You are browsing the archive for PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary.

Over Easy: Hannibal Mammogram

4:13 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.”

Related:

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: 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.”

Related:

Incarcerated Women Fact Sheet

Rethinking How to Address the Growing Female Prison Population

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

The Card Game: Frog Gravy 36

8:30 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Rose with hymn

Rose with hymn. Jail art by Crane-Station on flickr. Magazine ink, colored pencil, pen and discarded hymnal paper.

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account set in Kentucky in 2008 and 2009, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Named are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

all Frog Gravy posts are gathered here: froggravy.wordpress.com.

KCIW, PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary near Louisville, summer, 2009.

I am seated at a table in the noisy day room of Ridgeview Dormitory, playing Spades with Sandy (drugs), Margo (pregnant, drugs) and Kathy (drugs).

Sandy is my card game partner, and she is seated across from me in a wheelchair. Sandy is 48 but looks 60, and is serving a 12-year sentence for “trafficking,” which amounts, in her case, to selling some pills on the outside. At med line, Sandy tucks her pills under her dentures, or ‘cheeks’ them, and trades them for commissary items with other inmates. She is indigent and receives no state pay for work because her disability prevents her from working. Sandy has been a frequent guest in the hole for her entrepreneurial ventures. She is a self-described proud hillbilly from Pike County, in eastern Kentucky coal country.

Margo will have her baby in captivity, and the baby will be taken and cared for by the Galilean Home, a Mennonite-run orphanage for disabled and unwanted children, as well as children with indigent incarcerated mothers. It is a wonderful place, with a loving environment. Once a week, the Galilean Home women bring the babies into the prison, to a nursery in the chapel building, for a visit.

Kathy is serving eleven years for two counts of drug possession and one count of possession of a methamphetamine precursor. She is in love with and obsessed with another inmate here named Nancy, who is very butch and, for the most part, annoyed with Kathy’s over-availability and self-destructive obsession.

I can see from the hand I have been dealt that Sandy and I will easily win this card game, and I try hard not to burst into laughter. Prison card game rules change as often as ways to kill a vampire, and we are playing by ‘Joker-Joker-Deuce’ rules. The two jokers and the deuce of spades are the highest cards in the deck for this game, and I have all three, plus all of the relevant face cards I need. The large joker that I now hold in my hand is labeled in ink, “Big Pimpin.”

I tell Sandy, “I’ll make ‘em and you rake ‘em.” She smiles.

We are all half-seriously discussing a plan to ask to be shipped to Otter Creek, the privately owned prison in an eastern Kentucky coal town called Wheelwright.

The discussion started when Kathy, who is miserable with unrequited love, decided that distance will cure her of the Nancy situation once and for all, and said, “Let’s all drop notes to go to Otter Creek.”

“Rough place,” I say. “I hear that lizards don’t even live in the yard.”

“Biiiitch,” says Sandy, in a low, toothless purr, “Pot. Cigarettes. Drugs. They don’t give a damn.”

Kathy asks Sandy about an inmate who was shipped to ‘The Creek.’ “How’s old One-Tit Barb? She get out yet?”

“Nah,” replies Sandy. “She done got another flop. They’re slow-walkin’ her.”"

Margo asks, “What’s slow walking?”

Sandy says, “It’s DOC not letting you out. One year at a time. That’s slow walking. Slow walking is like saying, I’ll get you tomorrow. The check is in the mail. I promise I won’t come in your mouth. These people are slow walking you.”

“Aren’t there problems at Otter Creek though?” I ask. “What’s going on over there anyway?”

“Guards is fucking the inmates,” says Margo. She adds, “And a guard brought a loaded gun into the place and blew her brains out.”

Sandy says, “There are perks. You go up for parole a month early. They sell craft items on commissary. You’d like that, Bird Lady.”

“Sounds cool,” I say.

Margo says, “They almost killed an inmate with a medication error.”

The inmate rumors about the famed private prison Otter Creek will turn out to be true. After investigation, the facility will be closed to women and converted to a men’s facility. The Hawaiian inmates that were housed stateside in Otter Creek will be returned to Honolulu, but we do not know this yet.

Sandy suddendly says to me, “Bird Lady. When you git out I want you to come to Hillbilly Days!”

“To what?”

“Hillbilly Days! It’s a celebration, started by a couple of Shriners from Outhouse Clan. That’s where you see ‘em all come out. Barefoot and pregnant. Straw hats. Overalls. Corn cob pipes. Moonshine.

“Moonshine? Isn’t that a dry county?”

“Wettest damn dry county you ever seen. Oh hell yeah. Bathtub bootleg.”

“You’re joking.”

“No I ain’t. And biiiitch. Them hillbillies ain’t stupid. You fuck with ‘em and they’ll shoot you and throw you in the hollar. Or the waller. It don’t make no damn differnce to them. You don’t have to worry none about Hillbilly Days though. They don’t allow guns. Hell, they don’t even allow the kids to shoot each other with squirt guns.”

“That sounds cool,” I say. “I’ll bet it’s a blast.” I then address Kathy and Margo with a comment about the card game. “Y’all are fucked,” I say.

“I can see that,” says Kathy.

“I ain’t got shit,” says Margo.

Kathy says, “Let’s all drop notes at once and ask to go to Otter Creek!”

“They’re going to think I lost my mind if I do that,” I say.

“You can feed your birds there,” says Sandy. “They don’t give a damn.”

“You got a point,” I say.

Lighter note:
Steve The Lawnmower Guy Domestic Arrest:

Pop The Socket FAIL: Frog Gravy 29 [with jail art]

9:23 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a nonfiction account of incarceration in Kentucky, first in jails and then in prison, during 2008 and 2009, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Inmate names are changed, except nicknames that do not reveal identity.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Other posts are gathered here: froggravy.wordpress.com.

McCracken County Jail, Cell 107, sometime in February, 2008

Horse

Horse. Jail art by Crane-Station on flickr. Colored pencil, magazine ink.

On the way out of visiting, I stop in the booking area to wait for a guard to take me back to the cell. On the wall in this area is posted a laundry list of jailhouse offenses that can get us more time than we already have. I scan the list. Then I see an address in Frankfort for grievances.

My hand flies to my pocket, and I fumble for a no-shank pen and paper. I jot only crucial numbers, street names. I commit the zip code to memory, quickly.

The guard approaches and says, “What are you doing?”

“Nothing.”

“Are you writing the address to Frankfort?”

“Yeah.”

“They don’t do nuthin’ for you.”

“I want to get to PeWee as soon as possible.” (PeWee, or KCIW is the penitentiary for women in the Louisville area)

“I mean, even if you work for them they won’t do nuthin. C’mon now, let’s go.”

“…next bus. PeWee…”

“PeWee? You been final sentenced?”

“Yes.”

I think the guard was concerned that I might write a grievance to Frankfort, explaining some of the jail conditions. Which is exactly what I do. There is absolutely nothing else to do, in fact, but write Frankfort. I write everything down, names, times, dates, events, including the pregnancy disaster, and run it all in to Frankfort.

In the cell, back in my own insanity, I fix the towel back onto my head. I find myself in a very unusual situation. I am all alone in the cell. And I have tobacco. And a lighter.

I am so gonna smoke.

In honor of one of the religious in-cell handouts that pictures a multi-headed beast and labels it “The beast of Revelation 13:1-10 symbolizes the papacy,” I have chosen, from a pocket-sized book of rolling papers labeled “The New Testament” and placed in plain view on the windowsill, a page from St. John’s Revelation, to roll the tobacco in and smoke it.

The Beast of Revelation

I am seated at the steel table alone, with a towel on my head, surrounded by notes, papers, and origami cranes. Some of my notes are just random, the sort of thing that an insane, entombed person might write:

“Purest of gold walks through the hottest of fires.”

and

“Israelites’ journey in the desert has to do with poisonous snakes, their bite caused death. People complained to God. He told Moses to fashion a bronze snake- anyone bitten who looked at it would be cured. Modern symbol of medicine.”

I scan the hallway for traffic as though I am about to rob a bank, and seeing no one, I flick the lighter. Nothing happens. Flick flick click click flick click fuck FUCK.

My memory banks kick in. I recall bits of some early conversations in the cell about how to light things.

“…two double A batteries on a steel table and…”

Nope. No batteries.

“…ghost lighting. Guys do it all the time. Just roll the lighter backward….”

Here I sit, in an orange jail suit with a towel on my head, trying to roll a lighter backward on a steel table to create a spark, only the little roller thingies are stuck and they don’t even roll, forward or backward. I hold the lighter up to the light, turn it upside down and focus. There is no fluid in this lighter.

This is starting to suck.

“…pop the socket. Just take a piece of foil, or metal, hold it with tissue, stick it in the socket, and it creates a spark….”

I am a madman. By miracle, I find a paper clip and straighten it out.

“…or you can unplug the TV a little, then touch metal to the metal on the TV cord. See how the TV plug is damaged? Some jails paint the plate but not this one…”

Just about the time the TV wall socket plate parallaxes into my insane view and I begin to formulate a plan, the steel door opens and in walks Ruthie.

I look like the cat that ate the canary. She says, “What are you doing?”

I spit out a canary feather, adjust the towel and ask, “Do you have any idea how to pop the socket? Because if you do, I’ll share this with you.”

Ruthie is beside herself with giddy excitement. “Hell yeah I know how to pop the socket I seen it before! Hahahahahaaa, we gonna smoke!” She runs to her bunk, gets a cup, then goes to the toilet and fills the cup with water, brings the cup to the steel table, sets it down, and says, “Here. You’ll need this.” She also produces a length of toilet tissue and says, “and this. You’ll need this too.”

I ask a question that made sense at the time: “What do you do with the water? I mean, I don’t really think it mixes too well with electricity.”

“Yeah,” says Ruthie (I swear to God), you wrap the paper clip in tissue, then dip it in the water, and then jam the wet part into the socket.”

I think I am actually living inside of a Roadrunner cartoon, where there is always something that you want but cannot get, so you are always hungry and pissed off, and in the end there is always an explosion where you die and everyone laughs. The steel door opens again. In walks Christie and Tina. Christie says, “What are you guys doing?”

“We were just about to pop the socket.”

“God dammit, I thought you were smarter than that! Y’all are going to kill yourselves!” says Christie.

“Don’t ever use God’s name like that again,” snaps Tina.

“Yeah, Christie. Use motherfucker instead. It’s more polite.”

“I can’t believe you guys,” she says.

“Well, quit runnin your dick sucker and show us how to do this right, then,” I say, “Before two more people walk in and then we gotta share this thing with six people. This is not a six-people cigarette. And I’m not cutting it with banana peels again, so don’t even go there.”

“Okay,” she says. “But keep the water. You’ll need it.”

“What for?”

“The explosion.”

“What explosion?”

Christie addresses me as if I am a child. “When you pop the socket, it creates a huge spark. You catch it on a Maxipad. The pad catches fire. You will need the water to put the fire out.”

“You cannot possibly be serious.”

She is.

“And stick that paper clip into a plastic no-shank pen sleeve,” she adds.

We partially unplug the TV, lay the clip across the prongs and there is, quite literally, a huge popping sound, a spark, and a Maxipad fire.

But there is more. We have knocked out the television to all of the cells in the hallway for the entire weekend and, of course since everyone knows who the idiots were, the guards were not at all amused, so they just went ahead and left our TV off for, like ten days.

The yells start coming: “MotherFUCKER!!”

And Harry, down the hall in his isolation cell, “Let me out! Helpmehelpmehelpme HELP!”

While the TV is off and I am coming up with insane plans because there is nothing else to do, I decide that a TV show called, “How To Survive Jail Hellhole.” Today we will discuss all of the uses for toothpaste, tomorrow, we will make dominoes out of toilet paper, and the next day we will be popping the socket.

I do this all the time. That guy flying out of the window? That’s me.

Underground Education: Frog Gravy 23

11:11 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Barn During Storm by Crane-Station on flickr (jail art)

Barn during storm by Crane-Station on flickr. Jail art, magazine ink, ink and colored pencil.

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration in Kentucky, in 2008 and 2009, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Names are changed, except for mine, which is clear in the documents below, and the social worker’s, also clear.

PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary, near Louisville, KY, 3-18-09, with a note about some animals on the grounds, penned on various dates and consolidated.

Before I enrolled in school, I worked recycle, breaking down cardboard boxes from the prison commissary, with a very shy woman named Roxi, who had the misfortune of being present in a home, when her boyfriend decapitated someone.

From our work area, we can see the large dining hall and the back entrance to the kitchen.

One day at work, I noticed a large, well-fed possum wander out of the kitchen area, where there is also a sewer, weave his way drunkenly led by pink snout, to the dumpster.

“You see Bob?” said Roxi.

“Who?”

“We done named him Bob. The possum.”

“Oh! He is so cute!”

“Yup. And we done fed him. A hot dog and a bologna sandwich.”

I look at Bob and think, well I’ll bet he never wants for anything.

If this weren’t real, it would be funny.

There were also a couple of prison calico cats that the inmates loved to feed and take care of, even though this was technically not allowed.

And then there was the baby bird that I was keeping warm and nursing back to health.

At the time I did not know any of this, but the prison staff would eventually kill Bob as well as the cats. They would ship Roxi, without notice to Otter Creek the private women’s prison, in Eastern Kentucky, a place where, according to some, “Lizards don’t even live in the yard.”

A guard will stomp my baby bird to death in front of me and then wipe the gore onto the pavement next to me, laughing.

If there is a place in hell…

Underground Education

I enroll in the Horticulture program, and immediately involve myself in the business of tutoring others, not in Horticulture, but in math, English, and Biology. I enjoy teaching because it is rewarding and sort of akin to clinical psychology.

Cricket never learned her times tables, but she wants to prepare for her GED, and so she asks for my help She is a mother of three small children, and when she got convicted, her hair fell out. She shows me some ‘before’ pictures. She does not have cancer, and doctors say it is not true alopecia either, because she still has eyebrows. Other inmates that live with her vouch that she is not pulling her own hair out.

Inmates are not allowed to teach.

My path crosses another inmate, Daffy, who also loves to teach, albeit under threat of the hole (or cell block, as it is called here) and we discuss strategy. My contraband teaching is difficult to prosecute, because, hey we were just studying together, right?

Daffy, however, who has a Master’s in Theology, has a following of inmates that are interested in learning more about Catholicism.

Daffy’s mother was Jewish, but she was raised Pentecostal, and later converted to Catholicism on her own. Her grandmother raised her on English literature.

We discuss our dilemma on the ball field.

Daffy says, “If someone just happens to find themselves out here on the ball field during recreation, say Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and they wish to join a few others…”

“For a discussion,” I add, “What’s to stop them? I mean they can discuss anything they want to, right?”

Contraband teaching. The truth is stranger than fiction.

One day, it all ends.

Cricket comes to me, in tears, and says, “I don’t need your help any more. They’ve done eliminated the GED classes.”

Others report the same thing. I make an appointment with my case worker and ‘out’ myself.

“What in the god damn,” I say. Some of the people I tutor are telling me that classes have been eliminated.”

“Thant’s right. The jails are complaining that they are not getting enough money because you guys are taking it all. Class D education is being eliminated; looks like inmates will be shipped back to the jails. I just wiped out an entire Life Without a Crutch class.”

My caseworker examines his computer screen.

“But Life Without a Crutch is a drug treatment class,” I say. “A good one, and most Class D’s are non-violent drug offenders.”

“I know.”

“There aren’t any educational programs at all in the jails, unless it is SAP (Substance Abuse Program) and you have to be a Class C (serving ten years or more for crimes such as trafficking and not simple possession) to even get into SAP!”

“I know.”

And so it goes. Inmates that were trying to do something, anything, to improve things with education and treatment were kicked out of school and out of treatment, in the name of money.

No educational materials allowed by Crane-Station on flickr

No educational materials allowed. This is a jail kite to the social worker in the McCracken County jail, requesting educational books. The request is denied.

No educational materials allowed by Crane-Station on flickr

A second request for educational materials is also denied by the social worker.

Author’s end note: I do not know the status of the programs today.

Frog Gravy posts are also at froggravy.wordpress.com.

The Woman That Moved During Count: Frog Gravy 13

4:13 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration in Kentucky in 2008 and 2009, in jails and in prison, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Names are changed, except prison nicknames that do not reveal identity.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

PeWee (pronounced Pee Wee) Valley Women’s Penitentiary near Louisville, KY, a few days before Thanksgiving, 2008

We are meticulously counted, every four hours or so. For the count, which we refer to as “count,” or “count time,” we must be in our room, at our bedside, not moving and not talking.

It is one of the evening count times. An officer is strolling the floor, looking into each room, pointing to each inmate, and counting to herself.

A pregnant woman, who has been having contractions for some time now, informs the officer that she is in labor. The pregnant woman cannot sit still.

The officer accuses her of faking labor and playing a game to mess up the count.

The woman talks back to the officer, saying, “I know when I am in fucking labor!” The officer escorts the woman away.

A little while later, two officers come to the pregnant woman’s room and pack all of her belongings into boxes.

We assume that she went to the hospital to have the baby.

We were wrong. The officers had handcuffed the woman and taken her to cell block: the hole.

There is actually a jail within the confines of the prison, and it is a building that we call “cell block.” It is a brick building with isolation cells that are nearly identical to “hole” cells in the jails. The holes are tiny cement cells. “Isolation” cells in the jails sometimes have television, whereas the “hole” cells do not.

You may or may not have a mat. I think you do get a mat here at PeWee, but I am not sure because I have never been in the hole at PeWee. One blanket is issued at 11 PM and then taken away at 4 AM. The cells are ice cold. When I was in the hole in McCracken, I had arthritis so bad from the cold that I wrapped my legs in toilet paper strips. I had no socks or shoes.

The hole is perhaps best known for the 24/7 fluorescent lighting, that is disorienting as well as blinding. Also, holes are punishment cells known for sensory deprivation and time distortion. There is absolutely nothing to do but count cement blocks or look at the hairs in the floor drain, if you can see them; they do not allow you to have glasses in the hole.

Food is delivered through a slot in the steel door. This is the only way to know the approximate time. There is no view to the outside. There is a tiny window to the hallway, but the hallway side of the window is covered with a hinged steel flap that can be opened only if an officer decides to open the flap and peer into the cell.

There is no way to wash your hands in the hole. The push-button spout points upward and issues a tiny upward stream for a second or two, but the stream is certainly not continuous. After a bowel movement, therefore, you must simply hope for the best, because if you plan to eat, well…there is no bar of soap, and there are no paper towels. There are no real towels either. No washrags, no sheets, and certainly no pillow.

When inmates die in cell block nobody really cares because they were just inmates.

The pregnant woman in labor was handcuffed and walked to cell block. Cell block is about a one-half mile walk from Ridgeview Dormitory.

I hear the rest of the pregnant woman’s story from another inmate, who was there when she arrived. The woman telling the rest of the story spent 30 days in cell block for having cigarettes.

The woman in labor cried and pounded on the door, but staff ignored her, so other inmates tried to talk to the woman, because there was nothing else that they could do. The inmates talking to the woman were also mothers, for the most part.

The nursing staff showed up briefly and told the woman in labor that until her water broke there was nothing they could do, because she was not really in labor, unless her water broke.

The pregnant woman told the nursing staff that her water had broken.

They left her.

According to the woman telling the story as she observed it, although cell block staff is supposed to perform half-hourly checks on cell block inmates, they only checked on the woman in labor twice.

At about 3 AM, the pregnant woman exclaimed, “Oh my God!” Other inmates heard “like a pop, and then we heard a baby cry.”

It was a boy.

Apparently, the mother was “passed out, with the baby attached.” The staff refused to open the cell door until an ambulance arrived.When the ambulance arrived, the mother was handcuffed.

Had the baby not cried, it is likely that no one would have opened the flap to check on him or his mother.

Author’s end note: The woman and her baby survived. I believe the baby was subsequently cared for by Amish women, through a program called The Gallilean Home, where Amish women care for babies born into captivity, until the mother’s release.

The mother returned to prison. The day staff in cell block apparently refused to take her back, so she returned to population. In case you are curious, the woman was serving time for non-violent drug charges.

Frog Gravy posts are gathered in one place here:

froggravy.wordpress.com

or you can scroll backward through my posts at MyFDL

Let Them Eat Cake: Frog Gravy 12

7:20 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Boiling Frog

"Boiling Frog" by Donkey Hotey on flickr

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration, first in jails and then in prison, in Kentucky, during 2008 and 2009, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Names are changed, except nicknames that do not reveal identity.

This post is about cost-cutting measures in prison, and it is not comprehensive because the topic is broad. I will discuss education and treatment cuts for Class D inmates as well as elimination of other programs, in another post. I will do the same for the jail setting.

PeWee (pronounced Pee Wee) Valley Women’s Penitentiary, near Louisville, KY, 1-7-09 (my father’s birthday)

Kentucky is laying off teachers during the holidays.

They take jobs away from teachers so they can keep funding incarceration for War On Drugs inmates like me, Carol, KC, and my roommate Janelle.

Carol had her heart attack this morning and she is in the hospital, toothless and disabled.

KC had her heart attack last week and just got out of the hospital.

Janelle can barely walk, is a borderline diabetic and has asthma, requiring oral medications as well as rescue inhalers.

Read the rest of this entry →

How Frog Gravy Got Its Name

9:38 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Boiling Frog

“Boiling Frog” 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.

Names are changed, except for nicknames that do not reveal identity.

This post is from prison.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Early April, 2009, PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary (pronounced Pee Wee), near Louisville, KY

In Horticulture class one morning I am ear-hustling (eavesdropping) on a conversation between some fellow inmates.

“The problem with my case is,” says Carla, “that the judge didn’t get his dick sucked the night before I went to Court. That’s the problem with my legal case.”

“Bet he takes his teeth out at night and sucks his own dick,” replies Renada.

The teacher, Miss Heavren, overhears the exchange, and reminds us all that we are strictly forbidden to speak about our legal cases during school. The conversation shifts to an acceptable (by school rules) subject: retrieving and preparing road killed animals, for consumption.

Julia says, (I swear to God) “I don’t really go for all that suckin’ the brains out stuff but I do eat the tails. I am reminded of the scene from A Fish called Wanda, when the sadistic Otto says, as he is eating goldfish from a tank, “Avoid the green ones. They’re not ripe yet.”

When ‘sucking out brains and eating tails’ sinks into my psyche, I focus on my deadpan, indifferent expression that betrays none of the horror that my mind conjures up because I have long ago mastered the Prison Face. The conversation continues.

“…but we got there at the same time and were about to fight over the body but it turns out he just wanted the head and I just wanted the body so we decided to go ahead and split it…”

Like the poker face, Prison Face misleads with just the right lack of expression that conveys understanding, non-judgment, empathy and concern, much like the doctor’s expression on x-ray discovery that a bowling trophy is lodged in the patient’s rectum. Deadpan, as if one sees this every day, but with empathy, in the deadpan.

“…even though the head on the deer was missing when we found it…”

“Oh yeah. Didn’t you know that? People are always stealing the deer heads.”

Prison Face says, ‘I can relate. I am just like you.’ You do not have to study or practice Prison Face for very long. If you are institutionalized for long enough, Prison Face becomes a sincere, apathetic blank expression.

“…I would have done the same thing with the body….”

I have seen Prison Face on the outside. I once worked with another nurse who was African. He told me of his early childhood memories, where he, at age five, watched public executions on a nearly daily basis. At the time, I did not know about Prison Face. I just thought he was ‘stoic’ and ‘hard to read.’ He was always quiet. He was actually a nurse’s aide, and he was always saving our butts when things got too busy. He never received due credit for his quiet yet passionate work with patients and staff. I always thought of him as a nurse, because he was better at nursing than many nurses I had encountered over the years.

“…Oh, yeah, my dad used to bring home the turtles off the road all the time… Ever had turtle soup?”

In our class, Horticulture Lab, really, we are planting tiny marigold seedlings into blister packs that resemble ice cube trays, a tedious task that is like trying to separate and plant thousands of spider webs. Marigold seedlings have long, threadlike roots, and we are using popsicle sticks to untangle them, but also to plow under dozens of those monstrously rooted little seedlings and dispose of them quickly and secretly when the teacher is not looking, because if we don’t, we will never finish this lab. We do not formally plan nor do we speak about the mass marigold murder with each other. It is a silently understood and agreed upon activity.

The popsicle sticks remind me of the psych wards that I have been locked up in after various suicide attempts, and for reasons that I do not fully understand I make a mental note to make a birdhouse out of the popsicle sticks when I get out of prison.

Then, when I think I understand the significance of the birdhouses as safe houses for free creatures, designed and constructed by a damaged human that is not free, and am allowing this epiphany to sink in, the conversation in the foreground shifts to the subject of frog legs in an iron skillet.

Julia says, “And what you gotta do is, you save the crispy frog skins in the iron skillet and you pour off the frog grease, and use your frog drippins to make you some frog gravy. And girrrl, I ain’t lyin’, them frog drippins in that frog gravy is dope!”

My eyebrows jerk slightly, ruining my Prison Face. With sudden clarity, I envision my hero, the frog.

Coincidentally, I have just finished a book from the prison library about frogs and their race to extinction. Populations of deformed frogs have been discovered, with extra limbs and digits, or with limbs missing in the right places, not unlike the Thalidomide babies. Although the consensus is that a fungus is killing the amphibians, the book points out that frogs are literally permeable, making them an environmental indicator for our planet.

I read the book because I love frogs. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories involve frogs. I remember walking creeks and going to ponds as a child, to look for the gelatinous egg masses, and I remember the frogs’ beautiful yet haunting chorus during camping trips, a chorus that now seems eerily absent from any given evening, when I can hear the rhythmic buzzing of cicadas, but not the songs of many frogs.

I have never eaten a frog. In fact, I have rescued many a frog, after the rainstorms, by stopping my car in the middle of the dark road, getting out, and moving the doomed frog to the side of the road. I also rescued three frogs once, who were trapped in a plastic garbage bag that I found in a dumpster.
I suppose I could eat one, but only if it were already killed in the road.

I decide that I will immortalize the frog.

On my notepad that I carry everywhere, I write the words “Frog Gravy,” and circle them.

The iron skillet, in addition to being a murder weapon, is as much a part of the South as racism is in this prison. Fried apples. Fried green tomatoes. Fried okra. Cornbread with buttermilk and bacon. What is cornbread after all, without bacon grease and buttermilk in an iron skillet? My parents are from Missouri, but spent a good deal of their early-married life in the South and so my mother made fried apples, cornbread, and other Southern dishes in an iron skillet. I can almost smell it now.

Later in the evening, I discuss my plan for the book title with Tina and Christie, two of my closest friends that were in Cell 107 with me in McCracken. They both know that I have been writing things down since the beginning, and they have encouraged me to write the whole story someday.

“I have a name for it. You’re not going to believe this,” I say, “but I am going to call it Frog Gravy.

Hannibal Mammogram: Frog Gravy 10

9:52 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. Some of you may wonder why the posts vacillate. I have several hundred pages of notes, if not more. I would write, and mail the writing to my family in Seattle for safekeeping. On release, I asked for my notes and my family mailed them to me.

I initially tried to organize the notes into binders, but I needed distance from them for personal reasons.
The notes were dormant and disorganized, in another room, for more than a year. When I retrieved them to begin writing, I determined that sequential organization and sorting would take three or four months. I decided to try to construct stand-alone essays and post them online in no particular order instead.

This post is from prison.

 

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 that 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.”

Prison. Ridgeview Goes To The Ball Field: Frog Gravy 7

1:56 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration, first in jails and then in prison, in Kentucky, during the years 2008 and 2009, and it is reconstructed from my notes.
This post is from prison.

Names have been changed, except for nicknames that do not reveal identity.

Frog Gravy contains graphic, offensive, politically incorrect dialogue.

Ridgeview goes to the ball field. PeWee (pronounced Pee Wee) Valley Women’s Prison, near Louisville, 4-21-09. Disclaimer.

Before we visit the ball field, let me explain this statement a bit better:

“Frog Gravy contains graphic, offensive, politically incorrect dialogue.”

The term ‘niggah,’ for example, is something one may hear commonly in the jail or prison setting in the South, and is a term of salutation or endearment that is only exchanged between inmates that are self-described as black or mixed.

The term ‘nigger,’ on the other hand, is considered a derogatory slur, and is never exchanged in any setting.

The term ‘white trash’ is a derogatory slur that one may also hear uttered in a sarcastic and insulting good fun sort of way. However, the receiver never takes it in good fun, so ‘white trash’ is usually heard behind an inmate’s back.

The term ‘hillbilly’ is, in my experience anyway, a term of endearment. Hillbillies self-describe, express pride in their heritage, and indulge and embellish others’ curiosity in them with an amazing story-telling ability and a refreshing way of laughing at themselves.

Ridgeview goes to the ball field.

A commenter in the last post wanted me to explain the Ridgeview Dormitory atmosphere a bit better. Seeking lower companionship can be hard or easy, depending on your perspective. Everyone hunts. Everyone is hunted. Whether one is predator or prey is often debatable.

Here is what you gotta do:

1. Get a pair of Nike “Shox” tennis shoes from commissary and keep them blinding bright white by constantly brushing them with State-issue toothpaste.

2. Put on a pair of Russell sweat pants and roll one leg up to just below the knee. Got it? Good. Okay. Now, pull your sweat pants down like you are going to use the toilet, only leave the State-issue underpants in place, so that most of the details of your ass, including crack, cheeks and tattoos, are visible. Let that ass hang out, clad in those State underpants. Arrange the elastic waist band so that it stops at the top of the thigh in front, and onto the butt cheeks in the back.

3. Hook your thumbs into the elastic.

4. Put on a long john shirt, and over that, a gleaming white t-shirt.

5. Put on a baseball cap and turn it sideways. If you do not have one, put on a commissary knit stocking cap and turn that sideways. Hold the cap in place with sunglasses, if possible.

6. All right. Good. Now slouch down and start your walk. It is more of a strut. Bob and nod the head, strutting, sort of like a gangster rooster. Strut. Nod. Bob. Strut nod nod strut strut nod. Bob. Practice this.

7. Claim it. Claim your space. You own it. Good. Now say “Big mac Daddy,” and grab your crotch.

8. Then say, “I know that’s right. I know that’s wassup, niggah.” But only say “niggah” if you are black, or mixed.

9. If you have teeth (Why he can eat corn on the cob through a picket fence)- If you have front teeth, they have to have a grill (gold lining or gold plating on the front teeth). If you have dentures, they have to have a grill.

10. Say, “You feel me? I know that’s right. You feel me?”

11. Make frequent hand gestures, jabbing at the air. Announce, “Rock out witch your cock out,” and finish with, “Motherfucker.”

12. Good. Let’s walk it on out now. Let’s walk it on around the ball field. Now let’s find some white trash. Yeah that’s right. Let’s bring in some white trash WalMart chicks.

13. Okay. Good. Now someone shout an insult: “You big fat bitch!”

14. And wait for the refrain: “Who you callin’ a bitch, ho? Who you callin’ a bitch, ho? Put your hands on me. Let a bitch put her hand on me. I’ll beat the breaks off her.! I ain’t scared.

15. Great. Now let’s go find a hillbilly song. Here’s one: “Well now ah-been…ah-locked up…Ah-mosta mah life…Used to have a husband…And ah-now ah have me a wife…”

This sort of sums up a typical scene at the ball field for Ridgeview, during recreation, and includes some of the things you may see or hear. Anyone care to join?

Didn’t think so.

Later that evening I am in the dayroom exchanging roommate horror stories with Rhonda. Her mother is also an inmate here at PeWee, although she lives in another dorm, and will eventually be shipped to Otter Creek, the privately owned prison. Kentucky likes to lock up members of the same family, but not in the same facility.

Rhonda complains of a woman that lives a few doors from her. She is in a wheelchair and refuses to bathe. “She’s really obnoxious,” says Rhonda. “Plus, she doesn’t need to be in a wheelchair.”

I say, “I don’t get that. I wanted to be out of a wheelchair a few years ago when I was in a wheelchair. I tried to walk way too soon. You say this woman is able to do for herself?”

Rhonda replies, “There ain’t nothin’ wrong with her. If she can run that mouth of hers, she can run a washrag across her ass.”