Road. Jail art, magazine ink and colored pencil by Crane-Station on flickr. This is not very clear, in fact it is sort of surreal, and so it reminded me of a wendydavis dream, only nowhere as beautiful as her writing.
Frog Gravy is an account of incarceration in jails and in prison in Kentucky, in 2008 and 2009, and is reconstructed from my notes.
Names have been changed, except the name Ricky is real.
Frog Gravy contains graphic language.
During my stay in McCracken County jail, since education and treatment were unavailable, and there was absolutely nothing else to do, I began writing from morning until night, with no-shank pens. No-shank pens are only about four inches long and they are sleeved in flimsy plastic. Since we only received them on Wednesdays and since most inmates used the ink for mascara, keeping pens was difficult, and so sometimes I would mix water with the ink to make it last.
I wrote a great many letters, to the kind and receptive Governor Steve Beshear, whom I consider a good man, and also to Human Rights Watch, ACLU, Amnesty International, the Innocence Project, several agencies in Washington and Frankfort, a Louisville paper, and several Kentucky educators, such as the law professor and author, Robert Lawson.
I wrote about the jail conditions and I was hated for it.
I ran all sorts of stuff in to Frankfort, including the pregnant woman incident, the sexist Class D policy that prevented women from working, the lack of recreation, and the ban on education. I once even mailed two paper towel squares to Frankfort, and asked how they would suggest I clean a cell with six people in it, with the two paper towels that we had been issued. I absolutely swear I did these things.
When the state showed up for a surprise visit and interviewed me in the cell, with all of my no-shank letters attached to a clipboard, I knew my days in McCracken were numbered. Indeed, I was shipped out shortly thereafter.
Ricky’s World itself was better, as I have mentioned, but the inmates were very difficult to live with because they were hateful.
Birds, jail art, ink, magazine ink, and colored pencil by Crane-Station on flickr.
Ricky’s World, Fulton County Detention Center, Hickman, KY, 7/21/2008
Several inmates in the larger population cell have been moved to smaller cells, due to racial tension. I am now in a tiny four-person cell with five: three black and two white. Three black women keep me up until 3:30 AM (I go to work at 5:30 AM) talking about men raping chickens and sheep, girls having sex with horses, and their personal plans to immediately get pregnant upon release.
They are mean to me the next morning because I refuse to attend communion with them. I stay silent, fearing that any comment will start a race riot. They hate my writing. They hate my soap. They hate my t-shirt. They hate when I read. They hate when I talk. They hate when I do not talk.
In time, things simmer down. I absolutely refuse to engage in any conflict. I share my coffee. Things get better.
A fellow kitchen worker, Micki, develops an enormous boil on her ass, which comes to work with her each day, where she recruits other inmates into the kitchen bathroom to squeeze it, despite my repeated warnings not to do this.
Micki eventually fills out her $45.00 “protocol,” and the jail takes $45.00 and does nothing. By the time Micki is removed from the kitchen, three other inmates have staph. She is then started on an antibiotic without the benefit of a doctor visit, and eventually the culture result is positive.
Two of the staph inmates also work in the kitchen, and one has an untreated, purulent, red-streaked, draining arm wound. She is washing dishes without benefit of gloves, because none of us have gloves that fit. The jail has extracted the $45.00 and done nothing, so, she comes to the kitchen for work, gets a washrag, soaks the rag in vinegar, and rests the infected arm on the vinegar-soaked rag, on the side of the steel sink, explaining, for our benefit, that “the vinegar will draw it out.”
Another kitchen worker has a positive TB skin test, but the jail does not want to pay for a chest x-ray. After working in the kitchen for weeks, they place her in the crowded cell and tell her that she cannot return to work until she contacts the jail she came from, the rationale being that the former jail may have done an x-ray.
In addition to the myriad of physical illnesses and acute conditions as well as rampant morbid obesity, this jail is as rife with mental illness as any state insane asylum. Bipolar illness is a given, but there is also an abundance of paranoid schizophrenia. I assume that a good deal of the tension and fighting and hateful acts are actually due to untreated mental illness.
Still, the days in Ricky’s World are a test of my patience, and I am grateful for the chance to draw and write, because otherwise there is the possibility that I might slam someone up against a wall and start yelling, “There is nothing wrong with you, other than that you are a mean, despicable, lying, hateful bitch!! That’s it! And don’t “give it to God.” Stop being mean, rude and hateful.”
Author’s end note: Frog Gravy posts are always posted at MyFDL on Firedoglake.com first. I write about other subjects there also, under the name Crane-Station