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?

Barn During Storm by Crane-Station on flickr (jail art)

Barn during storm by Crane-Station on flickr. Jail art, magazine ink, ink and colored pencil.

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration in Kentucky, in 2008 and 2009, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Names are changed, except for mine, which is clear in the documents below, and the social worker’s, also clear.

PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary, near Louisville, KY, 3-18-09, with a note about some animals on the grounds, penned on various dates and consolidated.

Before I enrolled in school, I worked recycle, breaking down cardboard boxes from the prison commissary, with a very shy woman named Roxi, who had the misfortune of being present in a home, when her boyfriend decapitated someone.

From our work area, we can see the large dining hall and the back entrance to the kitchen.

One day at work, I noticed a large, well-fed possum wander out of the kitchen area, where there is also a sewer, weave his way drunkenly led by pink snout, to the dumpster.

“You see Bob?” said Roxi.


“We done named him Bob. The possum.”

“Oh! He is so cute!”

“Yup. And we done fed him. A hot dog and a bologna sandwich.”

I look at Bob and think, well I’ll bet he never wants for anything.

If this weren’t real, it would be funny.

There were also a couple of prison calico cats that the inmates loved to feed and take care of, even though this was technically not allowed.

And then there was the baby bird that I was keeping warm and nursing back to health.

At the time I did not know any of this, but the prison staff would eventually kill Bob as well as the cats. They would ship Roxi, without notice to Otter Creek the private women’s prison, in Eastern Kentucky, a place where, according to some, “Lizards don’t even live in the yard.”

A guard will stomp my baby bird to death in front of me and then wipe the gore onto the pavement next to me, laughing.

If there is a place in hell…

Underground Education

I enroll in the Horticulture program, and immediately involve myself in the business of tutoring others, not in Horticulture, but in math, English, and Biology. I enjoy teaching because it is rewarding and sort of akin to clinical psychology.

Cricket never learned her times tables, but she wants to prepare for her GED, and so she asks for my help She is a mother of three small children, and when she got convicted, her hair fell out. She shows me some ‘before’ pictures. She does not have cancer, and doctors say it is not true alopecia either, because she still has eyebrows. Other inmates that live with her vouch that she is not pulling her own hair out.

Inmates are not allowed to teach.

My path crosses another inmate, Daffy, who also loves to teach, albeit under threat of the hole (or cell block, as it is called here) and we discuss strategy. My contraband teaching is difficult to prosecute, because, hey we were just studying together, right?

Daffy, however, who has a Master’s in Theology, has a following of inmates that are interested in learning more about Catholicism.

Daffy’s mother was Jewish, but she was raised Pentecostal, and later converted to Catholicism on her own. Her grandmother raised her on English literature.

We discuss our dilemma on the ball field.

Daffy says, “If someone just happens to find themselves out here on the ball field during recreation, say Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and they wish to join a few others…”

“For a discussion,” I add, “What’s to stop them? I mean they can discuss anything they want to, right?”

Contraband teaching. The truth is stranger than fiction.

One day, it all ends.

Cricket comes to me, in tears, and says, “I don’t need your help any more. They’ve done eliminated the GED classes.”

Others report the same thing. I make an appointment with my case worker and ‘out’ myself.

“What in the god damn,” I say. Some of the people I tutor are telling me that classes have been eliminated.”

“Thant’s right. The jails are complaining that they are not getting enough money because you guys are taking it all. Class D education is being eliminated; looks like inmates will be shipped back to the jails. I just wiped out an entire Life Without a Crutch class.”

My caseworker examines his computer screen.

“But Life Without a Crutch is a drug treatment class,” I say. “A good one, and most Class D’s are non-violent drug offenders.”

“I know.”

“There aren’t any educational programs at all in the jails, unless it is SAP (Substance Abuse Program) and you have to be a Class C (serving ten years or more for crimes such as trafficking and not simple possession) to even get into SAP!”

“I know.”

And so it goes. Inmates that were trying to do something, anything, to improve things with education and treatment were kicked out of school and out of treatment, in the name of money.

No educational materials allowed by Crane-Station on flickr

No educational materials allowed. This is a jail kite to the social worker in the McCracken County jail, requesting educational books. The request is denied.

No educational materials allowed by Crane-Station on flickr

A second request for educational materials is also denied by the social worker.

Author’s end note: I do not know the status of the programs today.

Frog Gravy posts are also at Firedoglakecom in the MyFDL diaries.