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Over Easy: The Hole, The Chair and the Holding Cell

4:15 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

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

Names have been changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

The Hole, McCracken County Jail, January 23, 2008

Beaten up chair

Have a seat …

After my trial, I am handcuffed in the courtroom, walked across the street to the jail where I kiss my husband for the last time, and placed in the hole.

I have been convicted of possessing less than ten dollars worth of crack, tampering with evidence, and DUI.

I am stripped of my clothes, forced to squat and cough and then take a cold de-lousing shower. I walk to the hole in an orange outfit, sans bra, socks or shoes.

It is freezing cold in the cement cell. Fluorescent lighting burns my eyes. I stare at the drain in the floor and try to focus, but I do not have glasses. I am consumed with hopelessness and despair, and wish that I would stop breathing, and die.

I hear a man screaming “HELP! Let me out! Helpmehelpmehelpme HELP!”

I am moved to a different hole, one with a cellmate, and I become outraged and claw at the skin on my arms.
My cellmate yells, “There’s blood!”

Some jail staff arrive at the cell, a Queen Bee and her brood, and she shouts, “What are you doing?!”

“I do not belong here, in this hole,” I say, crying. “I just came from court.”

“We read your charges,” says Queen Bee. “You shouldn’t have committed all those crimes. I’m putting you in the chair.”

The worker bees strap me and strap me in leather straps into a tilted back chair that looks like an electric chair. They handcuff and handcuff, and leg iron and leg shackle, and then wheel the chair into the booking area and park it.

Two hours later I have to urinate but they tell me that people shit in the chair all the time, so I urinate in my pants. Snot drips onto my shirt.

My hand and legs are numb with nerve pain (I will have nerve palsy in my right hand for some time after this) but the more I complain about lack of circulation, the more they laugh.

A change of strategy is in order because I fear I will lose use of my limbs, so I shift my legs as best I can, and smile, and say,”Man, I love this chair! This is a blast! I get to be out of the hole where it’s warm, and I get to see everything that’s going on: all the drunks on Friday night, all the false, bogus arrests, all the jail staff running around trying to look busy. Can we make this a nightly…”

Queen Bee and her workers are on me, unstrapping and unhandcuffing, and she says, “We need this chair for someone more combative than you.”

“Ah, come on, lighten up,” I say. “I was enjoying this. Oh well. Maybe next time. First dates can get off to a rocky start, after all. By the way, I’m sorry I called you a sadistic bull dyke.”

The next chair occupant is a naked man. I will hear an accurate description of his penis, including length and girth, from another inmate later on.

I am returned to the hole. The next day another woman shows up. She is on “medical watch.” She is throwing up and coughing up blood, and the jail’s solution to this is to place her in the freezing hole and take her blanket.

The woman is well enough to converse through the wall to another woman, because they know each other; everyone seems to know each other in this inbred trap. This is the first I hear of Ricky’s World, the famed surreal dungeon-like jail in Fulton County where the ‘worst of the worst’ are sent. The woman brags of eating pussy on a steel table in a cell in Ricky’s World, on a dare.

As she is relating the story, my eyebrows raise, and I wonder if she sees my shocked facial expression, and I quickly pretend like an eyelash has fallen into my eye. I rub my eye and try to act casual.

Then, I am briefly moved to a holding cell. The holding cell is a paradise: It has TV. Control of the TV is territorial, well-defined and deadly off limits to newcomers. As a newcomer, the last thing you want to do in a holding cell is change the TV channel; it is like signing your own death warrant.

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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

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
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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 froggravy.wordpress.com]

Penny: Frog Gravy 82

4:04 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Inmate names are changed.

Ricky’s World, Summer, 2008

At 4 AM, the lights go on in our tiny cell, and a guard opens the steel door. Next to the guard, in the hallway, are five full 30-gallon black garbage bags.

“Well come on,” says the guard. “Help me with these.”

We drag the bags into the cell. The bags are heavy. There is one full bag for each inmate in this cell. The bags contain ears of corn that male inmates picked, from the jail garden. Our assignment is to shuck the corn, and be finished in time to go to work in the kitchen.

I get paid sixty-three cents a day for working in the kitchen but I do not get paid for the corn work, and neither does anyone else. Inmates who merely prepare vegetables for the whole jail never see a paycheck. On the days that we work, we may or may not have time in the outside cage for rec, because we are told that work counts as recreation.

We stare at the bags of corn.

Christina says, “You’ve got to be fuckin’ kidding me.”

“You ain’t never shucked corn?” says Monica. “And you from the country?”

“Hail no.”

“Well,” I say. “I’ve shucked corn. Just not at four o’clock in the morning.”

The irony is, that if this place, in Hickman Kentucky is not country, I do not know what country is. We are in the middle of nowhere, someplace near Tennessee, seven miles or so from the now-swollen Mississippi River.

I enjoy shucking corn and I enjoy work, but being forced to work with Penny in the kitchen after we shuck this corn is, I think, a little over the top, as far as punishment goes.

During our walk to work in the kitchen, where we will work unaccompanied by any guard, Penny engages in some transparent brown nosing of the guard, that includes ratting out the previous guard for various petty non-offenses. Penny’s brown nosing is usually more pronounced on the nights that she plans to steal stuff from the kitchen, because in her way of thinking, solidifying a chummy relationship with a guard on the way into the kitchen will elicit a less-than-thorough strip search on the way out.

While I have often joked about attempting to smuggle packets of this or that from the kitchen, I cannot imagine stealing while in jail, and so I refrain from it, and I refuse to ‘hold’ stolen items in my things, back in the cell.

In the kitchen, we pass the large ovens that sometimes have the porn magazines stashed behind them by male inmates who also work in the kitchen at staggered times, and I go to get a hair net, while Penny tries to hustle the guard out of food for consumption during work in the kitchen. Penny’s modus operandi is to spend as much time as possible eating, hoarding, snooping around the place off camera, and stealing stuff, while pausing to look up Bible passages, criticize my work, question my faith in God and conclude that I am most likely a non-believer on the fast-track to Hell.

Penny locates a bible and I locate the work list for the night. Penny says something to me about how, according to the Bible, God allowed the holocaust to happen, in order to make the world a better place, and I say a silent prayer to the God of my own understanding to please not allow me to kill Penny with my bare hands, on the spot.

The work list says:

-make 50 gallons KoolAid.
-make 250 butter (margarine) cups.
-make 250 onion/pickle packs.
clean vent hoods.
-clean bathroom.

The rate-limiting step will be the onion/pickle packs, which take forever, even with two people, but while I begin this task, Penny takes out 1/4 pound of margarine, and fries up an enormous plate of onions for herself. While Penny is eating, I make the KoolAid, then do the butter cups, then slice the onions, and then begin assembling the packs.

All told, I completed 240 of the 250 onion/pickle packs, while Penny berated me for using and recording the allotted amount of Equal that I used for the KoolAid, instead of fudging the paperwork, and stealing the sweetener. This annoys me. While I have joked around about taking stuff, the fact is, that in the cell, in my things, I have commissary receipts and matching sweetener packets for every teaspoon of sweetener I have had in my possession. In my mind, I am not going to risk parole denial over theft of a teaspoon of sweetener.

For refusing to participate in petty jailhouse theft, Penny tells me that I really need to read James.

In the cell, Penny and I get along better, and one day, she tells me that she wants my help in preparing her for her GED, and I am thrilled because I love to teach. However, I realize, early in this process, that Penny never learned her times tables. I make some flash cards and say, “Okay. Let’s begin with the twos.”

Each day, we tackle a few more flash cards, and Penny begins to make progress.

I begin to re-think my initial harsh judgments of Penny. I had known nothing about her, or her life, or her struggles. I conclude that Penny is utilizing the same ineffective coping skills in jail that she used on the outside, because those skills are the only skills she has.

We become friends.

Later on, Penny asks for my help with a letter she is writing to a treatment center. The letter says:

To whom it may concern:

My name is Penny Stenson. I am in jail at Fulton County Detention Center in Hickman, KY

The reason for my unfortunate stay is my alcholism I am writting in hope of getting information about your program I would also appriciated a admittance application I only hope to get treatment for my sickness

Im look for a 30day inpatient program
I have three children that need there mother to be clean.
They are on there way to foster care by Decmber if I dont recive help. I am willing to go any were that will give me a bed date right away. I am willing to tr…

She hands me the letter and asks, “Can you help me with this?”

I read the letter. I feel the tears forming, and the hitch in my throat.

“Sure,” I say. “Of course I will.”

cross posted at froggravy.wordpress.com

Water Runs Downhill: Frog Gravy 68

9:34 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Cyanide and Happiness Hopscotch:

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language. Do not read this post at work.

KCIW, PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary, Winter, 2008-2009

Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill…You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go. Why things are what they are.

William Golding
Lord of the Flies

We are in the noisy day room of Ridgeview Dormitory, playing Spades. As usual, my hillbilly friend in the wheelchair, Sandy, is my partner. She loves to talk, and I love to listen. She explains the characteristics and tendencies of humans to me, as would a college professor, in a lovely eastern Kentucky drawl.

Sandy explains, “…You put a pussy on a man, he gonna take it. This don’t take no damn rocket scientist to figure out; people start fuckin’ at thirteen.”

The TV is blaring. Everyone is talking. The faucet in the kitchen area sink is cut on to full stream, because everyone has given up the battle of turning faucets off, after the OCD inmate’s hundreds-of-times-a-day hand washing routine. The washer and the dryer and the microwave are all running. Several groups of four other than our group, are seated at tables, playing Spades. Since the OCD inmate’s canteen Nike tennis shoes are in the dryer, there is a loud, regularly irregular ka-ka-kunk, ka-ka-kunk sound coming from the dryer.

LaDonna, the bipolar inmate who is chronically manic and laugh-out-loud funny, stops at our table and says to Sandy, “Well, I see you got you a crazy-ass Spades partner again.”

LaDonna and I are friends. She robbed a bank at gunpoint and stole a car, then evaded police, and got less time than me, seven years, a fact that she is proud of, and rubs in. She says, “I’ma sing you guys a song, do a little dance.”

She raises her hands and, snapping and clapping and stepping, sings, “…In-house, out-house…” (clap. clap-clap clap) “…Crack-house, whore-house…” (clap. Snap-clap) Then, something distracts her and she leaves.

LaDonna will be shipped to CCA-owned Otter Creek. There will be a medication error. LaDonna will fight for her life on a ventilator, but we do not know this yet.

I ask Sandy how old God is. She replies, “Older than dirt. Balls hang lower than his knees.”

We are called to line up outside, if we are enrolled in night class. Tory comes to the table, books in hand and says, “Time to go.”

I tell Sandy, “Gotta run. Hey, what’s a hundred yards long and has three teeth?”

“What?”

“KCIW Med line!”

She laughs, and as we are leaving, she says, “Bird Lady. Them Bluegrass people. They ain’t no joke.”

“I know,” I say.

On the way to school, Christie hands me a letter and two photographs and says, “Here. Put this in your book.”

The letter is from a male inmate to someone who arranges prison pen pals. He is young and nice looking. In one photo, he poses in a tank top in front of a weight set. He wears a gold watch and a gold chain. Sunglasses hang from the front of his tank top. He has a chest tattoo from a parlor on the outside.

“Nice,” I say.

“His balls just dropped,” says Christie.” He is looking for someone to write sex letters to. I know him. He really is very nice.”

The penmanship is neat, meticulous cursive. Every line is filled out on the lined paper. Photocopied, hand-drawn roses and vines outline the letter. It says (names changed):

Mrs. Barker,

My name is Anthony Acree and my inmate number is #XXXXXX and I’m looking for a pen-pal to write if you could please hook-a-nigga up one time- “then good lookin.’” She can write to me at Northpoint Training Center PO Box 479 Burgin, KY 40310)

Once she writes, her and I will take it from there. I’ve enclosed two photos of myself. “Look” real talk in a good nigga to write, and I am going to keep her mind in the mist. But at the same time I want to get her drunk and in the back seat of my truck about 2:17 AM in an alley, sucken da dog shit outa dat pussy, I will lick her wet and suck her dry, ya dig. And as she holds on for dear life I will slide dis cock in dat A22 and fuck dat perm out her muthafucken head.

Fuck wit a nigga, Brick

“Dang,” I tell Christie. “He writes better than most of the legal profession around here. What’s with the 2:17 AM”

“I know.I wondered about the 2:17 myself.”

Tory says, “Bird Lady, you’re brave, writing about this stuff.”

“I have nothing to lose,” I say.

In night Biology class, Mr. Burke tells us that his choice to teach this class, here in this prison, is one of the most enlightening and delightful things he has ever done and that, other teachers refuse to do what he does because “they do not know what they are missing.”

He inspires me to want to return to the prison and teach someday. If they would ever let me back in, that is. Every student in the class loves Mr. Burke. No one is ever late or absent, unless she has been involved in an altercation unrelated to school.

During break I tell Tory, “Check this out. Here is a way to memorize that list of elements he wants us to know.”

We discuss the mnemonic device See Mag Men Mob Cousin Hopkins’ Nice Clean Cafe: C Mag Men Mob CuZn Hopkins NiCe Clean CaFe.

Tory asks, “What else do you think we should know?”

“That is a really good question,” I say. “And a tough one.” I think for a moment, What one thing, if I know it, will help me to figure out everything else?

“Water runs downhill,” I say.

Edited. ACA now correctly reads CCA.

cross posted at froggravy.wordpress.com

Noah Got Drunk: Frog Gravy 64

9:46 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

As I explained, our parrot knocked the camera out of my hand and broke it. I have located a new digital camera in a dumpster, but until I get a memory card into the thing to photograph documents and art, here is some Cyanide and Happiness: Spartacus.

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Inmate names are changed.

Cell 107, McCracken County Jail, Winter, 2008

Breakfast this morning was strange, because to me, just listening, it sounded like locusts devouring a biblical country. Jail eating is not normal. Inmates gobble, hoard, smack, belch and fart. They yank and choke down food, slurp, slobber and grunt. The binge symphony is punctuated with the words Are You Gonna Eat That?

Here is what that looks like:

There is much trading, spooning, shoveling and hoarding and the handing back and forth sporkfulls of food. The binge symphony lasts for ten minutes and then guards and working Class D males pick up the trays.

Binge and sleep, binge and sleep, occurs three times a day, not including commissary days. On those days, some inmates binge before the binge.

For the women of this jail, there is absolutely nothing else to do except eat, watch TV and sleep. Only five Class D female final sentenced state inmates even work a job, and none of the female jobs involve outdoor or even hallway work. The remaining Class D final sentenced female inmates are revenue units for the jail and nothing more.

For these women, the days turn to months and then to years, and then they are released into the community and the street, with nothing to show for the time spent but massive weight gain and the thousand-yard stare.

Many of them will return.

I am seated at a steel table wearing a terry cloth towel equivalent of a tin foil hat on my head, looking at some papers. The first one is a Kentucky Jail Ministries (US 42 Florence KY 41042) church handout. It says:

I once read: God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. The world might say there are many reasons why God wouldn’t want to use you or me, but don’t worry:

Moses stuttered
Mark was rejected by Paul
Hosea’s wife was a prostitute
Amos’ only training was in the school of fig tree pruning
Solomon was too rich
Abraham was too old
David was to young
Timothy had ulcers
Peter was afraid of death
John was self-righteous
Naomi was a widow
Paul was a murderer
So was Moses
Jonah ran from God
Miriam was a gossip
Gideon and Thomas both doubted
Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal
Elijah was burned out
John the Baptist was a loudmouth
Martha was a worry-wart
Samson had long hair
Noah got drunk

In the cell, things go from bad to worse.We are already on ‘double secret probation,’ and are without phone and TV. We lost these things because Ruthie was on Sirkka’s bunk, getting her hair curled, for her mother’s funeral the next day. We lost these things for longer for Ruthie’s mother’s funeral than we did that time when the whole cell got busted smoking cigarettes.

Sirkka becomes progressively more infantile, manipulative, sexual and annoying, until finally she and Joyce get into hurling verbal insults at each other. Sirkka writes a note to the guards to get moved out, to a suicide cell. They move her. We do not know if she will return or not; she is running out of options and will soon have on her list of past addresses, every female cell in the jail.

I am relieved for the temporary quiet. While I do not want to attack her personally, because I like her and think she has a good heart, some of the things she did enraged me. Her food binges, for example. She would start grabbing at, asking for, and hoarding food until she had just a sick amount of food in front of her. Meat patties; four, five or six slices of bread; two, three or four helpings of mashed potatoes; mounds of cake and pudding. I had not even thought of my own struggle with bulimia in years, but having someone binge-eat in front of me several times a day, bothers me.

On top of that, she managed to eat and drink everyone else’s commissary, and talk people out of phone time, stamps, envelopes, paper, and anything else she could get. If you were away from your bunk, she took your blankets, or worse, demanded that you take your blankets and cover her up”like a baby,” and rub her back until she falls asleep “like a baby.”

In her waking hours, Sirkka walked around the cell half naked, screaming, yelling, giggling, and showing tits, ass and crotch to the Class D men working the hallway.

Her latest love interest on the outside is a crack-smoking married guy with four or five kids, that she had been sleeping with for drugs. When she leaves we all welcome the quiet. Turns out everyone hated the food binges. Plus, everyone hated her using their shampoo, soap, deodorant, hair brush, hair ties, and blankets.

At the same time we were all so annoyed, we felt sorry for Sirkka. We suspected that she came to our cell during a manic phase of a bipolar cycle. She was unmedicated. We dealt with her situation the best we could, and tried to remain kind.

All psychiatric medication was prescribed by a social worker, if it was prescribed at all. Perhaps an MD or ARNP was signing off on the prescriptions, but these people never laid eyes on the inmates, nor did they perform a single assessment. Given this deficiency in medical care, I had little hope that Sirkka would ever receive proper medical intervention during her stay in this jail.

I adjust the towel on my head and make my selection from the church handout before me:

Noah got drunk.

[cross posted at froggravy.wordpress.com]

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

10:38 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

The music for this post is Perpetuum Jazzile- Africa
You can click and listen while you read, or open in another tab and read.

Tulips and notes, jail art

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

Roadrunner, Turtle,   Bluebirds, prison art

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

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Razor Side Of The Balloons: Frog Gravy 57

11:45 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Rose, heart balloons and crane

Rose and heart balloons by Crane-Station on flickr. Jail art: colored pencil, ink and magazine ink.

In the end of The Red Balloon, the balloons all come to the boy, and take him away.

note: Frog gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

KCIW PeWee Valley women’s prison, mid-Spring, 2009.

What beauty! The sky is filled with hot air balloons. A festival of piloted spinnakers with magnificent colors and patterns. A parade in the air!

We are locked down. Because we contaminate the air. Razor wire and balloons will never mix.

There, in the air, are colorful symbols of freedom, of innocence lost, of escape. From maddness and war and inhumanity and pain.

So close I can read the letters, of corporate-sponsored inflated symbols. Symbols of a life I once had but lost. Of failure I can almost retrieve and take back.

I step into the store of my mind and say, “Put this on my insanity tab.”

Comes the reply: “Your credit is good with us.”

I pay and enjoy the ride in the Red Balloon.