Archive for July, 2011

Barn at winter by Crane-Station

Barn at winter by Crane-Station, colored pencil and magazine ink. Jail art.

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

Names have been changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

This post is from jail.

These posts are also on, in MyFDL, with my diaries.

I was raised Presbyterian, and we used to have a discussion group called “The Forum Hour” after the service. This is where I saw a short movie called An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.

The movie is about a condemned man. He is to be hung, from a bridge. When he is dropped, the noose breaks. In the water, he loosens his hands and swims. He reaches a garden and reunites with his wife.

But it was all only a dream. The images flash in his mind, after he is dropped from the bridge and before he feels the searing pain of his neck breaking.

Here is a Wiki summary

I often think of this man, this bridge, this dream of his, and his reality.

McCracken County Jail Cell 107, sometime in February, 2008

“Better hide that calendar,” says Christie.

“Why?” I ask.

“They’ll take it.”

“It came with some bible studies. It has a bible verse on it.”

“I don’t care, they’ll take it. They took mine, and it came from my minister.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because they can.”

I hide the calendar and we talk. There is absolutely nothing else to do.

Lea is a State war-on-drugs inmate. She is about my age. She has apparently been kicked out of drug court for a dirty urine. She shares with us that she has no hope any more, and that she wishes she would have not agreed to drug court in the first place, because now, she will do more time than she ever imagined.

Lea says she cannot help it, she wants to drink and use: “I hate it. I hate it because I don’t want to come up out of here like that again but I can’t help how I feel. I’ve been up in this piece of shit hole for 13 months now. I don’t want to go out and use and end up back in here but I can’t help it. When you’re stuck in this room 24/7, when they treat you like a fuckin’ animal, when you’re sittin’ here in fuckin’ pain, when you can’t sleep because your roommates are yelling all night, and it makes you want to fuckin’ scream. All that pisses you off and it’s always on your mind. I don’t know how I’m going to act when I get out. I can’t help it. When they’ve fucked you out of hours of sleep a night with the light thing…”

“The light torture?” I ask.

“Yeah, little things like the light. One night may be okay, but, say they’ve fucked you out of five or six hours of sleep a night for six months. You don’t think anything about the light, but they do it to you over and over and over.

Meg is on the phone saying, “If you come to my next court date you can slip cigarettes through the hole in the pretrial room…”

Down the hall, Harry yells from his isolation cell, “Let me out! HELP! HelpmehelpmeHELP! HELP!”

I say to Lea, “Like the cold, like never allowing recreation. Keeping us in this tiny cell with no outside time at all, month after agonizing month. Like not allowing us to even attend a single 12-step meeting.”

A few days later, Lea has a visitor. She returns to the cell after the visit, in tears.

Her visitor was her 15-year-old son. He was on the run from another state, where he was in foster care, and where he had been busted with some pot at school.

Lea tells us that her son was thin and pale, and that he did not have enough clothes to stay warm. She tries to contact some friends to see about getting the boy someplace to stay, some clothes and some food.

Lea is eventually transferred to PeWee, where she is happier. We do not hear any more. Until a while later.

Lea’s son was subsequently arrested and convicted of a violent crime. He and a couple of other teens robbed and beat an elderly woman, breaking her hip and critically injuring her. They demanded money. She told them she did not have any money. They beat her. They left her there. They returned and beat her some more.

Lea’s son received an eighteen-year sentence.

Meanwhile, all these years later, I notice that Lea is serving out a fifteen year sentence for her original drug charges. Here is what that looks like (identifying information deleted):

Conviction Information

Offense Number 1
Indictment #: XXXXXXXXX
Crime Date: 04/16/2005
Conviction Date: 07/12/2005
Conviction County: McCracken Indictment Count: 002
KRS Code: 218.A5002
Felony Class: D
Sentence Length: 0005 years 00 months 00 days

Offense Number 2
Indictment #: XXXXXXXXX
Crime Date: 04/16/2005
Conviction Date: 07/12/2005
Conviction County: McCracken Indictment Count: 001
KRS Code: 218.A1415
Felony Class: D
Sentence Length: 0005 years 00 months 00 days

Offense Number 3
Indictment #: XXXXXXXXX
Crime Date: 10/20/2004
Conviction Date: 07/12/2005
Conviction County: McCracken Indictment Count: 001
KRS Code: 218A.00
Felony Class: D
Sentence Length: 0005 years 00 months 00 days

Parole Information

06/12/2007 Parole Recommended
12/14/2007 Deferred 009
09/16/2008 Parole Recommended
01/07/2010 Deferred 009
10/12/2010 Parole Recommended
07/07/2011 Serve Out

I think it is ironic that Kentucky believes that beating an elderly woman nearly to death is roughly equivalent to possessing a rolling paper, a prescription blank and some pills, in terms of sentencing.

Lea is considered a Class D non-violent drug offender. Since Kentucky has now eliminated all drug treatment for Class D non-violent offenders, she will serve out her sentence, as you can see above, and then she will again return to the community, untreated.

Meanwhile, her son will likely do 85% flat on eighteen, because of his violent crime.

The victim in this tragic case, the elderly woman, will likely live the rest of her life in pain.

If the elderly woman inadvertently places a pain pill into the wrong container, or if she sells a pain pill because there is no heating assistance to the elderly any more, or if she gets a pill from a friend because her Medicare has been cut off, and she is in pain but cannot afford a doctor, she will be arrested and locked up as well.

Author’s end note: I produced the drawings in Fulton County, and later at PeWee. McCracken County Jail banned all art materials as well as educational materials of any kind, unless they were expressly religious. I was also not allowed FWIW to attend any 12-step meetings whatsoever, during my stay in McCracken County Jail, even though I was serving time for a non-violent drug conviction.

Bird drawing  by Crane-Station

Birds, drawn in jail, by Crane-Station. Colored pencil, magazine ink.

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

This post is from jail.

Frog Gravy posts are also located on, in MyFDL.

Names have been changed, except in this post, the name Ricky is real.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Ricky’s World, Fulton County Detention Center, Hickman, KY, 7-31-08

Ricky’s World is a vast improvement over McCracken County Jail,contrary to inmate urban legend. Some would strongly disagree with me. Ricky runs a tight ship. His is, for the most part, a jail that serves as a prison for Class D non-violent drug offenders. Men outnumber the women, and the jail is overcrowded.

Almost everyone is offered work, since nearly all of the inmates are “final sentenced” State inmates. There is one 12-step meeting each week. A caring priest, who is like a counselor to me and many others, visits each week.

The library is actually quite good. When family members send books to us, we are required to donate them to the library, and then check them out. One of the first books I checked out was The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. There are history books, some educational materials, and children’s books. Since I love Mother Goose, I occasionally check out nursery rhyme books. I also become a fan of Sudoku. We can check out board games as well.

We are actually offered legitimate recreation for one hour each day. The outside cage is tiny, but it is outside nonetheless, and if you crouch and peek through the keyhole in the steel door to the outside world, you can see a cemetery.

There is another view to the outside, through a small window in the kitchen. You can even see some trees.

Lights are actually turned off at night. During the day, they are not quite as burning to the eyes as the lights are in McCracken.

We are allowed real pens. But the best part is the colored pencils. We can get them from canteen. I begin drawing nearly every day. I mail the drawings to my family. I combine colored pencil work with colors from magazine pictures. If you rub deodorant onto some toilet paper and then rub that onto a magazine picture, the ink comes off nicely and you can use it for art work. It also makes nice makeup. I find all sorts of pictures, in magazines and books, and I spend my spare time drawing, and experimenting with various items in the cell that serve as art supplies.

My hands are still raw from my first job here: washing inmate dishes in the kitchen. I am transferred to a different kitchen job: prep crew. In the evening, when the clean-up crew is finished, we go to the kitchen and fill butter and jelly cups and make Kool-Aid. Then we cut fresh vegetables.

We fill 250 butter cups, 250 jelly cups, and make 50 gallons of Kool-Aid. Then we cut hundreds of pounds of vegetables; Okra, cucumbers, and squash. Most of the cut vegetables are used in inmate meals; guards occasionally take home sacks of the cut vegetables.

There is no screaming man in an isolation cell, and the guards are very nice, for the most part. Some are older; we call one elderly woman “Miss Granny.”

At night, I try to invent ways to minister to my swollen hands. They are shiny, red and blistered. The guards occasionally bring me a bandaid. I carefully slice the it into two strips with a tiny scalpel that I have made from my disposable razor. Two bandaid strips last me most of the day.

I make the scalpels by stepping on the plastic razor carefully, breaking the plastic away from the blade. Then, I fold the blade until it breaks into two parts. I leave some plastic around the ends of the blade. I use the tiny instruments for sharpening pencils and separating elastic sock threads to make hair ties.. However, since they are considered contraband shanks, I keep them carefully hidden.

Bandaids are not sold on commissary; the jail wants you to fill out a “protocol.” A protocol is also known in some circles as a “medical kite,” a request form to see the medical department. When you fill out a protocol, the jail takes $45.00 off your books, and sends you to an office where you have a conversation with someone who tells you there is nothing they can do, or, it is not their department.

Sometimes, but not very often, a Tylenol is given. I have seen inmates pay as much as $90.00 for a single Tylenol tablet. I prefer Advil anyway, and it sells for $1.00 per tablet on commissary, so sometimes I splurge and get some Advil. The jail makes hundreds of dollars each month from this alone.

One woman I work with also lives in my cell. Her name is Colleen. She must weigh at least three hundred pounds, and she is very sweet. Inmates take advantage of her and make fun of her. Her hair is thinning. So is mine. I wonder about some nutritional deficiency causing accelerated aging in everyone.

Colleen is accident prone, and one day in March of this year, she slipped and fell, while working in the kitchen. She may have broken her arm, but no real doctor ever looked at it.

Now it is nearly August, and her arm is still swollen, shiny, red and painful. It looks like a great big shiny ham hock. She wakes up crying at night.

The jail will not allow Colleen to have a bag of ice without a protocol. Colleen filled out the required protocol. She paid the required $45.00, met with some staff, and returned to the cell.

The staff did not want Colleen to open the bag of ice and use the ice in her KoolAid, so they put garlic, salt and spices all over the ice and then delivered the whole mess to the cell, not realizing, I assume, that salt melts ice.

In the middle of the night, the bag leaked garlic-spice-salt water all over a couple of bunks and the whole cell reeked of garlic. Colleen got no benefit for her $45.00 bag of ice because the salt melted the ice, and Colleen was left with a plastic bag that looked like a used condom.

“What do you think?” she asks me, as she tries to wiggle a puffy, sausage-sized finger.

“I think you need to see a doctor,” I say.

Colleen tries to tell the staff that she cannot work, and they threaten to put her in the hole if she does not work. Somehow, she fashions a sling from a t-shirt, comes to work, and asks me to whip the jelly for her, so that the jelly will be liquefied and she can use one hand to dip the jelly into jelly cups.

Meanwhile, I fill 250 butter cups and begin slicing cucumbers with another cucumber-cutter, named Fiona.

Fiona has some psychiatric issues that I have narrowed down to either borderline or Munchausen’s; I have not decided yet.

As we are cutting cucumbers, Fiona says, “I don’t know why they let me have knives. I put a butcher knife into my mother because she wouldn’t let me watch Rin-Tin-Tin on television.”

But she has a severe speech impediment, so the sentence comes out, “…I put a butchow knife intow my mothow…”

And I think, I am living in an insane asylum.

A Visit With A Minister: Frog Gravy 18

Posted: July 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

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

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

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail Cell 107, February, 2008

This morning I am called out of the cell to see a minister. I do not have a minister. Apparently, someone has requested a clergy visit for me. The minister is a nice-looking, soft-spoken gentleman. We speak through bullet-proof glass, on phones. I have a bible.

“My name is Brother Bryce Morris,” he says. “I’d like to share some scripture with you.”

“Okay. Sounds great,” I say. “Thank you.”

We pray.

“Now,” he says, “I want to go over some scripture about how a Christian is supposed to live, okay?”


“So, if you have pen and paper, write these scriptures down, okay?”

“Sure. Okay.”

“Okay. Romans 10:17. What does that say?” he asks.

“It says, “Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.””

“So faith comes through what?”


“Right. Hebrews 11:6.”

“But without faith it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek him.”

“What must we do?”


“Right. And now turn to Acts 17:30.”

As I turn to the passage I almost ask the minister if it is really true that Paul wrote Acts while he was chained to a wall in a prison, and that much of the New Testament was written by men who were in and out of prison, but I say, “God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now He demands that all people repent.”

“What does He demand?”


“And what does that mean?”

“Admit to our sins?”

“And try not to do them anymore. Right. Now, Romans 10:10.”

“…for one believes with the heart is so justified, and one confesses with the mouth is so saved.”

“What do we have to do to be saved?”


“Good. Now Acts 22:16.”

“Now why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name.”
“What do we do without delay?”

“Get baptized.”

“Now Romans 7:6.”

“But now we are released from the law, dead to what held us captive, so that we may serve in the newness of the spirit and not under the obsolete letter.”

Brother Bryce says, “So that’s telling us that the Ten Commandments are the old law. We are released from the old law and now we live under the new law.”

“We do?” I ask.

“Look at John 17:21.”

“So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that the world may believe that you sent me.”

“What are they talking about here?” asks Brother Bryce.

“Praise? Unity? I don’t know.”

“Look at Ephesians 4:4.”

“One body and one Spirit, as you were also called the one hope of your call…”

“What is that talking about?”

“The unity of the body?”

“Right, good. Now Ephesians 1:22-23.”

“And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the new who fills all things in every way.”

“What is this talking about?”

“The church.”

“And Mathew 16:18.”

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherland shall not prevail against it.”

“Who is talking?”


“About what?”

“His church.”

“The Church of who?”

“The Church of Christ.”

“I am going to talk to the jail chaplain about having you baptized into the Church of Christ.”

I am not sure what to say. I explain that I was baptized in a Presbyterian Church, as an infant, and that as an adult I find the social statements of the Unitarian Universalists a good fit for me.

Brother Bryce explains that the Church of Christ is the only true Christian Church, and that baptism in infancy will not get me saved. And, that the true church does not have music.

I thank Brother Bryce. A few days later I receive a very nice note from him:

It was good studying God’s word with you. And I pray that you will think about the scriptures we studied, and decide to be baptized into the Church of Christ. I have also enclosed some Bible lessons for you, when you have completed the questions, just return to me, and we will grade. May God bless you, and hope to hear from you soon. Brother Bryce Morris”

I complete the Bible studies and return them; they are meticulously graded by hand, and then promptly returned to me. In fact, the Church of Christ is very kind and generous to inmates, with ministry and Bible studies.

I am thankful for the visit.

However, I politely decline the baptism and conversion.

Author’s end note:

In this post I mention the Unitarian Universalist social justice statements. Here is a link

There is no such church in the town where we currently live, so I occasionally attend a small MCC service with my 12-step sponsor, when I have the gas to get there.

The Unitarian Universalist Church that was here at one time closed because the minister refused to condemn homosexuality, and this refusal was harshly criticized by a local group of working citizens. My understanding is that the minister relocated.

Some may be interested to know that Frank Lloyd Wright was a Unitarian. He designed a beautiful church in Chicago. One of my absolute favorite Frank Lloyd Wright creations was a home called “Falling Water,” and here is a link to that:

Unitarians have historically involved themselves in social causes such as underground railroads during WWII. Each Unitarian develops his or her own set of beliefs, so Unitarian congregations are often made up of people with diverse religious backgrounds.

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

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

This post is from jail.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail, Cell 107, February 2008

I am seated at the steel table, tearing the back blank pages out of various novels, and folding the pages into origami cranes. The novels are from the jail ‘library.’ The titles are: Killing Kelly, The Kill Zone, Renegade, Hand Picked Husband, Cold Night Warm Stranger and Love’s Stolen Promises.

Ruthie is seated next to me, watching. She wants to learn how to fold cranes. I have asked her to watch me fold a few first, and then I will teach her.

The current crane is from Hand Picked Husband.

Leese is on her bunk, writing a poem. Sirkka is on Terry’s bunk, rubbing Terry’s back. The television is on, airing The Price Is Right.

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

Christie is on her bunk, talking:

“Last time I was in the hole, I was next door to Trip, and I mean we talked all night. I am not lyin,’ he was hung just like a mule, and he’d get down onto the floor underneath the door like this…” (She demonstrates), “and stick his thing under the door and say, “Can you see it now?!””

“He was hung,” agrees Tina, “Especially for a white boy.”

Christie continues: “And he said if I send you a piece of paper will you wipe your coochie on it and send it back to me? And at first I wasn’t gonna do it, but he’d say, “Chicken, you chicken,” so then I did it.”

“And?” I ask.

“And there was all this pantin’ and everything, and then it was quiet.”

“Trip was a trip,” says Tina. “He used to jerk off at the window to the hallway when we were walking by his cell on our way to church service.”

“Didn’t he get kicked out of church for that?” asks Sirkka.

“Yeah,” says Tina. “And there’d be all this jizz on the windows…”

“That’s not as bad as Jennifer up on the table naked with a shampoo bottle up her cooch when the men walked by,” I say.

A male Class D, Walter, who has a crush on Christie, walks by the hallway window with a broom and signals Christie that he has a note for her, but he will wait until the guard passes.

The guard, Sally, opens the door flap to our cell, hands in a roll of toilet paper, and says, “You bitches is lazy.”

Sally closes the flap and leaves.

“Isn’t she going to retire soon?” I ask.

“She’s always been like that,” says Christie.

Walter comes back, and sweeps a note for Christie under the door with the broom.

Walter wants the other Class D who works the hallway with him fired, so Walter can have the whole hallway to himself. He has cooked up a scheme. He wants us to put a note out to the guards.

Walter has taken the time to compose the note for us. It reads:

“That man on Class D, second shift, askd us to suck his big black dick. We is white women and we are not enterested.”

Tina says, “I don’t want to write a note out on Cecil.”

“Neither do I,” I say. “He never hurt any of us.”

Terry says, “Yeah. He never hurt nobody.”

Suddenly Sirkka jumps up and runs across the room shouting, “OH! What the fuck was THAT?! You nasty bitch!!”

It seems that Terry has just farted.

Christie says, “She lifted her ass cheeks, just like a man.”

Tina says, “Something crawled up in there and died.”

“Put a cork in yer butt,” says Leese.

“I can’t poop. That’s the problem,” says Terry.

“Put some soap in your butt,” says Christie. “I used to do that with my daughter when she was constipated.”

“Yeah, it works,” says Tina.

I can’t believe it but Terry is headed to the toilet with soap in hand.

“Rachel, help me,” says Terry from the stall.

“Not with that, nope,” I say.

“Just put a little piece in, then pull it out,” says Christie.

“Does it burn?” asks Terry.

“Have you ever had a dick up your ass?” asks Leese.

“She didn’t just say that,” I say.

From the stall, Terry says, “I don’t believe you, Leese. Have you ever had a dick up your ass?”

“Hell, yeah. He done popped the head in and I kicked the motherfucker right off and ran to the shower, cryin.’ I cried when I shit. I don’t let no dick up my asshole.”

Tina says, “You can come with a dick up your ass.”

Terry (in the stall) says, “This burns like a dick up your ass.”

Christie says, “Put your leg up. Stick the bar further up your ass.”

Leese says, “Courtesy flush, courtesy flush!”


“You drop ten turds…you flush eleven times. You’re gassin’ up the cell,” says Leese.

“Nice. We smell like goat herders at a vulture’s dinner,” I say.

Tina says, “These conversations we be havin.’ I ain’t never gonna be right when I git out.”

“You ain’t right now,” says Terry from the stall. “Ha! You may be right but you ain’t right now. Get it?”

“…said the woman with a bar of jail house soap up her ass,” I say.

Author’s end note: Frog Gravy posts are also located on under MyFDL

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

Names are changed, except for mine, which is Rachel (This post is from jail, before I was known as Bird Lady. I never saw a bird when I was in jail.) ‘Twin Oaks Road’ is a changed name of a real road.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail, Cell 107, April, 2008

Ruthie’s 49-year-old mother just died. She was obese, like Ruthie, and she chain-smoked. She lived alone in a trailer. No one checked on her the entire weekend. She was found Monday, sitting next to the air conditioner, with an inhaler in her hand. The air conditioner was off, so the skin on the body split open and turned colors; the funeral will not be open casket.

Ruthie sits next to me at a steel table with a no-shank pen and paper. She starts to write a letter to a treatment center:

“I’m writeing to see if I could get into your program
Im really own drugs bad especily crack cocane I started using when I was 12 years old and it was pot then I started dranking at 16 then started snorting cocane at age 17 then about 19…”

“How do you spell snortin’?” asks Ruthie.

“s-n-o-r-t-i-n-g,” I reply.

She thanks me and continues:

“…then about 19 crack cocane I stop using drugs there for awhile when I found out I was pregnet I had 2 little girls did good for awhile unlike the father of my kids, my old man, went to jail for about 2 years at first I stayed clean about 4 months after he got locked up.”

This is the first and only period in the letter so far. She continues:

“then things got hard for me, like paying bills, supporting my kids, just life in general, and everyone around almost did crack cocane, so I look for that for an axcuse, to start back smoking crack-cocane, I started smoking crack-cocane for about the first 6 months then started doing it all almost, But I never really been addicted to pills, like I’ll have a crack pipe and a meth pipe goin at the same time and my old man wuz sellin dope and doin weekins in jail…”

Ruthie giggles and says, “A crack pipe and a meth pipe at the same time, that is high, don’t you thank that’s high?”

She continues writing:

“…my reasons I looked up to my sister when I wuz a child is my sister took care of me when my mom wuz in and out of jail and on drugs.”

Ruthie never knew her real mother, the one that just died, until Ruthie was 18, and they met each other here in this jail.

Until that time, Ruthie had a last name and a social security number given to her by her foster parents. Then, her real mother gave her a name and a social security number, since the foster parents had been sexually abusive.

I ask, “What about your father?”

“Oh, he was murdered,” replies Ruthie. “I got a tattoo of him right here, on my arm. Yeah, he was murdered. It was in the news.”

“What happened to him?” I ask.

“Oh, it was over money. They done hung him with his own belt buckle. This man and this lady.”

Terry says, “Well fuck me runnin’.”

“They tried to stuff him into the trunk of a car, but he was too big, so they done drug him back into the house. I saw his body. He’d been dead for a week. He was split open, and there was maggots everywhere. Seein’ that changes you. I ain’t been right after seein’ that. Don’t you think it changes you, Rachel?”

“I cannot imagine that,” I say.

Down the hall, a guard yells at a white man in an isolation cell to “stop acting black,” and further down the hall, Harry yells from his isolation cell, “HELP! Let me out! Helpmehelpme help. HELP!” The mailman comes and retrieves Sirkka’s outgoing trick letters that she has written in hopes of receiving some commissary money.

Ruthie says, “And Mama’s body done swolled up and busted. They cain’t have no open casket. They say the smell was awful.”

Terry asks, “Where did your mama live?”

“The trailer park out Twin Oaks Road by the church and down by the liquor store.”

I note that everything in Kentucky seems to be in relation to a church, a jail or a liquor store.

Ruthie says, “Yeah, and you know when that lady came by the cell with Brother Phillip?”


“She had me sign some papers to say they could sell Mama’s trailer, and car, and all her things, so they could bury her. They said that that burial insurance wasn’t no good.”

“Oh jeez,” I say. “It was probably a scam.”

“Now I ain’t got nowhere to go when I git out,” says Ruthie. “I ain’t gonna have nothing.”

Christie says, “You signed something?”

I ask, “Do you have a copy?”

“No,” says Ruthie. “I shouldn’t a signed it, huh?”

Christie says, “Ruthie! Don’t ever sign anything when you don’t know what it is!”

In the next day or so, Ruthie leaves the jail in handcuffs, to spend ½ hour at her mother’s funeral. One of the jail guards, Sally, knew Ruthie’s mother and sent flowers; they were the only flowers that anyone sent.

The next day, guards come by and get Ruthie, and she returns to the cell in tears and in hives.

She has been charged with two new felonies, each carrying a potential additional five-year sentence: giving a false name and giving a false address.

The address is false, because the trailer was sold, to pay for the mother’s burial.

The name was false, because Ruthie provided both her foster care name and the name that her real mother had given her.

Ruthie was 9th-grade special educated and did not understand the forms. She is on disability and cannot even work a cash register because she cannot count back change. She is obese, because she does not know anything about nutrition or diet. She does not understand her own drug addiction, and she does not really even understand her original charges.

We again admonish Ruthie for signing forms that she does not understand. We tell her to go before the judge and explain her inability to comprehend, her education level and her learning disability.

I feel a terrible sense of guilt, because Ruthie had initially asked me for help with the forms, and I told her that it was inappropriate for me to see her private information and help her with legal documents.

I honestly thought that an appropriate person such as a public defender would help Ruthie.

I was wrong.

Author’s end note: There is an introduction to Ruthie briefly in this early post:

Frog Gravy posts can also be accessed by scrolling backward through my posts here at Firedoglake at MyFDL

Peace, Peace: Frog Gravy 14

Posted: July 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

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

This post is from prison.

Names have been changed, except for the teacher’s name and the name Columbus Dorsey in this post. My nickname in prison was Bird Lady.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

PeWee (pronounced Pee Wee) Valley Women’s Penitentiary near Louisville, KY, 5-4-09

Last night, officers woke three Ridgeview inmates at 2 AM, ordered them to pack their belongings, and then shipped them to Otter Creek, the privately owned prison in Appalachia, Pike County, eastern Kentucky. Inmates are loaded and transported like slaughter cows in the middle of the night. This way, families have no advance notice.

Two of the women were enrolled in college courses on scholarship, and were one exam shy of course completion.

Rhonda was my classmate in Horticulture. I had tutored Ashley, who had never completed the tenth grade, through perfect squares and complex polynomials in Algebra.

Fearful that I may be in the next Otter Creek shipment, I decide to walk to school in the morning to see if I am still enrolled.

As I leave the dorm, Rochelle says, “Bird Lady. Your birds is waitin’ on you.”
“I know. Thank you,” I say.

Twenty-five pairs of black liquid eyes watch my every move. They recognize my face, hat or no hat, pony tail or not., and they follow me and only me. Fussing and chirping, they dive-fly in front of me, reading my kindness for the weakness that it always is.

I toss them some bread when the officer is not looking.

This is my little acrobatic sparrow troupe, always performing on the gymnasium of the barbed and razor-wired fence outside the dorm. There are also starlings, cardinals, doves, robins, mockingbirds and crows.

The crows, happy, cunning and aloof, gorge themselves on beached, then baked earthworms that are like bird potato chips. When no one is looking I try to save as many beached earthworms as I can, moving them off of the sidewalk stove and into the grass.

The teacher, Miss Heavren, is not expecting me because I was not planning to be there, but since I am, she asks me to do some work for her. I am seated in her office, gathering things to file, when a practicum student, Melinda, bursts in the office door.

“Miss Heavren. This bird flew in and broke its neck and it’s dead, so what do you want us to do with it?”

I am on my feet. When I get to the bird, I see another practicum student, Justine, beating the bird with a broom.

“Stop it,” I say.

“It’s dead.”

“Then stop beating it.”

As I reach for the small bird, it bursts, quite suddenly, into flight, albeit a short one, and then comes to a stop, panting, under a desk.

I pick up the bird and stroke its head. The bird relaxes and seems to dose off.

It is a baby dove.

Having seen the mother dove just outside the building, I put the baby in a safe place outside in the flower bed, where the mother bird can retrieve it.

But it dies there, where I left it.

I secretly bury the bird next to Columbus Dorsey. Well, his grave anyway. PeWee Valley was once a plantation, and there is actually a grave here. The cement gravestone says, “Columbus Dorsey, age 26 years and 10 months. Please remember him in death.”

“Well, Columbus, here is your baby dove to take care of,” I say.

I never tell Justine that the baby dove died, because I do not want to give her the uplift or the satisfaction, or whatever it is.

I want to go home.

I want to go to my childhood home and pick strawberries with my dad. I want to read stories to my mother in the car. I want to sit with her and drink tea, and reminisce about her days as a high school English teacher.

There is an old hymn we used to sing, or the choir used to sing anyway, in the Presbyterian church that I was raised in, during Christmastime. It was a round.

For some reason the hymn plays over and over in my head.

Peace, peace. Peace on the earth.

Author’s end note: Frog Gravy posts so far are gathered in one place here:

or you can scroll backward through my posts at at MyFDL.

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.

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 in 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, 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.

Frog Gravy posts are also posted at in the MyFDL section.

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.

Kentucky would rather lock up a kid than educate him or her.

Kentucky would rather lock up a non-violent minor drug offender parent than educate the child that is left behind.

I am always looking at pictures of kids in Iraq. Ginny’s 19-year-old son is in the meat grinder in Iraq, posing in front of this blown up building and that one, while Ginny sits in this prison for a personal-use possession charge, showing us pictures of her son who is not old enough to drink, posing in front of blown up buildings.
The media will never tell the passing public that the children at war in Iraq are taking smiling photographs of themselves in front of blown up buildings in foreign countries and then sending them to their mothers in prison, to lessen the emotional burden of the mothers, and make them proud.

When the children are killed, the media will never show the coffins.

The media will never tell the passing public that when the mother gets out of prison and the son comes home from the bogus war that they will reunite and exchange sincere, empty blank stares with each other.

Seems like all the money goes to wars and prisons and then more wars and more prisons.

I am working landscaping, raking leaves and placing them into bags. I work this job in the bitter cold because I cannot stand to be inside after a year in the jails where I never saw a blade of grass. I wear several khaki shirts and two pairs of khaki pants, and a khaki jacket and a stocking cap that is called a toboggan.

My eyes are beginning to heal from the harsh fluorescent lighting in the jails, where my body could not process Vitamin D, because I so rarely was allowed to be in a cage that was located outside in the sunlight.

I put a towel over my head under the toboggan, but am told to remove it, because if my face is covered, I will be charged with felony escape, a charge that carries another five years.

I cut the toes out of my socks and wear the socks on my arms as arm warmers, and I cover them with my jacket sleeves so that I do not get a write-up.

In here, a write-up is like an arrest on the outside, complete with an arraignment, a plea, legal representation from the ‘jailhouse lawyer’ department (which has inmates that are better ‘lawyers’ than the one I had in McCracken, I might add), a negotiation, and either some disciplinary action or a dismissal of the charges.
I remove the towel because it is not worth it. There are far too many other worthwhile risks. Like getting food to the birds, which is strictly forbidden and carries stiff penalties such as cell block time (time in the hole). I have priorities. That is why they call me Bird Lady in here.

At the end of the day, for the benefit of all workers in various jobs, the new cost-cutting measures are posted. Cost-cutting rule violation carries stiff penalties, of course.

1. We will be allowed only one glove, to clean the toilets.

2. On landscape, trash bags will be rationed and buckets will be used in lieu of bags.

3. Kitchen staff is to save and re-use their disposable hair nets.

4. Cookies, cake, slices of ham, patties and other food items will be counted and accounted for.

5. State-issued Kotex pads are rationed.

6. State-issue bath soap is rationed.

7. State-issue toilet paper is rationed.

8. No more Styrofoam cups in the kitchen.

9. One-half of the prescribed amount of soap and sanitizer will be used to wash inmate dishes.

10. Kitchen workers will carry their own toilet paper to work.

11. Only one paper napkin per inmate. This will be controlled by hand-to-hand issue of napkins.

12. No refills on KoolAid. A guard will be assigned to the KoolAid dispenser to enforce this.

13. If an inmate uses the restroom labeled “inmate restroom” in the kitchen, she will receive a disciplinary write-up.

14. Applesauce will no longer be available as a substitute for iced cake and cookies, without a doctor’s order.

15. Snacks are only issued to insulin-dependent, and not diet-controlled diabetics.

I make an appointment with medical and see the doctor about the applesauce.

At the appointment, I cite a lengthy and painful history of bulimia, state that I am in my twelfth year of abstinence, and report that iced cake and cookies are a trigger for me, and I do not want to relapse. I request the applesauce substitute.

My applesauce request is denied.

A friend of mine, Rosie, works in the kitchen, and I find her, and we set up the following long-term arrangement for bootleg applesauce: I will supply her with coffee and creamer, acceptable currency in the prison 15th-century black market bartering economy, and she will supply me with applesauce.

She even gets me fresh fruit on occasion.

And that is way more than I would have been allowed with a doctor’s order.

The heart attack inmates, however, will continue to eat iced cake and cookies because calories are cheaper than nutrition in this country. This state will continue to pack inmates into jails and prisons and then pack calories into the inmates, while sons and daughters are blowing up buildings in foreign countries, in wars that they cannot possibly understand.

While inmates eat iced cake, the sons and daughters in the wars eat Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s), provided by the military.

Meanwhile, the media will tell the passing public that sacrificial hockey moms in expensive lipstick are sending their children to wars. The hockey moms will be portrayed as martyrs as well as saints.

There will be no mention of inmate mothers with enlisted children. There will be no mention that these children had little choice but to enlist, because the family was broke, with one or both parents in prison.