Archive for the ‘KCIW PeWee Valley’ Category

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.”

Cyanide and Happiness Hopscotch:

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language. Do not read this post at work.

KCIW, PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary, Winter, 2008-2009

Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill…You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go. Why things are what they are.

William Golding
Lord of the Flies

We are in the noisy day room of Ridgeview Dormitory, playing Spades. As usual, my hillbilly friend in the wheelchair, Sandy, is my partner. She loves to talk, and I love to listen. She explains the characteristics and tendencies of humans to me, as would a college professor, in a lovely eastern Kentucky drawl.

Sandy explains, “…You put a pussy on a man, he gonna take it. This don’t take no damn rocket scientist to figure out; people start fuckin’ at thirteen.”

The TV is blaring. Everyone is talking. The faucet in the kitchen area sink is cut on to full stream, because everyone has given up the battle of turning faucets off, after the OCD inmate’s hundreds-of-times-a-day hand washing routine. The washer and the dryer and the microwave are all running. Several groups of four other than our group, are seated at tables, playing Spades. Since the OCD inmate’s canteen Nike tennis shoes are in the dryer, there is a loud, regularly irregular ka-ka-kunk, ka-ka-kunk sound coming from the dryer.

LaDonna, the bipolar inmate who is chronically manic and laugh-out-loud funny, stops at our table and says to Sandy, “Well, I see you got you a crazy-ass Spades partner again.”

LaDonna and I are friends. She robbed a bank at gunpoint and stole a car, then evaded police, and got less time than me, seven years, a fact that she is proud of, and rubs in. She says, “I’ma sing you guys a song, do a little dance.”

She raises her hands and, snapping and clapping and stepping, sings, “…In-house, out-house…” (clap. clap-clap clap) “…Crack-house, whore-house…” (clap. Snap-clap) Then, something distracts her and she leaves.

LaDonna will be shipped to CCA-owned Otter Creek. There will be a medication error. LaDonna will fight for her life on a ventilator, but we do not know this yet.

I ask Sandy how old God is. She replies, “Older than dirt. Balls hang lower than his knees.”

We are called to line up outside, if we are enrolled in night class. Tory comes to the table, books in hand and says, “Time to go.”

I tell Sandy, “Gotta run. Hey, what’s a hundred yards long and has three teeth?”


“KCIW Med line!”

She laughs, and as we are leaving, she says, “Bird Lady. Them Bluegrass people. They ain’t no joke.”

“I know,” I say.

On the way to school, Christie hands me a letter and two photographs and says, “Here. Put this in your book.”

The letter is from a male inmate to someone who arranges prison pen pals. He is young and nice looking. In one photo, he poses in a tank top in front of a weight set. He wears a gold watch and a gold chain. Sunglasses hang from the front of his tank top. He has a chest tattoo from a parlor on the outside.

“Nice,” I say.

“His balls just dropped,” says Christie.” He is looking for someone to write sex letters to. I know him. He really is very nice.”

The penmanship is neat, meticulous cursive. Every line is filled out on the lined paper. Photocopied, hand-drawn roses and vines outline the letter. It says (names changed):

Mrs. Barker,

My name is Anthony Acree and my inmate number is #XXXXXX and I’m looking for a pen-pal to write if you could please hook-a-nigga up one time- “then good lookin.'” She can write to me at Northpoint Training Center PO Box 479 Burgin, KY 40310)

Once she writes, her and I will take it from there. I’ve enclosed two photos of myself. “Look” real talk in a good nigga to write, and I am going to keep her mind in the mist. But at the same time I want to get her drunk and in the back seat of my truck about 2:17 AM in an alley, sucken da dog shit outa dat pussy, I will lick her wet and suck her dry, ya dig. And as she holds on for dear life I will slide dis cock in dat A22 and fuck dat perm out her muthafucken head.

Fuck wit a nigga, Brick

“Dang,” I tell Christie. “He writes better than most of the legal profession around here. What’s with the 2:17 AM”

“I know. I wondered about the 2:17 myself.”

Tory says, “Bird Lady, you’re brave, writing about this stuff.”

“I have nothing to lose,” I say.

In night Biology class, Mr. Burke tells us that his choice to teach this class, here in this prison, is one of the most enlightening and delightful things he has ever done and that, other teachers refuse to do what he does because “they do not know what they are missing.”

He inspires me to want to return to the prison and teach someday. If they would ever let me back in, that is. Every student in the class loves Mr. Burke. No one is ever late or absent, unless she has been involved in an altercation unrelated to school.

During break I tell Tory, “Check this out. Here is a way to memorize that list of elements he wants us to know.”

We discuss the mnemonic device See Mag Men Mob Cousin Hopkins’ Nice Clean Cafe: C Mag Men Mob CuZn Hopkins NiCe Clean CaFe.

Tory asks, “What else do you think we should know?”

“That is a really good question,” I say. “And a tough one.” I think for a moment, What one thing, if I know it, will help me to figure out everything else?

“Water runs downhill,” I say.

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.