Some people live in a world that the rest of us can't even begin to recognize.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Roommate

After saying goodbye to Elaine on Tuesday, I had a few hours ALONE in my cell. Privacy has become so unnatural that even a short amount of time alone is welcome. I remember a time, when my children were all preschoolers, that I couldn't even go into the washroom without them following me. I remember wishing for some alone time, and usually got it when they took their naps. I'd give anything for that kind of non-privacy than the kind you get in prison.

Elaine left me a note! She wrote her mom's address (since she, herself, is often homeless or moving from friend's house to friend's house) and asked me to write her. She said I had been a very good influence on her, and maybe we could get together outside of prison. I'd devoted years to helping and giving support to others, but knew there was no way I planned to keep in touch with anyone I met in prison. But I did make sure my husband sent her, at her new prison destination, the words to some of the songs we had just requested that he send us. I do wish her the best, and hope she is able to stay away from crack in the World. Unfortunately, her description of a drug addicted lifestyle for over 30 years gave me little hope that she would remain clean.

When one roommate leaves, another soon takes her place. The screening wing, cell block B, is the one used when all new inmates arrive. It is usually full, and a new shipment of at least 50 women arrive from the largest city in our state every Wednesday, so the ladies from cell block B are somehow all considered "medically cleared" on Tuesdays, and fill in the rooms of those who just left.

Around lunchtime I heard the wing door opening and closing over and over, and knew that the cleared inmates were arriving. I saw someone hovering near my door, and eventually the officer came and unlocked the door. In walked Lorri. She entered the room, didn't even introduce herself, but proceded to speak without stopping for at least ten minutes. She didn't even put down her bag of possessions while she told me, what had to be, every single little detail of her life, her relationships, the reason she was back in prison (yes, another repeat customer) and all the people who had done her wrong--in her opinion. When she finally stopped talking, I knew the names, and nicknames, of all of her children, the fathers of all of her children (three kids from three different men and she was only 29), her boyfriend who she referred to as her husband, his three children (who were actually his brother's kids but he had custody?) and how she had only stepped into the house that was being burglarized by her cousin for a few moments, so, in her mind, she was not a participant in the burglary and should not be in prison at all again.

I knew from Lorri's ten minute soliloquy that there was no chance she would be a pleasant roommate. But, aside from her annoying monologue, there was something else about her that concerned me greatly. She had a scaly red rash covering half of her face, her entire neck and throat, and all other uncovered portions of her body that I could see. I ignored all my own social skills (realizing she wouldn't even notice) and, instead of introducing myself, the first words I said to her is "Is that contagious?"
She had obviously been asked about her rash before, and simply replied "no" it was not contagious, just something she has had since she was a teenager. WHAT? Astoundingly, she said she didn't know what it was, but since no one else in her family had it, she herself had decided it wasn't contagious.

I thought all women leaving the B wing were medically cleared. This did not look like something that should be mixed in with the intake population, let alone put in my cell with me! Lorri then told me that she had seizures, and that she needed the bottom bunk. She did not have a bottom bunk order, and I did have one, and there was no way I was giving up the bottom bunk for her. She began to cry that she was so scared to sleep on the top bunk. I said that I couldn't imagine the prison making someone with a seizure disorder sleep on the top bunk, but maybe they knew her meds would prevent any problems. I guess I should not have been surprised when she said she wasn't on meds, and had diagnosed herself as having seizures after she became dizzy one day. I can't believe I kept a straight face when I sarcastically asked her if she is a medical doctor.

When it became clear that I was not going to give up the bottom bunk, Lorri pulled the little plastic mattress off the top bunk, and laid it on the floor! This, in a room that had only about 12 square feet of empty space, meant that one end of the mattress was actually UNDER THE TOILET SEAT! And that was the end where she put her pillow! I pointed out that I'd have to step on her at night if I needed to use that part of the room. AND her head would be right there if I needed to go at night! All kinds of thoughts ran through my mind, and none offered any type of plausible explanation that explained this girl's complete lack of social skills, lack of having a doctor look at her rash or see if her worries of seizures were valid, and her willingness to sleep with her face 6 inches from a possibly occupied toilet!

I grabbed a paper and pen, and told her that I would make sure she got a bottom bunk order (yeah, like I have the power to do that). Our communication with the officers was often through notes that we slid into the crack in the door jamb. I quickly penned a HELP note, explaining that my new and supposedly medically cleared inmate had what could potentially be a contagious rash all over her body, and that she was insistent on sleeping on the floor in the only empty space in the room. (I didn't mention her questionable mental status that I was clued into by her seeing nothing wrong with sleeping under the toilet.)

I slipped the note into the door crack. And prayed. This definitely was the "punishment" aspect of prison.

Lorri, oblivious to the fact that I had no desire to listen to her life story, began talking non-stop about herself again. I don't think she had even asked my name yet. I knew I was in for a very long week.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Everyone moves on ...... eventually

On Monday mornings, excitement and anticipation hang heavily in the air all over cellblock C, and throughout all halls of the Intake and Reception building. The build-up to the drama of Monday mornings begins on Sunday, with whispers of "I hope I'm on the list" and inmates attempting to see anything resembling a list of names on the Officer's desk. Intake and Reception is only temporary; we are all eventually hauled away to our final prison destination to complete our sentences. Our state only has a few women's penitentiaries, with "shipment" to all of them done on Tuesdays. Monday mornings are highly awaited since that is when the lucky inmates are told that they have been chosen to be shipped. (I do realize how bizarre it is that I consider being moved from one prison to another as "lucky." Funny how being in prison completely changes your mindset and perspective on so many things.)

The Monday drama begins at exactly 8:30 AM when the wing's officer begins his or her walk around the cellblock with "the list" that tells who will be leaving the next day. All eyes are looking out the tiny cell door windows, even though we can hear more than we can see.

Some women spend one week in intake before they are "shipped," and some spend three whole months before they are chosen to head to their final destination. From what I can tell, there is no rhyme or reason to whom is chosen to go where or when--only "wherever and whenever there is room."

Rumors and stories abound in prison, and, with the number of repeat offenders here, everyone has heard that the final destination prisons, also called being "on grounds" or in the "general population," are so much better than being locked in your intake cell over 90 percent of the time. Apparently, on grounds you are able to spend a big part of the day in the Day Room, mingling with the other inmates. (Ummmmm, that may sound like fun to others, but, to me, hanging out socially in a room filled with female criminals sounds so much worse than having lunchroom duty in a junior high school. And that's bad.) The commissary "on grounds" supposedly has so many more items to eat, drink and wear. And, if rumors are true, inmates actually receive their own razor, so all that unwanted hair can finally be removed in a natural fashion.

Life in intake and reception is so awful that everyone looks forward to being shipped somewhere else. When the officer unlocks a cell door and says the name of the woman actually getting to leave this place, screams of delight are the general response by that woman. When the officer moves past a room without stopping, screams of... well, whatever the opposite of delight is are heard. Soon there is yelling and shouting throughout the cellblock because everyone wants to know who the lucky women are who get to leave.

On the second Monday I was here my roommate "Casey the candy thief" was shipped, and Elaine took her place. On the fourth Monday I was in intake, my excitement was growing as the officer headed toward our cell. He unlocked our door! YES! My turn! I was so sure I was lucky enough to be getting out of here. But, wait. Damn. He said Elaine's name, not mine. What? I've been here longer. The officer told her she had five minutes to "pack out." I congratulated her, and went back to bed.

Elaine packed all her stuff in her pillowcase and went off with the other 20 girls who would also be leaving. They go to another building, stand in line to be given the brightest, eye-straining, neon-colored jumpsuits (so they can be spotted from space if they try to escape?) to be worn the rest of Monday and on the shipment bus on Tuesday. Their belongings are all packed into a trunk, which will be the only place they can keep their possessions at their destination prison. Elaine came back with a tiny bag with soap, a toothbrush, and toothpaste to get her through until Tuesday, and wearing a neon-colored jumpsuit that was SO bright we shut off the lights to see if it actually glowed in the dark.

All inmates know they will eventually be moved somewhere else, so you would think they would be happy for the ones who are leaving, knowing they will eventually get their turn. Oh, wait. This is prison. When it is lunchtime on Mondays, we all finally get to leave our cells, and see the lucky ladies dressed to be shipped the next day. Instead of being happy for others, jealousy seems to be the main emotion shown by the 80 or so who were not chosen to leave. Arguments break out. "You Bitch! You're leaving and you just got here two weeks ago." Or, "Bitch, I got here before you, I'm filing a grievance." Groups of women stare at the lucky "shippees" in the chow hall, certainly producing some anxiety in many of the lucky ones. I notice that the women in the neon jumpsuits try to be as quiet and inconspicuous as possible. I also notice that security is much tighter in the cellblock and dining hall on Mondays.

Well, I guess I'll have to spend all week hoping that next week is my week to leave.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Getting the most out of chow hall

Most women in prison try to follow the rules. That's a bit different from when I was in "County" where there were frequent arguments and women trying to get around every rule, simply to show off their power. In the state prison women who don't follow the rules get written up and lose privileges for breaking the rules. Not to say that County officers went easy on us, they just knew it was a very temporary place for most inmates.

There are rules for meals in prison. Line up silently, walk in pairs, enter the chow hall when allowed, line up along the wall, take the tray of food given to you, and sit on the seat at a table for 40 (20 on each side) in the order you entered the building. We get about 15 minutes to eat, then each table is called in the same order in which we were seated.

On some days, there is a "white shirt" officer in the chow hall, and all the other corrections officers (who wear blue shirts) are on their best behavior trying to prove how good they are at their jobs. I learned that a "white shirt" officer has a higher ranking than our daily corrections officers.

When "white shirts" are in the chow hall, you can bet we will have body searches as we leave to assure nobody is bringing salt packets or the occasional cookie back to their cell. The officers pat us up and down, and search in our coat pockets. They don't search everyone, apparently just the suspicious looking ones.(It's prison, shouldn't everyone look suspicious? They do to me.) Once, when I had a bad cold, I had lots of folded up toilet paper in my pockets to use for my sneezing and runny nose. My pockets must have looked suspiciously full, because the officer beckoned me over for a search. First she patted me up and down. Then she put her bare hands in both my pockets and pulled out my used tissues. The sour look on her face made it clear she knew what she had just touched. "I have a bad cold, Miss, you might want to go wash your hands" I said. She threw the tissues on the floor and walked away towards the officer's washroom.

The food that we are served actually tastes okay sometimes. Fried chicken, unmoldy bread, any lunchmeat and cake are coveted items that many try to bring back to their cells. We are not always given salt and pepper, so those are traded to others who then return with them to the next meal, to use in case we do not get salt or pepper at that meal.

When white shirts are not present in the chow hall, and the few officers who have the reputation of "she's cool" are present, the inmates know they will not be searched. On those days, almost all trays are emptied of anything that can be wrapped in napkins. These items are then stuffed down pants, into bras, up sleeves, and into socks where they are brought back and enjoyed at a later time. I was surprised to hear others talking about how they would share this wrapped up and stuffed-into-underwear food with friends or roomies later. Ewww, gross! When I asked one friendly woman how she could stand eating food that's been carried that way, she told me that most women in the prison had lived on the streets and eaten out of dumpsters at some point in their lives. She stated that extra food wrapped in a napkin out of someone's pants was much better than some of the the things she had eaten in the past.

My gosh, it is true that three meals of prison food daily provides far better nourishment than many of these women had even gotten. How very sad.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Calculation Sheet!

Being naive about all things prison, I thought that a two year sentence meant two years in prison.

As a law-abiding citizen, I would read articles where a drug dealer, child abuser, or drunk driver would be sentenced to, say, 8 years in prison, and be glad that person would be held out of society for that long (believing that 8 years meant 8 years!).

As a falsely convicted inmate, I was shocked--but pleased (for myself)--that a two year sentence doesn't mean anything near two years. My fellow inmates had told me I would receive a "Calculation Sheet" which would give me my exact out date. Apparently, even though the judge's booming voice indicated that I was sentenced to "spend two years in the State's Department of Corrections" the department of corrections is way too overcrowded to actually keep people locked up for very long.

From what I understand, murderers have to do 85% of their sentence. Then why not just sentence them to that much? Instead of giving them 50 years, give them 42.5 years, and make them stay in prison 42.5 years. Or better yet, if they are given a 50 year sentence, make them stay in prison 50 years! Gee, if I wasn't where I am now, and hoping to get out as soon as possible, I'd look into these questionable "truth in sentencing" laws.

So, I received my calculation sheet today. By state law, my sentence was immediately reduced by 50% (as are all sentences except murderers'). Then, I was given my "time off for good behavior" which reduced my sentence by another 6 months. Funny how everyone gets their 6 months "time off for good behavior" within a few weeks of entering prison! How does the penal system know their behavior will be good their entire stay? When my calculation sheet showed a few more weeks off for time between conviction and sentencing added on, my total time in prison would be about five and a half months.

My emotions are torn! I am so glad my two years has magically turned into 5 1/2 months, but cannot believe that actual criminals spend nowhere near their actual sentence length given by the judge. There is something really, really wrong about this. But I think I'll wait to complain for about, oh, 5 1/2 months.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I wish I'd never noticed

You know how when you notice something for the first time you think it's uncommon, then all of a sudden you see it everywhere? It was like that after I saw my first fellow inmate with few teeth. Or is it more correct to call them inmates who are missing many teeth? (Perhaps this is another one of those is the glass half full or half empty questions.) They are everywhere, and I can't help but notice them. Okay, I'll admit it. I can't help but stare. Often the remaining tooth or few teeth are badly discolored, broken or misshappen.

They kind of remind me of a bad car accident. You know when these women open their mouths you are going to see something gross and unpleasant. But, like driving past a car accident, you look anyways because you are so intrigued that you can't help but stare.

Starting up a conversation with a stranger about her missing teeth is very difficult to do. But I just had to know how they ended up like this. Most women in prison are missing at least a few teeth (and I'm not just talking about pulled wisdom teeth here-- a large proportion of women have big gaps in their mouths where teeth should be).

Since missing teeth are clearly the norm, women did not seem uncomfortable talking about them. Many said that they never went to the dentist unless they had a toothache. Their dentists simply pulled the rotten tooth, and the women could not afford to have it replaced with a crown or partial denture. Many said they could never afford going to a dentist at all, but did brush their teeth regularly. Apparently, just brushing wasn't enough to save their teeth.

Being the naive middle aged woman that I am, when the first person gave me the answer of "drugs" when I asked about their missing teeth I thought they were kidding. My roommate started pointing out women with "meth mouth" whose teeth were not only missing, but those they had were discolored and broken. She was fairly adept at correctly guessing a woman's primary drug of habit by the state of their teeth. Apparently, many drugs, and especially meth, eat away at teeth. Plus, I guess if you are "trippin" for weeks at a time brushing and flossing twice a day is not a priority. My roommate told me that the other inmates can tell I am not "one of them" and do not use drugs because my teeth are nice.

Gosh, you can't learn this kind of stuff in school. I am gaining knowledge that I didn't imagine even existed before! I don't know how useful it will be when I get out, but I have a feeling I will be taking greater notice of the quality (and quantity) of my friends', neighbors', and coworkers' teeth from now on.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

More Tattoos than Teeth

Since arriving in prison I've been surprised at the number of compliments on my teeth that have been given to me by other inmates. I've never thought of my teeth as a special feature of mine. Sure, I get regular dental care and don't mind smiling for photos, but I'd never be mistaken for those models in toothpaste commercials who have perfect teeth.

Generally throughout my life, whenever I receive a compliment I return it by showing appreciation, and by attempting to return the compliment. I think my mother taught me that long ago and it has stuck with me my entire life. Since all women wear the same clothing in prison there is nothing to compliment there. So I usually compliment the other person's tattoo. The majority of women in prison have a tattoo. Or two or three. Or eight or ten. I had never seen a tattoo on anyone's neck until I came to prison. They look so painful. And I am in the minority by not having a neck tattoo. Heck, in this place you'd think I was from a completely different planet by having no tattoos at all.

Clearly, I am in the lowest percentile when it comes to the number of tattoos worn by the women in prison. Apparently, though, having a full set of teeth qualifies me to be in the highest percentile in that category. I first noticed this in chow hall when I realized that the woman sitting across from me had only one tooth! All of a sudden I started noticing that many women had numerous teeth missing. I know I'm naive, but how is it that an entire group of women have so many missing teeth? How do they chew? Eat? Speak correctly? Not to mention the effect on their appearance. An adult mouth with only one or two teeth is, well, quite an aberration!

As an adult, I had always joked with my mother (who raised three small children as a single parent in a blue-class working neighborhood after my father died) that she needed to move out of that neighborhood at the point in which her neighbors had "more tattoos than teeth." The neighborhood in which I had grown up was changing, but I thought my "more tattoos than teeth" label was clearly a joke, and there weren't actually people that fit that description. Little did I know that someday I, myself, would actually live in a world where more tattoos than teeth was the norm.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Week 5: Chow Hall

The building where "meals" are served is a little distance from the building where the intake prisoners are held. Okay, it's 758 steps (give or take a few) from the door of our building to the door of chow hall. I got bored one day and counted. At least it is 758 steps outside to chow hall, and 758 steps back. (Unless it's raining and there are thousands of worms on the small sidewalk, which is a story in itself.) With the minimal time we are allotted out of our cells, I have learned to appreciate the fresh air, sight of trees, clouds, and birds, and, especially, the sight of sunsets or stars at night. Occasionally, we are walking to or from chow hall when the church bells are ringing on the hour. I wonder if everyone else here recognizes how precious and incredible the beautiful sights and sounds of life are, and how much we are missing when they are limited to us by the penal system.

We are expected to walk in complete silence, partnered in twos, from our building to the chow hall. There is always an officer walking us to and from anywhere we go. I feel sorry for him, because expecting over 100 women to walk silently and in pairs is pretty much an impossible task.

The young girls who call themselves "the ghetto girls" (but don't anyone else DARE call them that) cut in line when the guard is not looking so they can all walk together. They like to rap, sing, and dance during the walk to chow hall, and know which officers will allow them to do so. Given how white, how suburban, and how much older I am than them, they joke that they will "turn me ghetto" before my stay here is over. I think I've mastered the head bob and and hand twirl, but, for the life of me, haven't figured out the coordination involved in the "Stanky Leg."

We never know what special surprise awaits us at the Chow Hall for lunch or dinner. (Breakfast is pretty standard and the same each day of the week.) This prison surely gets a discount on soy products. Soy hamburgers, soy chicken patties, shredded soy pork, soy turkey, and soy hot dogs or sausages are the major staples of our diet. Gross. Along with the soy main dish, we have at least one soggy, overcooked and tasteless vegetable, a few leaves of iceberg lettuce, and some type of bread product. Okay, it's just wheat bread, but the various amounts and patterns of mold on it gives it that suspensful, momentary "gee, are we getting something different today?" hopefulness.

Dessert is definitely the crowd pleaser in the chow hall. Sure, jello and pudding are served frequently, but many days we get cake. And cake days are good days. Big, 4x4 inch squares of all flavors of cake, with thick, creamy frosting on top. Trades and deals are constant. I often give away any cake that is not chocolate, simply because I hear women talk about the dozens of pounds they've gained in the small time they've been here. When you spend 90% of your time laying in bed, and your primary nutrition is commissary junk food and the lunch and dinner cake, the pounds do add up quickly.

There is a certain strategy about sharing your food with others in the Chow Hall. You don't want one person to claim you as their extra food source and make you feel you owe them some food daily. You also don't want to look like you are refusing to share, and return your tray to the garbage line with a preferable food item still on it. My strategy? I offer all of my desserts to those suburban blond "sorority" type girls. My cell neighbor asked me why I did this. Was I wanting to join in their crowd? Gosh, no. Those women are young, blond, skinny and look good even in prison. They are everything I wish I was. No, I don't want to get in with their crowd, I want to fatten them up! Then they'll be everything I am!
Others joined in the campaign to FEED THE BLONDS, and those girls were soon complaining that their clothes were getting too tight, and, oh my goodness, they needed to get a larger size when we got clean clothes on shower days.

Yes, entertainment is so minimal around here, I have to invent my own.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Week 4: This is definitely NOT Mr. Rogers' neighborhood

Prison is depressing. Intake and Reception is supposed to be a very temporary stop between county jail and one of the state's prisons where an inmate will be housed on ground with the general prison population. However, with such overcrowding in the prisons, women aren't staying only a few weeks here. Some are staying over three months before there is room at their final prison destination. We are stuck in our little cells about 90 percent of each day. Only out to walk back and forth to chow hall, to get our three showers a week, and for our twice a week recreation time. At least I now have a roommate who helps pass the time more quickly.

Since I'm stuck in my cell most of the time I don't get to see many other inmates. But I do get to hear the yelling that goes back and forth between cells, and have developed some idea of the personalities of others by hearing these conversations.

Across from me is Meesha. Meesha stands in her doorway every night talking in a very loud voice through the window grate in her door. She's usually at it until at least 2AM. I can't understand everything she's saying, but what I do understand is all about drugs, drug dealing, and the raw deal she got out of being arrested. Again. The thing with Meesha is that I never hear anyone respond back to her! She repeats the same things over and over, and she isn't even talking to anyone! Now that's bizarre, but I don't dare tell her to shush because she, like everyone else here, scares me.

A girl named Dorez lives far down the hall from me. I've never seen her yet and have no idea who she is, but it's clear she's very popular and very funny. She has many friends calling her name at all hours (I call them the Dorez groupies) and joking with her. At night there is usually at least 15 minutes of Dorez and her groupies yelling "I love you" and "I love you MORE" and "No, I love YOU MORE" to each other. Usually just as I've finally dozed off. Yes, you can hear everything in here.

Then, there is the inmate who I call the "Loud Sneezer." She sneezes louder and more often than anyone I've ever heard, and her sneezes echo through the cellblock. There is another group of women that I could call the "loud sneezer groupies," but they're probably more aptly known as the "bitch-cover-your-effing-mouth-bitch" group who respond to the loud sneezer's loud sneezes.

Of course, there is the sorority girl group--the skinny young blonds who talk and laugh and swear all night long. They are clearly from the suburbs and think they are entitled to privileges even here in prison.

Finally, there are two girls who live 5 cells from each other: "Cash" and "Peppah." I thought her name was Pepper until I saw "Peppah" tattooed on her arm. This is prison. I guess that makes sense here. Every night around midnight they strike up a "conversation" that goes something like this:
Cash: "Hey, Peppah"
Peppah: "yeah?"
Cash: "fuck you"
Peppah: "no, fuck you!"
Cash: " Fuck You"
Peppah: "Fuck YOU"
Cash: "FUCK YOU"
Peppah: "FUCK YOU!"
Cash: "FUCK YOU!!"
Peppah: "FUCK YOU!!!"
Cash: "FUCK YOU!!!!"
Peppah: "FUCK YOU!!!!!"
Cash: "a'ight"
Peppah: "a'ight"
Both: "g'night"

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Week 4: New roommate teaches me stuff I never knew about before

My 2nd roommate in Intake and Reception, Elaine, is a riot. And a crack addict. She knows everything about the drug culture in her area. She also knows how to tell a good story. Ohhhhh My Goodness, the stories she tells! Drug deals, good drugs, bad drug reactions, drug related murders where she knew the victims and the murderers. Also, many descriptions of the lengths people will go to to "pay" for their crack when they don't actually have money (icky, icky) and stories of days she cannot remember due to drugs. Her broken wrist was drug related. She thinks. But has no memory of how she broke it. I had to ask her at one point if she had any friends or acquaintances NOT on drugs. Her answer: "Only my mother and grandkids." She's ten years younger than me, and already has eight grandchildren.

I've never known anybody highly involved in the drug culture, so I really learned all kinds of information about a lifestyle I never knew about before. Elaine had such a positive outlook and pleasant attitude that I guess I never expected of a drug addict. I mentioned that to her, and, surprisingly, she described herself as a nasty, intolerable bitch when on drugs, and told me I wouldn't like her at all. She said her personality changes because of her constant need for crack and singular focus on obtaining it. Wow.

She had been locked up for several months now without crack, but said she had never been able to avoid it even after months incarcerated without it. I really hope I had some effect on her future by frequently pointing out what a pleasant, enjoyable personality she has, and how much I enjoy having her as a roommate. Comments such as that did seem to affect her positively, and she seemed to understand that she is a much more likeable person without drugs. But, she said she is too entrenched in that culture, and crack is too addicting in every way possible, that she knows she will go back to it as soon as she gets released. Such a shame.

Surprisingly, Elaine described the people who make and sell crack as "scum" and "low-lifes." While I certainly agree with her, I asked her how that opinion fits in with her need for these people in order to maintain her crack habit. She implied that those addicted to crack couldn't help it, but the "low-lifes" who sell the crack do have a choice in their actions. I've never been sure how much I believe the "addiction is an illness" theory, but I'll follow my #1 rule of survival in prison-- never disagree or argue with an inmate. So I just nodded my head and said "hmmm."

Elaine was just plain fun to have as a roommate. When not listening to her drug stories, we liked to joke around. One of our favorite things to do (since we are both middle-age-ish) was to call the officers "son" since they were so much younger than us. They didn't know what to make of that, so they never gave us any trouble at all. We also encouraged the night officers to sing. Well, the ones with good voices. We would write down the words to songs and pass them under our door to the officers as they walked by. One night we had something close to a Rolling Stones concert going on when the officer started singing and many women joined in from their cells. Not surprisingly, none of the officers agreed to sing Elvis' Jailhouse Rock.

Even though Elaine and I have no decent singing voices whatsoever, I wrote my husband and asked him to send me the words to many songs that we wanted to sing. Elaine and I sang everything from Johnny Cash's Folsum Prison Blues to Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart to Dr. Hook's Cover of the Rolling Stone. We also sang bizarre songs from our youth, including "Knock Three Times on the Ceiling if you Want Me," "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," and "I've got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates, You've Got a Brand New Key." Our cell neighbors thought we had somehow gotten high and were enjoying ourselves a little too much.

From then on, when things got a little too boring, we'd burst out singing a paraphrased version of Johnny Cash:
"I'm stuck in this here prison, and time keeps draggin' on."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Week 4: My New Roommate

Prisons are way too overcrowded so it didn't take long for them to put someone new in my room as soon as my first roommate left. Casey the candy thief had only been gone a few hours when an officer unlocked the cell door and a woman walked in with her bag of possessions. She stood in the doorway and looked at me sitting in the bottom bunk, and announced that she has a bottom bunk order because she has a broken wrist. Well, I told her that I have a bottom bunk order, too (because of my age--being older does have its benefits here). I wasn't about to give up my bottom bunk. And the new roommate looked a little rough and tough. And scary. A middle-aged biker chick with a mullet. But then again, everyone in prison looks scary to me.

The new roommate said her name was Elaine. She stood in the doorway staring at me for a few minutes. I assumed she was waiting for me to move out of the bottom bunk and let her have it. I finally told her that I needed the bottom bunk, and maybe she could hurry and ask the officer to put her in a room where she could also have a bottom bunk. She calmly said she would stay with me, and she'd be fine with the top bunk. She didn't seem upset at all (bottom bunks are high priority here in prison).

It didn't take long for me to realize that my first impression of Elaine was completely wrong. She was quite personable, easy-going, and seemed to always be in a positive mood. Elaine and I became quite good friends, and I actually had fun during the time she was my roommate!

A few days after Elaine arrived I asked her why she didn't ask for another room when she found out she couldn't have the bottom bunk. She actually said that after spending just a few minutes with me she knew I couldn't really be a criminal, and she'd rather have the top bunk in a room with me than take the chance of getting a bad roommate! I felt somewhat pleased and flattered by that statement, especially given that this was Elaine's sixth incarceration, and any compliments she gave were based on years of knowledge and experience!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sanitary Pads make great Swiffers!

Women--no matter where they may be--can be very creative.

While we are in this Intake and Reception building (before we are moved "on-grounds" to our final destination prison) we have very few choices of things to buy on our Commissary list. We can get personal items such as deodorant, shampoo, soap, conditioner, hair grease, oral hygiene necessities, paper, pens and envelopes, and up to six each of candy bars, chips, and soda. No razors, tweezers, make-up, extra clothing, hats, gloves, or any items of comfort. Our families are allowed to send us only letters, books, and magazines.

With no razors or tweezers there's an awful lot of body hair growth. Unibrows, upper lip and chin stubble are not uncommon. There is absolutely nothing sharp anywhere to use for hair removal, but there are several women who have become hair removal artists! Believe it or not, their hair removal product is a simple piece of string. During recreation time these hair removal artists are busy with "clients" the entire hour. They tie the ends of the string to make a big circle, then twirl it around three times and hold it in their first three fingers. Using the right finger movements they are able to sculpt eyebrows, remove facial hair, and 'shave' legs.

One girl named Babycakes is an expert at string hair removal, and is paid well for her work. Giving anyone any of your possessions earns you a major ticket for "Trafficking and Trading." Babycakes charges an envelope/Write Out for eyebrows, and an envelope plus candy or chips for upper lip or chin hair. This may be prison, but she says nobody has ever cheated her out of her payment. In spite of the constant vigilance of the guards, she also has never been caught collecting her "pay."

Another necessity that most women miss is make-up. No problem. They moisten an M&M in their color choice, and rub that across their eyelids for eye shadow. It actually lasts a long time! Blue is the most popular color, and I order M&Ms because I know I can trade my blue ones for something good. Some women prefer the bright yellow and orange "eye shadow." I can only imagine how they make themselves up in the real world. Pencils and pens are used for eyeliner. Dampen a red colored part of a cheap magazine and you have lipgloss and blush. The concrete between the bricks is used to file nails.

We get to clean our rooms on Saturdays-- if the officer on duty feels like taking the time to walk room to room with the spray bottles of bleach, sanitizer, and the broom. Actually, the bootcamp inmates carry the cleaning materials from room to room, but the officer has to walk along so nobody is given any extra bleach or sanitizer. We don't have paper towels or rags to clean with, and are supposed to use toilet tissue to wipe off the sprayed surfaces. That's where sanitary pads come in handy. They are great to clean floors, walls, and other surfaces with. Kind of like Swiffers, the cleaning product. And, in spite of the rules, the bootcamp girls are willing to give a few extra sprays of bleach onto as many pads as we want so we can wipe down and disinfect surfaces more than once a week. And the best part is that most of the officers are male, and never argue when an inmate says she needs another bag of sanitary pads.

My prison legacy? I realized that the metal edges of the bunk beds rust to the point where there are some sharp parts. I always wear straight bangs to cover my wrinkled forehead, and was worried when they grew too long. When I discovered the sharp, rusty bed edges, I dragged my bangs back and forth across them. I was able to cut them that way! My bangs were now short again. When others noticed, I told them how to do it, and haircuts became possible.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day 21: I feel like a kid in a candy store

OH---GAG! SLAP ME! TATTOO 'POLLYANNA' ON MY FOREHEAD. Dress me in a white twirly pinafore.

I just wrote that title to this entry--"I feel like a kid in a candy store," and can't believe there is still a smidge of "the glass is half full" left in me. This is prison for goodness sakes and comparing it to a candy store simply verifies blossoming psychosis. Until I scribbled that down I thought I had lost any optimism left in me. THIS IS PRISON AND IT SUCKS! (Or as a previous occupant of my room had scribbled on the wall "THIS SHIT SUCK.") Yeah, I could change the title, but maybe I need to leave it there, as another example that my brain is still able to process positive feelings, and that I CAN GET THROUGH THIS. Yeah, right.

Candy stores are colorful, exciting, intoxicating and cheerful. Prison is dreadful, scary, shameful and intimidating. And it sucks.

But we had commissary yesterday, and I did buy myself candy and soda and junk food and treated myself to things I haven't had in weeks. My wonderful husband has put a decent amount of money in my prison "fund account" and I was able to purchase M&M's, Doritos, Root Beer and Snicker's Bars. Also, deodorant (what? they actually allow you to feel like a human being in here?) shampoo, conditioner, writing paper and two pens! I also broke my rule about never sending mail from prison to my kids. I bought five "Write Outs," the name for envelopes with stamps printed on them.

Oh, my roommate was "shipped" to her final destination prison today. Remember I told you she said she was a thief? Well, I was at recreation when shipment left today. I got back to my room and Casey was gone. And so was all my candy.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Day 20: What's that sound?

So much has been taken away from me over the last few weeks (job, family, friends, TV, my cell phone, and much more). It seems like every hour I become aware of one more thing I miss terribly.

It is easy to notice the absence of tangible objects. I don't have a lot of 'stuff' anymore. The loss of various intangibles is either quite obvious or not as apparent. Privacy is intangible, and its absence was overwhelmingly apparent from day one. Horribly apparent. Today I became aware that I have been missing one of life's most essential intangible components, but it has taken me almost a month to realize it's been gone.

Noise on cell wing C is a constant. The walls are made of concrete, but the doors have metal mesh grates in them so we residents can hear announcements that the officers make. Well, I guess the purpose of the grate is to hear announcements, but most of the time we hear the officers yelling and swearing and threatening to take away another privilege. Also, due to the air vents we can hear voices from the adjacent rooms fairly clearly.

Tonight, I heard sounds from the room next door. The two women were talking. And something else. It actually took me awhile to realize that the other sound I was hearing from next door was the sound of laughter. Not just a few giggles, but enthusiastic, unrestrained laughter. The sound of joy. The sound of happiness.

The realization that, in this horrible place, joy, humor and even fun are all possible brought a huge smile to my face. I had not heard laughter in weeks, and hadn't even noticed it missing. And that is so odd since laughing is one of my favorite things to do.

There isn't a lot to do in prison, but I've just put LAUGH at the top of my daily to-do list.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day 19: moving day

Cell door opens, officer looks inside, says "pack out, you're both moving to C wing."

I throw my few possessions into a plastic bag and am ready to move within five minutes. If only "real" moves from house to house were that easy.

Never having been outside of the intake wing I was a little excited to see what the other wings looked like. Hmmmmm. Surprise, surprise. They are exactly the same as the intake wing. Same everything. But a new roommate. She introduced herself as Casey, said the bottom bunk was hers, said she is ready to kill someone because she's been in the same room for 12 weeks-- 12 WEEKS?-- and said "I'm a thief." Now how in the world am I supposed to respond to that?

Casey is about half my age, obsessed with her looks, and had scribbled her fiance's name on the walls, bed frame, window sill and door. She said she was planning her wedding from prison, and would be getting married as soon as she got out. But she didn't know when that would be. Given all the stories people tell in prison, I wondered if any of what she said was true. I was soon to find out that the "I'm a thief" part was very true, but never did actually confirm the fiance or wedding parts.

Casey spent the majority of her time combing her hair, scrunching it up with a combination of gel, conditioner and vaseline that she offered to lend me ("no thanks but that's so sweet of you to offer") and applying makeup (some days her blue pen as eyeliner, some days her black pen). She made sure she displayed cleavage (very hard to do in prison clothes) whenever her favorite male officers were working.

At least Casey was nice enough to tell me about the schedule there on C wing. Wake-up call at 4:30AM, Breakfast at 5AM, Lunch at 10AM, Dinner at 4PM. The best part was that the "chow hall" was in a different building so I'd finally get a few moments of fresh air and sunshine! (You don't miss it until it's taken away from you.) Showers on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (and check your dignity at the door ladies-- these are group showers). A fresh set of prison clothes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Recreation on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 8 until 9. (YES! I was seriously going to get to exercise?) AND the best of all, Commissary on Thursdays. Casey gave me an extra commissary slip and asked me how much money I had in my account, and would I buy her some candy? Please?

Casey also explained that for "count" time, the officers turned the lights on full blast at 7AM, 3PM, 9PM and 3AM and made sure we were awake at each of those times. Prisons apparently like to have high electric bills and sleepy inmates.

Tonight will be the 19th night in a row that I will 'sleep' with a towel over my eyes to block out the light. The definition of sleep has changed dramatically since coming to prison.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day 18: possessions

I'll admit it. I love to shop. I love to have things. I love to have new things. That hobby of mine has sure been stifled in prison. I'm wearing clothes that are beyond hand-me-down status, eating off trays that have been filled and emptied hundreds (thousands maybe?) of times, and eating with a spork that has been in more mouths than I care to imagine. Who knows how many people have slept on this mattress, pillow, and sheets? Don't even remind me that the prison population has probably not had the best lifetime health care. (My roommate is the perfect example, although I think half her illnesses are imaginary.)

For some silly reason I liked having my drinking cup as my primary possession while in the county jail. I can live like a monk, void of material goods, for, oh, maybe a week or so. But this is getting ridiculous. We are not allowed to be sent any of our own possessions. I've been wondering about what kind of "stuff" I'm allowed to have here, but there's no Prison 101 course where they explain things like that to you.

So I was thrilled today when I got a letter from my husband. I had been able to call home a few times on the phones from county jail. Here in prison there are no phone privileges. My wonderful husband had called and spoken with many people at the prison to learn the answers to so many questions that both he and I have had. (While the officers treat us like crap, non-inmates are welcome to call, speak to anyone-- including the warden-- and are actually treated nicely!) His letter said that I was currently detained in the "intake and reception" building of the state's department of corrections, that I would remain in solitary confinement (with my roommate) until I was medically cleared, then be moved to another wing of that same building. They told him that after a few weeks in the medically cleared wing the state would decide where I would go to serve the remainder of my sentence. And, no. Nobody believed him when he told them I am innocent.

My husband's letter also told me he could send me letters and books, but nothing else. He'd already ordered several puzzle books that I should get soon! I love doing puzzles, but wondered how I'd do them without a pencil. My husband also told me he had given my prison address out to friends and coworkers so they could write me. WHAAAAAAT? I don't want anyone to know where I am since I'm planning on being home soon. Then I will have a big party and announce the big mistake the state had made and we'd all have a big laugh.

Perhaps good luck does come in bunches. Soon after I received my husband's letter, there was a knock on the cell door. It was the prison chaplain asking if we'd like any Christian reading material or prayers. I got a Bible and several daily prayer books, while my roommate got some Christian fiction novels. The chaplain said individual prayers for both of us, and I sat holding my new possessions-my husband's letter, my new Bible and my prayer books. I was so happy with my new 'stuff,' that I felt like I had won the lottery. The reality that a person's perception of their emotional and personal wealth depends upon their present situation hit me like a ton of bricks. But why did I have to come to prison to discover that fact?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Day 17: prison nicknames

Still stuck in this awful cell, sleeping on the top bunk, listening to my bunky's life story. Again. Oddly, it keeps changing. First, she said she has only been addicted to medicinal drugs, then her story changed and she talked about use of meth and cocaine. Then back to swearing she's never used "illegal" drugs. She made me promise that I'd never tell anyone she has stolen doctors' DEA numbers, that she's beaten her husband, and that she has an STD. Then I hear her tell others in the shower all those things and more. Why would you tell other women in the shower that you have a sexually transmitted disease?

The walls are somewhat thin, and with the windows open we can have some degree of conversation between rooms. My next cell neighbor decided we all needed prison nicknames. YES! My nicknames in school were always brown-nose and teacher's pet, and while raising my kids I was "mom" to the whole neighborhood. So here I thought was my opportunity to get some really bad-ass nickname. Maybe "Spike" or "Stomper"! Maybe "Slash" or "Smasher"! After the neighbor gave out the nicknames of "ice blood," "T-Bone" and "Miss Vicious" it was my turn. I suggested a few that I thought might make me appear tough and mean (this is prison, after all) but they were turned down. One girl suggested "French Vanilla" (because of my pale skin). Not exactly a nickname to make anyone tremble. Another suggested Ro-Ro, but apparently, there was already a Ro-Ro in the cellblock. Another suggested Rosie, and another suggested Zee. Huh? But those are my names! Finally, Ro-Z was settled on. Oh great, I ended up with my own name as my nickname. I'm as boring in prison as I was before I got there.

Days 15 & 16: adjusting to boredom

You know how when you have so many things to do you wish there were more than 24 hours in a day? Well, apparently in prison there's at least 30. Maybe even 40 hours a day. With absolutely nothing to do. Time drags by so slowly. I am now in the intake area of the "reception" prison. Inmates in this area are confined to their rooms 24 hours a day, with the exception of meal times, when the guards go from cell to cell, unlocking each door with a key, and allow one of the roommates to walk 20 feet to pick up the two trays for our room. We get about 15 minutes to eat, then they unlock the cells again, and one of us gets to return the trays. My bunky and I take turns getting each meal, so we both get a bit of exercise. A very tiny bit of exercise.

Wearing pajamas to bed is much better than county jail where we wore the exact same clothing 24 hours a day for three or four days in a row. The only problem now is that we are woken up for breakfast at 4:30 AM, and have to be in full uniform in order to walk down the hall to pick up the trays. And NO throwing clothes over the pajamas. If they spot our pajama collar peeking out from under our uniform we get no breakfast.

The officer guarding our wing sits at a desk at the end of the hall. We have no interaction with him at all except when he unlocks and locks our doors for meals. So I have gotten to know Cindy (my bunky) very well, since she talks constantly about herself. She was not kidding when she told me that she cries a lot, also. Cindy has some real health issues. And some unreal ones. According to her, every bone, organ and cell in her body has something wrong with it. I happened to ask her why she is in prison. Through her many tears she stated that she has to take so many medications for her health problems (and those "f***ing doctors" won't give her all the ones she needs) that she had to "borrow" prescription pads, and "borrow" doctors' DEA numbers, in order to write and obtain her own prescriptions. She saw nothing wrong with that since, according to her, they were medical needs.

Cindy was shocked and actually offended that the police arrested her for her medical needs. Oh, and something else. She said she also beat her husband and son regularly and had had orders of protection against her many times. Gee, doesn't she think that's a reason for arrest, too? She cried a lot because she was sure she was going to die from her health issues at any moment. At first I reassured her that she was going to be fine. Then (oh, Lord, please forgive me) boredom got the best of me. I started agreeing with her assessment of her health, agreeing with her that she looked pale, then she looked flushed. She'd complain it was too cold, and I'd say I thought the room was warm. She thought she looked all swollen and that her hair was falling out. "Gosh, I think you're right" I'd say. She was very worried that her STD would cause her to get cancer. I just nodded and said I'd heard that, too. Normally I'm never mean like that, but the utter boredom of having nothing to do but listen to her complaints really got to me.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

DAY 14 continued: PRISON

Oddly, even though the PRISON is barely 30 miles from our county jail, the officers took a very circuitous route to get us there. Apparently they have to do this in case someone tries to stop the van and help us escape. I haven't even mentioned that, while in the van, we are required to wear highly conspicuous, distinct neon colored jump suits. And handcuffs and shackles. I've seen a lot of Clint Eastwood and Nicholas Cage escape-from-jail movies, but those did not even give a clue that the government wants you to look as distinctly noticeable as Big Bird in case you happen to somehow escape and start running down the highway during the trip.

Eventually we reached the 20 foot high fences of the prison, all covered with razor wire. I saw multiple buildings that looked like they were at least a hundred years old. And a graveyard. Yikes. We were "greeted" by a female officer who couldn't be nastier. She told us we smell, we're fat, and we better be afraid. We went from room to room to be given clothes and materials, and also to be checked by a doctor, dentist, psychologist, and drug counselor. Though I told each one of my innocence, nobody believed me. Apparently they hear that from others often. But I AM telling the truth, why don't they believe me?

After gathering one shirt, one pair of pants, three pairs of socks and underwear, a coat, a funky pair of black velcro shoes, and an actual pair of pajamas, we were lead to our rooms. I couldn't believe how tiny the rooms are. One set of bunk beds, one chair, a toilet/sink combination and six shelves hanging along the wall opposite the bed. There was less than two feet of room between the bed and the shelves. But wait! The room has a window, and it actually opens! Fresh air feels so good, no matter how chilly it is outside. I can see trees and clouds! The little things. I have to learn to be grateful for the little things.

My roommate had gotten to the room before me. She weighs about 300 lbs, and had already claimed the bottom bunk. Top bunks frighten me, but the flimsy looking bunk beds made me glad I was not on the bottom, in danger of being crushed. I introduced myself to my new "bunky" (apparently, even at my age, everyone is expected to call their roommate "bunky"). She rattled off her life story in ten minutes, including the fact that she cries all the time, is suicidal, and has an STD.

I cried myself to sleep that night. I so want to go home.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Day 14: "Strictly Dickly?" or "Gay for the Stay?"

At 8:30 AM I heard a message for me over the intercom. It said to pack out, I'm moving. I knew my attorney had told me I was going to DOC (Department of Corrections, A.K.A. PRISON) but some women had been waiting for months to be shipped. That's what they called us-a 'shipment.' And I had just ordered stuff from Commissary. That figures. Each prison has its own commissary, so I would not get what I ordered from jail, and would have to wait until I had money in my new prison account to order anything.

There were four of us leaving jail and being shipped that day to prison. We had five minutes to pack out. It didn't take long since we were only allowed to bring our Bibles and any legal mail with us. News spreads fast in jail, and very quickly everyone knew who was leaving. I received many hugs, "God Bless," and wishes for good luck in the future. I was surprised at all the hugs since no touching is allowed in jail. I asked one of the officers why hugs are allowed when leaving. His answer seemed to indicate his realization that you cannot stop women from hugging as a way of greeting or saying goodbye. Again, in spite of this being jail and being surrounded by criminals, the positive side of humanity was able to shine through. Even Moniqua gave me a thumbs-up through her cell door window.

The four of us leaving knew we were headed for the woman's reception and classification prison about an hour away. That is the place where all the women condemned to prison are originally sent until it is determined which state women's penitentiary they will end up at to do their time. Of course, I KNEW that at the last minute the mistake of my conviction would be discovered and I would be sent home. Nope, it didn't happen again today. How long can I maintain hope?

After what seemed like a dozen strip searches (what were they expecting us to do, steal their precious orange cheese?) the four of us were handcuffed together and seated in a large van. I was scared to death. Surprisingly, the other three girls acted like we were headed on vacation or somewhere pleasant. They sang, told jokes, flirted with the officers in the van, and had trouble sitting still they were so excited. As much as I hated jail, I could not imagine prison could be a place to be excited for. I guess, to some degree, it was the fact that we were actually out of our cells and in a van, the radio was playing, and we could see the familiar world of our county passing by out the windows.

The other three women in the van all had knowledge and familiarity with all of the illegal drugs you can imagine (and the variety of places they can be hidden), so I was completely left out of most of the conversation. Besides drugs, the rest of their conversation consisted of how to resist sexual advances made by other inmates. They made it sound like this would be a constant concern for all of them. All I could think of was thank goodness I'm older. I hadn't had an advance made by a man in many years (other than by my husband of 25 years), so I was sure no woman would be interested!

One girl said that when any woman made an advance toward her she would tell them she is "strictly dickly." She said it had worked for her the last time she was in prison ("last time?" She is only 21 years old!). Another woman said that, even though she has a man and two kids, she might become "gay for the stay" this time in prison. She said having a "wife" in prison made life a lot easier there her last time. I'm usually not at a loss for words, but fear and shock prevented me from asking any questions about this delicate subject at all. Somehow I knew I would eventually find out the ugly truth about this aspect of women's prison society, but I had far too many other things to worry about at that moment.

Day 13: Commissary

I SO do not want to be in jail. I've told my family to make sure they don't tell anyone where I am. I wake up every morning KNOWING that this is the day the court realizes the mistake and lets me go home. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet. I am allowed to make phone calls daily if we have time out of our cells. I call home at every chance, and beg my husband to get me home.

I refuse to write letters with the envelopes that can be purchased at the Commissary because the return address is stamped on it as being a letter from someone in jail. There's NO WAY my children will ever receive a letter from their mother with a jail return address. Actually, I have refused so far to order anything from the commissary. They sell candy, lemonade mix, cookies, other foods, and personal products. We aren't allowed to have our families send us anything other than letters. I feel proud that my drinking cup is my only real possession, and if monks can live with only the basics, so can I. Besides, in my mind, I can't plan to be here permanently since I will be going home any day now. Right?

Oh, hell, who am I kidding.

I finally broke down and put in an order for commissary. It takes three or four days for the products to be delivered. My roommate has been kind enough to lend me shampoo, but I decided I'd better order my own, seeing how I am still here and haven't gone home yet. I also ordered numerous packs of peanut butter crackers since I am unable to eat the 'food' they serve. And some candy. And cookies. And crackers. My reasoning? Even though I will only be here temporarily--VERY temporarily since I'm sure my husband and attorney will get me out soon, I may as well enjoy the 'finer' things of life while here. (See, that's sarcasm. Companies only donate their expired and old and dried-up products to a jail's commissary.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Day 12: Who runs this place?

Each day in jail we have at least 8 different officers rotating through shifts as our guards. There is also an Emergency Response Team that can be called in at a moment's notice for an emergency. I haven't seen too many fights where the Emergency Team has been called in, but they sure look scary, wearing helmets, bullet-proof vests, steel-toed boots, and carrying clubs and Mace. All of the Officers and the Emergency Response Team have a highly extensive vocabulary of curse words that they utilize quite frequently, and usually at an ear-piercing volume. They mean business!

I suspect that these people (the officers and the Emergency Response Team) think that they are running the jail. After all, they wear official uniforms, carry weapons, and get a paycheck for the many hours they spend in the jail. Little do they know that it's the prisoners who really run the place. To us, it's pretty clear who is in charge.

A 19 year old girl named Moniqua is the loudest, filthy-mouthed bully of all 80 inmates. In spite of her age she runs the place due to her anger, threatening demeanor, and ability to both bully maliciously and beg sweetly, both of which she has perfected. She has a posse-- a group of girls who hang out with her, probably more so that they aren't the target of her anger than because they actually like her. Moniqua's posse knows that the rest of the group will support them if they get into any arguments or fights with others.

Moniqua's power is also present in the preferential treatment she receives from the guards. Any inmate who treated others the way she does would end up in segregation. Somehow, the guards tend to overlook her behavior. Moniqua stands in her doorway all day swearing, pounding on the door, and gesturing at others. She bullies others into giving her their food. When it is 'count' time, however, she sweetly greets whichever guard is starting their shift. When the guards aren't looking, she is angrily harassing her next target. I would feel very sorry for the roommate who has to live in the same cell with her, except that roommate is in jail for shaking her own baby to the point of severe brain damage. I hope she rots in prison for the rest of her life.

I have several theories as to why Moniqua receives preferential treatment from the guards. First, a higher percentage of women in the jail are African American, which results in a higher percentage of African American women being punished or put into segregation. I've been told that there have been complaints of racial bias in the past, and wonder if the guards have decided to make Moniqua (who is African American) their example of a lack of racial bias. Another theory of her preferential treatment is Moniqua's ability to turn on the charm, and get whatever she wants. She is often let out of her cell to spend hours in the middle of the night watching TV in the Day Room. Some assume she is a 'snitch,' but won't suggest that to anyone as they fear Moniqua's posse will come after them.

The inmate food workers also receive preferential treatment-- from the guards because the guards often order them to do menial tasks, then reward them by allowing them to eat leftovers. Also, from the inmates in order to, hopefully, get a decent tray of food, some hot water for coffee, or an extra bag of chips.

Some inmates receive special alone time in the shower (either by herself or also with a 'friend') while their friends stand outside the shower letting others know they cannot go in there.

Gwinny (the girl from the holding cell) uses her power to control what gets watched on TV when we are out of our cells. She also gets preferential seating near the TV. I've seen new girls try to watch what they want, and the threatening look they get from Gwinny, and the looks of fear from all the girls around her make it clear that Gwinny controls what is watched on TV. (I never knew Maury was on so many times each day...ugh.)

Finally, there are several young, sweet first-time inmates who cry often and are obviously scared to death. While they do not attempt to run the place, they receive motherly treatment from many of us to make sure they eat regularly, they have someone to talk to when needed, and to try to keep their spirits up. As a matter of fact, there is always someone available to try to cheer up anyone when they are sad. Amazingly, in a place as depressing as jail, the basic human emotion of empathy and helping others is present to a surprisingly strong degree.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Day 11: "Bitch" is the New Punctuation Mark

I'll admit I'm naive. Sheltered from bad things in life.  Living in a respectable neighborhood.  Working at a job where curse words are rarely heard.  And now I'm thrown into a world where I hear the word "bitch" at least ten times a minute.

In jail all sentences begin with the word 'bitch.'
In jail all sentences end with the word 'bitch.'

"Bitch, gimme your bread, bitch."
"Bitch, wanna play cards, bitch?"
"Bitch, what'd you say, bitch?"
"Bitch, you feeling better today, bitch?"

I hear the word "bitch" and I naturally think someone is angry. I assume they dislike the person they are talking to and are calling them an objectionable word. In jail that is not necessarily true. The definition of "bitch" is completely different in jail. Sometimes "bitch" is derogatory. Sometimes it is an affectionate term. Often, it is a nickname shared between two close friends. Most of the time, it is the punctuation that ends a sentence.

I have to admit that I can't figure it out. Usually, a person's tone of voice, facial expression, or some other body language gives away their meaning. But the only time in jail that I can judge the speaker's intent is when it is beyond obvious that she is extremely angry at someone. Usually then, 'bitch' is accompanied by physical gestures and the words "M****r F****r."

Now that I think of it, "M****r F****r" is another word (words?) used to an extreme degree. And that phrase isn't always used as vulgar cursing either.

Yes, life in the bizarro world of jail continues.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Day 10: Why ever would someone come BACK to jail?

There are women here who are highly "experienced" at being in jail. My first roommate has been to jail eight (or is it nine?) times. The woman with the filthy mouth who I was shackled to on my way to court yesterday has been to jail four times (and she has four kids, including a 6 month old baby!). It is always obvious which women have been here before because they know all the answers to all the questions and are familiar with all the day-to-day procedures.

I heard some fascinating stories when talking to these repeat visitors. Each and every one of their stays in jail was related to drugs. Not that all of them were there for possession, selling or manufacturing. Their crime may have been theft, prostitution, or carjacking, but the ultimate reason for their crime was to get money for their drug habit (or a car to drive into the city to buy their drug of choice).

Many of the women who were "repeat customers" had some very interesting things to say that made me wonder if their jail experiences were not unpleasant. If anything, some made it sound like coming to jail is a positive factor in their lives. My eight-or-nine-times-in-jail roommate said she likes to catch up on her sleep while in jail, and get on a regular day/night wake/sleep schedule. Apparently her drug habit makes that impossible. Another woman told me that jail is the only place where she gets three meals a day. While nobody described it as their "secure" environment, it is obvious that jail is the only place where they have regular rules, structure, and known expectations. The most bizarre suggestion some women made was that they get to spend time with their friends, and make new friends while in jail. What? Jail as a social experience?

Unfortunately, I will have plenty of time to listen to the stories of fellow inmates. I have no desire to be here, but apparently some women's experiences in jail are meaningful to them. Yikes.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Day 9: Oops, his "Manland" fell out of his shorts

Today my attorney presented a motion in court trying to reduce my sentence. Several women and men also had hearings back in the courtroom. I was shackled to two woman who also had court dates. We were driven to court in a van that had a separation down the middle-- one side for men, one for women. In spite of the metal wall between the two sides, I've never heard such disgusting language in my life. Even though the men and women could not see each other, their discussions were all sexual in nature. Graphically sexual. I'm no prude, but I had no desire to hear what could have been the sound track to an x-rated film while I was on my way to court.

My attorney tried to present his motion, but somehow, neither the judge nor the prosecutors had received copies of it. While copies were made and they looked them over, I had the opportunity to talk to my attorney. I'm always open to new knowledge, but what he told me shocked me. He explained that 'jail' and 'prison' are not the same thing, and that the judge had sentenced me to PRISON, not jail! I always thought those two words were synonymous. No. Apparently jail is run by counties. Being sent there doesn't really stain that "permanent record" that everyone is concerned about since childhood, and people in jail are not as "bad," or as "criminal," or as "deviant" as people who are sent to prison.

WHAAAAAAAAAAT? But I'm not bad, criminal, or deviant. I haven't even broken the law. Ever! I wait for the WALK sign before crossing the street. I have never used any kind of drug. I have never stolen anything. I have never driven after drinking. I water my lawn only during the hours the city says I can. I purchase lawn waste stickers to pay to discard my grass and tree clippings and weeds. I've been to jail a little over a week now, and it is truly a scary, dehumanizing place. I think my attorney was trying to explain that prison is even scarier, more dehumanizing, and clearly leaves a major stain on a person's permanent record.

I remember reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter where an adulteress had to wear a bright letter A on her clothing as punishment. I've certainly never committed adultery, but I feel like I will be forever scarred with a Scarlett F (for felony) branded somewhere on my body.

Well, court today did not go so well. Even though my attorney had written a very long "brief" (isn't that truly an oxymoron?) and the judge and prosecutor 'pretended' to read it over, the judge clearly had no intention of shortening my sentence. He even stated that my sentence is six months shorter than he COULD have given me. I guess I was supposed to kiss his ass in thanks for that favor.

Well, court was depressing. Wearing shackles and a prison uniform while my husband was in the court audience was even more depressing. Tripping while trying to walk in shackles brought a big laugh from the prosecutor. However, my trip to court was not a complete loss. I got to hear other cases while waiting for mine to be heard. One man, who apparently has been accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with an adult woman insisted he was innocent. He explained that, on the day in question, he happened to be wearing an old pair of really short jogging shorts. And, Ooops! his "Manland" happened to fall out and touch the woman's "Womanland."
Everyone except the judge burst out laughing in unison. Laughing hysterically. We were all laughing so much that the judge ordered the courtroom clear of everyone except those involved in Mr.Manland's case. My only regret is I never got to find out if his "Escaped Manland" defense was successful.

So, court did not turn out at all helpful for me, but at least I got a good laugh.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Day 8: They call this food?

The jail must get a good discount on orange cheese. Gloppy, gooey, liquid-turned-coagulated orange cheese.

Every morning at 5:30AM I hear a loud, rhythmic Clack Clack Clack Clack as our plastic trays are spread out on the tables in the Day Room.  A small bowl of semi hot cereal (oatmeal? grits? I never know) is dropped onto each tray.  The plastic hitting plastic continues the clacking noise.  Next, a small piece of bread-like food is placed into another section of the tray.  Sometimes, it is a slice of day-old bread.  Mostly, it's half of a nearly mummified bagel. Once it was a Krispy Kreme donut. A fresh one!  Must have been a holiday or something.

I peel off the outer solidly-crusty part of the bread to eat whatever few soft bites are inside.  Then there is always the cheese.  A spoonful of what was recently liquidy orange cheese is poured into another section.  By the time all the trays are set up and each section of each tier is called to get a tray and bring it back to our cell, the cheese is a chilled blob, solidly stuck to the tray. One day we got a hard boiled egg (and the cheese, of course).

We are supposed to be silent while lined up to pick up our trays and bring them back to our cells. On the day of the boiled egg there were secret deals, trades, and hidden signals and messages--all done in complete silence.  Those that wanted more than one egg got silent deals completed with those who did not want their egg at all.  It's pretty amazing how quickly a group of women who never met before develop and learn a new "language" of facial expressions, hand movements, glances and nods to communicate constantly, even when no speaking is allowed.

Lunch is served at 10:30AM.  Same arrangement.  The clacking and clattering sounds begin as trays are spread out on the tables in the Day Room.  Lunch and dinner always have hot food.  The question is, what exactly is it?  I feel like somebody walked along a cheap buffet table and  mixed together a small scoop of about 10 assorted foods.  Then covered it with liquid orange cheese. A jail stew. Or perhaps it should be called miscellaneous goulash.  I usually spot rice as one of the ingredients.  An occasional green vegetable is present.  Some chopped up pieces of overcooked meat, too. Oh, and always long, slimy pieces of some vegetable that look exactly like leeches sitting atop the mess.  All in all, the concoction probably would not have been so bad if it weren't for the orange cheese spread all over it. Lunch always has Mexican spices mixed in.

Dinner is the exact same slop as lunch, without the Mexican flavoring and with a few more pieces of meat.  and two packets of salt! And, yes, of course, covered with liquid orange cheese. Dinner provides for a lot more trading and deals to be made.  Every other day we get to actually sit in the Day Room to eat dinner, so trades and deals are made constantly.  Dinner also includes a bag of chips and a dessert-like object, such as a donut or a cookie. Sometimes, we actually get a banana!  I had already lost 12 lbs in the first week there because the smell and taste of the food made me frequently sick. (I've thought of writing a Jail Diet book, but some people actually did enjoy the food.)
At dinner time I am able to trade my chips, salt packets, meat pieces and cookies for bananas on the days we have them. Some nights I can eat four bananas.  The worst part of the trading aspect of dinner is that, once you make a trade with someone, that person seems to feel you owe them a trade every meal. I'm proud to say that another social skill I've perfected in jail is how to say no to food-bullies.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Week One: My new Roommate

It became apparent that there is never an empty cell in the county jail where I have been locked up.  There are 40 women on each tier, and each is quickly replaced when one leaves.  Women are locked up two to a room, and all the segregation rooms are filled, whether with actually segregated women, or with the overflow. Many women stay only a few days because their family pays their bond and they are let out.   I'm not sure how bond amounts are set, but I do know that the armed robbers, aggravated batterers, and drug dealers have much higher bonds than "lesser" crimes.

My roommate in F32, Miss Jones, is actually five years older than me.  Probably the oldest woman in the jail. She is always called Miss Jones out of respect for her mature status.  She is never referred to by her first name.  In some ways this was comforting to me, to know that there was some degree of social courtesy even in  a jail setting. Miss Jones told me that she had been arrested for stealing  clothes for her five grandchildren who she is responsible for caring for.  She described a level of poverty in her family that I have been fortunate to never have had to experience.  I don't condone any criminal activity whatsoever, but in a hierarchy of crimes, stealing clothing for your grandchildren because they've outgrown last year's clothes comes nowhere near armed robbery, child abuse, and selling drugs to kids.

I got to know Miss Jones well from being locked up with her for over 20 hours on most days. She told me  that she had been in the county jail for 45 days before I got there. And here I thought a week so far seemed like an eternity.  Miss Jones was still months away from her trial, and could have gone home on bond/bail anytime.  Her bail was set at $2000 dollars.  Coming from a professional, middle class background myself, it was so hard for me to imagine that someone could not somehow come up with $2000 to bond out of jail.  She had remained locked up in a tiny room, away from her family, because she is poor. Drug dealers and attempted murderers were out on the streets because their families happen to have money. The system clearly favors individuals who are more privileged economically.  I'm all for locking up the "bad guys," but something about the fact that alleged murderers can bond out and be out on the streets again within days, while poor people who commit a crime because of their financial situation are forced to stay locked up because of socioeconomic status, just seems so sad to me.

Miss Jones and her family and friends had been gradually saving money for her bond.  On the day I became her roommate she only needed $300 more dollars to get out and care for her grandchildren again.  I seriously considered having my husband give her that money, as well as gathering my own children's old clothing to help her out in that way.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Week One: Meeting my New Peer Group

This first week has been so difficult. So incredibly difficult.    How do people survive jail?  How do normal, sane people survive this?  I can spot a normal, sane person a mile away, and there actually are a few here in jail. Not to say all the others are not sane or normal, but "unique" is probably a good, politically correct way to describe them.

Every other evening from 7PM until 10PM we have "time out."  "Time out" in jail means time out of our cells.  It's required because we are locked up for so long in such a small space that time out of that space is necessary for our sanity.  "Time out" time is required by the jail rule book, probably as a result of a lawsuit or uprising from years ago when offenders  (they refer to us as "offenders") were locked up 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Just because it's in the rule book doesn't mean we get it-- the officers find reasons several times a week to tell us we lost the "privilege" of time out.

  During time out time half the women (one day the 40 from the upper tier, the next day the 40 from the lower tier) are allowed to spend time in the Day Room. The Day Room is the large area between the tiers of cells and the Officers' area.  It's where we line up and walk through to pick up our meals, sit at tables when allowed to eat out of our cells, and walk through to exchange our clothing for clean prison clothes twice a week. During time out time, five round tables are set up, chairs, games, and decks of cards are available, the four usable phones are turned on, and one of the two TVs is turned on.

On the evenings we have time out I play Scrabble with Tricia, the woman in the cell next to me. She seems quite intelligent and is fun to play games with.  We have some pleasant conversation, but it's always tricky to know what to talk about.  "So, what crime are you in here for?" just isn't my typical way to strike up a conversation with someone new.  So I usually ask about their kids and families.  That's always a safe topic.  At least I thought it was. When I asked Tricia, she appeared to enjoy talking about her 2 kids and 5 grandchildren.    After several evenings and conversations about her kids, I asked her about her husband. She said he was dead.  I felt embarrassed and offered my sympathy, and apologized for bringing up what was surely a sore subject for her.  "That's okay" she said. "I killed the bastard."   OH MY GOODNESS! And here I thought she was one of the fairly normal ones. I wonder why,  from that point on,  my Scrabble tiles seemed to mostly form words like "slay," "butcher," "hatchet," and "vicious." 

I guess because of my age, girls in their early 20's often sit near me and converse with me.  Several tell me it is nice to have a motherly type person there, since they really need their mother now that they are in jail.  I like to think that I provide some sense of security to them, and even some maternal advice.  Many are in jail for reasons related to drugs.  I have never used drugs, and was able to discuss with them the importance of raising their children in a drug-free environment.  I like to think that if there is a reason an innocent woman my age was thrown in jail, it was to provide some counseling to the youth, and hopefully, make a difference in some child's future life.

One girl half my age who I became good friends with, Mosie (I think we initially started talking because our names rhyme), was clearly very intelligent and had a great sense of humor.  She seemed different because she laughed frequently and conversed using a vocabulary of multisyllabic words (a highly unusual characteristic in jail). We hit it off as friends because we were able to have intelligent, amusing conversations.  She told me I reminded her of her mother, and I told her she reminded me of my daughter, who happens to be the same age as Mosie.  "Really?"  she asked.  "Is your daughter a heroin addicted armed carjacker like me?"

Holy Crap.    Did I say these women are unique?  Forget political correctness.  "Unique" doesn't even come close to describing the women I met in just the first week in jail.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Day 5: I'm really in jail

Just as my roommate "Kelly with the hands shoved down her pants" had told me, I was soon moved out of the cell where I had to listen to swearing, shrieking and screaming that could have woken the dead. The officer (they're all nameless, nobody cares if we know who they are or not)  said a cell had opened on the F (female) pod and to grab my stuff and move my ass upstairs. Twenty six years of professional employment and never had anyone told me to move my ass.  I was clearly living on a different planet than the one I had lived on for almost 50 years.

Contrary to my belief, "moving my ass" did not include hauling my mattress, "boat" and pillow upstairs,  "Idiot, why would you think that?"   the officer who told me I was moving asked me.Gee, why didn't I know that the new cell upstairs had a mattress, boat, and pillow?  Duh. Is there knowledge that 'criminals' are born with?

So I packed up my very few belongings, and was told to go to Cell F32 of Female pod . I never thought of myself as a "Mother" before, but my lack of knowledge of where CellF32 was located made it clear to the officer that I wasn't just a "Mother," but the biggest,baddest "Stupid Mother" on Earth.  As a dull, boring, shy, nearly-straight-A student from kindergarten through grad school, this label was so foreign to me that I wondered if I needed to adopt a big, bad persona just to keep myself safe in here. It struck me that I couldn't pretend to be that way no matter how hard I tried. No, I realized that I'd rather be known as "dull intellectual" than "Mother Criminal."

Day 5: Waking up in my new cell

The screaming and swearing from the cell next door lasted all night long.   Oddly, I felt some comfort in the fact that I was securely locked away in my jail cell, and that crazy person had no chance of getting into my room.

Although I had woken up many times in the middle of the night I was able to tell when morning arrived because of the light coming through the room's small window. My roommate was still sleeping. I tried not to glance in her direction often because of that hand in the pants thing she had going on. Ewwww.   I got up and looked out the window.  Not much of a view.  There was a small area of weedy grass on the ground.  At least that let me know I was on the first floor of the building.  Most of what I saw from my window was concrete wall.  A very tall, thick concrete wall.  Wait!  If I knelt down so my face was near the lowest part of the window, and twisted my neck just right, I was able to see sky!   A mixture of warm comfort (because the world was still out there) and aching sadness (also because the world was still out there) flooded through me. 

At that moment my roommate woke up and asked me what I was looking at.  I explained that I was thrilled that the cell had a view of the sky and excited that I'd be able to see clouds. In a bored voice she told me not to get too excited because this wouldn't be the cell I'd be living in.  Huh?  How did she know that?  She explained that the jail was overcrowded, that we had been put in the "Seg" area for the night, and that we would be moved when a real cell opened up. "Seg?"  "Real Cell?"  I didn't want to appear stupid, but realized I needed a copy of "Jail Vocabulary for Dummies" right about then.

Nothing in life had taught me what the social protocol was for waking up in a jail cell with a stranger, let alone a criminal stranger, so I introduced myself.  My roommate introduced herself as Kelly.  (I didn't tell her that I had been told that in the holding cell, or tell her that everyone in that cell was appalled by her odor.) Kelly stated that she wouldn't be awake much because "whenever I come to jail I get to catch up on my sleep."   SO many questions raced through my mind.  Since she had referred to "whenever" she comes to jail I asked her how often that happened.  "Oh, this is my, I think my ninth time here" she said.  OMG! I wanted to asked what she does so often to get herself arrested.  I wanted to ask what lifestyle she leads that only lets her get sleep in jail.  I wanted to ask her to please keep her hands out of her pants. But this was jail.  I tried to look cool.  So I just nodded and turned my head while she went to use the toilet. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 4

I barely slept last night.  The plastic 'mattress' was worn down to barely anything in the center, uneven in some places, and lumpy in others.  The 'pillow' couldn't even be folded over to add some depth to it.  At least the sheets and blanket provided some feeling of normalcy in a sleeping setting, and I was able to fold one of the sheets to add to my pillow.

Kind of surprisingly, the lights remained on all night.  Granted, they were dimmed a bit from their full setting, but I had no control over when they were dim, or when they were ON. There seemed to be some schedule but I hadn't figured it out yet.  The lights simply never went off. When it was time to sleep, I slept with my towel folded over my eyes. That worked to block the light, but I wondered if keeping the lights on was something I'd have to get used to.  For 2 years!  Ugh.. Oh, and I easily got used to my roommate's odor.  I think it was disguised by all the other odors present in the jail!

I probably slept no more than 30 minutes at a time that first night.  This was due to the 1) extreme fear,
2) the oddness of having a criminal sleeping three feet from me (one who had her hand down her pants most of the night) and 3) ear-piercing screeching, shrieking and swearing occurring for the entire night from the cell next door. The thought of 2 years of living in a situation where this kind of noise occurred all night long made me consider killing myself.  Separated from my friends and family, living in hell, having lost my job, reputation, and dignity, and knowing that two years does not go by quickly. What do I have to live for?

This is really happening. It's not just a bad dream.

I feel like I should be sending out those announcements that you get when people change their address:

Unfortunately,  when you move to jail you don't get any housewarming gifts.  At least not the normal kind.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 3: My Cell

I got dressed in a white t-shirt, a blue cotton prison shirt, blue cotton prison pants, socks and plastic sandals.  They called the sandals "shower shoes."  The clothing was stained, written on with markers, ripped, faded through in areas, and clearly worn by many women before me.  That part did not bother me.  The fact that I was required to wear underwear that had been worn repeatedly by complete strangers (ugh, and criminal strangers) was something that bothered me. And, what?  I only got one of each object?  One pair of underpants?  One shirt, pants and t-shirt?  One pair of socks?     

After dressing in my prison blues, I was handed a wool blanket, two sheets, a pillowcase, a small towel and a washcloth. I was also given a baggie containing a bar of soap, a small comb, a mini "shank-proof" toothbrush, and several small plastic containers of toothpaste.  And a hard plastic cup.  That was the sum total of my possessions.

I was led to the female pod of the jail.  Cell door A was opened for me.  I walked in.  The door was closed quickly, and I heard the lock latch into place. The cell contained a concrete slab about 2 feet off the floor for the bed, a stainless steel sink/toilet combo and... nothing else except a small, barred window.  Since there was already someone sleeping on the concrete slab I was not at all sure what I was expected to do.  I curled up in a corner and wrapped myself in the blanket.  The floor was concrete, but looked clean, so I made a pillow out of the sheets and pillowcase.

About an hour later the cell door opened, and an officer threw a thin plastic mattress, a plastic pillow, and a plastic boat shaped object into the room. I assumed, correctly, that this was my bed. I put the sheets and pillowcase around the mattress and pillow, laid the mattress in the boat, and tried to sleep. I wondered if I had somehow missed out on getting pajamas, but was later to discover that we were expected to wear the outfit we were given 24 hours a day.  Twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays) we would be given a new change of clothes.  For someone who had changed my underwear daily since I could dress myself, this was a nightmare.

An odd smell permeated the room.  Suddenly, the sleeping cellmate rolled over and looked up.  Oh, no.  It was Kelly, the woman who produced that very smell for the many hours we spent together in the holding cell.   I had to wear someone else's drawers AND live in an enclosed room with someone with bad body odor? Could it get any worse?

Day 3: Prison officers are nasty

The process of being processed as a convicted, sentenced 'criminal' is long and tedious.  Not to mention scary. You have  no connection with family and see nobody with a friendly or familiar face.  You get treated like dirt. Worse than dirt.  And, no, not by other convicted people, but by the individuals whose jobs it is to run the system. Being found guilty means you automatically are the equivalent of a lowlife scum, worthless outcast, reprehensible reprobate,  good-for-nothing maggot, black sheep miscreant. You no longer have anything in common with the 'professionals' that work there, and everything in common with the criminals.

How bizarre then that I had formed an odd type of a bond with the women who I spent hours with in the holding/processing cell. None of these women were ones I would have ever sought to interact with in the past. Clearly, the concept of "Group Identity" based on shared experiences overruled any other factors that would never in the past have made the eight or so of us into a cohesive group with any kind of bond that cemented our friendship.

When my name was called to finish being processed and moved to a 'real' jail cell, the other women in the cell wished me good luck, called out what appeared to be sincere statements that their prayers were with me, and expressed hope that we would see each other again when we were given our cell assignments.  Their kind words made  me feel bad that I had absolutely no desire to ever see their faces or hear their voices again.  Their words did, however, plant in me an emerging realization that these 'criminals' were people, too; people who DO have something in common with others in society. They still are human beings with emotions, compassion, and the ability and desire to interact with others.

I followed a female officer out of the holding cell (I think she was female. Nothing personal, but she was built more like a man than a woman.) Her inexplicable anger and hatred of me was apparent within the first moment that I left my cell.  She immediately screamed at me for not walking in front of her and between the taped yellow lines on the floor (sorry miss, I must not have gotten my copy of the 'walking the halls in jail' rules). I apologized and stated that I was not aware of those expectations.  "Do it again and I'm writing you up."

She led me to a room where there were shelves of clothing and personal items.  "What size are you?" she asked.  I told her I wore a size 10 pants.  Ooops, another jail mistake.  "I don't give a f*** what number size you are, are you a medium, large, or extra large?"  Hmmm.  Not exactly the response I get from the Talbots associates where I shop.  Okay, I told Officer Manly Bitch (she never told me her name,so I had to come up with something to refer to her as, right?) that I am probably a large.  She yelled again, this time telling me I had better be sure because I was going to wear whatever clothing I chose, even if they didn't fit.  Yikes, I didn't want to wear clothing that was too tight, so I went with all extra larges.  Even for underwear.  No, there was no opportunity to try different sizes to get it right.

Now for the difficult part.  I was not given a room to dress in.  Officer Manly Bitch instructed me to remove each piece of my current clothing, shake it out in front of me, then place it into the large plastic bag she was holding up.  What?  Strip naked in front of this bitch?  I did what I was told, but hurried when I began removing my underwear.  Instead of placing them oh so politely in her plastic bag I made the grievous error of tossing them quickly  into the bag, thinking that way I'd be able to dress myself again sooner.  Big, big mistake.  I thought she was going to explode.  "If you throw anything at me again you will regret it til the day you die."

At that moment  the information Tammy had told me about where she had hidden her drugs became important knowledge to possess.  I was forced to bend over to prove that I, myself, had nothing hidden in my private areas. Never having been asked this before, I can't imagine what I would have thought was going on if I hadn't just heard Tammy's story. I SO wanted to ask the officer if she found any giant faux burritos up there (a family joke) but restrained myself.

Okay, so I was strip searched, forced to stand naked in front of a manly woman, yelled at and made to feel like scum, and about to be locked into a cell.  But wait!  I finally, FINALLY, had some socks to warm my feet.  One pair only, and they looked like they had been worn by dozens of others before me, but I finally had some socks!