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.