Archive for the ‘feminist perspective on incarceration’ Category

Zbigniew Preisner- Damage Fatale:

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Inmate names are changed.

Ricky’s World, Summer, 2008

At 4 AM, the lights go on in our tiny cell, and a guard opens the steel door. Next to the guard, in the hallway, are five full 30-gallon black garbage bags.

“Well come on,” says the guard. “Help me with these.”

We drag the bags into the cell. The bags are heavy. There is one full bag for each inmate in this cell. The bags contain ears of corn that male inmates picked, from the jail garden. Our assignment is to shuck the corn, and be finished in time to go to work in the kitchen.

I get paid sixty-three cents a day for working in the kitchen but I do not get paid for the corn work, and neither does anyone else. Inmates who merely prepare vegetables for the whole jail never see a paycheck. On the days that we work, we may or may not have time in the outside cage for rec, because we are told that work counts as recreation.

We stare at the bags of corn.

Christina says, “You’ve got to be fuckin’ kidding me.”

“You ain’t never shucked corn?” says Monica. “And you from the country?”

“Hail no.”

“Well,” I say. “I’ve shucked corn. Just not at four o’clock in the morning.”

The irony is, that if this place, in Hickman Kentucky is not country, I do not know what country is. We are in the middle of nowhere, someplace near Tennessee, seven miles or so from the now-swollen Mississippi River.

I enjoy shucking corn and I enjoy work, but being forced to work with Penny in the kitchen after we shuck this corn is, I think, a little over the top, as far as punishment goes.

During our walk to work in the kitchen, where we will work unaccompanied by any guard, Penny engages in some transparent brown nosing of the guard, that includes ratting out the previous guard for various petty non-offenses. Penny’s brown nosing is usually more pronounced on the nights that she plans to steal stuff from the kitchen, because in her way of thinking, solidifying a chummy relationship with a guard on the way into the kitchen will elicit a less-than-thorough strip search on the way out.

While I have often joked about attempting to smuggle packets of this or that from the kitchen, I cannot imagine stealing while in jail, and so I refrain from it, and I refuse to ‘hold’ stolen items in my things, back in the cell.

In the kitchen, we pass the large ovens that sometimes have the porn magazines stashed behind them by male inmates who also work in the kitchen at staggered times, and I go to get a hair net, while Penny tries to hustle the guard out of food for consumption during work in the kitchen. Penny’s modus operand is to spend as much time as possible eating, hoarding, snooping around the place off camera, and stealing stuff, while pausing to look up Bible passages, criticize my work, question my faith in God and conclude that I am most likely a non-believer on the fast-track to Hell.

Penny locates a bible and I locate the work list for the night. Penny says something to me about how, according to the Bible, God allowed the holocaust to happen, in order to make the world a better place, and I say a silent prayer to the God of my own understanding to please not allow me to kill Penny with my bare hands, on the spot.

The work list says:

-make 50 gallons KoolAid.
-make 250 butter (margarine) cups.
-make 250 onion/pickle packs.
clean vent hoods.
-clean bathroom.

The rate-limiting step will be the onion/pickle packs, which take forever, even with two people, but while I begin this task, Penny takes out 1/4 pound of margarine, and fries up an enormous plate of onions for herself. While Penny is eating, I make the KoolAid, then do the butter cups, then slice the onions, and then begin assembling the packs.

All told, I completed 240 of the 250 onion/pickle packs, while Penny berated me for using and recording the allotted amount of Equal that I used for the KoolAid, instead of fudging the paperwork, and stealing the sweetener. This annoys me. While I have joked around about taking stuff, the fact is, that in the cell, in my things, I have commissary receipts and matching sweetener packets for every teaspoon of sweetener I have had in my possession. In my mind, I am not going to risk parole denial over theft of a teaspoon of sweetener.

For refusing to participate in petty jailhouse theft, Penny tells me that I really need to read James.

In the cell, Penny and I get along better, and one day, she tells me that she wants my help in preparing her for her GED, and I am thrilled because I love to teach. However, I realize, early in this process, that Penny never learned her times tables. I make some flash cards and say, “Okay. Let’s begin with the twos.”

Each day, we tackle a few more flash cards, and Penny begins to make progress.

I begin to re-think my initial harsh judgments of Penny. I had known nothing about her, or her life, or her struggles. I conclude that Penny is utilizing the same ineffective coping skills in jail that she used on the outside, because those skills are the only skills she has.

We become friends.

Later on, Penny asks for my help with a letter she is writing to a treatment center. The letter says:

To whom it may concern:

My name is Penny Stenson. I am in jail at Fulton County Detention Center in Hickman, KY

The reason for my unfortunate stay is my alcholism I am writting in hope of getting information about your program I would also appriciated a admittance application I only hope to get treatment for my sickness

Im look for a 30day inpatient program
I have three children that need there mother to be clean.
They are on there way to foster care by Decmber if I dont recive help. I am willing to go any were that will give me a bed date right away. I am willing to tr…

She hands me the letter and asks, “Can you help me with this?”

I read the letter. I feel the tears forming, and the hitch in my throat.

“Sure,” I say. “Of course I will.

I will be posting a Frog Gravy essay, as well as a Frog Gravy legal case Commonwealth brief today (I must transcribe the latter, and this will take some time).

In the meantime, I would like to direct your attention to Dr. Nandi Sojourner Crosby, PhD. She is the founder and editor at a small publishing press in California. Her website is souljournerpress.com. Here is a bit more about her publishing goals:

Soul.Journer Press evolved from a commitment to promote voices of struggle, truth, and change. In borrowing from Audre Lorde’s belief about a powerful poem, future works published by Soul.Journer Press will “punch you in the mouth from the inside.”

As you know, a sojourner is one who resides temporarily somewhere, as if needing to rest and reflect upon one’s lifelong journey. With Soul.Journer Press, we seek to promote writings that are vividly honest, well-constructed narratives of struggle, healing, and empowerment. In other words, we want to publish the depth of the human spirit. We are especially interested in reading and promoting the works of people who acknowledge accountability and who accept full responsibility for their choices in life.

We are a small press committed to creating printed and electronic books of creative nonfiction by persons who are deeply reflective and profoundly engaged in journeys toward their own fully human selves. We will promote the voices of individuals underrepresented in the readers’’ market, including prisoners, immigrants, differently-abled people, individuals not formally educated, marginalized youth, not-previously published persons, and many others. For now, our focus is mainly on publishing creative nonfiction anthologies, so that we may connect and heighten many powerful voices of honesty and candor.

I have been in contact with Dr. Nandi Crosby, and I am honored and grateful that she will be including three Frog Gravy essays in her upcoming book.

So far, only the addiction essay The Bridge of Sighs has been published (in Kentucky, 2009). I am extremely happy to see that some of the voices from women’s incarceration will be represented in her work.

I believe that Dr. Crosby has made some excellent selections.


Hannibal Mammogram
ends with a most interesting comment from the officer who escorted me to a mammogram.


Fried Bologna
is a good description of what the war on drugs really looks like, from an inside feminist perspective.

Meanness Among Warehoused Inmates is an absolute must-read, for a journey into the condensed madness of jail.

If there are any changes to this announcement, I will let my readers know immediately.

In case you missed it:

Bird drawing  by Crane-Station
Birds drawn at Ricky’s World by Crane-Station. Sorry if you have seen this. I have more jail art, but am having a temporary camera issue, that will be resolved soon. Thank you for your patience!

When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.

Franz Kafka
The Metamorphosis

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail Cell 107, winter 2008

I am turning into a bat.

I wear a cape to fend off the cold. I am going blind from the fluorescent lighting. I wear a towel on my head. I speak very little. I have hair on my face and on my body that I have no way of controlling and it embarrasses me.

My cape is my greying thin sheet. Sometimes I put the grey square scratchy wool blanket on top of the sheet, but it itches me because I am allergic to wool. When I asked for a cotton blanket, the jail staff refused because I was unable to provide documentation from an outside physician stating that I am allergic to wool.

I am in the toilet trying to brush what is left of a tooth that lost a crown. I have asked to see a dentist for more than a moth now, to no avail.

I have just taken a shower. The cell has no toilet paper, and so, when you have a bowel movement, you have to cup your hand underneath your crotch, and make a run for it, out of the toilet area and through the cell to the shower stall. Someone must stand guard, because the inside of the cell is visible to the hallway occupants. The hallway occupants are usually working Class D men, because Class D women are not allowed to work hallway jobs. No one wants the working men to see them running through the cell naked with shit and piss cupped in one hand, and so we look out for each other. In the shower, you use the other hand to depress the push-button spout that issues a ten-second spray of cold water. Some inmates use rags after they pee, but after a bowel movement, you really have to do the shower thing.

In the cell, YaYa works on a grievance about the lack of toilet paper and we all sign it. It says (picture coming with update- we currently have a nonworking camera):

We have been without tissue paper for 8 hours or more and the 2nd shift is telling us to get it on the 1st shift, they are too busy now. We are without tissue and no guards will bring us any.. We’ve asked and still no tissue. The jail gets money for state, federal and county inmates. There is no reason we should have to drip-dry. We are not animals.

The response reads:

You are given allotted amount of t/p and feminine products. You must use them accordingly.

Meanwhile, in the cell, Meg says to Lea, “I have pinkeye. Isn’t that contagious?”

“It’s incredibly contagious,” says Lea.

Christie says, “I can’t afford to get pinkeye in my eye socket. I can not afford to get pinkeye.”

I say, “Write a note to the doctor.”

Tina says, “Wash your hands.”

“I do wash my hands,” says Meg.

“They won’t do nuthin,'” says Lea. “They want you to get full-blown pinkeye, so everybody in the mutherfucker’ll get it. I’ve been here when everybody in the place had it.”

Down the hall, Harry shouts from his isolation cell, “PLEEEEASE! Somebody,HELP!!”

On the television news, the Amish men, six or seven of them, are in court in neighboring Graves County. Their hats are off and they are quiet. Displaying a large reflective orange triangle on their horse-drawn buggy does not coincide with their religious beliefs, and they are opposing the charges. Graves County is eager to accommodate the Amish in their county jail, and so the jail has pre-ordered dark gray outfits for the men.

I am actually sort of an autistic bat. I speak little, because I want to avoid conflict. It does not help that much. Inmates make fun of me anyway, because I am not from here, and because I took my case to trial. But it is okay that they make fun of me, because everyone is in pain anyway.

I write because there is absolutely nothing else to do but listen, write down what I hear, readjust my towel hat and my cape, and fold cranes out of paper scraps. For breakfast we had applesauce, sausage and cereal; for lunch we had a hamburger patty, corn, an apple and green beans, and for dinner we had a hamburger patty, sweet potatoes, carrots and cake.

I wander to the hallway window and read a new sign that is posted there, regarding a new clergy visitation policy. The letter is from the jailer, and it is lengthy. It says in part:

Clergy Visitation Policy

The staff at McCracken County Jail recognize the importance of one-on-one clergy visits in the rehabilitation of inmates…

However,to ensure the safety of…

The gist of the lengthy letter is that the jail will now limit clergy visits to entombed inmates by narrowing the times that clergy can visit, and increasing the red tape for both clergy and inmates to coordinate such visits.

The new policy is out of grave concern for inmate safety, and it is authored by the same folks who walked the bleeding pregnant woman in premature labor down the hall in handcuffs.

The newer, safer Policy:

-Clergy must now show their theological licensing credentials and documents to the jail staff, and the staff must approve the credentials.

-Hours for clergy visits will be limited to:

8:30-10:30 M-F (no weekends)

(11:30-4:30 M, T, Th,F (no weekends)

-No more than 30 minutes per visit.

-No lay clergy will be allowed. (So much for the laity! ie: nuns and deacons)

-No more than 2 visits per week.

-Clergy must be listed on a visiting list and the visiting list must be approved by the in-house jail chaplain. In other words, if you are not from the area, or if you do not happen to know any clergy in the area, you are shit-out-of-luck.

There are 450-475 inmates warehoused in this jail at any given time. Non-religious texts and educational materials are banned. The only materials allowed are specific types of religious materials. Okay. So now, we agree to get to know God better, and what does the jail do? They limit clergy visits.

To insinuate that clergy, many of whom have ministered in this jail for a long time, somehow compromise inmate safety during brief visits over the phone behind bullet-proof glass is insulting to the clergy who dedicate ministry to this jail.

Meg leaves and vacates her prime real estate and we all rotate our positions in the concrete and steel cell for four, that will soon house six again, as soon as Meg’s replacement arrives. I am in line for a choice spot on a steel bunk next to the cement wall. I started at the beach, between the toilet and the shower on the cement floor. Then I moved to the mountains on a top bunk where the lights were in my face, but now I am hoping for a cave before I lose my eyesight.

In my cave I reflect on the clergy visits and surmise that if I were to ask for a Shaman or a Unitarian, I would be deemed a witch and burned at the stake. Eventually, I dose off.

My dreams become trapped in the walls.

Barn at winter by Crane-Station
barn at winter by Crane-Station on flickr. jail art done at Ricky’s World.

In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.
-Albert Camus

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail Cell 107, winter, 2008

Meg announces to the cell that she is on her period.

“So?” says Christie.

“So, I get out in two weeks, and I can get some dick!”

Meg lives in a motel on the outside, where she trades her body for drugs. She has nine children; many of them were born while Meg was in jail. After Meg is released and after she gets her ‘dick,’ her tenth child will be born in prison, but we do not know this yet.

She has made the comment about getting some ‘dick’ to be mean, because she knows that the rest of the cell occupants are serving lengthier sentences than she has ever had to serve, and that we will be unable to know a man’s touch or have sex, and she will.

When the announcement about dick does not elicit much of a response, Meg starts in on Christie, who, having been denied drug court and now faces 24 years for nonviolent drug-related charges, is desperately depressed. Christie stays on her bunk all the time now, crying.

One of Christie’s felonies, by the way, is for a cold check in the amount of something like one dollar and seventy-two cents, whereas Meg, who will walk out of the jail and get some dick and get pregnant two weeks from now, has a lengthy history of theft and possession charges that, for some reason, she has never had to worry much about, in terms of serving any time.

Rather, during her frequent yet brief accomodations in the McCracken County Jail, she busies herself with the passive-aggressive practices of constant manipulation and torment of fellow inmates who will be serving lengthy sentences entombed in cement with no hope. Each time, Meg leaves, and gets some dick, among other things.

Meg says to Christie, “I think you are overreacting.”

“I can’t help it,” says Christie. I’m not overreacting. I feel really, really, really bad inside. People notice that there is something wrong. I can’t quit crying. I don’t mean to be such a bitch about it. I just don’t know what to do about it. I sleep 15 hours a day now. I can’t handle this.”

“It’ll be all right,” says Meg, who, two weeks from now will be having sex.

“You don’t know that,” says Christie.” I’m sorry. This isn’t me, but I just don’t know what to do.”

Christie cries.

Down the hall, Harry yells from his isolation cell, “HELLLLP! PLEEEEASE! Somebody! Let me out! Helpme helpmehelpme helpmehelpme Helllllpp…”

Sally is on the phone, calling her mother “a fucking whore.”

Sally calls her mother every five minutes or so, and treats her like a disobedient child. She says, at maximum volume, “I love you! Shut your fucking mouth, you’re nuthin’ but a lazy whore.”

Sally’s mother shouts back. Sally also screams at her 17-year-old son on the phone. She holds the receiver and says to us, “He ain’t got his books for home school yet. Can you believe that shit? My mother ain’t even got his books! She ain’t nuthin’ but a useless whore, don’t do nuthin’ but lay on her back all day.”

The son is supposed to be homeschooled by Sally’s mother, who is addicted to Vicodin and who never completed the eighth grade, because Sally is in jail.

The son is also apparently very sick, with some kind of severe illness that Sally cannot define. Munchausen by Proxy I think to myself, although I never say it. I think this to myself privately because Sally also self-reports severe, undefined illness in herself, and the mother is dysfunctional, and there is too much collective severe-yet-undefined illness in a young group of closely connected people. Sally looks healthy and robust. It is Christie, crying on her bunk, unable to get up, that I worry about.

I like Sally, and we get along well. I do not agree with how she speaks to her mother or her son, but Sally is amicable to fellow inmates, and she has a delightful sense of humor.

Meanwhile, Meg has come back to the cell from a brief visit to the jail library. The library is a jail cell with mostly paperback romance novels and religious materials, and a remarkable dearth of literature. Meg sets an arm load of romance novels onto the steel table, and then starts gossiping about YaYa, who was in the library, gossiping about Amy. YaYa is not here to defend herself.

Meg says, “I just wanted to hit her.”

I say, “She’s pretty big. Maybe that is not such a good idea. You know, hitting her.”

“The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

Meg taps on the wall to the cell next door, to arrange for her delivery of drugs for the evening, in the form of the inmate-next-door’s psych meds. Everything went okay for her first delivery, and I secretly hope that everything will continue to go okay, because when Meg is on someone else’s psych meds, she usually shuts up.

They make some arrangement.

Later, I am doing exercises on the floor next to the steel door when the steel door flies open, nearly hitting me, and there stands Tiffany, the sergeant, and she is irate. She says, “Who got the note from Carter!?”

“Who’s Carter?” I say.

“Who got that note from Carter!?”

Just then, we realize that Meg’s drug arrangement has not gone as planned. Carter, the inmate next door who was on psych medication, had wrapped two pills in paper and ‘fished’ them underneath her cell door and into our cell, under the door. But it did not work, because the note got stuck.

Tiffany leaves. Meg goes off on Carter. “Dumb bitch, she shoulda knocked.”

Meg smiles, giggles, and laughs, as though she had nothing whatsoever to do with the note or the pills in the note. She dismisses the whole incident, and gets on the phone to make arrangements with someone on the outside to smuggle cigarettes into the jail. Later, she tries to get me to make an appointment with the nurse and lie about some ailment, so that Meg can get Tylenol pills, or any pills. I refuse.

When I refuse, she makes fun of me, of my trial, of my conviction, of my lengthy sentence, and of the fact that she will be getting dick two weeks from now and I will not be getting any dick until it is too late for me to have sex, because I am too old.

In my mind I try to come up with reasons for meanness and lack of empathy among warehoused humans in the same predicament, and I wonder if people in the train cars during the holocaust were mean to each other. What is it, exactly, that brings out such hate? Perhaps it is overcrowding or demeaning, dehumanizing treatment, or lost confidence in ‘the system,’ or female jealousy, mental illness, lack of stimulus, or hormones, or frustration and separation from love, touch and family. Maybe it is a combination of everything.

I fold my cranes out of scavenged paper. I move them around. I adjust the towel on my head. I go into the bathroom and climb onto the steel toilet and look through the slit to the dumpsters outside.

I return to the steel table. I put the tiny cranes with the big cranes.

I stay silent.

“I can’t get out. He won’t let me out…”

John Carpenter
In The Mouth of Madness
Bicycle Scene

“It’s probably an apocryphal story,” he said. “But he deserves it. And those people who deserve an apocrypha, well, I find a peace in them. Even in the men who fuck me, I find peace, in all the lies of their lives, because they’re only living when they can hold a smooth blushed cheek against a blackness in their loins, and then they return to their fat wives. I love them. You can’t ever know what peace, what hope they give me…”

Naeem Murr
The Boy

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail, late winter/early spring, 2008

We are watching the news. This is rare. I savor it. I am not even really sure who will be running for president. But I can tell you how much weight the blue team of fat people lost last week on The Biggest Loser.

We hear about a pot bust at the BP station on Alben Barkley Drive. I say, “It’s dumb to get busted at that station. There’s always a cop car parked there.”

“The cops do that,” says Christie.

“Do what?”

“Park cop cars at gas stations, at WalMart, at the mall, and just leave the cars there. There’s no cops though. They just want people to think there are.”

“How do you know?”

“I realized it when I was smoking crack in the WalMart parking lot one time. I was like, there’s no cops there.”

“Seems to me that this time there were cops there,” I say.

During the news I return to my task-at-hand, at the steel table where I am seated. I have a religious handout titled, HELL- What is it? Beneath the title is a list of definitions taken from scripture, along with the citations. I am checking off, with a no-shank pen, each description that fits this jail. For example, I am perpetually congested, and many nights I awake coughing, from the pepper spray being inflicted on the mentally ill man down the hall in his isolation cell. Pepper spray permeates all of the cells whenever they spray Harry. I check off:

A lake of fire (Rev. 20:15)

and

A lake of fire into which people are cast alive (Rev 19:20)

Down the hall, Harry screams from his isolation cell, all day and all night, every day and every night, “PLEASE!! Let me out! Somebody please! HELP ME!”

I have never seen Harry. When they spray him, he yelps and yells, like a whipped dog. His yelping amuses his tormentors. On my list, I mark:

A place of torments (Luke 16:23)

and

Where they scream for mercy (Luke 16:24)

Lea returns fromthe nurse. They want to change her blood pressure medicine, and add a new medicine. They have checked her blood pressure exactly one time in five months.

I say, “They charge you to go see them, don’t they?”

“They better fuckin’ not. I didn’t ask that. I can barely afford to wash my ass, I can’t afford two prescriptions. I know ten dollars ain’t that much but I cain’t afford it. They didn’t charge us nuthin’ at PeWee. The whole fuckin’ time I been here, this is the only time they checked my blood pressure to see if the medicine’s working.”

On the TV, we learn that the nine Amish men who were cited for not displaying a large orange triangle on their horse-drawn buggy will fight the charges.

I say to Lea, “That’s nuts, only checking your blood pressure one time and then adding a new medication.”

I star and underline Luke 16:28:

A place where they did not want their loved ones to come.

Lea says, “Now they want me to take another pill and I don’t like the way it does me. You’re a nurse. What do you think the problem is?”

“I am not a doctor. I just know my body. When I took too much blood pressure medicine on the outside, before they got the dose right, I felt sick. Maybe it’s too much for you, if it makes you feel bad. But, I am not a doctor. Frankly, I think they want the five dollars for the visit.”

A place of torments (Luke 16:23)

Several months ago, I slammed my index fingertip in a door. The blackened nail now finally loosens, and falls off. I pick it up. I want to reattach the black nail, because it is a reminder of and a connection to freedom.

While I am trying to figure out how to reattach my blackened fingernail that connects me to freedom, inmates in the cell next door begin to yell at Harry and torment him, and so, I make another adjustment to the terry cloth towel on my head. Maybe the towel does not keep everything out but it is better than nothing.

A place where their worm dieth not and fire is not quenched (Mark 9:48)

Lea says, “I think you’re right. I done lost all that weight, and I know my body, and I don’t need that shit.”

I go into the bathroom and climb onto the toilet and peer through the slit in the ghosted out window at the dumpsters. I have not slept well. In my dreams, I relive my accident over and over. I am in a wheelchair, and I cannot run from the tornado. I find a dumpster. In the dumpster is a beautiful porcelain doll. I retrieve the doll and send it to my mother because she has always loved dolls, and she collects them.

I realize that Lent is near. What do I give up for Lent? I decide to give up bread. The sun shines outside, onto the dumpsters. I wipe tears from my face, climb down from the steel toilet and return to the steel table.

A guard comes and gets me from the cell and takes me to the nurse, because I have filled out a medical request, for exercise or recreation time outside of the cell. I have cited the rule, that inmates are to have one hour of recreation and exercise each day.

The nurse tells me that this is not her department.

The jail extracts five dollars from my books for the visit, and I return to the cell.

When I return to the cell, I learn that the jail has confiscated an obituary that my mother sent to me. A classmate of mine (Lakeridge Class of 1978) has died. The jail claims that the obituary is a news item, and that all news items are considered contraband.

I say a silent prayer for Ada.

A place of damnation, world without end (Mark 3:26)

Author’s note: My dream about the doll actually came true after my release. As soon as I can find the photos I took of the doll before I sent it to my mother, I will post them.

Update: here is that doll:

Porcelain dumpster doll

BBC- Attenborough- Life in the Undergrowth- Ants. Planet Earth:

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

Inmate names are changed.

Ricky’s World, Fulton County Detention Center, Hickman, Ky, August, 2008

I awake to the realization that the TV has been on for something like three days straight. I sleep on the cement floor, underneath the TV.

My right arm is numb and swollen because last night at work in the kitchen, we sliced an enormous tub, the size of a child’s wading pool, full of cucumbers, and then we sliced four gallons of okra.

I did most of the slicing, though, because Fiona, the Borderline inmate who, as a child, stabbed her mother because her mother would not let her watch Rin-Tin-Tin on television, was fired for talking to men in the hallway on the way to work. Fiona is 23 years old and has been locked up for 27 straight months now. I do not know what her charges are, but she speaks proudly of the fact that she once spent nearly a year in cell block (the hole) at KCIW PeWee Valley, for an attack on either a guard or another inmate. Fiona and I compete at completing SuDoKu puzzles in the cell.

That leaves me, Colleen, Penny, and Linda to do the kitchen job in Ricky’s World.

Colleen weighs three hundred pounds, and houses one puffy arm in a sling. At work, she tries to tackle one job per night. For the most part though, she eats. Toast and margarine and jelly. White bread and mayonnaise and tomato sandwiches; hamburgers, fried onions and cornbread; cake and fried bologna and casserole.

After breakfast this morning, Colleen wants me to help her write a grievance to Ricky Parnell, the jailer.

“Just write from the heart,” I tell her, and she does. I only help her with spelling and minor things. Her handwriting is neat and her letters are large and loopy. She has modified her punctuation marks. Each period is an exclamation point, where the period part of the point is a five-point star.

The letter says:

Grievance Mr. Ricky Parnell

I’m writing a grievance on your medical staff and the doctor.

The reason why is I fell in your kitchen working for y’all. I fell on March 3, 2008. I filled out a med slip and they took me the next day to get an x-ray. Then I went to see the doctor and they said the x-ray showed up a needle form in my hand. I have never used needles.

This bizarre statement may have come from the fact that they were looking at a fracture. The letter continues:

The doctor gave me a Tylenol and sent me on my way. My hand was still swollen and hurting really bad so I went back to the nurse and she referred me to the doctor again. So then he said we are going to get another x-ray. Then I went back to the doctor and he asked me what did the x-ray show? I told him he should know, because he is the doctor.

I was off work for 2 months with my hand swollen and hurting really bad. I went back in the kitchen in May 2008.

I went back to the nurse on 7/28/08 cause my hand was swollen and hurting really bad. The pain is going all the way up my arm. So the nurse referred me to the doctor. He was supposed to see me on Wednesday but he didn’t. I asked why and he said cause he couldn’t do anything for me. I am telling you, there is something wrong with my hand.

I also signed a paper they brought me this morning when I was asleep that the doctor can’t do anything for me and I can order tylenol on commissary. So please can you help me I’m in so much pain my hand and arm is so swollen. Also they are making me work if not I have to lay it down in county.

Thank you for your time, Colleen

The term “lay it down in county” is a constant threat to state-final-sentenced inmates in this jail. State final-sentenced inmates are Class D nonviolent inmates, for the most part, and the jail segregates them from county inmates.

The ‘county’ side of the jail is not all that much different, except county inmates are not allowed to work, they wear jailhouse clothes, they do not have a microwave, and they have more scabies, ringworm, staph and MRSA than the state-side inmates. However, lately, state inmates have had their share of staph, due to the dearth of medical care.

I spend the rest of the day drawing a train for my oldest brother, who loves trains.

Train. Jail art.

Train, jail art by Crane-Station on Masonbennu’s flickr stream.

While I am drawing, there is a distraction in the cell. Linda and others have obtained a large can of Raid, and they are killing some tiny ants that occasionally pass through the cell.

I am outraged because I love ants. I say, “What in the fuck are you doing?”

“Killin’ the aints.”

“Why? They are not hurting us, these tiny ants.”

“These aints is nasty.”

“You’re gonna kill us all in the process.”

“Mind your own bidness.”

The tiny creatures struggle and drown and die in a lake of Raid. I grab the nearest Bible, and flip to Proverbs. I attempt to speak their language, the language of the gospel, because the killers are all ‘saved.’ They spend their days and nights talking about how much they love Jesus and God. They frequently quote scripture.

I tell the Raid people that Abraham admired ants and the wisdom of the ants.I quote Proverbs out loud. It says:

Proverbs 6:6-8

New International Version (NIV)

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!

7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,

8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.

This has no effect on the self-professed ‘saved’ killing spree. In fact, quite the opposite. One of the people who claims to follow the teachings of Jesus to the letter says to me, “You don’t believe in God, do you? I can tell.”

At my counseling session with Father Al later, I ask, “Father Al, do you believe in Satanic possession?”

“Why do you ask me?” he says.

“The joy in life is in the searching for God, I have decided.” I tell the priest. “Satan is too obvious. There is no need to search for evil.”

The music for this post is for Masoninblue, and it is Just An Old Fashioned Love Song, Three Dog Night with the Tennessee Symphony Orchestra LIVE August 6, 2010. Hat tip ubetchaiam.

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

Inmate names are changed.

McCracken County Jail, winter 2008

I am in the toilet, trying to get a look at myself in the steel mirror that resembles those mirrors in the rest stop areas. An older inmate has crowded in front of me, and is also looking in the mirror. She has a full beard. Her skin is a pasty green hue. She has bags underneath her eyes. She looks to be about a hundred years old, and her face reminds me of a Latex Halloween mask of a witch that I had when I was a child.

I do not speak to her because I am focused on my own legs. There are scabs on my legs and they itch. The quality of the jail-issue razors is so poor that I cut my legs pretty bad when I first arrived here. I remember the Psycho scene diluted chocolate syrup circling the drain in the shower. After I discarded my clothes, another inmate gave me a helpful hint: only shave one leg each week.

Christie has received news that Livingston County has denied drug court for her. She now faces 24 years for bad checks, even though she is making restitution and has begged for help for her drug addiction. She tells Carol, “I now have three PFOs (persistent felony offender enhancements. Each enhancement doubles the original sentence) and a prior. I feel so bad inside. I cannot believe what I have done to my life with drugs.”

She cries, and YaYa overhears the conversation and cries with her. They lament with each other, some of the things that people do, in the grip of drug addiction. Going into schools during recess and getting the purse out of the teacher’s desk and taking checks. Asking a neighbor to use the restroom and going through the medicine cabinet.

In the bathroom, I put hair conditioner on my face because I do not have any lotion. I wish the old woman would move. She annoys me. I re-fix the towel on my head. The towel keeps some of the thoughts away during the day, I think, but I take it off at night and a dream sometimes slips in.

In the dream, it is the end of the world, not due to disease (my prevailing theory) but due to arrests. There is a tornado. I try to run but I am paralyzed. A very close friend of mine, a man named Polhemus, turns out to be a vicious killer, and I am trapped with him in his apartment. He loves his mother. He is dangerous. He takes out ice picks and scalpels and needles and he says he can fix my tooth, but I see that he will torture and kill me. Suddenly, his lover comes in. The lover throws Polhemus’s mother’s severed head at Polhemus. I ask to have some sort of break. I try to run. I say, “Take everything else. You’ll never have me.”

The dream ends. I do not know where the name Polhemus came from.

In the bathroom, I gently scratch at the scabs on my legs. The hair conditioner on my face smells good.

I look in the mirror. At first, I think the old woman has put a towel onto her head, just like I do.

But, there never was an old woman.