Posts Tagged ‘feminist perspective on incarceration’

I found this in my notes this morning. This is a letter that I wrote to Governor Beshear in March, 2008, regarding McCracken County Jail conditions. I sent copies to various agencies in Frankfort and Washington DC.

Note what I say about the pregnancy-disaster-in-jail baby’s early brain scan. I initially reported that the baby suffered no detectable oxygen deprivation following his traumatic birth. The subsequent scan, however, revealed some sort of potential deficit (ischemia or otherwise) according to the mother’s report.

At some point after this letter, I did receive an antidepressant in the jail.

I was removed from McCracken County Jail for my letters.

This may fix the prevailing fantasy that warehoused nonviolent inmates spend 23 hours a day in the cement cell. It is 24/7 for months on end.

March 22,2008

To: Governor Steve Beshear
700 Capitol Avenue
Frankfort, KY 40601

Dear Governor Beshear:

On 3-19-2008, I was sentenced to eight years in prison for DUI, possession of 0.144 grams of crack cocaine and tampering with evidence. I had no drugs or alcohol in my blood, nothing illegal on me or in my car, and exhibited no bad driving. Yet, I was convicted of all three. Inmates have subsequently told me never to take anything to trial in McCracken County, because everyone is convicted, but I did not know this, because I am not from here.

-snip-

1. Since January 23, 2008, we have been outside our cell for recreation exactly one time. We have been to the filthy gym for recreation, exactly twice. We wait up most of the nights, hoping to get outside the cell for rec, at night. The only two times we went to the indoor gym were between 1:30 and 2:30 AM. In the night, guards go up and down the hall, banging on the hallway windows and doors yelling, “Rec, rec!”
Each night, they do this. We say we want real recreation, not recreation in a tiny chapel. The guards mark this in a book as a “refusal.” They submit the book to Frankfort, so it looks like the inmates all refuse rec every day. We get maybe one hour of rec per month if we are lucky.

2. The jails such as this one are overcrowded defacto prisons. I may be here until I meet the parole board in 19 months, because I am a nonviolent State inmate.

3. The only reading material allowed is certain types of religious materials. My family sent letters and literature that were returned because they were Catholic in nature. Only after my sister called the jail chaplain and said, “Are you all anti-Catholic? Because if you are, I am calling the Governor,” did I receive a Catholic bible that the guards make fun of.

4. No educational materials are allowed.

5. No AA or NA meetings are allowed.

6. There is no dental care.

7. I was not allowed to continue my anti-depressant medication, even though the conditions are extremely depressing.

8. A social worker tells the NPs what psych meds to prescribe. She is not licensed to prescribe anything, yet they defer to her on dosage and type.

9. The lights are on from 5 AM to 11 PM.

10. First, they said that family could send in paperbacks, news magazines, and newspapers. Then, they refused to give these items to us.

11. First, they said that family could send in self-addressed, stamped envelopes. Then, they refused to give these items to us. Then, they threatened to reseal the empty envelopes, and mail them back to family, instead of placing them in property.

12. The woman next door, six months pregnant, started bleeding. The guards ignored her. All three back cells pounded and shouted. They told us to shut-up and get to bed. They did nothing for more than one hour, then walked the pregnant woman, cuffed, out of the jail. Her placenta was 75% abrupt, she nearly lost her uterus. The baby was breached; his foot was through her cervix, she required an emergency C-section, and the baby was flown out of state. His brain scan does show potential future deficits.

13. The same woman has an incision that is infected now. The jail won’t giver her gauze. They make her use maxi-pads. But, she is on pad watch now. She is allowed three pads per day, including the pus pad.

14. They would not allow us to attend church service on Thursday night, saying that it was 12-step. When we said we were here on drug offenses, they would not let us go to the service.

15. The cells are always cold.

16. In addition to maxi-pad rationing, they now ration toilet paper. Several times, we have had to use our washcloths, or the shower, after toileting, because we have no toilet paper.

17. We get watered down disinfectant to clean the cell.

18. In the morning we get exactly two individual paper towel squares, to clean the entire cell.

19. They have put new restrictions on clergy visits.

20. No textbooks, educational classes, crosswords, number puzzles, logic puzzles, arts or crafts are allowed.

21. In the hole, medical watch, suicide watch, there is no way to wash hands, shower, or brush teeth.

22. The only time we received materials to clean the filthy cell walls and vents was because “the state” is “coming to inspect.”

-snip-

Author’s note: When I mention requests for real recreation, I am referring to requests for recreation in an outdoor cage. When the guards banged on the doors at night to offer rec, their offer was for rec in a tiny chapel that was the size of a medium-sized cell.

There was also an indoor gym in the jail, but this was rarely offered.

Between January and March, we went to the outdoor cage one time, the indoor gym two times, and the tiny chapel several times, although we frequently declined to visit the chapel for rec, because it was little larger than another cell, and it was indoors.

The rest of the letter concerns Judge Craig Clymer’s behavior and actions during sentencing, trial, and on various documents. I will cover this in separate blogs.

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Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky, during 2008 and 2009, in jails and in prison, that is reconstructed from my notes.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language and descriptions.

Worry not; I got the proper permission before I wrote this over-the-top, hella fuckin’ balls-to-the-wall post.

We figured what the heck, everyone knows everything else about our private life anyway…

The Gift That Keeps On Giving, McCracken County Jail, Paducah, KY, shortly before my transfer to Ricky’s World, Winter, 2008

As you can see from this reply letter that I received from the State of Kentucky, McCracken County Jail is classified as a ‘Class D’ facility, which means that Class D nonviolent, final-sentenced State inmates qualify to serve their entire sentences in such a facility.

Kentucky Warehouses Class D Inmates

The jail receives money for housing Class D nonviolent offenders. There are supposed to be programs, such as work, education and treatment, but in reality, when I was there, I had no work. I even got kicked out of drug class for writing letters to everyone I could think of in Frankfort, Washington DC, and other places complaining about jail conditions and the warehousing of Class D female offenders. Ironically, Frog Gravy would not exist, had I had a job. But since I didn’t, and the men did, I had a glorious opportunity to get a good look at the occasional penis that wandered by the window to the hallway, belonging to a Class D working male who happened to be pushing a broom or a mop.

One such male, let’s call him Greg, had sort of a crush on me, and so one day he wanted to show me his wares. He paused his mopping for a moment at the hallway window, garnered my attention, glanced at the cameras, and then yanked down his orange jailhouse khaki pants a little ways to reveal a very nice, circumcised erection.

By the way, those hallway cameras do not show the sides of the hallway. Or the floor next to the cell doors. In fact, I wonder what they actually do show and who watches them, because we got to see quite a few penises off camera. The guy in the broom closet down the hall, for example, who had a crush on Christie, and who was also a talented author, penned the following description for Christie and swept the note with the description under our door, off camera, in case she missed the view. It said:

Make a fist with your left hand. Okay, now make a fist with your right hand. Place your right fist on top of your left fist. Now, extend your right thumb straight up into the air. That’s how long it is. And the fists? That’s how thick it is…

“Nice,” I said, when she showed me the note. “Corn fed and nuclear-plant bred.”

So anyway, Greg is at the window showing off his erection and I say, “Hey Christie, check this out.”

“Nah, he’s got the crush on you, not me,” she says.

“Okay, but check it out. This guy isn’t even in the ballpark with my husband. Limp, even. Not even close. Thickness. That too. Look him up on Google Earth when you get home.”

So now, we are both looking and smiling but Greg does not know why we are smiling; he is just glad that we are.

On the subject of cameras, next time you visit WalMart, count the cameras. WalMart has more cameras than a prison. I swear to God. Probably not as many erect penises, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch. If I had a ranch.

So I got kicked out of drug class in jail. Can you even imagine such a thing? But it’s true. For writing letters. I was told that no one cares, and no one reads the letters, and I was kicked out of jail drug class. But it turns out they did read the letters, because one day, a woman visited from Frankfort to speak to us in our cell about jail conditions. I will not print her words, but she was serious. Maybe it was the pregnancy disaster letter. I am not sure.

Because of my letters, my days in McCracken were numbered. One day, a woman from the judge’s office arrived with some paperwork. She handed me the papers as if she were handing something to a coiled rattlesnake. She smelled like cigarettes. She said, “I am giving these papers to you because you do not have a lawyer anymore and you are going to be going to Fulton County.”

Apparently, the judge had taken away my legal representation. It was just as well because my lawyer, Chris McNeill, was about as useless as a screen door on a submarine, but still.

The woman says, “I spoke to your husband.”

“Well good!” I say. “He’s nicer than me. When is the brief due?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yeah, you do,” I say.

You may be wondering what sort of letters would cause people to do such things with an inmate?

Well, here is an example. This one is to Professor Robert G Lawson at the University of Kentucky College of Law. Governor Beshear and others received the same or similar letters. Blockquoted due to dead camera batteries; I will take a photo when I can.

April 26, 2008

Robert G Lawson, Professor
U of KY College of Law
Rm 251
620 S. Limestone
Lexington, KY 42003

Dear Professor Lawson:

I have written before, regarding inhumane conditions in jails and regarding corruption in courts.

While we had a very nice chat with Tracey Montardier (Frankfort), nothing has changed. Only 5 women are working in this Class D designated facility. Only FIVE. Only in laundry. No women work outdoor jobs. “Understaffing” is the excuse. Class D women are nothing more than warehoused revenue units. We rarely leave our grave-like cement cell.

Had I killed someone, or committed a violent crime, I would have all the privileges of penitentiary state inmates. But, because I am nonviolent and because I am female, I am punished harder than violent inmates with greater likelihood of reoffending.

All I want is to work and/or attend classes, and maybe go to the outside cage for recreation once in a while.

McCracken County Jail should not be receiving Class D funds from the state for any more than 5 or 6 women. They should not receive revenue for any more. This is a men’s Class D facility. Anything else is fraudulent theft of state funds.

Any thoughts are appreciated.

Sincerely, Rachel A. Leatherman

One good thing did happen.

Pregnant inmates in Kentucky are no longer housed in county jails. They are housed in ‘G Dorm’ at KCIW PeWee Valley women’sprison, and this is a very good change, for women and for unborn babies.