Posts Tagged ‘KENTUCKY INCARCERATION’

Behind The Scenes: The Frog Gravy Notes

Behind the scenes, the Frog Gravy notes. When I say that Frog Gravy is reconstructed from my notes, you may wonder what the notes look like. Here are some of them.

And, in the Spirit of Halloween:

Ghost and bats. Prison art

Ghost and bats. Felt tip pen. By Crane-Station on flickr. Prison art.

A while back, I blogged What It Is Like To Live In A Community on Firedoglake/MyFDL. I actually wrote it while I was in prison, but I had no idea where the essay was until today, when I came across it in my notes.

Being in prison is a lot like being a passenger on a train. The community members are transient and so, although you live in one location, you never feel quite grounded as though you are at home. Although I became very close with Christie (who I named after Christie Brinkley) and Tina (who I named after actor Tina Louise), other inmates passed through my strange prison life like ghosts. Just when I would get to know intimate details of someone’s life, she was gone.

I have always been fascinated with groups. Anything more than two people, I think, is enough to formulate a group. I find group dynamics most interesting. In women’s prison, the group is a group of people in nearly constant crisis. Inmates have been separated abruptly from everything that once defined them, and they become a faceless number. A criminal outcast, whose life is forever divided into two parts: the before and the after. This division is sometimes compounded when a family member, a child in particular, dies on the outside. I saw this happen, more than once.

Incarceration is akin to being psychologically raped. I have always been a loner for the most part, and being forced to live with women was like being forced to befriend a group of feral cats. Still, I had hope that the members of the group could recognize their commonality rather than their differences, and work together toward a common goal of redefining the second half of their lives to incorporate the prison experience in a positive, rather than a negative way.

The key, I think, is in forgiveness, and in letting go of resentments. For me, this is a work in progress, or, as they say in the recovery program, “progress not perfection.”

What It Is Like To Live In A Community

A community is like a boat. Everyone must grab an oar and row. Otherwise, the boat just sits in the water.

Some people have oars, but their oars are not quite in the water, so it is really good to help them, to find their oar and get it into the water.

Sometimes half of the people are working really hard, and rowing forward, while the other half is working really hard to row backward, or sideways. In this case, the boat does not go anywhere; it just zigs and zags and circles and sits, attracting attention from other boats in the sea, who look and point and laugh and laugh. So it is really good to try and be sure that everyone rows in the same direction.

Sometimes people get tired and mad, and they throw their oars, so you have to be really careful and duck. Otherwise, an airborne oar could chop your head off, and your head would flop and splat across the deck, and slip and slide and splash into the water, where the hungry sharks are waiting, to tear your head to bits and eat it.

Other times, people may get to fighting over their oars, and they say things like: Your oar is ugly, or Yours has holes and so does your mama, or Well, your mama’s so fat she plays pool with the planets, or You don’t even have an oar, do you, or You do you and I’ll do me, or Who’s the bitch that stole my motherfuckin’ oar.

And then they all start fighting and beating the living crap out of each other with their oars, and throwing each other overboard, where the hungry sharks are waiting, to tear them to bits and eat them.

People might fall in love and forget to row altogether. So they sneak in and out of portholes, and up and down the ladders at the back of the boat all hours of the night, and write notes to each other, and set up meetings. Since no one is really rowing, to speak of, the boat goes nowhere. It just rocks and rocks and rocks, and the hungry sharks laugh and laugh because they know that sooner or later a couple of lovers will fight, as they always do, and someone will get tossed overboard, for the sharks to tear them to bits and eat them.

It is good to have a nautical chart. Otherwise, the boat will get lost, and people will try to jump off and swim, but they don’t stand a chance, because the sharks will tear them to bits and eat them, and stuff themselves, then sink to the bottom of the ocean and sleep.

One day, when everyone is rowing in the same direction and following the chart, the boat will be the envy of all the seas. Other boats will notice that everyone is tan and healthy, and they will never know that there was a time when its occupants were beating the living crap out of each other and turning each other into shark food.

People on the boat will notice a whole new world out there, and they will say, we don’t have to stop at that little piece of land after all, because we can row to the land of our dreams!

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 froggravy.wordpress.com, 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?