Fried Bologna: Frog Gravy 66

Posted: December 18, 2011 in criminal justice system, KCIW PeWee Valley, philosophy, prison

Splitting the bill:

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

Inmate names are changed.

McCracken County Jail

McCracken County Jail in Paducah, KY by Crane-Station on flickr.

The new McCracken County Jail

The new annex to McCracken County Jail in Paducah, KY by Crane-Station on flickr. The jails and the courthouse dominate the downtown Paducah landscape. Although Paducah has an excellent public library, I rarely visit the downtown area. Underneath the white paper on this jail is a lot of steel rebar. The new jail will add to, and not replace, the old. Class D nonviolent offenders will likely inhabit one of the structures for the duration of their sentence.

Today’s McCracken County Jail census: 466 inmates.
Paducah’s 2010 census population: 25024

Kentucky’s Class D census today: 9249
(from advanced search, KOOL)

Kentucky’s total inmate census today: 22249

Kentucky 2010 census population: 4339367

As you can see, nearly half of Kentucky’s inmate population is nonviolent Class D. The vast majority of these people will be warehoused in cement, in the jails, and then they will be released directly to the community. Lengthy sentences for Class Ds increase the jail profit margins. Lack of programs increases the chances of recidivism.

Recidivism is the return to an adult facility within 24 months of release. From my anecdotal observation, recidivism is more common than not.

KCIW PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary, near Louisville, KY, Late Fall into Early Winter, 2008-2009

I rake leaves fallen from beautiful oak and maple trees. Lady bugs often land on me. A caterpillar the size and weight of a mouse is sunning himself on top of a picnic table. He is green, with red-orange hairs and dots, and he will turn into a moth that appears to have eyes on his wings.

We have a couple of feral calico kittens on the yard that we are forbidden to feed, under constant threat of a disciplinary write-up. This morning at breakfast I sneaked some contraband fried bologna out of the cafeteria. The guard in front of me had her back turned and was harassing another inmate about feeding the cats, so I sneaked to the corner of the chapel with my meals-on-wheels bologna, only to discover about a 2-inch pile of already-delivered bologna. The cats are not starving.

I also keep my precious birds well fed. Each day, in the dining hall, I sneak food into my pockets. Bread. Cornbread. Hotdogs. Cake. I am the Bird Lady. Others hand me things; overflow goes into my hat. Pancakes, sausages, chips. If I get caught,they will likely put me in the hole, and if they do I will get 20 stamps, pack my shit and rest my neck on concrete for 45 days. Nothing scares me though. Not after the cement living grave of the jails.

For the most part, due to the birds, prison is okay. But I wonder about some of the practices, especially when it comes to nonviolent pregnant people.

One pregnant inmate in the ‘medical’ unit began screaming when she started to experience either chest pains or labor pains. She screamed in pain for something like an hour. So, there was all this screaming.
Guards called an ambulance. They made the woman undress and put on the requisite orange jail clothes, and then they handcuffed and shackled her like they did me for my Hannibal mammogram.

Meanwhile, the ambulance had to go through a search procedure where the guards check the engine and all underneath the vehicle, in case one of the drivers was using this call as an opportunity to do a little drug smuggling.

This is what the war on drugs looks like.

By the time the woman was properly dressed in the right colors and handcuffed and then on top of that, ‘boxed’ (where a locked box is placed over the handcuffs) and then shackled in leg irons and chains, and the ambulance had been thoroughly searched and all of the paperwork was neatly and completely filled out, the woman had stopped screaming.

She was dead. So was the baby. CPR was unproductive.

My crows do not need me, but I need them. I chase their unrequited love as one would chase a college boyfriend who does not love you, never did, and never will. They visit me occasionally for the meat snacks. In my mind, I make their visits meaningful to them. But, for the most part, it is starlings and sparrows that I feed. They are the college boyfriends who have always loved you and always will. They are the ones that people say you should stick with, in lieu of the philandering bad boys. I stick with them all because I need them all; I tried discussing some feelings with the psychologist and he said, “no one cares,” and so I stick with my birds.

I push my 80-year-old friend Olivia, who I had Thanksgiving dinner with here, around the ball field in her wheelchair. Her leg is in a brace, and will be during her entire stay in the prison, because she broke her leg and injured her knee when she was boarding a van, shackled. Olivia and I enjoy the birds together. I can even get her to smile.

Olivia is here for ‘conspiracy to sell a controlled substance.’

On the outside, had the pregnant woman neglected to seek immediate attention for her medical emergency and her baby had died as a result, she would spend the rest of her life in prison for homicide.

But she was an inmate. So, no one cares.

“Hey, Olivia, look,” I say. I point to a cardinal couple.

“Oh, my, aren’t they pretty,” she replies.

This is what the war on drugs looks like.

  1. If you caught this post with some errors, I apologize. WordPress deletes my pictures when I make changes.

    Very sorry, and thank you for your patience.

  2. From Mother Jones:

    Inmate deaths are not uncommon or unique to Kentucky.

  3. laluna says:

    another poignant piece. we can close our eyes and try to blink away the images you describe; we can pretend and wish these conditions do not exist, but this sub-human treatment and abuse is a reality that none of us would choose to know or experience. it is the stuff of nightmares; a veritable hell.
    i am angered not only that these conditions exist, but especially so when the punishment exceeds, by all measures, victimless “crime”.
    we may punish our children in ways to help them learn lessons and limits. we imprison adults in a for profit system intended to rehabilitate, but in fact, allows sadistic abuse, neglect and death.
    i’m not certain i could survive the first emotional blow, or the next psychological and physical assault…and then the next, and the next.
    i can’t imagine the toll your confinement took on your loved ones, as well, and i am saddened by the empathic pain they must have suffered as they walked beside you.
    in celebration today, Crane-Station, of your freedom…your survival…and for the “angels” who surrounded you…the priest and the birds.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, laluna. This means a lot to me. I hope that Frog Gravy will shed the light of day on the secret incarceration society that we call ‘corrections’ in this country.

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