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Letter From A Priest: Ricky’s World: Frog Gravy 60

10:38 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

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Tulips and notes, jail art

Tulips and Frog Gravy notes by CraneStation on flickr. Jail art. Notes are from Ricky’s World.

Roadrunner, Turtle,   Bluebirds, prison art

Roadrunner, Turtle, Bluebirds, “Do turtles really have eyelashes” Prison art by CraneStation on flickr.

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Fulton County Detention Center [Ricky's World], Hickman Kentucky, May 21, 2008.

I have not seen a flower since last year sometime, and so I draw a picture of tulips and send them to my family in Seattle, where there is a tulip festival every Spring.

I do not yet have any work. There are no classes. There is an outdoor cage that is less than twenty steps around. We sometimes go out there for an hour of recreation- a dozen or so inmates crowded into a tiny, filthy space. We are not allowed to use the toilet while ‘outside,’ so we often squat and urinate on top of the drain in the concrete floor.

This jail limits toilet paper allotment, to force us to buy toilet paper from commissary at an inflated price. When I run out of toilet paper, I use a prayer book that the priest gave me because the pages are tissue-thin, like the Phone Book.

A couple of other women on their periods were using floor rags, because they did not have pads, nor could they afford them; the jail sells ten menstrual pads on canteen for four dollars.

The cell I have been moved to is a tiny, six-person dank cell with no view even to the hallway. The shower is slick with black mold.Thankfully, the lighting is dimmer in this jail than it was in McCracken County Jail. Also, this jail actually turns the lights off at night. I can draw here because the jail allows colored pencils and so, this jail is an improvement over McCracken County Jail.

The women in the cell are all State inmates- we are segregated from county inmates. This segregation eliminates some of the acute mental illness and noise. However, the women are very mean. It is a level of mean that I do not understand, and have never been exposed to. Unlike McCracken County Jail, where women frequently beat the hell out of each other, the meanness here is of a female backstabbing variety, which is, to me anyway, the worst kind of mean.

Another inmate in this cell, a nurse, of all things, is mean to me because I am a nurse, and she busies herself talking behind my back nonstop, to the point that I am in tears. A guard offers to move me to a different cell. I tell her I will be okay because the woman will go home soon, but that I am not accustomed to this level of hate, and I do not know what to do.

Other inmates tell me to be mean in return, to confront and start stuff, but I am not like this. Plus, I do not want to get an assault charge, so I stay on my bunk and try to write and draw, and make up my own Sudoku puzzles, which sometimes works but usually not, because I can never fool myself into forgetting the answer grid that I made up.

Six months ago I lost a crown on a bottom incisor tooth. I told the judge and asked if I could get it fixed before starting a sentence, but he refused and ordered me to begin my sentence immediately after my trial and before ‘final sentencing.’ I have quit eating solid food and only eat a little commissary cereal and cookies. There is no dairy, or fresh fruit or fresh vegetables here because some inmates like to make hooch and so, I order a few things I can break apart. I have diarrhea, I guess from the malnutrition or the starch and grease, although I am not sure of the cause.

My husband brings me some clothes. He brings shorts and sweatpants and white t-shirts and shoes and socks. They do not issue shoes or socks here.

I sleep on a steel bunk.The television is on 20 out of 24 hours a day and sometimes more. It goes off at 4 AM and comes back on at 8 AM.

I quit attending the church services because the attendees are so hateful, and I just work one-on-one with Father Al, the priest.

I also quit attending because some of the things I have seen and heard confuse me. One of the churches (I will not name it) puts money onto inmates’ books and then takes them out back, to a horse trough to be baptized after they are saved. I have also heard that, according to the Bible, everyone who is saved will have a chip implanted underneath their skin, by the government. In order to buy groceries or get gas you will be ‘scanned,’ but only if you have been saved and house an implanted chip, can you live in society. All others will be considered to have ‘the mark of the beast,’ which means they are damned because they are sinners and so, they are condemned. Condemned to what I wonder, but I never ask, because I am already in Hell. A trip to Hell, marked with the Beast would be redundant, I think.

Although I am not Catholic, Father Al becomes my weekly counselor. He helps me to navigate the hate and the arbitrary nature of tragedy. He helps me to find and appreciate gifts in the worst of society’s places. When he is unable to visit, he writes. In July I receive a letter from Father Al. It reads:

…I have a large group of men that I visit and this keeps me busy. I have only had one opportunity to visit with you after 3 PM…

I had a man the other day who came to see me in the night. I was finishing some yard work on my day off. He has spent 14 years in the US Army, and with the fireworks of 4th he was having some real pain and wanted to go to confession. He has and will continue to have his difficulties in adjusting. The adjustment to that lack of freedom is torture for anyone…

The letter continues. I say a prayer for the man who lives with real pain, brought about by war.

Bird Lady: Frog Gravy 54

8:53 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

African Grey Parrot

Nikko, our Humane Society rescued African Grey Parrot, by Crane-Station (as masonbennu) on flickr.

Prison art

Teddy Bear, Bee, Bluebird, Snowflakes. Prison art by Crane-Station on flickr.

note: Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

KCIW PeWee Valley women’s penitentiary, 1-20-09.

The birds know me. The inmates know that the birds know me, and everyone calls me Bird Lady.

As if by unwritten rule, many prison inmates are assigned nicknames; most often the names are apt. Pickles, Bam-Bam, One-Tit, Wheels. You can sort of get an idea where the name came from, if you know the inmate. I suppose fellow inmates changed the gender of the Bird Man of Alcatraz, dropped the Alcatraz part and left it at Bird Lady. At any rate, this is my name at PeWee. Many people will never know my real name. Since I am an ‘older lady’ by prison standards, some of the inmates combine a respectful Southern greeting with the name and call me “Miss Bird Lady.”

The incarceration experience is a bit like being a passenger on a train, in that people enter and exit my life like ghosts. I will learn the most tragic and intimate details of women’s lives, and they will learn mine, but then they are gone, and I will wonder if I imagined the whole thing. The woman whose nineteen-year-old son died in a boating accident and she attended his funeral in shackles. The woman who moved during count and was taken to the hole, where she labored alone and birthed a baby son. The passing parade of women in the overcrowded jail cells, who sometimes spent years warehoused in cement. Lasting impressions. Fleeting.

Over and over I am told to ‘do the time, don’t let the time do you.’ The prison birds, who do not have to be here, help me with this.

Starlings are very smart, and when I come up the path at 5 PM every day I whistle at them. They must know my walk or something, because they come when they see me, but not other inmates. Lately it has been bitter cold. When I come up the path the birds wait on the fence for me. They wait on a stretch of fence topped with coiled razor wire that serves no purpose.

The fence is a wall within the walls of the prison. You can walk around the end of it to get to the other side. The razor wire on top of this non-barrier barrier adds to dramatic effect and reminds me that I am in prison. If the fence could talk it would say, “You are a scumbag. Haha, of course no one would ever dream of climbing over an open-ended fence. I am here to snag the occasional bird, and remind you that you are a scumbag.”

The birds on top of the purposeless yet dramatic non-fence fence say different things to me. They say, “Bitch, look. We are here to show you that you are one of God’s children, but dangit, we’re hungry. Toss us some crumbs and we’ll show you a good time.”

A mockingbird who has graduated to the top of the utility pole gets my attention when he shouts, “Ebert!! EbertEbertEbertEbertEbert. Eeeee-bert!” He launches himself into the air like one of those cliff divers, does a perfect back flip, and returns to his perch. He acts as if this day in prison is the happiest day of his life.

Acting as if. As if life is good. As if all of the world is a perch, to dive from. I have heard that if you suit up and show up for long enough and act as if, that sooner or later your attitude will change, and you will be in the heaven of possibility and not in the hell of your own making. (I heard all of this on the outside, in twelve step meetings. In here, I am unable to attend meetings.) I begin, in earnest, to look for the good in people, and examine the irony that tragic events often bring out the good in people who would likely never mix in any other setting, or at least the sense that such events are an effective leveler.

My birds help me find my own humanity, but at the same time they must eat like everyone else, and so other inmates bring cornbread crumbs and other treats to the central distribution hub: the waistband of my khaki pants.

Starlings work together in a cunning glossy flock. Crows plot and plan and also work together, although they post up separately and communicate. Sparrows are my sweet scavengers; cardinals are the royalty; mockingbirds are the clowns; bluebirds are shy; woodpeckers act like they own the pole.

None of them have to be here, and all of them contradict the message of the fence.

Worth the watch. Nature By Numbers with hat tips to Kelly Canfield and Mary McCurnin:

[cross posted at]