Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration in Kentucky, during the years 2008 and 2009, reconstructed from my notes. Some entries are from jail; others are from prison, such as this one.
I have changed the names, except in cases of nicknames that do not reveal identities.
Frog Gravy contains graphic language.
Ridgeview Dormitory (aka The Ghetto), PeWee (pronounced Pee Wee) Valley Women’s Penitentiary, near Louisville, KY, 11-19-08
I am sitting at a table in the noisy “dayroom,” of the Ridgway Dormitory at PeWee Valley Penetentiary talking to two fellow inmates, Cindy and Wheels Jimmy.
Cindy is a 46-year-old woman in a neck brace that looks thirty years older. She was in a bad accident, has had several neck surgeries, and requires more neck surgery. Her voice is hoarse from all the surgery.
Cindy has no teeth and hopes to get dentures from the State, for $188.00.
Cindy, like many other War on Drugs inmates, mostly older, disabled women, is in prison for buying or selling her pain medicine, either to get pain relief or make ends meet by paying the winter heat bill or other necessary bills.
Kentucky views women like Cindy, who can barely walk, and women like Wheels Jimmy, who is wheelchair-bound after breaking legs and arms, her hip, knee and back plus four or five ribs, and women like me as threats to society.
So, toothless Cindy, Wheels Jimmy and I sit in a penitentiary dayroom and chat. Taxpayers are paying $26,000 per year room and board plus medical, dental and eye care for the three of us to sit in this dayroom and have this conversation.
I am talking to Cindy. I only understand about 50% of what she is saying in her hoarse, toothless Kentucky drawl.
Cindy leans over to me, conspiratorially, and whispers, pointing to another inmate, “She can make sounds, like a chipmunk.”
However, I did not hear her quite right and I thought she said, “She can make a sow suck a chipmunk.”
Therefore, I answered Cindy and said, “Well then. So she’s a hustler.”
Cindy says, “Uh-huh. And that girl there…” She points. “That one barks like a dog.”
At this point, my mind is still processing the sow-chipmunk scene: The chipmunk has a litter of chipmunk-ettes somewhere, so she must have mama’s nipples, right? Moreover, the gigantic sow is somehow suckling from the chipmunk when suddenly there is a dog barking. Wait. Could the sow be sucking a chipmunk dick?
My hand to God, I cannot make this stuff up.
So I say, “Really?”
Cindy says, “Yeah, she sounds just like a chipmunk and she sounds just like a dog.” She points.
I say, “Oh that’s so funny,” but Cindy has no idea how funny it really was and I never tell her.
I am reminded of that comedian that attended some function with then-President Bill Clinton, and the comedian could have sworn that Clinton leaned over and whispered, “Bet they’s some bitches in here.”
We moved to our new home- Ridgeview Dormitory- on Friday. Ridgeview is a large dorm, with four wings.
This dorm is the farthest away from the dining hall, library, and main building. Everything is about a quarter to a half-mile walk. After the horrific year in the jails, I appreciate the walk, but for the many disabled women in wheelchairs, navigation about the property is difficult.
Wheelchairs line the front patio of Ridgeview Dormitory. At first blush and absent razor wire, one might mistake Ridgeview for a gigantic assisted living center for the mentally ill. With inmates doing all of the assisting.
Ridgeview does not house inmates serving lengthy sentences for violent crimes, for the most part. These inmates are generally housed in Pine Bluff Dormitory, unless, for some rare reason they lose their “honors” housing status.
Long-term inmates are generally more stable and well behaved, and they hold jobs in industries, the guide-dog training program, or the Braille translation program.
For example, an inmate must be at least five years away from parole eligibility to apply to be in the guide-dog training program. When the dog is a puppy, it is assigned to a specific inmate and lives with that inmate 24/7, never leaving the inmate’s side during its years of training. If a dog has a vest on, which is most of the time, other inmates do not interact with the dog by touching or petting it.
The Braille translation program has similar eligibility requirements due to the length of time it takes to learn Braille and then to apply the language to translate maps, for example.
I include this information for the online community because I am not sure how many folks are aware that inmates train guide dogs or translate Braille.
Ridgeview Dormitory is fairly new, very clean, and has the look of an institution. There are two people to each room. Each wing shares a common dayroom, with TV washer/dryer, microwaves and phones, and there are four wings.
A central, windowed, elevated security/control area houses officers in an aquarium. Officers see all from the aquarium, and they announce, summons, lecture, scold, and berate, pretty much all day, every day, usually because they must, or the place would come apart at the seams. Hence, Ridgeview Dormitory is also known as “The Ghetto.”
On my first night in Ridgeview, an officer announces from the aquarium, “There will be no bull-dyking tonight.”
Author’s end note: for ubetchaiam and others who may be curious about my legal case, I tried to include two documents here today, but we are having trouble doing this at the moment. I will post them near the end of the month, when we are reconnected.