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

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.

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