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Frog Gravy: An Evening Spades Game

6:14 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Author’s note: Frog Gravy has been around for quite a while. It is a non-fiction incarceration experience in Kentucky, in jails and in prison, during 2008 and 2009. Frog Gravy is reconstructed from voluminous notes that I took, during the time I was locked up. Three of the essays are published. I will seek to publish all of it; however, there has been an unfortunate delay because during the course of a home invasion at some point, the original hand-written notes were stolen by someone unknown to me. This stalker is also an identity thief and a cyber stalker/hacker.

Frog Gravy has graphic language and the inmate names are changed.

This is a new essay. While thieves may steal my identity and everything that I have written or scribbled over the last 30 years (because they did), my sincere wish is, that the voices of the women in Frog Gravy can be read by many who are interested in this subject.

Frog Gravy: An Evening Spades Game, KCIW ‘PeWee Valley’ women’s state prison, near Louisville, sometime in 2009.

I am seated at a steel table for four in Ridgeview Dormitory, in the ‘day room,’ only it is evening. The room is packed and loud, with the television blaring, the microwaves going, the washers and dryers going. Inmates are talking on the inmate phone in succession, near our table. Since our table is near the stairwell, people are constantly walking by.

My hillbilly friend in the wheelchair, Sandy, is my Spades game partner. We are playing against Suzy and Erica. We have been dealt a mediocre hand, and we will lose. But we are having fun. And my morning did not begin with the belief that the entire world was out to fuck me over. After all, the birds greeted me and escorted me during my walk to school.

We are discussing various reasons that inmates get sent to cell block, which is the jail within the prison, and serves as a euphemism for the ‘hole.’ Erica says, “Up in Shelby they was making dildos out of rubber gloves and pads and they was getting away with it.”

I say, “Yeah but that’s jail. Rules are different everywhere you go. I’ve heard that here, you get more time in the hole for getting caught with tobacco, than just about anything, right?”

Suzy says, “You remember Amy? That white girl? She had “cocksucker” tattooed onto the inside of her lip? She went home.”

I say, “But she didn’t get that tattoo while she was here.”

Sandy says, “Fuckin’ Sheila got ninety-for-one-hundred-and-eighty twice, for fuckin’ tattoos.”

I realize that I don’t have any idea what a 90-for-180 is, and I decide that, I actually don’t want to know. On the news, there is some sort of a headline story that our country is nearly broke, or something to that effect. An inmate news-watcher and card player at the table beside us poses two questions, relating to the news story: “Where did all the money go, are they smoking crack in the White House? Can’t Obama go suck some dick, and get it back?”

Meanwhile, near the phone, two inmates are conversing, and I only catch the last of one of them saying, “…murderer. Over dope. He burnt ‘em up in their trailer.” She adds, “Did I do anything to turn you off?”

“And, you can go to the hole for cussing someone here, I’ve heard,” I say.

Alecia, the inmate with horrific OCD, pauses as she walks by our table and says, “Well. At least if I go to the hole, I’ll go to the hole with a clean pussy.”

As she is leaving, I say, “Better not. Once you get there, there is no such thing as having the water cut on all the time.”

Your internal clock gets acclimated to a prison routine, in any given setting. We are losing the spades game, and I begin to keep a closer eye on the phone, wishing for some phone time with my family. The inmate on the phone hangs up and says, “Foster care just took her kids. It’s just a misdemeanor, so her dad’ll go pick her up from jail. So I told her sister, you know what, just don’t worry about it. And she didn’t.”

“How does that all work, foster care taking the kids and all?” I ask Sandy.

“The way Kentucky works is that it doesn’t,” she says. “You can murder your parents and then get on with your life. Just don’t get caught with weed.”

“Give me one saying you learned growing up, Sandy, please? It doesn’t have to be true hillbilly, you know, just a saying.”

“Well, slap my ass and call me a whore, I’ll call you Daddy and ask for more,” offers Sandy.

“Sandy. Not all the detail, and information.”

“Oh all right: He’ll tell a lie, and the other one’ll swear to it.”

It is nearly time to leave, and go to a night class. Tory, my classmate, is waiting for me to get up and walk to class with her. She asks me, for no particular reason, as we begin our walk, “Bird Lady, what do you think your plans will be, later this summer?”

I think about how to answer the question. I do not know what my plans are. What could they be? I say, “Maybe I’ll move to Pine Bluff Dormitory. What’s Pine Bluff like?”

Tory says, “They have lives. They cook. They have dogs.”

We walk to our evening class.

Sunday Food: Freaks Share Thanksgiving Dinner

7:40 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Barn at winter by Crane-Station

jailhouse rendering of barn at winter. magazine ink, colored pencil.

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy.

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction account of women’s incarceration in Kentucky jails and prison, in 2008 and 2009, and is reconstructed from my notes. This essay is about sharing Thanksgiving dinner with inmates in prison; it is a re-post (edited some) from a couple of years ago.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Pe Wee Valley Women’s Penitentiary (KCIW) near Louisville, KY, Thanksgiving, 2008.

After my release from prison, I continued my compulsive note-taking, but since I was unemployable and could not afford to buy paper, I dove a dumpster and retrieved a spiral notebook with blank paper in it. In the side pocket was a beautiful restaurant menu composed by, I assume, a culinary student at the local college. The chef is anonymous, but I would like to hat tip him or her and say that I enjoy the imaginary dinner from time to time in my mind.

It says:

First Course

Lobster and Maryland Crab Timbals
Fresh Maine Lobster and Jumbo Lump Crabmeat
Presented in a tower with mango pearl couscous,
strands of orange zest, sprigs of fresh dill and infused lemon oil,
presented with cucumber and radish pearls, blood orange slices and fresh lobster claw

At approximately the same time the student was composing his culinary opera, I was having Thanksgiving dinner with Lexie, Olivia and Sarah, in the penitentiary, compliments of the State of Kentucky and Aramark. I have no idea what a timbal is, but let’s say for fun that we had timbals of turkey, with unsalted mashed potatoes resurrected from a storage unit in a foreign country most likely and congealed, pearled gravy.

For the strands of orange zest, I went ahead and ate the entire orange, including the peel, because I had not had a fresh piece of fruit in nearly a year.

It took us quite a while to get to the penitentiary restaurant, where we did not have reservations, because I had to push Olivia in her wheelchair, and Olivia is surprisingly heavy. Olivia is diabetic, and had a stroke while she was in jail. The jail staff claimed she was faking it, so she laid on the cement floor of the jail cell in her own drool and urine for three days before she made it to prison. But first, they shackled her and prodded her to an awaiting van, just as they did me for my Hannibal Mammogram, only Olivia, who is eighty years old, is not quite as spry as I am. She fell getting into the van and permanently injured her knee.

Olivia has little use of her right side. She cannot push her chair or bus her tray. She relies on inmates to get to and from appointments and meals, and since she is housed in the same dormitory as I am, which is Ridgeview Dormitory (the farthest dormitory from the dining hall), I will push her to this wonderful meal of thanks that we share.

Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go. Past all the inmate chit chat such as, “Oh yeah. She done got sent to cell block for mailing pussy hairs to her boyfriend,” and “…bitch just starts hittin’ me for no reason.”

La-la la la laaa. Over the river and through…

Olivia has no teeth. Her face droops from the stroke, so it’s a little hard to understand her. She is in prison for forging a prescription for a dying friend, and I ask her what medication it was, and she says, “I think it might have been some of the red pills.”

I help to push and serve Olivia, and make sure she gets her evening diabetic snack to take back to Ridgeview Dormitory. Because she is indigent and cannot afford hard candy, low blood sugar is a risk she lives with, in prison.

Back to our culinary student.

Second course

Herb and spice roasted tenderloin
Tenderloin of beef rubbed with a blend of fresh rosemary, thyme, garlic, bay leaves, shallots, orange zest, sea salt, black pepper, nutmeg and cloves, slow marinated, roasted, sliced and served over pearl onions and button mushrooms with a pan reduction sauce finished with red wine, brandy and butter. Green and white asparagus and oven roasted tomatoes; small potato ramekin with yukon potato, sweet potato and sweet onion with parmesan cheese

Good grief. It’s Whole Foods on steroids. Here in prison we are on our second course: stuffing. Stuffing and cranberry sauce are the best part of Thanksgiving, and I am truly thankful because we have both. Plus, the stuffing even has flecks. If you mix the cranberry sauce with the orange peel in your mouth, you are as good as in your childhood home, with your mother’s unrivaled cornbread stuffing, made in an iron skillet with bacon grease and oysters. I could eat a whole skillet of that, and then retire to an afternoon of walking in the woods, followed by watching college football.

Lexie is about my age, and she is mostly deaf; you have to face her directly to speak with her, so she can read your lips. She seems to have a thyroid disorder that makes the eyes protrude a bit, the name escapes me, but it adds to her overall anxious appearance. Lexie got kicked out of drug court and is serving out a ten year sentence. Her addiction of choice was gambling and not drugs, and her original charge may have been for petty theft, but I am not sure. At any rate, during her drug court days, someone spotted her on the boat. I had no idea why it would matter that she was on a boat to start with, but apparently, in this area, they have river boats that people gamble on. Someone called in their observation to the police, Lexie’s drug court was revoked, and now she is serving more time than she could have ever imagined, and that is, I think, ten years.

Lexie cries all the time, and she becomes so upset that she cannot complete Thanksgiving dinner with us. Robin, the inmate who swallowed razor blades upon admission to the prison, accompanies Lexie back to her dorm.

Sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce
An individual moist dense dried fruit pudding with a
crunchy toffee crust served with caramel sauce, macadamia
nut toffee brittle shards,
spun sugar, served with dolce de leche ice cream

You know what. This guy deserves an A, don’t you think?

Pass passion fruit, white pepper and tarragon dark chocolate truffles.

Sarah and I enjoy our desert of pumpkin squares, and I am planning Thanksgiving dinner for my birds as well, so I squirrel away some crumbs for my beautiful little bird troupes, and this will be the highlight of my Thanksgiving. Had I not come here, I would not have these birds to share thanks with. I carefully roll some crumbs into the waistband of my khaki pants. If I get caught, I’ll go to the hole for 45 days.

Sarah killed her brother-in-law in a car accident where she was driving. Her blood analysis showed just about everything but the kitchen sink. Sarah and I will become close friends in prison. She is the one whose father will commit suicide the day after Christmas, but I will not get to spend much time with her because her sentence, three years, is so brief compared to mine.

The last item on this menu is curious.

It says:

“To-go outside later at the buses.”

Over Easy: Hannibal Mammogram

3:59 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Boiling Frog

"Boiling Frog" image by Donkey Hotey on flickr

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.

I try.

“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.”


Incarcerated Women Fact Sheet

Rethinking How to Address the Growing Female Prison Population

Female incarceration takes toll on children, AGs hear at Oklahoma meeting

Over Easy: The Jailhouse Bullying of Harry

4:52 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Spartanburg County Jail Portrait Series

Spartanburg County Jail Portrait Series by David Blackwell under creative commons on flickr.

There is a healthcare crisis in the US prison system.

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.

The Jailhouse Bullying of Harry

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail, February 2008
Read the rest of this entry →

Regret: Frog Gravy 89

8:55 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

jail art

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

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.”

x-ray showing internal fixation of right calcaneus fracture

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.

Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

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.

Jail and Prison Slang, Situations and Inventions: Frog Gravy 88

10:28 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Camera’s back!!

Rose and Heart: jail art

jail art by CraneStation on flickr

Lillies: jail art

jail art by CraneStation on flickr

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.

Random colloquialisms


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.

[cross posted at]

The Jailhouse Bullying Of Harry: Frog Gravy 86

9:59 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Spartanburg County Jail Portrait Series

Spartanburg County Jail Portrait Series by David Blackwell under creative commons on flickr.

In the hallway, the homeless man in isolation screams, between obscenities, to the pepper spray SWAT team, “You’re racist!”

“I’m not precious,” says the guard, and I assume he meant to say, ‘I’m not prejudiced,’ because he says, “I don’t like nobody.”

The Hole, The Chair, And The Holding Cell: Frog Gravy 17

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail, February 2008

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. Guards have pepper sprayed Harry at close range in his cement tomb, and they have never let him out for recreation, in the time I have been here, and in the many months that Christie was here, before me. He has never passed our cell in the only hallway leading to the outside cage, for recreation.

There should be a zero-tolerance policy for inmates tormenting their fellow mentally ill inmates, and for guards abusing the mentally ill. 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.

Christie: Frog Gravy 85

10:07 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Inmate names are changed.

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.
-Mother Teresa

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.[3]

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.

[cross posted at]

The Spectrum Of Behavior In Jails And Prisons: Frog Gravy 83

5:21 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station


image by koppdelaney on flickr

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

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.

[cross posted at]

Pens: Frog Gravy 80

2:18 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

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):

Porcelain dumpster doll

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.”
Josephine Hart

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.”

“My kingdom for a pen!” I intercede.

“Fuck you, you old bitch!”

“It’s not worth arguing over. Pens.” says Christie. “Not worth it.”

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.