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

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.

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