cartoon bird with flowers by Crane-Station (as masonbennu) on flickr.
Frog Gravy is a Kentucky nonfiction incarceration account.
Frog Gravy contains graphic language.
KCIW PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary, my dad’s birthday, 1-7-09.
I finally got glasses. They are not the right strength but they will do for now. After nearly a year in the jails, in the constant fluorescent lighting, my vision, both near and far, is compromised, but with each passing day in the sunlight, my eyes are healing. I am not yet sure what my baseline vision will be.
Since I left the recycle job to attend school, I notice that the cardboard boxes that I used to break down have been piling up and piling up, into a huge mess. Another inmate that I used to work with tells me that the boxes area never looked such a mess when I worked there, and this is true. Not only do I enjoy work, particularly outdoor manual labor, I am also curious. When I worked with the boxes, I wanted to see where each box label came from, and so I always completed the pile of boxes set before me, no matter how large it was.
I mailed quite a few cardboard box labels directly to my family in Seattle for safekeeping, with notes that said things like, “You won’t believe this. This beef comes from Brazil,” and “The commissary handkerchiefs that inmates use in America are made by other inmates in other countries.”
I ask my former boss, Officer Osborne, what happened with the recycle area, and why it is such a mess, and he says, “A little of this. A little of that.” Which means that someone was fired, or sent to cell block (the hole) or both.
I miss seeing Bob, the fat friendly possum. But now I have my birds.
I spend most of my time in school now. Horticulture is a wonderful, diverse and fascinating field. My dream bird-sanctuary-of-all-time has now evolved into an aviary/ornamental horticulture dreamland. Maybe someday my dream life with birds will be fulfilled.
Since Kentucky is footing the bill, I decide to take full advantage of it. I am in school every day from 8 AM to 3:30 PM, and I am taking a wonderful night Biology class. I sign up for mammogram. I visit the eye doctor, the psychiatrist and the dentist. I draw and write. I visit the state-of-the-art gym and do aerobics. I speed-walk the ball field and talk to birds. I attend Sunday mass. I read Mother Goose and Space Books and everything else I get my hands on. I read The Adversary: A Story of Monstrous Deception by Emmanuel Carrere, which is the best true crime book I have ever read; I check out Naeem Murr’s The Boy(from inter-library loan) , which is the most hair-raising, poetic commentary on good and evil I have ever read, and read that twice. I make friends. I play cards.
I do not have to worry about the bills. Life is good. Writing about it is even better.
As I am leaving school one day, I encounter an inmate who is from McCracken County, where I am from. She says, “You’re from McCracken, right?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Small world, you know. I took my case to trial and lost.”
“Never take anything to trial in McCracken County,” she says. I have now heard this from many inmates, in various unrelated settings.
“Oh, that,” I say. “Hey, no worries. I love to write, you know, and…”
“So I heard. You’re the inmate that writes.”
“Yeah, and I mean, McCracken is the gift that keeps on giving. Did you hear about the inmate who got pregnant in the shower stall of her own cell? I thought that was effing hilarious.”
“Oh I heard all about it.Uh Huh. That was my husband, that got her pregnant.”
“Yeah. The guy that was having sex with her in the shower is my husband.”
“Oh my God, I am so sorry, I had no…”
“It’s okay, it’s not you,” she says.
“Man. That’s tough,” I say.
“Yeah, and wanna know the kicker?”
“You mean there’s more?”
“Oh, yeah. I get here, to PeWee, and the bitch finds me. She comes up to me and points to her pregnant belly and says, Your husband fucked me in the shower and now I am carrying his baby.”
In my mind, aside from the image of two people having intercourse in a jail cell shower stall, I collect some sociological data: a husband and a wife and a husband’s girlfriend and an unborn baby, are all locked up. Wow.
“Man, I am so sorry. I did not mean to hurt you even more. What an awful story.”
I feel terrible for saying what I said to this woman. I want to take my words back. I want to disappear.
We speak for a few more minutes and then go our separate ways. I never see the woman again.
Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like without birds.