“I can’t get out. He won’t let me out…”
In The Mouth of Madness
“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…”
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.
“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)
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)
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: