date drew closer, our Oilers blog, The Copper & Blue, decided it would be wise to speak with a lawyer in Arizona (where the charges against the goalie were levied), on exactly what he would go through if he were to be convicted of "extreme DUI."
The lawyer, David Maletta, said that Khabibulin could be sentenced up to six months, and that he will serve at least 30 days in jail. According to Maletta, DUI convicts in Maricopa County, Arizona serve their time in an outdoor "tent city" at the County Jail.
Khabibulin was convicted today and will be serving at least those 30 days of jail time, although we don't know his exact sentence just yet. Still, it's a perfect time to look back at those details.
I asked Maletta if that time would be spent in a prison or a city lockup. In some jurisdictions, that might be the case; in fact, "in some jurisdictions, home arrest might be an option," Maletta said. But not in Maricopa County: "DUI convicts serve their sentence in Tent City at the County Jail. It's an outside jail, where men sleep in army tents."
Tent City, referred to as "an American gulag", is the outdoor extension of the Maricopa County Jail. The facility is a giant pen, enclosed by chain link fencing and razor wire, where prisoners are housed in army surplus tents. The prisoners sleep, eat, and live outdoors in the Arizona weather. Prisoners are forced to wear striped uniforms, pink underwear and pink socks and they are fed a diet of expired foodstuffs. The facility has been the subject of complaints, protests and investigations since inception.
"There is a chance that a convict can qualify for work release during their stay - they can spend up to to twelve hours per day, five days a week on work release, but they must return to Tent City every day and they must spend two full days per week in Tent City," said Maletta.
Tent City is not a fun place. Some quick glances at a few YouTube videos will show you that. Here's one from a documentary on the jail, where you can see the booking process and a general overview of what life is like in Tent City.
This jail is the brain child of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been called "America's Worst Sheriff" by the New York Times in 2008. He's been publicly criticized by groups from across the political spectrum, from the left leaning American Civil Liberties Union, who filed a lawsuit against his department a year ago, to the right-wing Goldwater Institute (PDF).
They all contend that Arpaio's extreme tactics just aren't effective at best, and that they're downright criminal at worst. Nevertheless, Maricopa County voters have re-elected him four times since he took office 1992, most recently in 2008.
Khabibulin wouldn't be the first professional athlete to serve time in Tent City. Charles Barkley served 10 days in the outdoor jail for a similar but slightly less severe DUI charge back in February 2009.
But Barkley was able to return to his job as an analyst at TNT after doing his time. Will Khabibulin have the same opportunity to return to his job with the Oilers when this is all said and done? The 37-year-old has three years left on his contract.
Ben Massey at The Copper & Blue says that this whole thing gives the Oilers the right to void his contract.
NHL teams could be well into training camp by the time Khabibulin even knows how long he'll be in prison for. Then there's serving the actual time. The point is that, as any Dellow reader could tell you, the Oilers have reasonable grounds to void Khabibulin's contract based on breaking the performance clause in the standard player agreement. As anyone with any common sense could tell you, they have a very good reason to do the same: it's safe to say that a goaltender with serious back problems and a criminal record in the United States who's spent up to half a year as a guest of the United States government isn't going to be worth almost $4 million a year for three more seasons. And as anyone who's watched the Oilers for the past four seasons could tell you, Khabibulin will probably be a part of this team for years to come.
Whether the Oilers exercise this opportunity to rid themselves of Khabibulin is yet to be seen, but it seems the possibility is there. Tent City could be where Nikolai Khabibulin's hockey career goes to die.
For more on this story, be sure to check out Tyler Dellow's fantastic work at mc79hockey.