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
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.