Posts Tagged ‘incarceration in America’

Roxi, The Cocker Spaniel. Jail Art

My sister’s cocker spaniel Roxi by Crane-Station on flickr. Jail art, colored pencil. My sister is a champion at the precise art of weaving, hence, “Weave-On.” A fellow inmate, who was a dog groomer, sat with me and described some of the finer points of cocker spaniels to me, so that I could do this drawing. Hence, the great big feet and the long, pretty ears. Roxi is very sweet. She is also a hot mess! Very wound up.Drawn in Ricky’s World.

Music for this post post is CEBU dancing inmates:

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

Inmate names are changed, except for my own, and for nicknames that do not reveal identity. My prison nickname was Bird Lady.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Frog Gravy posts are gathered in one place at, and, to get to older posts may take some backward scrolling through the “Older Posts” instruction.

PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary, KCIW, Spring, 2009.

At five-forty-five every morning, the fluorescent lights buzz and snap on throughout the penitentiary, and we are awakened with the cheery overhead announcement, “Goood morning KCIW, this is your five-forty-five AM wake-up call,” that sounds exactly like “Gooood morning Viet Nam,” only with different words.

My roommate, Miss Pat, a kind black lady who loves her grandchildren, and I get ready for school. Breakfast is served in the dining hall at around 6 AM, but I usually skip it and study, because early morning has always been my best study time.

I have designed a rather nice imaginary greenhouse for Horticulture, if I may say so myself, for about $34,000. It is a 28′ x 96′ “Quonst”-style, plastic (polyethlylene) covered house, with fan-and-pad cooling, nice heaters, fans and lights, and a bit of high-tech environmental control.

I chose sub-irrigation. The benches are fitted for ebb-and-flow. Water is pumped into the benches, the pots take up what they need, and then the benches drain. I even chose this irrigation method for propagation (germination) over misting, because I think misting can invite fungus problems.

I’ve read that Europe, which is eons ahead of us in horticulture, has switched to nearly 80% ebb-and-flow. In fact, what is growing (so to speak) in popularity over there is flood floors, floor benches, where the whole thing is flooded and then drained. Fertilizer and insecticide can be delivered in this way.

Mealtimes in the prison are very busy, and the dining hall is always crowded. Dormitories are called at staggered time intervals to address the crowding, but often, inmates linger after the next dorm is called in. One chair in the dining hall is elevated and cushioned and it has a sign on it that says, “Reserved for Jackie.”

I am going to burn in Hell like a twig for writing this, but when I see Jackie for the first time, I cannot take my eyes away, because she has no arms, and is eating with her feet. But I can’t help it, I am mesmerized. She can do things with her toes that I cannot do with my hands, let alone my feet. In fact, she does everything with her feet and even does unassisted outdoor work in the yard with strength and precision. Her adaptation makes me feel like a clumsy klutz.

At some point, I ask Christie (who was initially sent here after her drug court denial) why Jackie is here, and Christie tells me that she was convicted of shaking her baby to death on the outside, a case of shaken baby syndrome. At some point, in my room, when no one is around, I try to get my feet to within range of my face and I cannot do it.

I have written to the Kentucky Innocence Project and requested DNA testing for the inside and the outside of the “baggie” in my case, but my request is rejected, because I am not on death row, I suppose.

Letter from Kentucky Innocence Project

Back at school, my greenhouse is a production operation, so the benches run the length-of-house. There are five benches, three movable (rolling), so the aisle is ‘floating,’ and the aisle is just wide enough for carts- this maximizes the growing area.

After school, I am picked, for no reason whatsoever, to be the subject of guard/officer Ogletree’s (who I call “Ogre,”) torment-a-white-inmate game. She prods and insults me all the way to main laundry, and forces me to change into clothing fit for a child. Fortunately, I have spare clothing, but I am in tears all of the sudden, because for some reason, this humiliation gets to me. I speak to Officer Kennedy, a kind officer, trained in negotiation, who will go on, I believe, to be Assistant Warden at a different prison after my release. Kennedy is very helpful, and I am able to return to the dorm, to walk through the inmate insult lines and laughs, all the way back to my room.

As I said before, it would not surprise me if Ogletree spoke backward or neighed like a horse, or spoke in a combination of previously untranslated ancient languages, because she is at the least, an egregious human being.

I wanted to say to her, “Bitch, I did not invent slaves. My ancestors were poor. They farmed their own land until they lost everything.” But it would not do any good. She uses her badge to berate, belittle, and humiliate, and grievances go nowhere.

Sometimes I think I am wasting my time with God, and maybe I should just throw in the towel and worship Satan. He is winning, anyway. Why try so hard to search for God, look for the good in people, seek truths, stand up for something, and try to be a better person, when it is so easy to just join in with the Father Of Lies?

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.

Turtle saying hello, by Crane-Station on flickr. Jail art, colored pencil.

Turtle saying hello by Crane-Station on flickr. Jail art, colored pencil.

Bluebirds bring a letter by Crane-Station on flickr. Jail art: colored pencil and magazine art.

Bluebirds delivering mail, by Crane-Station on flickr. Jail art, colored pencil, magazine ink and ink.

The above drawings are from Fulton County Detention Center.

McCracken County jail banned pencils and art supplies of any kind.

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

Names have been changed.

Frog Gravy posts are also on in MyFDL in my diaries.

This post is from jail.

McCracken County Jail, Sometime in February, 2008, Cell 107

After Ruthie’s mother dies, I develop a fear that will stay with me for nearly the next two years. I fear that I will lose a parent, my son, my husband, or another loved one. None of my family members reside in this state, except for my husband.

During incarceration, I will see women lose parents, and also children, and I will watch in horror as a prison inmate is shackled and belly-chained and herded off to attend, for one-half hour, her son’s funeral- her teenage son, who drowned in an accident.

My mother’s sister is in fact very elderly and sick. I do not know how to help my mother with this from my vantage point, except to tell her what to expect. The dying experience is something that, for some reason or another, is avoided altogether in American culture. In my experience, many families were at a total loss at the bedside of a dying person, and many chose to leave the bedside altogether. I would always try to tell them, at the very least, that we believe hearing is intact until a person dies; hearing is the last thing to go, although of course, it is difficult to research this.

Here are my notes, and they may have come from a book or from memory:

1-3 months prior
-withdrawl from people and from world
-words less important than touch and physical presence, less verbal communication.
-decreased food intake.
-going inside of self.
-less communication.

1-2 weeks
-talking with the unseen.
-picking at clothes.

-decreased blood pressure.
-pulse rapid or slow.
-skin color changes, pale, bluish.
-sleeping but responding.
-complaints of body tired and heavy…

Days or hours:

-intensification of the 1-2 week signs.
-surge of energy.
-decrease in blood pressure.
-eyes glassy, tearing, half open.
-purplish knees, feet, hands.


-fish out of water breathing.
-cannot be awakened.

I try to talk openly with my mother, through letters, and educate her about the dying experience, and what to maybe expect in her sister’s case. My mother and I also exchange a few comments about our culture’s obsession with youth: unless you are young, and skinny, and getting laid, and making a lot of money, you are nothing.

It also occurs to me that I am psychologically and physically dying right here in this cement coffin, slowly, by inches and seconds. It is February, and I have not been out of the cell for any kind or rec since my arrival. Depression is crushing. I am babbling at times. I join others in showing my breasts to the men in the hallway.

Sometimes I wonder why the haters cannot just man up and kill us outright. But, I do not think they would enjoy that quite as much.

Author’s end note: My aunt died after my release, and, I was one of the lucky ones, in that I did not lose a family member during my incarceration. I was given, over and over, this advice: “You cannot live in here and out there at the same time.”