Author’s note: This is a true story, reconstructed from my copious notes. It is also a much longer story than this post. If people are interested in reading about modern-day incarceration I will continue to write. If not, I will stop. The names have been changed but the story is real.
Jail. January, 2008
After seven days in the hole, I met with one of the jailers, a placement specialist. I had spotted a no-shank pen with ink on the floor next to where I sat, and was going to get it, one way or the other. I made mental note of the cameras and began talking.
“Please don’t put me in population. I mean, surely there’s a spot in one of those little cells in the back.”
“This ain’t the fucking Hilton.”
“Hey I know, you know, but I really have some, uh, mental difficulties in population, and if you can’t you can’t but I am just asking.” Please don’t put me in the screaming zoo.
“Hold on a minute.”
The jailer got up and walked away, I had to seize the moment, so I glanced at the cameras, dove for the pen and rolled it into the waistband of my orange jailhouse pants, all in one fluid motion I might add, and the camera people were none the wiser.
Another guard arrived.
“Get your stuff.”
I gathered everything that was my new life: a mat, a sheet, a small bar of soap, a hand towel, patted the pen to make sure it was secure…and I was led to Cell 107, mercifully, in the back of the jail and out of ear shot of the large population cells. The back cells are where they place violent offenders, State inmates (I was one of these now) and crazy people. A man, a few cells down in isolation screamed, “Helpme helpme HELP ME, Oh please HELLLP me, helpme helpme, help!”
I was now the sixth resident in this four-person cell. There is a certain finality to the steel door being closed when you are on the wrong side of it. At the time I did not know that this cell would be my home for the next four months. There was no good real estate left for my bed roll, I noticed immediately, and five people were looking at me annoyed.
Still holding my bed roll, I looked back at the door, where an artist had carved the words KILL FUCK DIE in block, and then had also scraped a frame with bunny ears to make the window facing the hallway look like a TV set. The ‘volume’ knob was labeled “valium” and the maximum setting was labeled “10 mg.”
I faced my tough audience.
“Any of you bitches got a cigarette?”
Everyone spoke at once.
“Welcome to Hell.”
“We can get tobacco if we show our tits to the guys in the hall.”
I jerked my thumb to the large window facing the hallway, where two male inmates, one with a mop and the other with a bucket were mopping linoleum but mostly staring at us, the women.
“Tits for tobacco?”
“Sometimes we fish.”
“We take the cable cord off the TV, run it under the door to the next cell if they have tobacco and we don’t, they attach a cigarette and we fish it back.”
“How do you light it?”
“Sometimes they light it next door and we fish it back lit, sometimes we have a lighter. But usually we just pop the socket.”
I claimed a new-person’s space on the floor while the usual introductions were being made and noted that there one one shower and one toilet and one steel four-person table for six people. I was told how to take advantage of the only view to the outside world: climb onto the steel toilet and squint, and you can see the dumpsters in the back of the jail through a two-inch slit that yet another artist had carved into a ghosted out bullet proof ‘window.’
My cellmates casually returned to the discussion at hand: how to beat a drug test.
Kathy said, “I tried all that goldenseal and all that over-the-counter shit, spent a fortune and still came up dirty.”
Tina said, “I had a friend who put urine in a condom, then stuffed it up there to keep it warm, then used a pin.”
“I know someone that used a Tylenol bottle,” I said. “With foil over the top and a fuzzy hair tie super glued around the rim in case any dirty urine leaked around the sides. Problem is, when she poked the foil, the whole thing- the bottle, the hair tie, and the foil dropped out and into the toilet.”
Kathy said, “What you gotta do is, for like twenty-four hours straight, before the test, do nothing but drink water. Drink as much water as you can possibly drink. My boyfriend does this and he passes every time.”
“Yeah,” says Leese, that used to work but now they are checking creatine levels, to see if you have been drinking too much water in the previous twenty-four hours. They confronted me on that and I’m like, my first urine was too dirty and now it’s too clean.”
“Hey!” I said. “Let’s make some money. We could sell our clean urine on eBay.”
“Twenty dollars a pop,” said Leese.
“Seventy. All day long.”
Christie says, “I have a story but it’s really disgusting.”
“No, I mean it is really disgusting.”
“Well, you remember that girl Cammie, she was really cracked out?”
“Yeah,” said Melissa. Knew her from the streets. She was beautiful.”
“She was. She’s dead now. She and one of her two babies died in a fire last year, remember that?”
“Yeah, it was so sad,” said Melissa.
“They say it was a space heater, but then later one officer said she had a meth lab in there. And when the firefighters arrived, she was dead and one baby was dead, but the other one was in the kitchen surrounded by flames everywhere except where the baby was.”
“How strange,” I said.
“Anyway, I was at her house once, we used to hang out until she caused me trouble. I felt sorry for the babies so I would take them things. But I had been called for a urine test so I told Cammie, go get the baby’s diaper, I need the baby urine. So we collected the baby urine and I came up dirty anyway.”
“Sounds like it might have been her,” I offered.
“I couldn’t figure out if it was me handling the bag that I put the urine in, or if it came from the baby, because Cammie smoked crack non-stop around those babies. I mean, I used to try to help, buy diapers and food, put clothes on them, stay with them. I told Cammie not to have all those men in the house with those babies, not to have all that around.”
I said, “I think the baby was dirty because they test for cocaine metabolites and not raw cocaine, don’t they?”
Christie said, “Yeah, and so do I. I think it was the baby.”
Author’s end note: I became very close friends with Christie, a beautiful woman, during incarceration. Christie is non-violent. She had a tendency to write bad checks to support her crack habit. (She is white, FWIW). She was given a 24-year sentence, denied all forms of treatment and denied drug court… and in May of this year she was served out on this sentence. I do not know how many more years it will be until she serves to her minimum on this, but she will return to the community, untreated.