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.

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