Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration in Kentucky, during 2008 and 2009, in jails and in prison, and is reconstructed from my notes. Some posts are from jail and others are from prison.
I decided to share this again for Over Easy this morning, because I have had such a busy weekend, I did not have time to prepare an essay. I posted this in 2011, and it was later published in an anthology called This Side of My Struggle.
This post is from prison. I hope you enjoy it.
Frog Gravy contains graphic language.
Hannibal Mammogram: Frog Gravy 10. PeWee (pronounced Pee Wee) Valley Women’s Penitentiary near Louisville, KY, 12-10-08.
After I have breakfast with a woman who killed her husband, I am summonsed via intercom to the transportation section of the main building, for a mammogram.
I signed up for this generous offer of a health screening, because I have never had a mammogram, although I am 48-years-old and my mother has been treated for breast cancer.
The intercom announcement is sort of a surprise because we are never told ahead of time when we will be going anywhere. For example, inmates are commonly awakened at 2 AM, told to pack and shipped to Otter Creek, the privately owned prison, without any notice or forewarning. We are told that the suddenness of such shipments and transports is for security.
In the transportation room, in a booth, a female guard watches while I strip off my clothes, including my socks.
I am told to face the wall, bend over and spread my labia and ass cheeks, exposing what inmates refer to as the ‘brown eye.’
I then squat and cough.
I am self-conscious because I have taken to shaving completely my pubic hair, and in the jails inmates made great fun of this.
I feel the guard’s eyes examining my private areas, and she focuses not on the shaven area, but on the fact that I am not wearing any underwear. To me, State underwear are akin to adult diapers. She tells me that not wearing State underwear is a serious offense, a write-up, and time in the hole, and I tell her that my underwear are in the laundry, which is true, it is just that the same underwear have been in the laundry, unworn, since my arrival at the prison.
The guard then gives me a neon orange outfit to wear (prison clothing is tan Khaki for anyone curious) complete with an orange jacket.
Then she handcuffs me, in front.
She puts a lock-box over the handcuffs and locks it, so that I cannot move my hands.
She fits a locked belly-chain, twice wrapped, to the lock-box contraption. I cannot raise my arms or move my hands now, and I secretly pray that I do not experience a sudden itch.
She selects leg irons from a selection of chains and shackles hanging on the wall, and she shackles me in leg irons.
After this, she puts on a bullet-proof vest.
Over this, she dons a flack jacket.
Finally, she holsters a loaded gun, a .38 revolver, or some sort of large revolver.
I walk, tripping and stumbling on chains, to an awaiting van, where I am chain-locked to the seat and belted in.
At the hospital I am paraded by the passing public like a Hannibalistic circus freak, and then chain-locked to a bench to wait.
The guard (they hate being called guards and I keep forgetting) -The officer has ¾-inch painted acrylic nails, and as she fingers the gun with them, I try to formulate a plan for when she accidently shoots me.
I finally decide that she is more likely to shoot herself, when she calls me to walk to the appointment. “Walk this way,” she says.
“Well COME ON,” she barks. “What in the fuck do you think you are doing anyway? We don’t have all day here!”
“I can’t,” I reply.
“What the fuck…”
“I am chained to the bench and I cannot stand up. You have locked the chain to the bench. I cannot stand or walk.”
In case I would have had to pee during my Hannibal outing, the officer has a specimen cup at-the-ready to drug test for substances that may have, per chance, diffused or otherwise virgin-birthed their way into my system.
I sit in silence on the ride back to the prison because I do not initiate conversation with anyone carrying a loaded gun anymore, until she says, “I need something.”
“Yeah, a nice lunch sounds pretty good,” I say. Bet you are starved.”
“No,” she replies. “I wish I had a lot of money so that I would not have to do this job anymore.”
On arrival at the prison, I repeat the strip search and squat-and-cough inspection.
I keep telling myself, “The prison is in the mind.”