Archive for the ‘McCracken County 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.

and

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

Also:

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

and

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.

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
-Damage

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.

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

McCracken County Jail, May, 2008

My lawyer, who is about as useless as a steering wheel on a mule, calls me out to have a conversation. I have lost confidence in my lawyer, and I do not trust him. But, I am stuck with him and whatever surprises he brings.

As I walk down the hallway, I try to get a glimpse of Harry, who, as usual, is shouting and begging for someone to help him, from his isolation cell. I cannot see him. I wonder if Harry has a real name.

In the conference area, I seat myself at a small table, across from my lawyer. He says, “Did you hear anything about your sentence? How it is four years and not eight?

“Yeah,” I Say. “As a matter of fact, my family on the west coast told me, like two weeks ago. This judge will claim clerical error and give me eight. He did this on purpose, just to be mean, so I will make parole and he can take it away. This is not complicated. There may be a problem. Fred found a case that says he can’t take it back. Seems he missed a deadline.”

I watch the lawyer pick up a law book, that I have already looked through in the jail ‘law library,’ and thumb through it. He locates a statute that I have already read, and begins to read the statute to me. I let him read it, and I listen as though I have never heard it before.

I say, “I have told Fred to go ahead and file my notice of appeal. I will file it Pro Se.”

“The appeal has been filed.”

“No it hasn’t. Clymer wants some financial statement. For the umpteenth time. He’s trying to block my appeal.”

“Maybe so.”

“By now, you oughta know so. By the way, those comments he made about me in open court? The ones about me being naked on an elephant riding through the middle of town at noon? And the comments at sentencing, where he acted like an auctioneer and said to the jury, Thirty, thirty, do I hear Sixty? Those are comments for the judicial conduct commission. Those comments were unnecessary, offensive and inappropriate. Even other inmates were offended. Do you have any idea what it takes to offend another inmate in here?”

“They have very specific rules. They’ll ignore it.”

“How about filing documents with made up facts. Will they ignore that?”

“They have very specific rules.”

“He can’t make sexually degrading comments in open court. Come on.”

“It won’t go anywhere.”

“Not if I don’t file it.”

The conversation shifts. The lawyer says, “You can’t practice nursing anymore.”

“I have spoken to the Board of Nursing,” I say. “Many times. Drug charges do not prevent someone from entering a monitored diversion program and continuing to practice. Many health professionals, in fact, piece their profession back together this way.”

“That’s not what they all think.”

Ah, the ‘they, ‘ I think to myself. I say, “Okay. I’ll bite. If they want their phony confession I will consider it. But there is a problem. I have no idea what to confess to. They have so many versions of their story that I am not sure which version to pick. Maybe you can help me pick, Chris. Go ahead. Pick a story for me. There’s lots to choose from. Or, how about this? Make up a new one.”

“I don’t know.”

“Find out. If they could keep their stories straight, it would make my phony confession task a lot easier.”

“I know, I know.”

“No. You don’t. Do not ever again tell me that you know what it’s like. You agreed to taking away my defense, during a meeting in the hour before trial- a meeting you never told me about. You botched the trial. We are now trying to figure out a way to undo the damage you did. We are trying to figure out if you even preserved anything for the appeal.”

“Don’t worry about the appeal.”

“Wake up Chris. If I don’t somehow come up with the filing fee and file it on time, the whole thing goes away. Writs of Mandamus are a waste of time on something that is filed late. Am I speaking English?”

In my head, the team of sledgehammers is back. I can feel the blood vessels swell, as I sit here. Finally I say, “How about the appeal? What are my chances on appeal?”

The lawyer replies, “Depends if he has friends in the Court of Appeals.”

note: During my sentencing, in March, 2008, the judge in my case said, in front of the jury, as an auctioneer would say: “Thirty, thirty, do I hear sixty?”

The comment, “She could be naked, riding on an elephant through the middle of town at noon, singing a song about heroin” was made after the suppression hearing. Ironically, in an inappropriate yet darkly humorous way, the judge was pointing out that it is not illegal to mention the name of a controlled substance, or to even sing a song about a controlled substance, while riding an elephant down the street naked, at noon. He is correct, of course, because we have a First Amendment right to free speech, and mentioning something about [insert the name of a controlled substance here] is not illegal.

Why, then, after making this comment, did the judge deem such free speech an illegal act? We do not know the answer.

Also of interest: Herion was the subject of a front-page news story in the area, just prior to my arrest. Chris McNeill refused to show the article to the jury during my trial. Also, Chris McNeill failed to include the transcript of the preliminary hearing in the record on appeal. The preliminary hearing transcript contained McCracken County Deputy Eddie McGuire’s under-oath statements shortly after my arrest, and the statements differed dramatically and materially from his statements later on, also under oath. I had to file a motion with the Court of Appeals to include the preliminary hearing testimony, so that the Court of Appeals could see how Eddie McGuire changed his story. The motion delayed my appeal for a year, while the Preliminary Hearing transcript and testimony was included in the record. I was stunned when I learned that my own lawyer had made such an omission and created the one-year delay.

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

Ab Fab, Edina in court.

Hint: “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Mom. Your mouth is working for the prosecution.”

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

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

Inmate names are changed.

McCracken County Jail, Cell 107, sometime in March, 2008

In the news, we learn that a health screening day was held at Walmart. Among other things, the screeners were testing body fat. Seventy percent of those screened were obese or markedly obese. I empathetically and privately note that Ruthie, who is 5’4″ and over 300 pounds, fits into this category.

Around Ruthie’s middle, an apron of fat hangs lower than her orange khaki shirt hem. Enormous breasts hang down and rest on the apron. She has difficulty breathing, and each night she snorts and snores.

We are kind to Ruthie, because she has cognitive difficulties that some summarize as not being quite ‘right.’ My best guess is fetal alcohol syndrome as possibly exhibited by her difficulties with thinking, expression and social skills. Ruthie has shared with us that her biological mother used drugs during the pregnancy, and that Ruthie was raised in foster care, where she was abused. Also, Ruthie met her biological mother for the first time when Ruthie was eighteen, and both of them were residents in this jail. Like many other inmates here, Ruthie has frequent-flyer-in-jail family members. We also know that she has been abused by various men in her adult life.

During the news, we can hear Harry shouting from his isolation cell down the hall, “PLEEEase!! Help me! Let me out! HELP! HelpmehelpmeHelpMeHELLLP! Sombody Please!”

Ruthie receives a little more than $600 each month from the government for disability. She has two mixed children. They are in foster care or with family. Ruthie prefers black men; her current boyfriend is black. She struggles cognitively but she also struggles with a drug addiction. McCracken County courts have determined that the most healing, productive environment for Ruthie and her children, is Ruthie’s placement in this jail cell with us.

While Ruthie articulates with great difficulty, she is adept at street slang.

At night, she lies on the floor next to the steel door, and shouts underneath it, to Creighton, a black drug dealer who she slept with on the streets. Creighton is housed in the cell next door (cell 111).

“Fuck you, Creighton! Herpe-boy, herpe-boy. Fuck y’all. Your dick smells like yo ass! Fuck you!”

Creighton replies, “Fuck you! Your pussy smells like sardines!”

“Huh-uh. This pussy smell good. You jes mad ’cause you cain’t have any ‘o ‘dis pussy. You just jealous ’cause I done fucked Mississippi. He is fine. His dick bigger den yours.”

“Your breath smells like yo ass, bitch!”

“Wash yo mouth out wit soap, herpe-boy, herpe-boy, fuck you,” sing-songs Ruthie. “Yo dick ain’t thick like Mississippi!”

“I heard yo mouth is a sperm bank!”

Ruthie turns to us and says, “Mississippi done got a thick dick, ’cause he beats hisself all the time. He done love playin’ wit his wee-wee. Dey say dat if a man play wit hisself, he get a thicker dick.”

Tina says, “If that were true, every man would have a hundred-foot dick.”

The guard comes by, kicks the steel door and shouts, “Cut it out!”

Startled by the kick, Ruthie actually levitates off the cement floor. I wonder how this is physically possible.

I say, “Get up, Ruthie, or they’ll take our TV. Plus, they won’t allow Class Ds onto the walk anymore. And we won’t have anything to look at. Who’s Mississippi?”

“Black dope dealer wit a thick dick,” replies Ruthie. “He done went back to Mississippi.”

When the guard leaves, Ruthie is back on the floor, yelling. “That’s right, herpe-boy, he done had a bigger dick than you! I fucked ‘im every night, smoked all the crack I wanted, shore did! I didn’t want for nuthin’! You jes jealous ’cause I’d rather suck a glass dick than yours!”

I say, “Shut up, Ruthie. They’ll take our TV.”

Ruthie gets up, giggling.

Like so many people in jails and prisons, Ruthie is mentally disabled. She is very childlike, and draws simple pictures for her wall. Her stick-figure drawing features a man and woman, happy, smiling. The man wears a baseball cap and is smoking a cigarette. The woman wears a dress. The sun is a child’s sun, full, with stick-rays. There are two clouds and a tree. The house has a front door and two windows.

Ruthie uses magazines and deodorant, to rub color into the pictures, then hangs them on the wall with the universal jailhouse glue: toothpaste.

Ruthie came to our cell because her cellmates in her other cell were always mean to her. She smelled horrid when she arrived, like a vaginal infection. We urged her to go to the nurse and get STD tested and get medicine. She did, and she smells better. We try to be good to her. She did not understand that she would have to sit in this cement cell for six months for seven contempt of court violations.

We explain legal things to Ruthie, because no lawyer has explained anything to her.

We also help Ruthie to read, write and count.

I sit at the steel table with my notes. I continue to transcribe Leese’s poem.

Sick of getting my hopes up, sick of being let down

Sick of the sky, sick of the ground.

Sick of the water, sick of the dirt

Sick of feeling nothing, sick of being hurt.

Sick of being wrong, sick of being right

Sick of not seeing, sick of having sight…