For the past month, I have been looking at the legal file from my own case, and researching how it was possible to be convicted of, among other things, a DUI, when the blood test results showed no alcohol or drugs. I have read hundreds of Court of Appeals cases, and looked up information on all topics relating to my case. The entire floor of one room is covered with stacks and boxes of papers. Sometimes, several days pass when I have not gone outside, or even looked at the news. What I have learned is shocking, even for me, and I thought I had ‘seen it all.’ When the time is right, I will write a series of essays, because I am not just talking about my case. The vast majority of people plead guilty, never dreaming, because their lawyer failed to tell them, that they would do their time in the hell of a county jail, or that the evidence was exculpatory, or that the science was junk science, or that they would have to serve a longer sentence than they were led to believe.
Our country locks up more people than Stalin’s Gulag. Kentucky is one of the nation’s leaders for jailing children for status offenses, which are non-crimes like missing school. In Oklahoma, a pregnant woman went to a hospital because she was in severre pain. The staff called the police, the police searched her purse and found two pills for which she did not have a prescription; she was removed from the hospital, where she died.
One of the practices I find most appalling and offensive is locking up the mentally ill, including the elderly. ‘Harry’ was a mentally ill man who was in the jail at the same time I was. He was in a tiny isolation cell, without a book to read, a pencil and paper, or anyone to talk to. During the entire time I was there, he was denied recreation time outside his cell. We never knew who he was or why he was there, and we suspected he knew no more than we did, regarding his situation. I have shared this before, but since I believe that ‘Harry’ is so common and so heartbreaking, it is important for people to be aware of how the mentally ill are treated. I apologize in advance, because I cannot stay for very long today, as I need to get some sleep, before going downtown for an appointment.
Jail art rendered from an art card that my family sent to me. I am unable to find the name of the original artist, but I loved the card, with the frogs on the tulip.
Jail religious pamphlet, McCracken County Jail. In another pamphlet in this series is the clear statement that the pope (papacy) is the “antichrist,” and the additional statement, “That’s not to say that there aren’t some good Catholics.”
Internal fixation, right calcaneus- 10 screws and a plate. In the hole, I wrapped toilet paper strips around my ankle to fend off the arthritis from the cold. I also have a healed L-1 burst fracture; arthritis from these injuries was aggravated by constant cold and lack of activity in the jails, particularly in McCracken County Jail, where real recreation in an outside cage was a rare event.
A 52-second long Cannes Film Festival winning short about love, and illness:
Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.
Frog Gravy contains graphic language.
Inmate names are changed.
McCracken County Jail, Cell 107, Lenten season, 2008
I have learned that Catholics are disliked in a subtle, ill-defined way in this jail. Some of my family members are Catholic, and it took some, uh, doing before I received Catholic materials in this cell (my sister called the jail). Look to your left, look to your right. From reading the religious materials in the cell, I surmise that the Catholics are doomed, with the caveat ‘That’s not to say that there are not some very nice Catholics in the world,’ a statement that is roughly akin to the statement, ‘Some of my best friends are gay.’
For the sake of personal survival, I have learned to memorize a few, select, key Bible verses that explain, distill, sanitize and simplify the core mysteries of existence such as: living, dying, loving, creation, faith and parenting. If anyone asks a question about anything, I am supposed to say, “Show me where it says that in the Bible.”
To keep from flying apart at the psychiatric seams, in addition to wearing my terry cloth towel tin foil hat all the time for no clear reason, I compose music and mandalas in my head. To fend off the pain of physical deterioration, I ponder concepts.
I have a copy of the peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, that I read in secret, because another inmate “rebukes” it. She says it is “Catholic” and she “rejects” it, or rather she rejected it with the statement “Get thee behind me Satan,” which was a pretty clear message that I should keep the prayer to myself.
I study the prayer, and decide that hatred leads to injury, injury to discord, discord to doubt, doubt to despair, despair to darkness, darkness to sorrow, and sorrow to regret. And, that love leads to pardon, pardon to harmony, harmony to faith, faith to hope, hope to light, and light to joy. So, without love there is no joy.
But, love also leads to sorrow. In fact, love can lead to sorrow, darkness, despair, doubt, discord and even injury. The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy. Complacency. There is no mystery and no magic in apathy and complacency. Love, however, is powerful, and potentially destructive or even violent.
I decide that hope and imagination are connected, and that hope’s unfair close relative is doubt. I cannot describe any of the concepts in the prayer with words- all are part of me and all of us. The more I study the more I learn and the more I learn, the less I know. I decide that I could spend the rest of my life studying this prayer so that when I die, I will know nothing about what living means.
As I study the prayer, a war-like atmosphere of sick, lunatic din surrounds me, and I believe that the prayer may have been inspired by the pain and crisis of humans, who never learn anything. I wonder why humans need pain and crisis to evolve spiritually. Just when we get content, something in our body goes awry, something sad, maybe associated with aging, or actively dying while living, some ache or pain that tells us that we will never go camping again, or see the ocean again, or comfort an animal again, or make love again, or that maybe the best sunrise or the most beautiful sunset is behind us. Things will never be the same.
Regret is never having lived a single day to the fullest because we have never actually stayed in any given single real day.
Regret is knowing that my son may never see me happy.
But, regret brings realization. And realization simplifies: I do not have much, but then, I no longer want much or need much. I would rather cradle a bird than to die with fancy clothes in the closet.
If my son could see me happy, that would be enough.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
For information about a new release book titled This Side of my Struggle, that has three Frog Gravy essays in it, go here.
Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.
Frog Gravy has graphic language.
This post is not comprehensive. One could probably write an entire book on prison inventions, slang and situations, particularly if the setting is in the South, where colloquialisms are priceless.
Jail and prison terms, divided into categories and used in sentences, followed by explanations:
Pheening, jonesing, popping the socket, striker, squares, break ‘em down, smokin’ the bible, phone card, posting up, who’s on the camera
Inmate 1: Bitch. These Camel Menthol Wides. You can break ‘em down and get thirty for twenty squares, and get an extra phone card. I’m pheening for a cigarette right now.
Inmate 2: You ain’t alone. I been jonesing all day for one. Loan me your striker so we can pop the socket and get this done.
Inmate 1: While you’re rolling the bible I’ll post up and watch the hallway. Who’s on camera.?
Inmate 2. It don’t make no damn difference. Ain’t no cameras in the cell.
Two inmates crave a cigarette. They plan to remove the tobacco from a Camel Menthol ‘Wide’ cigarette and roll it into a page from the bible. They also plan to sell some of the rest of the harvested tobacco for phone time. One inmate will stand watch, because cigarettes and smoking are not allowed. A striker is a paper clip, that is placed across the prongs of the TV plug-in to create a spark so that the inmates can light the cigarette.
Conflict resolution statement
bitches got me fucked up, got me bent, skanky, clitty litter, ho, clock out, beat the breaks off her, you feel me, set her face apart
Inmate 1: These bitches got me fucked up with somebody else. Motherfuckers got me bent. Let another bitch call me a skanky clitty litter ho. I’ll clock out and beat the breaks off her. I’ll set that bitch’s face apart.
Inmate 2: I know that’s right.
Inmate 1: You feel me?
Inmate 2: Slap the taste right out that bitch’s dicksucker!
Inmate 1: Bitch ain’t got no mutherfuckin’ teeth. Taste is all she got left to slap out. I got this.
Inmate 2: Peace up. A-town down.
Inmate 1: I know that’s right.
Someone has insulted inmate 1 by commenting on her body odor and calling her a whore. Inmate 1 tells inmate 2 that the person delivering the insult must have mixed her up with somebody who will not fight back, and that if it happens again, Inmate 1 will physically beat up the offending inmate. Inmate 1 solicits agreement from Inmate 2. Inmate 2 agrees and they part ways. A-town is an endearing slang term for Atlanta, a city that some consider to be a pretty cool place. ‘Dicksucker’ is a common prison/jail slang term for mouth.
My public pretender is about as useless as a cat with side pockets .He ain’t got sense enough to pound sand down a rat hole.
Inmate comments that her court-appointed attorney is not doing any meaningful work in her case.
Inmate 1: Earlier at work in the kitchen I was sweatin’ like a whore in church, but now it’s colder than a well-digger’s ass and a banker’s heart. Can we tell the guard to put the heat on?
Inmate 2: That guard couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the directions were written on the heel.
Inmate 1: Heh. Yeah. Plus, she’s uglier than the east end of a horse headed west. She’s so ugly you’d have to hang a pork chop around her neck to get a dog to play with her.
Two inmates return to the cell from work in the kitchen and find the cell to be cold. They decide that it is unlikely that the guard, who is very unattractive, will put the heat on in the cell.
Request for transfer to another cell
off the chain, drop a note, vet, crazy slip
Inmate 1: This cell is off the chain. I’m gonna drop a note to the vet for a suicide cell.
Inmate 2: The vet won’t do nuthin.’ Better drop a crazy slip.
Inmate 1 tells Inmate 2 that she wants to transfer to an isolation suicide watch cell because of the chaotic atmosphere in the current cell. She wants to submit a request to the medical department. Inmate 2 tells Inmate 1 to submit a request to the mental health department because the medical department will ignore the request.
How to make paint and makeup in a jail that bans everything except certain types of religious materials
Joyce Meyers magazines are the most versatile for manufacturing jailhouse makeup for court appearances and for adding color to pictures that inmates draw for their families.
-Find the color you want.
-Rub a tissue onto stick deodorant, and then rub the magazine color. The ink will transfer to the tissue.
-Use less ink for subtle makeup, and more ink for pictures.
-Canteen Fireballs make cheek color when nothing else is available if you are really pale from never having recreation in the outdoor cage. Substitute red M and Ms if you do not have Fireballs.
- No-shank pen ink on a toothbrush is sometimes used for mascara.
-No-shank pen ink cut with water is sometimes used for eyeliner.
-Menstrual pads are sometimes used for earplugs, eye coverings, and for the manufacture of tampons, which are not allowed in jail.
-Toothpaste is the most versatile substance in the cell, and it is most commonly used to affix photographs to the wall.
-paper scraps and toilet paper scraps mixed with water can be used to make dice, dominoes and chess pieces.
-’Homemade’ tampons can be used (Remember: I’m just the messenger here) for hair rollers.
-Jail-issue underpants, wrapped just right, look like a do-rag.
-Elastic threads from socks make hair ties.
Ways to communicate with the cell next door
-Pick up the phone and tap on the wall. Some inmates tap codes on the wall.
-Talking under the door is common.
-Some report that you can flush the water out of the plumbing pipes, and talk through the pipes or tap on the plumbing.
-’Fish’ things back and forth by running a cable cord with something attached under the door.
Being paraded into court on a chain gang
Here in McCracken County, when you are in jail and you have a court appearance, you are handcuffed and chained to other inmates. The chain gang is paraded across the street and into the courtroom like an orange outlaw centipede, and this goes for people who have not been convicted of anything.
Once in court, you are all seated together, and the court-appointed lawyer says something like, “Your Honor, my client, Mr. He-Sure-Looks-Like-A-Guilty-Criminal is here today, on the line.” The lawyer won’t turn to face you or look you in the eye. He simply waves his thumb in your general direction. Anybody in the passing public can swing by and see what you look like, on a chain gang.
McCracken bends over backward to be insensitive about who you are chained to. A friend of mine in jail was chained up with the man who beat her toddler son to death while she was at work one day.
How to make paint in a jail that has colored pencils
-Shave some of the lead and crush it.
-Put the lead into a bottle cap with a drop of water.
-Microwave 30 seconds.
-Stir in a couple of drops of shampoo with an empty lip gloss applicator, and apply the paint with the applicator.
Spartanburg County Jail Portrait Series by David Blackwell under creative commons on flickr.
Nokes: What do you want?
John: What I’ve always wanted. To watch you die.
Father Bobby: [about sermons, before the boys are sentenced] This is one of my favorites.
Young Lorenzo ‘Shakes’ Carcaterra: What is?
Father Bobby: “Whatever you do to the least of brethren, you do to me”.
above two quotes are from Sleepers, by Lorenzo Carcaterra
This bird-killing-and-enjoying-it guard is bespectacled and boyish looking. He was probably bullied. So now he’s just getting a little action himself, although in a chickenshit way, because we are inmates. Behind razor wire, we must restrain ourselves from delivering a good ass-ramming to the guards, and he knows this, and so, he walks around the ball field with that stupid grin and Nazi mindset, figuring out how he can bolster his own weakness by picking on defenseless people. He does this full time.
It is three o’clock in the morning, and a couple of female inmates next door, as well as Meg, in this cell, are on the floor, on their bellies, taunting and tormenting Harry, who is mentally ill and housed at the end of the hallway in an isolation cell. They shout, at maximum volume, “HAAAAAAARRRRREEEEEEE!!! Want some puuuuussssyy, Harrreee?!”
Harry shouts, “HELP! Somebody! Please! HELP ME! Let me out, please Helpmehelpmehelpmehelp.”
Harry’s repeated requests for help reveal, on its face, Harry’s profound lack of understanding of his own surroundings.
I am on my bunk, listening. I cannot help Harry. If I try to intervene, the bully inmates bullying will turn their rage onto me. If I do not try to intervene, they will continue to prey on Harry.
I do not intervene, and I am ashamed of myself. I do not intervene, because I am afraid that I might hurt someone.
I have never seen, nor will I ever see, during my stay in McCracken County Jail, the pathetic man we call Harry. None of us knows why he is locked up.
If the guards were to take Harry out of his cement tomb for recreation in the outside cage, we would have witnessed it, because we watch the hallway that leads directly from his cell at the end to the outside cage at the other end. We never see Harry go to rec. Christie, who had been here for seven months on my arrival had never seen him during that time either.
On my bunk, I try to think things through, although the noise is distracting. There must be thousands and thousands of Harrys locked up everywhere. Harry the person is no longer Harry the person. Harry is a bait ball in a cement cell at the end of the hallway. He is as defenseless as a child. The apex predators are hungry to hate, and they feed on Harry constantly, kicking the steel door, shouting insults every time they pass by, picking what’s left of Harry and then picking some more.
I often wonder if Harry is somebody’s father. Or son. Was he ever loved? Did Harry ever matter, to anyone? Was Harry a veteran, psychologically crippled by tours of duty? I do not know.
Why are the Harrys out there picked up, locked up, and then alternately ignored and picked on? The bullies use Harry almost exactly as they would a bar. They wander by and use him when they need him, and when they’ve had their fill, they belch, toss the glass, and move on.
There are rumors that Harry has spread feces onto the walls on the cement tomb. Perhaps this is the only thing left for Harry to do, to tell himself that he still exists.
I wonder also about Harry’s mental and physical treatment care plans. This jail has a social worker who oversees the medical needs of the mentally ill inmates. While there may be a nurse practitioner or an off-site physician signing off on the care plan and the medications, all initial requests for such must go through the social worker gatekeeper first. The sad thing is that Harrys own profound disability at the moment prevents him from filling out the initial request form on his own behalf.
This jail is not at all unique. Jails are the new ground zero for Eighth Amendment violations of the mentally ill, as I see it. Harrys are warehoused, untreated and abused everywhere.
There should be a zero-tolerance policy for inmates tormenting their fellow mentally ill inmates. If I were the jailer I would post signs everywhere: You torment Harry and you go to the hole, to sit and think about your bullying. Signed, The Jailer. But, it is not meant to be. Rather, Harry is shelved jailhouse prey and nothing more.
What will eventually happen to Harrys everywhere? On my bunk, I wonder these things.
I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.
McCracken County Jail, Spring, 2008
Christie has been denied drug court for her nonviolent drug-related charges, and issued a 24-year sentence. Her treatment denial was based on one of three counties wanting her to do time, rather than engage in the rigorous monitoring of drug court.
Drug court is not a joke, nor is it a get-out-of-jail-free card. The person must be employed, and available for drug testing on the spot, at any given time of the day or night. The person calls on the telephone, twice a day, to report to a counselor. In-court meetings are required, as are, I believe, twelve-step meetings. Drug court is time-intensive, and heavy with documentation. In order to be considered suitable for drug court, the candidate must plead guilty to her crime, and must agree to serve a lengthy sentence if, for some reason, she fails to follow the rules to the letter.
Here are ten essential components of drug court, from wiki:
The 10 Key Components
Drug Courts integrate alcohol and other drug treatment services with justice system case processing.
Using a non-adversarial approach, prosecution and defense counsel promote public safety. Participants must waive their due process rights to a speedy trial and sign a pre-emptive confession before being allowed to participate.
Eligible participants are identified early and promptly placed in the Drug Court program.
Drug Courts provide access to a continuum of alcohol, drug and other related treatment and rehabilitation services.
Abstinence is monitored by frequent alcohol and other drug testing.
A coordinated strategy governs Drug Court responses to participants compliance.
Ongoing judicial interaction with each Drug Court participant is essential.
Monitoring and evaluation measure the achievement of program goals and gauge effectiveness.
Continuing interdisciplinary education promotes effective Drug Court planning, implementation, and operations.
Forging partnerships among Drug Courts, public agencies, and community-based organizations generates local support and enhances Drug Court effectiveness.
Drug court is notable in the inmate community for what happens to inmates who relapse. They can end up serving more time than they ever possibly imagined, more time than killers, even. For this reason, some inmates who truly want to get clean and sober, but who have a tendency to slip and slide during this process, will choose to do the time instead. I have seen some spectacular drug court failures. Inmates who get served out on a sentence behind drug court failure consistently report regret.
There are also some wonderful drug court success stories. Here is the site with more information. People who successfully complete the rigors of drug court often become mentors in the recovery community.
Shortly after Christie was denied drug court, she was shipped to prison, and while I was happy that she was going to a better place than the jail, her departure broke my heart. Never in my adult life had I been close to women, but in this disaster situation, I came to love Christie (and Tina) like sisters. Later on during my incarceration, after my fake release on parole, Christie, Tina and I will spend time together in prison, at PeWee Valley KCIW.
I cried when Christie left. Such is the nature of incarceration. You exchange the most intimate details of your lives with each other and then….poof. They’re gone. After a while, you learn not to get too close to anybody. People may think that you are arrogant, but really, it is a simple matter of self-preservation.
After Christie leaves, I keep to myself and write. This morning, I did some standing-in-place exercises. Then I read Wisdom 3:1-12. For breakfast we had eggs, one slice of toast, cream of wheat, sausage and half a banana. I write everything down, inane, meaningless stuff, to keep from coming apart with grief. For lunch we had chicken, one slice of bread, corn, peaches and cole slaw.
Harry is screaming for help from his isolation cell and I am having difficulty focusing on my notes.
One time, Christie and I fashioned chess pieces out of scavenged paper scraps from the cell. We drew a chess board onto the steel table with a bar of soap, and then we played chess. That made my day.
A while after Christie departed, she wrote me. Inmates are allowed to write each other, but I have not been allowed to contact Christie since my release on parole (I asked my officer about this). I miss her, and so I have her letter, and I read it over and over, even now.
She starts with: “What the hell? How come you haven’t wrote me yet?”
I have an answer. The answer is, it is just too painful. All of this. It’s just too much.
Anyhow, I did get a kick out of her description of some of the men who responded to her trick ads:
…some interesting individuals- one in Oregon, NM, Colorado, Maine- is very interesting. He is a marathon runner. Speaks Italian and French- very smart. One from Texas. He looks like he came straight out of that movie “Revenge of the Nerds…”
In prison, Christie, Tina and I discussed Frog Gravy at length. This memoir would not exist without these two wonderful women. Disaster brought us together. Disaster taught each of us a little more about love, and how it feels to lose something that matters to you. It is probably safe but sad to say that disaster taught us each a little more about being women. And I am grateful for the lesson.
Disclaimer: I am not a physician, nor am I a mental health nurse or behavior expert. My observations are from an inmate standpoint, and my opinions are my own. I retained my observations in my notes.
I took my nursing training in upstate New York in the 80s. During that time, I did a six-week internship at a giant facility in the Finger Lakes region, that was originally named Willard Asylum for the Chronic Pauper Insane. When I was there in the 80s, Willard was known as the state mental hospital. The buildings had retained the looks, feel and lingering smell of a 50s institution, but the immense campus setting was beautiful.
During my internship, I had a patient who had been there since the fifties. Her original reason for being ‘committed’ was that she was a lesbian. Her many years in the facility then led to mental decline. I had another young male bipolar patient, whose cyclic illness prevented him from functioning, and a woman who was suffering from schizophrenia of a variety such that medications were often ineffective. I had yet another patient that I firmly believed did not belong in the institution. She was brilliant, educated and well-read. We had a good many philosophical talks that were over my head from an intellectual standpoint. One day, however, she introduced herself to me as Abraham Lincoln.
I observed some Cuckoo’s-Nest-type burnout among the staff and often had difficulty distinguishing staff from patients, but overall, the atmosphere was caring, the patients were comfortable, and the medical and emotional care and support, especially given that the hospital was a teaching facility with constant student involvement and interaction, was adequate.
Today, Willard is a prison.
What I observed during incarceration led me to conclude that this country is edging toward locking people up if they have mental issues, particularly if they are poor, and then not only playing fast and loose with the Eighth Amendment by removing medical care and emotional and family support, but in some cases torturing them. Jails, which are de facto prisons now, are home to one of the largest and most vulnerable segments of society.
In Willard I witnessed treated mental illness. In Kentucky jails and in prison, I witnessed untreated mental illness. I associate untreated mental illness with a good deal of suffering.
Here are a few of the behaviors I observed:
-The man I call Harry, who was housed in the McCracken County Jail, in an isolation cell, yelled for help all hours of the day and night. Some inmates reported that he smeared feces on the walls. We never saw Harry leave the cell for rec. Harry was pepper-sprayed in his cell.
-In both jails I witnessed inmates curl into a fetal position or wrap themselves in a sheet, and sleep for as much as twenty hours a day.
-In jail, I experienced anxiety that created chest pain, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, depression that contributed to not sleeping, occasional disconnection from reality such that I would believe that a dream had been an actual event, and an inability to focus on tasks at hand. I experienced sleep deprivation over a lengthy period, as well as a couple of incapacitating migraine headaches. Some of these issues got a bit better in prison, where I was under the care of a psychiatrist.
-Many women self-report anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts during incarceration.
-Binge eating and disproportionate focus on food and on eating is common in jail and in prison. Obesity is common.
-I was in a cell with an inmate who spoke in an indecipherable rapid volley, and who requested that other inmates burp, cover her up, and rub her legs and back “like a baby.”
-In prison, one inmate washed her hands more than one hundred times a day. When anyone got close to her, or brushed against her, she shouted obscenities and threatened physical violence.
-One woman in Fulton County, aged 36 with children, sucked her thumb almost constantly.
-One woman’s hair fell out when she was convicted and sent to prison. Doctors claim that her condition was not true alopecia, because she had eyebrows, but the same doctors also determined that she was not pulling her own hair out.
-Age-related mental decline is common among elderly inmates.
-Many inmates cannot tell you why they are locked up, or when they will be released.
-Some inmates hear voices and talk to imaginary people.
-Self-reported bipolar illness is common.
-Learning disabilities are common.
-Unprovoked angry outbursts are common.
-Since treatment is being denied or eliminated, many women openly discuss plans to re-involve themselves with alcohol or drugs upon release.
-Self-reported history of physical and sexual abuse is common among incarcerated women. Many women have lived with batterers.
The vast majority of inmates exhibiting behaviors related to their own mental state coupled with the stress of incarceration are serving time for nonviolent offenses. As far as violent offenses go among women, it is not uncommon to learn that the woman killed her batterer.
Jails and prisons resemble mental wards, at least for the women. Jails and prisons are anything but healing.
Please watch this Cannes Film Festival under-a-minute film:
In jail I had a dream that I retrieved a porcelain doll from a dumpster and sent the doll to my mother, because she loves dolls. The dream came true after my release from prison, nearly two years later. It is called a Granville House doll. Here is a photo of the doll and the accompanying certificate of authenticity (FWIW, I also sent my mother a dumpster-rescued Lladro 1993 limited edition egg in perfect condition, but I did not photograph the egg):
Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.
Inmate names are changed.
Frog Gravy contains graphic language.
McCracken County Jail, Cell 107, Spring, 2008
“There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.”
I have now been in this cement grave for 135 days, with no end in sight. My body hurts so bad from the cold and from the lack of activity that I do not know if I will ever walk right again. To me, Hell is not hot. Hell is cold. Hell is a cold, mean hateful place where people read the Bible.
I try various psychological tactics to keep from disintegrating in irreversible fashion. I try to trick myself into believing that I am in a coma, and that one day, I will emerge from it. But, this trick does not work. I then try to schedule my days just like work days, where I write for eight hours each day with two ten-minute breaks and a lunch. This works a bit better.
I came in here the world’s gentlest person. Now, I have disturbing and gruesome fantasies and thoughts. I want to be mean to some people. Not to the mentally ill or to the children or to the elderly or to the sick. Just the corrupt ones.
I want to seal them in a cement tomb and leave them there to die. But I want to torture them with light and noise and cold and lies and sleep deprivation and insults and crushing joint pain and laughter. I want to beat and pound, and pound and beat on the coffin. I want to feed them rat hairs and filth so that their teeth will rot. I want the inside of their coffin to be full of pee and semen and snot and black mold and hair and pepper spray and dirty water and feces.
God help me, God save me from these thoughts, I cannot help them. I try and try and try to escape my tomb, and I pray for help.
I keep writing, and I ask for God to help me with this. I write with no-shank pens. I water down the ink to make it last. Without ink, I believe, world commerce would collapse, social intercourse would cease, and a lot of people would get hurt.
God currently has me writing about the ‘dog men’ that Christie speaks of. These are some men she knows in town, who, among other seedy business ventures, fight pit bulls, and abuse them, and kill the ones that do not win fights. I also jot some notes about the young boys about town, who look up to and practically worship, the ‘dog men,’ and who aspire to the same entrepreneurial path(s) as them.
Leese, who has completed one poem and is working on a second, has lost her pen and she says, “Where’s my pen? I had two pens and now I don’t have a pen!”
“Did you check under your mat?” I ask.
“Yeah. And I fuckin’ cleaned my bucket.”
“Well, Leese,” says Lea, “It’s not like there’s a fucking pen thief up in here.”
Lea says, “Every time this fuckin’ pen thing comes up I’m the one ends up without a pen.”
“Why don’t we just get some pens from the guard Sally and be done with it?” I say.
Christie says, “Sally can’t remember what she’s doin’ when she walks down the hall. Took the bitch three weeks to get pens last time.”
When Leese leaves, we find the pen under her bunk.
Meg complains about Leese.
Lea confronts Meg and says, “You sure didn’t have any problem playing up to her to get tobacco. I don’t give a fuck how much tobacco comes under that door, I’m not kissing anybody’s ass for it, Meg.”
“I’m not kissing anybody’s ass for nuthin.’ I paid more for tobacco than she ever did. Bitch took the lighter after she left too, go figure.”
After Meg leaves we are all relieved, and the cell dynamic becomes more peaceful and positive. Meg will last exactly four days before her next arrest and detention, which will amount to a brief bump in the road before she is out getting her boasted-about “dick,” and getting pregnant with her tenth child, who will be born in captivity.
Even though Meg ‘ran’ the cell while she was here, we all voice concern for her after her departure.
Meg has no home. She stays in motels with a man who supports her in exchange for sex. Her twins, the youngest of nine children, at six months old, also live in a motel with another couple. Had the other couple not agreed to take the twins, they would have gone to the State. We do not know if Meg intends to ‘do right’ and regain custody of her children, but we all voice our wishes that she do so.
I look at my notes and realize the vapid nature of the conversation about pens. But then again, we have many such vacuous discussions, because, well, they are all we have, and we can control our discussions, but nothing else in our lives.
At night I dream that I am putting on some nice clothes, but even in the dream I know it’s a dream.
Author’s note: This post is not a typical Frog Gravy, because it includes observations gathered over the span of my whole incarceration experience.
I like Jizz in my pants better than I just had sex. Sorry, guys:
Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.
Inmate names are changed.
Frog Gravy contains graphic language.
What happens to sexuality in prison?
The first time I was approached for sex during incarceration was in Ricky’s World, Fulton County Detention Center.
I got up from the steel table to stretch, after an hour or so of drawing and writing. An inmate approached me and said, “Wanna pet my bald cat?”
I politely declined.
“Sure you don’t want to touch it?”
“Oh! Um, no, I mean, you know, I’m sure it’s nice and all, it’s just that I…You know, I’m married…”
“You like dick, then. Yeah, me too. I’m bisexual. I love a big, thick dick buried deep in my guts.”
What happens to sexuality in women’s prison?
Lots of things happen, and many factors are involved: the growth and development of the incarcerated individual, the length of sentence, the inmate’s background, and the inmate’s natural tendencies.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the medical specialty of sexuality. This article only contains some of the things that I observed.
Sexual contact is strictly forbidden in any jail or prison setting that I have observed. I believe that conjugal visits are a thing of the past. In both jails and in the prison I was in, sexual contact was punishable by time in the hole. KCIW PeWee Valley was the most strict about this policy. Activities such as sitting on another inmate’s bunk or entering another inmate’s room are not tolerated in prison, whereas the jails were a little more lax, possibly due to the constant sardine-like overcrowding the the jails, where physical contact was often difficult to avoid.
That said, sex acts still occur, usually between women, although there was the one strange incident in McCracken where a female inmate got pregnant in the shower stall of her own cell. This happened when staff remotely opened the door to the cell, probably so that an inmate could get a blood sugar check, and while the door was open, and a Class D male working in the hallway entered the cell.
I witnessed a sex act through two senses in Fulton, and a friend of mine in PeWee confided in me that she had been having sex in her room on a fairly consistent basis.
When a female is locked up during the peak of her sex drive, her human physiological need is not locked up; many women who do not identify themselves as lesbians prior to incarceration become what we call gay for the stay.
Gay for the stay inmates often seek an intimate, but not necessarily a sexual, partner. Such couples are common in the prison setting, where women are generally serving lengthy sentences. Members of the couple are together as much as possible, and although they may speak about sex, they maintain a relationship that is intimate, but without the sex.
There are a great number of married women in prison, who, depending on what sort of antidepressant medication they may be on, stay to themselves and occasionally engage in masturbation. Sexual reunification in a marriage following a prison term can be problematic, particularly if the inmate is incarcerated during a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ developmental stage of her life.
There are many self-described gay inmates who remain gay in prison and who seek a partner, although not necessarily a sexual partner.
There is another category of women, the ones who maintain relationships with male pen pals, or who ‘trick write (ie. They receive money in the mail),’ who develop intimate relationships with men, although from a distance. Some of these relationships become long-term, with marriages occurring either during incarceration or after release. Many of the letters contain more fantasy than reality, and the men who enjoy prison pen pal relationships are ordinary men representing a cross-section of society at large. The local grocery store manager in your community, for example, could very well be one of these men. I have never heard a horror story about a trick-writing relationship gone awry, once the inmate has left. (This information came to me while I was still incarcerated through returning inmates, relating past experiences.)
I never witnessed, nor did I ever hear about, a female inmate raping another female inmate while I was incarcerated.
While I was incarcerated there was one inappropriate nonsexual guard-inmate relationship that resulted in the guard being fired and the inmate going to the hole, and, at the private prison Otter Creek in eastern Kentucky, guard-inmate sexual abuse resulted in the closure of the prison to women, and its subsequent conversion to a men’s facility.
As you can probably already see from Frog Gravy, sex is talked about almost endlessly among inmates, probably because physical sexual satisfaction is denied. Sex talk is common, just as talk about delicious food is common. Sex in the world of women’s incarceration involves a good deal of fantasy.
The incarceration experience is brutal and lonely, and I believe that it is only natural for women to seek to alleviate feelings of loneliness through nonsexual or sexual intimacy during the stay.
Horror. In the Mouth of Madness.
“Do you read Sutter Cane?”
Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.
Frog Gravy contains graphic language.
Inmate names are changed.
McCracken County Jail Cell 107, Spring, 2008.
I am seated at the steel table, wearing my terry-cloth towel tin foil hat, watching the news. On the screen, a Kentucky courtroom custodian has been arrested with seven charges, for pissing in a judge’s chair.
“I’m really starting to like Kentucky,” I say to Sally, yanking my thumb to the screen.
“Well, fuck me straight up,” she says, shaking her head.
I have a religious pamphlet in front of me, titled Left Behind, that is a transcribed sermon. Even though I am only on page 6 of the pocket pamphlet, I know I am doomed to be left behind, but I keep on reading because I am curious about some of the people who will not be left behind but rather, ‘chosen’ and then raptured into the clouds.
For example, why will the guards who close-range pepper-spray the homeless mentally ill man we call ‘Harry’ go into the clouds, while Harry will be left behind to soak in his own urine?
Even as I read this, Harry shouts for help, from his isolation cell down the hall, “Somebody Please! HELP! Let me out!! HELPME helpmehelpmehelpmehelpme Hellllpp!!”
The bottom of page six says,
Then the clouds will roll back, and we will see Jesus coming in all His glory. Oh, that’s going to be a wonderful day and an awful day. Some people will shout for joy when they see Jesus, but according to what we’ve just read in God’s word, some people will be left behind. Daddies and mamas will be left behind. I don’t know how that’s going to be, but maybe you and the children will just be sitting down at the table. Then all of a sudden there is a shaking and a loud noise, and suddenly your children start going up, away from their chairs, out the window or out the door…
I am beginning to wonder if there is a branch of chemistry called ‘resurrection chemistry,’ or of physical chemistry called, ‘reconstitution P Chem.’ I can see the bumper sticker: Honk, if you passed P Chem of The Rapture.
I think it is interesting how some, but not all physical laws will apply. People won’t just blow through the rooftop- they will exit through appropriate, socially acceptable ways: windows and doors.
I get the gist here though, reading this. All those ‘I-was-in-prison-and-You-visited-me’ people? Fuck ‘em.
By the way, these sorts of narrow-focus religious materials are all that the jail allows us to have. This jail specifically disallows education, job training, work for women, and in some cases (like mine), treatment. Not to mention the little things, like not providing enough menstrual pads, reducing women to using floor rags. They do these things full-time while they wait around for Jesus to arrive and give them, but not us, a ride to Heaven.
We will be left behind, but since we are already ‘left behind’ anyway, that event will be redundant. I already teach Ruthie, for example, who is a Kentucky-left-behind inmate, how to count, by making dominoes out of scavenged scraps of papers in the cell.
To sum it up biblically, where weeds and wheat grow, the weeds will flourish, and these full-time jail tormentors are the weeds in your lawn. They have found the perfect job destroying and humiliating inmates, and are unburdened with things like conscience, oversight, accountability, ethics, concern or empathy. They are vultures at a freshly disemboweled roadside deer. They do their job full-time, and so, that is why I have this pamphlet in front of me in the first place.
Tina and Meg are arguing.
Tina says, “I have not done anything to make you want to treat me like a dog, but if that’s what you need to do, go ahead. But still, wash your hands.”
Meg says, “I do wash my hands.”
Tina says, “Bet you didn’t wash all those dicks you sucked before you sucked ‘em.”
“Quit it,” I say.
Out of the blue, in the pamphlet, it says on page 11,
I believe some of the best hiders in the world are the Mennonite and Amish people. But believe me, tonight Jesus knows.
Wow. Just wow. I think.
In a phone call with one of my sisters, she tells me that I should have taken a plea, because to fight things here is hopeless, because this place is just a corrupt, river town. I tell her that taking a deal would not have changed anything. Their ‘offer’ was the same as the sentence I am serving. I had no chance in this court, I tell her, because I am not from here, and worse- I am from ‘out West,’ which means west of St. Louis, no matter where it happens to be.
Jails, by the way, take the families hostage, and then rape them for money, in the form of phone cards and canteen money.
I get off the phone and Sirkka says again, “Never take anything to trial here. Everyone knows that.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I say.
In the pamphlet I get to some part where the preacher finds some rock tapes in a ‘brother’s’ car. The preacher immediately confiscates the music tapes, drops to his knees and prays over “their power.”
I put the pamphlet down, because I cannot finish reading it.
I adjust the towel on my head.
note: I still have the pamphlet, right here in my lap, and I still cannot finish it.
A first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die.
PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary, 2009
Several inmates leave the dining hall, after a meal, and begin the walk back to the dormitory.
We pass an inmate, lying in the grass yard just outside the chapel. The inmate is in the throes of a violent grand mal seizure. Another inmate is with the woman, and has turned her to her side. A circle of urine spreads in the crotch area of the seizing inmate’s khaki pants. Drool leaks out the side of her mouth.
“Seizure,” I say, to the group.
Comes the reply, “Well fuck me with an axe.”
We continue walking. So does everyone else. There is nothing that we can do for the woman, beyond what the assisting inmate is already doing.
During my stay in this prison, I have seen more grand mal seizures than I ever saw during my career as a nurse. If you have never seen such a thing, it is truly terrifying to witness. The first time I saw such a thing, in a hospital setting, I called for help and nearly called a code. It looked as if the person would die violently, right in front of me.
The seizure people are no longer terrifying, because we have become jaded from seeing so many of them. There is preventative medication available. Just not in prison, apparently.
The seizing women have lost their dignity. They are no longer wives or mothers or women. They are pants-pissing animals choking on their own drool in a prison yard while everyone walks by, careful to avoid stepping on them.
I believe that inmate women are entitled to prevention and dignity.
Seizures come in many forms, and they are a difficult health condition to accept.
Just yesterday I took an unexpected trip to the hospital. I was referred to a neurologist that I cannot afford. From what my husband had witnessed and related to the doctor, the doctor was concerned about the possibility of some sort of seizure activity in me. This is not the first time I have been told this. I was first told this following an EEG after a soccer-related head injury in the seventies.
I decided over the years to ignore the possibility of adjusting my life around some head thing. Maybe it is my age, but I must accept and make life adjustments, until I can get to that neurologist. People live with seizures. They just don’t get up onto roofs and operate machinery.
My husband and I were in the check out line at a local grocery store. One moment I was absolutely fine. The next minute, I said, “I don’t feel well.”
I sat on the nearest bench, took a couple of swallows of bottled water, and managed to screw the cap back on. Next thing I know, I am in my husband’s lap, from a seated position, and he is asking me if I can hear him. I was scared to death, but then, I felt like an asshole, because the whole thing was so transient.
Meanwhile, the spirit world was at work, and a kindred spirit named Kathy came to my side. Kathy is a nurse. She is also the published author of an inspirational book. She talked me into being seen. I will never forget Kathy, her spirit, and her kindness.
There is an entire realm of head trauma that can cause subclinical changes. I believe that we need more studies and more data on just what those changes look like, and how to deal with them.
Unfortunately, in the American prison world, even with a seizure condition as grossly apparent as the grand mal variety, there seems to be little interest in prevention.
This is sad, because the seizure people will return to the community, flat broke more often than not, with an untreated, life-altering seizure condition.
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