Posts Tagged ‘feminist perspective on incarceration’

First, since my camera batteries are dead today, here is Breaking: Some Bullshit Happening Somewhere:

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

Inmates names are changed, except for nicknames that do not reveal identity. My name is real.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Frog Gravy posts are all here:, although to get to older posts will take a bit of backward scrolling through the “older entries” instruction.

This post is for Silverback66, who may be my editor someday but he does not know it yet. He races motorcycles, writes like a poet and he has a parrot, and there are pictures to prove it.

It is also a shout-out to jail and prison librarians, including McCracken County Jail librarian Jack, who made fun of me early on, saying “Pay attention to this one. She isn’t awake yet.” Well, Jack, I was awake actually so back at you, and thank you ever so much for keeping those law book pocket parts up to date. Also, the law librarian at KCIW PeWee Valley: you continue to make life better for a lot of people, every day.

KCIW PeWee Valley Ball field, sometime in winter, 2008-2009

I have lost my rocks.

I am on the ball field during recreation with the rest of Ridgeview Dormitory, walking laps at a quick pace because we are not allowed to run or jog. With each lap I select a small rock from a gravel walkway, carry it about fifty feet to a cement grate, and set it in a pile. At the end of recreation I count the rocks. This way, I know how much I walk each day, and can meet at least one personal goal during my stay here: keeping fit.

I am wearing khaki, with white Nike tennis shoes and a khaki knit cap called a “toboggan,” that is a cap and not a sled. On the outside you might mistake me for a lost hiker.

I have crumbs for my birds rolled and tucked into my cap and into my elastic band of my khaki pants. Birds follow me all around the field, even the one whose leg was amputated on razor wire.

But now my rocks are missing, and I have already spotted the guilty party, a picnic table of six friends who look just exactly like the cat that ate the canary; they can hardly contain themselves, seeing me notice my missing rocks. They want to laugh so bad, and so do I. I make a sadistic decision to take a couple of more laps and pretend not to notice the missing rocks. A couple of my friends might actually wet themselves with giddy anticipation of a confrontation with the non-confrontational Bird Lady.

The women’s penitentiary is eighty percent pathos. Even funny situations are laden with sadness. Almost everyone exhibits some form of mental illness- severe depression at the very least. Women’s prison is very different from men’s prison. The women’s penitentiary is not scary. It is pathetic, in a real sense. It actually matters to me that these women would include me in their fun. That they noticed my rocks becomes important to me because I actually mean something to someone.

During the torture laps, I study my notes that I also carry everywhere now. Thanks to the wonderful prison library, which has, by the way, inter-library loan, I am teaching myself Spanish and feeding my longstanding addiction to Mother Goose. I mean, try even finding “Fatty, fatty two-by-four” these days. The three little kittens they lost their mittens. The Little Red Hen. The Three Pigs. This library has it all. Absolutely fabulous. I am in heaven.

I suspect the reason that Mother Goose and other children’s books are so readily available in the women’s prison library is that illiteracy is over represented in Kentucky’s incarcerated population. To be clear, Kentucky locks up women who cannot read or write. There are no programs to correct this issue, but at least, thank God, the prison librarian has bent over backward to make these books available to women who choose to self-teach.

This excellent library has graduate-level literature as well. If you choose to wade through Chaucer, you can. The only thing missing is the internet, and I will exit prison two years behind everyone else in internet and cell phone technology.

The guilty friends with the stolen rocks are on their feet well in advance of my approach to the picnic table. I must choose my greeting carefully. I use a prison word that is used as different parts of speech: motherfucker.

“Motherfuckers.” I announce.

Comes the reply: “Bitch. You ain’t rocked that much.” Out comes, as if from vapor, a hand full of rocks. A round of laughter. High-fives. More laughter. The rocks are returned.

But the guards notice this bit of fun and ban ‘rocking.’ Because they can, I will no longer keep track of my laps with rocks.

At least we enjoyed the rocks, while they lasted.

Heart and flower. Jail art.

Heart and flower jail art by Crane-Station on flickr. Ink, eye shadow, magazine ink and colored pencil.

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a nonfiction account of incarceration, first in jails and then in prison in Kentucky, during 2008 and 2009, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Inmate names are changed, except for nicknames that do not reveal identity.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary (KCIW), Winter, 2009

I am standing on the ball field with a group, waiting for med line to be called. I am in the med line before the med line. Since we are officially at rec and not in med line yet, we can still talk and move about. There is a heated conversation going on nearby.

I ask my hillbilly friend in a wheelchair, “What are they arguing about?”

“It’s about some pussy. Ain’t ’bout no dick. Ain’t ’bout no money. It’s all ’bout some pussy.”

The argument continues:

“Your answer to everything is dick.”

“I’m strictly dickly. If there ain’t a dick swinging I ain’t interested.”

“Well, I’ve done had my share of dicks in life and there ain’t no dick that can make you come like a woman can.”

Another inmate chimes in. Using her fist, she grabs an air penis, does and little dance and says, “He teases me and he goes from the clit to the hole and then the clit to the hole until I cain’t stand it and he puts it in. And that’s how we do it in my neighborhood.”

Med line is called and we start the race to get to the medical building. No running is allowed. This is Inmate Special Olympics. Sometimes I ask to push a wheelchair inmate, because, in shopping cart fashion, with the roll, I can increase my speed, just like in real marathons on the outside.

At med call, I am no lomger Bird Lady, or a wife, or a mother or a nurse, or a scuba diving lover or an Old People’s Soccer Player. I am “218896.” When I reach the med line window and call this inmate number, the nurse on the other side of the window will punch some pills out of blister packs. There is the Accept The Unacceptable Pill. Actually there are two of these now, because after speaking with my psychiatrist, the Accept The Unacceptable dose was doubled. And the there is the Fewer Nightmares pill, otherwise known as the Do The Time Don’t Let The Time Do You pill.

I live in a world where women deliver babies and attend their son’s and daughters funerals in shackles. Where family members die, are born, murdered, killed, married, divorced, moved, educated, baptized, enlisted, converted and shipped, while we make up some sort of a life behind razor wire. We are hated, loved, accepted, rejected and endlessly talked about. I have no voice in here, no say or reaction to any of the outside events. I am 218896, about to take some prison-issue Accept The Unacceptable pills, because that way, my world in here is supposed to make sense to me.

Today in school I learned that you can make a whole career out of ferns.

Med line is about an hour long, and we are not allowed to talk. I reflect on an event that happened in med line before the med line. Another inmate had found a baby bird that I had been tending to, in the yard, and had taken it to a guard. The bird was a fledgling. The guard took it to underneath a tree on the ball field and stomped it to death in full view of all of the inmates. He made a point then, of walking past me and grinning, and laughing, as he wiped the gore on the pavement, taunting me.

I briefly fantasized about killing him on the spot. After all, killing in Kentucky brings a less severe sentence that the one I am serving, and I could construct a strong argument, I think, that this person simply ‘needed killin.’

But then I remembered that someone once said that Checkmate is a let down: tormenting your opponent is more satisfying. 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.

I came across an article this winter that said that Kentucky is laying off 275 teachers. It said nothing about people such as this guard that are employed full time to torment. It said nothing of the people employed in the prison industry to, for example, go through our mail and confiscate such things as bird feathers (this happened to me) and listing them in documents as potential tattooing instruments. These actions will, Kentucky assures the taxpayers, make Kentucky a safer community.

So, that leaves me, in here, to teach Kentucky’s Left Behind things like their times tables and how to count back cash register change and how to get the “x” onto one side of an equation and everything else on the other, to solve for the “x.” I try to make math fun by saying things like, “By the end of this session, you will know how to multiply or divide any number in the world by ten.”

I am close to the med window now. My friend who used to be my Spades partner in Ridgeview Dormitory comes to the chain link fence. She was moved to the medical building full time, when she was discovered talking to the trees and bushes in the main yard one day. She is in prison because one day, her husband (common law) of many years convinced her to try some crack. She did, and then she slit his throat with a hatchet, called the police, and retired to the front porch to smoke a cigarette and wait for their arrival, while the husband crawled, slipped and slid around on his own blood in the kitchen. When the crack wore off they still loved each other. He died while she was in prison here, and then she went into mental decline and was deemed unfit for general population.

I reach the window and call out “218896,” and out comes the blister pack, and the dose of Accept The Unacceptable, and the dose of Do The Time Don’t Let The Time Do You.

Prison is not just a circle. It is a sphere.

Lighter note: My Nuts Itch.