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

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!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Ladies in the Holding Cell

So, here I am.  Locked in a concrete holding cell, still barefoot, but at least without handcuffs. The hours drag on slowly. There are generally about eight to ten of us at a time in the cell, as women move in and out as they are processed. At almost 50 years old I am clearly the oldest woman in the room.  Having heard of the racial imbalance in the penal system I should not have been surprised to see that most of the women are African American.

It didn't take long to 'read' the social climate in the room, and recognize who was in control (an African American woman named Gwinny); who was at the bottom of the pecking order (an overweight white woman named Kelly); and what 'roles' the rest of us played.  My role was to laugh at Gwinny's stories, and make a face when others pointed out the bad smell emanating from sleeping Kelly. And still to answer everyone's questions about why I'm barefoot.

Gwinny clearly was the leader in the room, the expert on all things jail, and the one who had spent more time in a holding cell than any of the rest of us. In my world that would have made her an outcast--someone to view as an object of pity and perhaps sympathy.  But, oddly, in the holding cell her frequent times in jail and tales of her experiences gave her a high level of status. That's just too weird to think about.

Most of the women were more than willing to talk about why they were in jail.  It was apparent which girls were "first timers" like me, because we looked scared to death and said little.   Hearing the stories told by the 'repeat visitors' to jail, I had to make every effort to keep from looking shocked beyond belief and to keep my mouth shut.  Not shut in order to avoid saying something--shut to keep my jaw from hanging open.

I heard stories from the women about drug deals gone bad,  drug deals that 'worked,' prostitution activities (eww, ick), stealing, and beatings by their spouses and boyfriends and strangers. One 18 year old girl named Tammy cried and cried.  She finally revealed that this was her first arrest.  The reason--she was caught with her boyfriend's drugs. Tammy had assumed her boyfriend would admit that the drugs were his, tell the police the drugs were definitely not hers, and that she would be released.  But Tammy had heard from a friend that the boyfriend completely denied having anything to do with those drugs, and was allowing her to take the rap for them.   She was confused, depressed, and angry. I tried to comfort her (still having some faith in the truth) and suggested maybe she could prove the drugs had been in her boyfriend's possession.  "Where did they find them?" I asked her.  "Shoved up in my {@^!"  she replied.   WHAT?   WHERE? 

I suspected this would be a learning experience for me, but learning that people hid drugs in very, VERY personal body cavities was not something I EVER wanted to know about.

Luckily, instead of having to express my shock at Tammy's too vivid description of where she hid her drugs, my name was called at that moment, and I was told to come to clothing to get some socks.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day 2: Processed as an inmate

From what I can tell, time doesn't mean a whole lot in jail.

At all hours of the day someone is being arrested, convicted, sentenced, transported,  locked up, bailed out,  handcuffed, shackled, or processed. AND SWORN AT. I heard more curse words during the several hours during which I was 'processed' than all the bad language I've heard in the past year. Both men and women offenders are processed in the same area, and it is LOUD in there. I hear the swearing coming from more men than women, but it seems to be about equally divided between the criminals and the officers. That seems so strange to me. These officers actually get paid for a job where they are allowed to use that kind of language to demean other human beings?                         

This world is SO unfamiliar to me.

Even though a corrections officer came to get me from my initial holding cell and told me it was 5AM, it  really could have been any time of the day or night.  There are no clocks in sight and no outside windows since I am now deep inside the courthouse/jail complex.    He handcuffed me, and, still barefoot, led me through the labyrinth of halls that snaked through the various areas where offenders are processed.  I was interviewed by numerous bored, impatient employees of the jail.  I was asked questions about my physical health, medications, any drug usage, thoughts of suicide, next of kin (WHAT?),  any gang affiliation, sexual preferences (did they really pluralize preferences?) and physical agility.  Physical agility?  Did they seriously just ask me how capable I feel I am when engaged in a physical brawl?  I told them that of course I had never been in a fist fight and would hope to be protected if someone were to attack me. The officer sighed loudly, shook his head, and circled the word "weakling" on the form. 

I cried through the majority of my processing. Sobbed actually.  Yesterday morning I was a respected professional.  Just over 24 hours later I am being made to feel that I am no better than the worst scum on earth. Of course, at that moment I was photographed for the picture that was placed on my ID bracelet for the remainder of my stay in "County." Eyes swollen almost shut from crying, unkempt hair from having no opportunity for grooming since yesterday, and very puffy cheeks from taking a deep breath then exhaling just at the moment they snapped the photo. All together, the picture screamed "criminal."  Even I didn't recognize myself when the ID bracelet was secured around my wrist.  Wow.  From soccer mom to "Bad Ass" in 24 hours. 

Finally, I was led to another holding cell.  This one was different than the last.  It was around 8 feet by 10 feet in size, completely made of concrete, had a solid door with a small, unbreakable plastic window,  the same wooden benches along two walls, and contained 8 women, all being processed at the same time as me. My first prison faux pas (of many) occurred when I entered the cell, gave a general 'hello' while looking around, and stated my name.  Not that I was expecting to make new friends, but doesn't social etiquette dictate that you introduce yourself upon entering a room?  Apparently there is a major exception to this rule when the room you are entering is in jail.    "Yeah, and I be the Queen of England, Bitch" was the first reply from one of my 'roomies.'  Lots of laughter all around.  Okay, I get it.  I won't say another word.

I found a corner to sit in and stared at the floor. A while later the woman next to me asked me why  I was wearing a skirt and no shoes.  Looking around, I decided that the tale of wearing a $350.00 suit and Cole Haan pumps to court yesterday probably would not endear me to this group.  So, using the best "crazy" voice that I could muster, I mumbled something about ..."bastards took my shoes"... "suicidal".... "dangerous"... ..."you know?"   It worked!  A few acknowledged what I said while swearing and nodding!  Others glanced at me with a look of acceptance on their faces! Apparently, my words- mumbled in that manner- gained me the credibility I needed to now be "one of the girls." 

Hey, maybe survival in jail is possible!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm so Scared

I've just spent the most horrible night of my life.

The chill and complete lack of comfort in the holding cell were unpleasant, of course, but nothing compared to the uncertainty, anxiety, and panic about what will happen next.

I was forming new ideas of what jail was all about (cold, filthy, lonely) based on what I was experiencing at the moment. However, my mind was stuck on some very vivid ideas about jail that I remembered from TV, books, and movies.

I watch the Discovery Channel.

They have some frightening shows about scary people in jail.  Really, really scary people in jail. Are all jails filled with really, really scary people? I've seen stories of women in prison.  Are those wild-eyed intimidating ladies my new peer group?  I can hardly even hold my ground with an obnoxious soccer mom. How ever will I learn to live in an enclosed space with aggressive, threatening, female convicts?

I've seen The Shawshank Redemption. Will I be exposed to daily violence in jail?  Will that violence be directed toward me?  Will I have to get a tattoo? Join a gang? Eat slop? Become someone's "bitch"? (I don't even know  exactly what that means!  We just always joke about it at work and I go along just to be part of the group. Oh my gosh-- am I going to find out what it means?)

Hmmm.  I do have fond memories of watching the Andy Griffith show while growing up.  Given that I was not falsely convicted in Mayberry, North Carolina in the 60's, I am pretty sure Aunt Bee won't be showing up with a basket of hot fried chicken and biscuits anytime soon.

All I DO know is that I am now experiencing intense Fear. Dread. Anxiety. Trepidation. Distress. Consternation. Fright. Horror.  (Damn my excellent vocabulary.  Knowing so many different words for FEAR makes it seem a whole lot worse.)    My mind is also recalling an old proverb that I think says something about fear of the unknown being the worst kind of fear there is.  Whoever said that, you are 100% correct.

I am so scared I can barely remember the ID number they told me to remember.  Then how is it that  my brain easily remembers another proverb I learned long ago? Not the biblical kind of proverb, but the kind you learn when you write a book report on a famous person--that person being Marie Curie:

~Nothing in life is to be feared.  It is only to be understood.  ~

If my brain is actually trying to tell me something about survival in this environment, I guess I will have to put as much effort as possible into trying to understand why and how and what is happening to me.  Maybe, just maybe, then I will survive this ordeal. 


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day 2: Beginning my new life as an inmate

If I had ever thought about it before, I would have assumed that the "accommodations" in jail were bad. Really bad. Of course--criminals should be punished, right? Now, having been thrown into these accommodations I get to experience them first hand. I spent the night without shoes, without pantyhose, and only wearing the skirt and short sleeve blouse I'd worn to court yesterday. Oh yeah, and without my dignity. Amazing how almost fifty years of positive self-esteem can be destroyed in a matter of hours.

My cell has a thin wooden bench along two sides of the bars. The cell itself is covered with graffiti (where did previous users get pens and markers?) gouged out areas of wood, and spaces on the floor and wall stained in colors that my mind doesn't ever want to consider where they came from. In spite of my horror and tears, I was able to recognize that Martha Stewart had clearly NEVER spent time in this cell.
I am able to doze off on the bench several times. Apparently, it had not been a busy day for sentencings, so I am the only one in the holding cell. There is complete silence around me, save for the hourly rounds of a guard who only speaks to me when I ask to use the washroom. I try hard not to use the washroom, though, since the stains, stench and filth are so disgusting. The thought of two years of filthy, rotting washrooms is far beyond what I can handle emotionally at this moment.

At around 3AM an officer brought me a meal in a brown paper bag. It consisted of a peanut butter sandwich and a frozen chunk of pineapple juice. Not the tastiest meal ever but I devoured every bit of it. (Little did I know then that it would be the best tasting food I would eat for many weeks.)

Finally at 5AM, still shoeless and chilled to the bone, an officer opened the cell door and told me to follow him. I knew I'd rather die than find out what happens next. Unfortunately, my will is no longer my own, and it struck me that I no longer have any choice in what happens to me now, or for a long, long time in the future.

Later Day 1: Jailed

Eventually, I was lead into a room where I met the first of many Corrections Officers I was to come in contact with over the course of my incarceration. She smiled and treated me very nicely. She explained that jail is not so bad, that I would be treated just as I am in daily life, and that I’d be in contact with my family soon. I wonder if having the ability to lie with a smile on your face is a requirement for the job of Corrections Officer. However, her positive words, smiling facial expressions, and calm demeanor were the last residual of humanity that I experienced for many, many months.

” the Corrections Officer told me within minutes of my sentencing.
What???? I know most women don’t wear pantyhose anymore, but Cosmo clearly says it’s okay for us, the “near 50″ crowd, to wear pantyhose. Was I violating some jailhouse fashion rule? Why were potential violations of rules of fashion the first thing that came to mind when I was told to remove my hosiery? My puzzled look must have clued the Officer into my complete misunderstanding. She explained that pantyhose is one of the easiest tools used to commit suicide by women in jail. HUHHHHH-WHAT?

My pantyhose, brand new black pumps, and expensive jacket were taken from me. Those items were put in a bag and labeled with my name. However, there was no bag in which they put my personal dignity, a far more valuable item than my clothing, but one that completely disappeared at that instant. Like magic, it was gone.The Officer assured me that my husband would be given my purse, keys and cell phone. I was then locked in a chilly, FILTHY cell, and left alone for over an hour. The tears began. They did not end for a long, long time.

I should be at work now, attending meetings, completing paperwork, returning phone calls, and chatting with my coworkers about the weather. It suddenly hit me that I was a convicted felon! I would quite possibly never work again. MY RETIREMENT PARTY WAS BEING HELD RIGHT HERE AND NOW IN THIS DISGUSTING HELLHOLE! That fake-sweet officer and I were the only ones in attendance. Realizations such as that struck me like a punch in the stomach. What was happening to me?

Day 1: Sentenced to Prison


WHAT???? How can this be happening to me? I’m a mom! I’m a wife! I have a career! I have house payments! I’m not a criminal. How can this be happening to me???? I’M HOSTING BUNCO AT MY HOUSE THIS WEEK! I have baked goods to donate to the church social! This cannot be happening! I’m INNOCENT!


Suddenly, I was grabbed from behind, and my arms were handcuffed behind my back. I yelled ‘NO’ as loudly as I could, never imagining that someone would actually think I am a criminal deserving of this treatment. I was escorted out of the courtroom, barely having time to glance at my horrified husband through my tears. I did not know then that it would be weeks before I would see him again, and months before we would be able to hug or hold hands.

I was allowed to speak briefly with my attorney in a holding cell. He looked as shocked as I felt, since he was as aware of my innocence as I was. He assured me he would do everything possible to prove my innocence. Why couldn’t he assure me that he would get me out of here immediately? A mistake had clearly been made. I assumed he knew exactly how to get innocent people out of prison. Instead of telling me how he would get me home by that evening, and back to work the next day, he informed me that I should probably give him my jewelry so it didn’t get lost or stolen by the court employees. What? I’m in here, falsely sentenced to prison, with the people around me thinking I’m a criminal, while my attorney is telling me that these people who are getting paid to imprison me MIGHT STEAL MY BELONGINGS?