Archive for the ‘Jail’ Category

Spartanburg County Jail Portrait Series

Spartanburg County Jail Portrait Series by David Blackwell under creative commons on flickr.

Nokes: What do you want?
John: What I’ve always wanted. To watch you die.


Father Bobby: [about sermons, before the boys are sentenced] This is one of my favorites.
Young Lorenzo ‘Shakes’ Carcaterra: What is?
Father Bobby: “Whatever you do to the least of brethren, you do to me”.

above two quotes are from Sleepers, by Lorenzo Carcaterra


This bird-killing-and-enjoying-it guard is bespectacled and boyish looking. He was probably bullied. So now he’s just getting a little action himself, although in a chickenshit way, because we are inmates. Behind razor wire, we must restrain ourselves from delivering a good ass-ramming to the guards, and he knows this, and so, he walks around the ball field with that stupid grin and Nazi mindset, figuring out how he can bolster his own weakness by picking on defenseless people. He does this full time.

Med Line: Frog Gravy 40


In the hallway, the homeless man in isolation screams, between obscenities, to the pepper spray SWAT team, “You’re racist!”

“I’m not precious,” says the guard, and I assume he meant to say, ‘I’m not prejudiced,’ because he says, “I don’t like nobody.”

The Hole, The Chair, And The Holding Cell: Frog Gravy 17

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail, February 2008

It is three o’clock in the morning, and a couple of female inmates next door, as well as Meg, in this cell, are on the floor, on their bellies, taunting and tormenting Harry, who is mentally ill and housed at the end of the hallway in an isolation cell. They shout, at maximum volume, “HAAAAAAARRRRREEEEEEE!!! Want some puuuuussssyy, Harrreee?!”

Harry shouts, “HELP! Somebody! Please! HELP ME! Let me out, please Helpmehelpmehelpmehelp.”

Harry’s repeated requests for help reveal, on its face, Harry’s profound lack of understanding of his own surroundings.

I am on my bunk, listening. I cannot help Harry. If I try to intervene, the bully inmates bullying will turn their rage onto me. If I do not try to intervene, they will continue to prey on Harry.

I do not intervene, and I am ashamed of myself. I do not intervene, because I am afraid that I might hurt someone.

I have never seen, nor will I ever see, during my stay in McCracken County Jail, the pathetic man we call Harry. None of us knows why he is locked up.

If the guards were to take Harry out of his cement tomb for recreation in the outside cage, we would have witnessed it, because we watch the hallway that leads directly from his cell at the end to the outside cage at the other end. We never see Harry go to rec. Christie, who had been here for seven months on my arrival had never seen him during that time either.

On my bunk, I try to think things through, although the noise is distracting. There must be thousands and thousands of Harrys locked up everywhere. Harry the person is no longer Harry the person. Harry is a bait ball in a cement cell at the end of the hallway. He is as defenseless as a child. The apex predators are hungry to hate, and they feed on Harry constantly, kicking the steel door, shouting insults every time they pass by, picking what’s left of Harry and then picking some more.

I often wonder if Harry is somebody’s father. Or son. Was he ever loved? Did Harry ever matter, to anyone? Was Harry a veteran, psychologically crippled by tours of duty? I do not know.

Why are the Harrys out there picked up, locked up, and then alternately ignored and picked on? The bullies use Harry almost exactly as they would a bar. They wander by and use him when they need him, and when they’ve had their fill, they belch, toss the glass, and move on.

There are rumors that Harry has spread feces onto the walls on the cement tomb. Perhaps this is the only thing left for Harry to do, to tell himself that he still exists.

I wonder also about Harry’s mental and physical treatment care plans. This jail has a social worker who oversees the medical needs of the mentally ill inmates. While there may be a nurse practitioner or an off-site physician signing off on the care plan and the medications, all initial requests for such must go through the social worker gatekeeper first. The sad thing is that Harrys own profound disability at the moment prevents him from filling out the initial request form on his own behalf.

This jail is not at all unique. Jails are the new ground zero for Eighth Amendment violations of the mentally ill, as I see it. Harrys are warehoused, untreated and abused everywhere.

There should be a zero-tolerance policy for inmates tormenting their fellow mentally ill inmates. If I were the jailer I would post signs everywhere: You torment Harry and you go to the hole, to sit and think about your bullying. Signed, The Jailer. But, it is not meant to be. Rather, Harry is shelved jailhouse prey and nothing more.

What will eventually happen to Harrys everywhere? On my bunk, I wonder these things.

image by koppdelaney on flickr

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Disclaimer: I am not a physician, nor am I a mental health nurse or behavior expert. My observations are from an inmate standpoint, and my opinions are my own. I retained my observations in my notes.

I took my nursing training in upstate New York in the early 80s. During that time, I did a six-week internship at a giant facility in the Finger Lakes region, that was originally named Willard Asylum for the Chronic Pauper Insane. When I was there in the 80s, Willard was known as the state mental hospital. The buildings had retained the looks, feel and lingering smell of a 50s institution, but the immense campus setting was beautiful.

During my internship, I had a patient who had been there since the fifties. Her original reason for being ‘committed’ was that she was a lesbian. Her many years in the facility then led to mental decline. I had another young male bipolar patient, whose cyclic illness prevented him from functioning, and a woman who was suffering from schizophrenia of a variety such that medications were often ineffective. I had yet another patient that I firmly believed did not belong in the institution. She was brilliant, educated and well-read. We had a good many philosophical talks that were over my head from an intellectual standpoint. One day, however, she introduced herself to me as Abraham Lincoln.

I observed some Cuckoo’s-Nest-type burnout among the staff and often had difficulty distinguishing staff from patients, but overall, the atmosphere was caring, the patients were comfortable, and the medical and emotional care and support, especially given that the hospital was a teaching facility with constant student involvement and interaction, was adequate.

Today, Willard is a prison.

What I observed during incarceration led me to conclude that this country is edging toward locking people up if they have mental issues, particularly if they are poor, and then not only playing fast and loose with the Eighth Amendment by removing medical care and emotional and family support, but in some cases torturing them. Jails, which are de facto prisons now, are home to one of the largest and most vulnerable segments of society.

In Willard I witnessed treated mental illness. In Kentucky jails and in prison, I witnessed untreated mental illness. I associate untreated mental illness with a good deal of suffering.

Here are a few of the behaviors I observed:

-The man I call Harry, who was housed in the McCracken County Jail, in an isolation cell, yelled for help all hours of the day and night. Some inmates reported that he smeared feces on the walls. We never saw Harry leave the cell for rec. Harry was pepper-sprayed in his cell.

-In both jails I witnessed inmates curl into a fetal position or wrap themselves in a sheet, and sleep for as much as twenty hours a day.

-In jail, I experienced anxiety that created chest pain, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, depression that contributed to not sleeping, occasional disconnection from reality such that I would believe that a dream had been an actual event, and an inability to focus on tasks at hand. I experienced sleep deprivation over a lengthy period, as well as a couple of incapacitating migraine headaches. Some of these issues got a bit better in prison, where I was under the care of a psychiatrist.

-Many women self-report anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts during incarceration.

-Binge eating and disproportionate focus on food and on eating is common in jail and in prison. Obesity is common.

-I was in a cell with an inmate who spoke in an indecipherable rapid volley, and who requested that other inmates burp, cover her up, and rub her legs and back “like a baby.”

-In prison, one inmate washed her hands more than one hundred times a day. When anyone got close to her, or brushed against her, she shouted obscenities and threatened physical violence.

-One woman in Fulton County, aged 36 with children, sucked her thumb almost constantly.

-One woman’s hair fell out when she was convicted and sent to prison. Doctors claim that her condition was not true alopecia, because she had eyebrows, but the same doctors also determined that she was not pulling her own hair out.

-Age-related mental decline is common among elderly inmates.

-Many inmates cannot tell you why they are locked up, or when they will be released.

-Some inmates hear voices and talk to imaginary people.

-Self-reported bipolar illness is common.

-Learning disabilities are common.

-Unprovoked angry outbursts are common.

-Since treatment is being denied or eliminated, many women openly discuss plans to re-involve themselves with alcohol or drugs upon release.

-Self-reported history of physical and sexual abuse is common among incarcerated women. Many women have lived with batterers.

The vast majority of inmates exhibiting behaviors related to their own mental state coupled with the stress of incarceration are serving time for nonviolent offenses. As far as violent offenses go among women, it is not uncommon to learn that the woman killed her batterer.

Jails and prisons resemble mental wards, at least for the women. Jails and prisons are anything but healing.

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

I would like to share my letter to the parole board that I wrote in Ricky’s World requesting parole after ten months of incarceration. Parole was granted.

As many of you know, I was convicted of a no-drugs, no-alcohol, no-bad-driving DUI (Kentucky rejects exculpatory scientific toxicology testing and favors all-over-the-place speculation from a lying deputy), possession of 0.144 grams of “gonna be crack,” and tampering.

I was sentenced to eight years from the bench. However, as you also are aware, Judge Craig Clymer sentenced me to four years in writing. After I went home on parole with a parole plan in place, Judge Clymer issued an arrest warrant, claiming “typographical error” in the written order and doubling the sentence to eight years. I believe now, and I have always believed that the fake parole and rearrest was a purposeful act on the part of the judge; it is impossible that the judge was innocently unaware of star witness Deputy Eddie McGuire’s penchant for lying and changing his testimony numerous times under oath. That I refused to ‘go along with the flow,’ and that I had the utter temerity to take a firm position infuriated this judge. Fake parole, that is, allowing someone to experience a brief taste of freedom before burying the person again, is a very effective way to tell a person that you do not care for her.

When I wrote my first parole request letter, I was in a bit of a quandary, because while I was well aware that the parole board probably wanted to see me discuss what I had learned from my crime, I maintained the position that I did not commit a crime.

Rather than admit to and discuss the ramifications of a crime, I did accept full responsibility for drug and/or alcohol involvement in my life, and I acknowledged the consequences that I could bring upon myself, related to such involvement. I reiterated what I had learned and accomplished during incarceration, and crafted a parole plan.

I am placing this letter online, because some folks visit this site through such search terms as “how to make parole on the first try.” Since I did make parole on the first try, I will share the information.

Note: A letter from an inmate is only one aspect of a parole board’s decision to grant or deny parole. For example, they have before them an inmate record card reflecting any disciplinary write-ups or issues suggesting poor institutional adjustment. I had no write-ups, and so I knew that the parole board had a ‘clean’ card in front of them. I provided hard copies of certificates of completion from Bible studies, as well as letters of recommendation from various sources. I provided a hand-written letter from a fellow inmate that I tutored.

I am not sure what role inmate family letters play. I have seen some pretty awful family member letters (I saw such a letter one time that said something like: My son is a thieving, conniving sociopath. If you let him out he’s gonna kill somebody), where the inmate was granted parole in spite of family wishes to the contrary and so, I am inclined to believe that the parole board considers the fact that family members may present not the most objective points of view.

I would also like to add that the parole-granting process is largely shrouded in secrecy. No one can tell you for sure just what they do consider.

Also: McCracken County Jail denied work, work training, education, 12-step meetings, treatment, and even church attendance in one instance, so most of my accomplishments were in Ricky’s World.

Offender Records Section- Parole
State office Building
5th Floor
Frankfort, KY 40601

From: Rachel Leatherman #218896
Fulton County Detention Center
2010 S. 7th Street
Hickman KY 42050

Re: Respectful request for parole

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a 48-year-old nonviolent offender and a registered nurse. I am responsible for my own actions, I fully accept my addiction, and I realize that contributing to it in any way is a serious crime.

I have put forth my very best effort to learn from this incarceration- the severe consequence of drug involvement, as well as a plan for living in recovery.

I have accomplished the following:

-steady work in the kitchen, 7 days a week, never quitting, never being fired.

-AA meeting attendance.

-I tutored a fellow inmate in math.

-Bible studies (certificates enclosed) through: Rock of Ages, Know Your Bible, International Prison Ministry, Croosroads, Emmaus, Pacific Islands Bible Institute, Purpose-Driven Life.

-weekly one-on-one sessions with a priest.

-self-reflection through artwork and writing.

I have made the following concrete steps toward a parole plan:

-continued psychiatric therapy (inquiry sent)

-ongoing 12-step involvement, and plans to be around supportive, sober people.

-employment (arranged)

-return to school for training (if possible)

I am ready to be a positive part of my community on release, by being responsible, self-supporting and helpful to others.

I realize that sobriety is my first priority. I will choose to be around people who are supportive of my sobriety (as is my husband). I will not associate with people who drink and use.

I believe that I can use my incarceration experience to benefit others, by sharing my own experience.

Please consider me for parole.


Rachel Leatherman 218896

For anyone who is in a position of seeking parole, I think that it is important to maintain a clean institutional record. Joking around about rule breaking is one thing, but acting out and collecting write-ups may lead to parole deferment.

My disclaimer here is that I honestly do not know how the board makes these decisions. I do know that Class D nonviolent offenders do not meet face-to-face with the board, so many people write their letters and include supporting documents. Class Cs do meet with the board (I hear it’s kinda brutal).

Note that the letter is short.

A dark comedy short:

In jail I had a dream that I retrieved a porcelain doll from a dumpster and sent the doll to my mother, because she loves dolls. The dream came true after my release from prison, nearly two years later. It is called a Granville House doll. Here is a photo of the doll and the accompanying certificate of authenticity (FWIW, I also sent my mother a dumpster-rescued Lladro 1993 limited edition egg in perfect condition, but I did not photograph the egg):

Porcelain dumpster doll

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail, Cell 107, Spring, 2008

“There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.”
Josephine Hart

I have now been in this cement grave for 135 days, with no end in sight. My body hurts so bad from the cold and from the lack of activity that I do not know if I will ever walk right again. To me, Hell is not hot. Hell is cold. Hell is a cold, mean hateful place where people read the Bible.

I try various psychological tactics to keep from disintegrating in irreversible fashion. I try to trick myself into believing that I am in a coma, and that one day, I will emerge from it. But, this trick does not work. I then try to schedule my days just like work days, where I write for eight hours each day with two ten-minute breaks and a lunch. This works a bit better.

I came in here the world’s gentlest person. Now, I have disturbing and gruesome fantasies and thoughts. I want to be mean to some people. Not to the mentally ill or to the children or to the elderly or to the sick. Just the corrupt ones.

I want to seal them in a cement tomb and leave them there to die. But I want to torture them with light and noise and cold and lies and sleep deprivation and insults and crushing joint pain and laughter. I want to beat and pound, and pound and beat on the coffin. I want to feed them rat hairs and filth so that their teeth will rot. I want the inside of their coffin to be full of pee and semen and snot and black mold and hair and pepper spray and dirty water and feces.

God help me, God save me from these thoughts, I cannot help them. I try and try and try to escape my tomb, and I pray for help.

I keep writing, and I ask for God to help me with this. I write with no shank pens. I water down the ink to make it last. Without ink, I believe, world commerce would collapse, social intercourse would cease, and a lot of people would get hurt.

God currently has me writing about the ‘dog men’ that Christie speaks of. These are some men she knows in town, who, among other seedy business ventures, fight pit bulls, and abuse them, and kill the ones that do not win fights. I also jot some notes about the young boys about town, who look up to and practically worship, the ‘dog men,’ and who aspire to the same entrepreneurial path(s) as them.

Leese, who has completed one poem and is working on a second, has lost her pen and she says, “Where’s my pen? I had two pens and now I don’t have a pen!”

“Did you check under your mat?” I ask.

“Yeah. And I fuckin’ cleaned my bucket.”

“Well, Leese,” says Lea, “It’s not like there’s a fucking pen thief up in here.”

“My kingdom for a pen!” I intercede.

“Fuck you, you old bitch!”

“It’s not worth arguing over. Pens, says Christie. “Not worth it.”

Lea says, “Every time this fuckin’ pen thing comes up I’m the one ends up without a pen.”

“Why don’t we just get some pens from the guard Sally and be done with it?” I say.

Christie says, “Sally can’t remember what she’s doin’ when she walks down the hall. Took the bitch three weeks to get pens last time.”

When Leese leaves, we find the pen under her bunk.

Meg complains about Leese.

Lea confronts Meg and says, “You sure didn’t have any problem playing up to her to get tobacco. I don’t give a fuck how much tobacco comes under that door, I’m not kissing anybody’s ass for it, Meg.”

“I’m not kissing anybody’s ass for nuthin.’ I paid more for tobacco than she ever did. Bitch took the lighter after she left too, go figure.”

After Meg leaves we are all relieved, and the cell dynamic becomes more peaceful and positive. Meg will last exactly four days before her next arrest and detention, which will amount to a brief bump in the road before she is out getting her boasted-about “dick,” and getting pregnant with her tenth child, who will be born in captivity.

Even though Meg ‘ran’ the cell while she was here, we all voice concern for after her departure.

Meg has no home. She stays in motels with a man who supports her in exchange for sex. Her twins, the youngest of nine children, at six months old, also live in a motel with another couple. Had the other couple not agreed to take the twins, they would have gone to the State. We do not know if Meg intends to ‘do right’ and regain custody of her children, but we all voice our wishes that she do so.

I look at my notes and realize the vapid nature of the conversation about pens. But then again, we have many such vacuous discussions, because, well, they are all we have, and we can control our discussions, but nothing else in our lives.

At night I dream that I am putting on some nice clothes, but even in the dream I know it’s a dream.

To read about jail and prison conditions in passing is one thing, but to see photographs of what warehousing and overcrowding looks like is heartbreaking.

Author’s note: This post is not a typical Frog Gravy, because it includes observations gathered over the span of my whole incarceration experience.

I like Jizz in my pants better than I just had sex. Sorry, guys:

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

What happens to sexuality in prison?

The first time I was approached for sex during incarceration was in Ricky’s World, Fulton County Detention Center.

I got up from the steel table to stretch, after an hour or so of drawing and writing. An inmate approached me and said, “Wanna pet my bald cat?”

I politely declined.

“Sure you don’t want to touch it?”

“Oh! Um, no, I mean, you know, I’m sure it’s nice and all, it’s just that I…You know, I’m married…”

“You like dick, then. Yeah, me too. I’m bisexual. I love a big, thick dick buried deep in my guts.”

What happens to sexuality in women’s prison?

Lots of things happen, and many factors are involved: the growth and development of the incarcerated individual, the length of sentence, the inmate’s background, and the inmate’s natural tendencies.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the medical specialty of sexuality. This article only contains some of the things that I observed.

Sexual contact is strictly forbidden in any jail or prison setting that I have observed. I believe that conjugal visits are a thing of the past. In both jails and in the prison I was in, sexual contact was punishable by time in the hole. KCIW PeWee Valley was the most strict about this policy. Activities such as sitting on another inmate’s bunk or entering another inmate’s room are not tolerated in prison, whereas the jails were a little more lax, possibly due to the constant sardine-like overcrowding the the jails, where physical contact was often difficult to avoid.

That said, sex acts still occur, usually between women, although there was the one strange incident in McCracken where a female inmate got pregnant in the shower stall of her own cell. This happened when staff remotely opened the door to the cell, probably so that an inmate could get a blood sugar check, and while the door was open, and a Class D male working in the hallway entered the cell.

I witnessed a sex act through two senses in Fulton, and a friend of mine in PeWee confided in me that she had been having sex in her room on a fairly consistent basis.

When a female is locked up during the peak of her sex drive, her human physiological need is not locked up; many women who do not identify themselves as lesbians prior to incarceration become what we call gay for the stay.

Gay for the stay inmates often seek an intimate, but not necessarily a sexual, partner. Such couples are common in the prison setting, where women are generally serving lengthy sentences. Members of the couple are together as much as possible, and although they may speak about sex, they maintain a relationship that is intimate, but without the sex.

There are a great number of married women in prison, who, depending on what sort of antidepressant medication they may be on, stay to themselves and occasionally engage in masturbation. Sexual reunification in a marriage following a prison term can be problematic, particularly if the inmate is incarcerated during a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ developmental stage of her life.

There are many self-described gay inmates who remain gay in prison and who seek a partner, although not necessarily a sexual partner.

There is another category of women, the ones who maintain relationships with male pen pals, or who ‘trick write (ie. They receive money in the mail),’ who develop intimate relationships with men, although from a distance. Some of these relationships become long-term, with marriages occurring either during incarceration or after release. Many of the letters contain more fantasy than reality, and the men who enjoy prison pen pal relationships are ordinary men representing a cross-section of society at large. The local grocery store manager in your community, for example, could very well be one of these men. I have never heard a horror story about a trick-writing relationship gone awry, once the inmate has left. (This information came to me while I was still incarcerated through returning inmates, relating past experiences.)

I never witnessed, nor did I ever hear about, a female inmate raping another female inmate while I was incarcerated.

While I was incarcerated there was one inappropriate nonsexual guard-inmate relationship that resulted in the guard being fired and the inmate going to the hole, and, at the private prison Otter Creek in eastern Kentucky, guard-inmate sexual abuse resulted in the closure of the prison to women, and its subsequent conversion to a men’s facility.

As you can probably already see from Frog Gravy, sex is talked about almost endlessly among inmates, probably because physical sexual satisfaction is denied. Sex talk is common, just as talk about delicious food is common. Sex in the world of women’s incarceration involves a good deal of fantasy.

The incarceration experience is brutal and lonely, and I believe that it is only natural for women to seek to alleviate feelings of loneliness through nonsexual or sexual intimacy during the stay.