Posts Tagged ‘WOMEN’S INCARCERATION’

“I can’t get out. He won’t let me out…”

John Carpenter
In The Mouth of Madness
Bicycle Scene

“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…”

Naeem Murr
The Boy

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.

“Do what?”

“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)

and

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)

and

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:

Porcelain dumpster doll

Bird drawing  by Crane-Station

Birds, drawn in jail, by Crane-Station. Colored pencil, magazine ink.

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

This post is from jail.

Frog Gravy posts are also located on Firedoglake.com, in MyFDL.

Names have been changed, except in this post, the name Ricky is real.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Ricky’s World, Fulton County Detention Center, Hickman, KY, 7-31-08

Ricky’s World is a vast improvement over McCracken County Jail,contrary to inmate urban legend. Some would strongly disagree with me. Ricky runs a tight ship. His is, for the most part, a jail that serves as a prison for Class D non-violent drug offenders. Men outnumber the women, and the jail is overcrowded.

Almost everyone is offered work, since nearly all of the inmates are “final sentenced” State inmates. There is one 12-step meeting each week. A caring priest, who is like a counselor to me and many others, visits each week.

The library is actually quite good. When family members send books to us, we are required to donate them to the library, and then check them out. One of the first books I checked out was The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. There are history books, some educational materials, and children’s books. Since I love Mother Goose, I occasionally check out nursery rhyme books. I also become a fan of Sudoku. We can check out board games as well.

We are actually offered legitimate recreation for one hour each day. The outside cage is tiny, but it is outside nonetheless, and if you crouch and peek through the keyhole in the steel door to the outside world, you can see a cemetery.

There is another view to the outside, through a small window in the kitchen. You can even see some trees.

Lights are actually turned off at night. During the day, they are not quite as burning to the eyes as the lights are in McCracken.

We are allowed real pens. But the best part is the colored pencils. We can get them from canteen. I begin drawing nearly every day. I mail the drawings to my family. I combine colored pencil work with colors from magazine pictures. If you rub deodorant onto some toilet paper and then rub that onto a magazine picture, the ink comes off nicely and you can use it for art work. It also makes nice makeup. I find all sorts of pictures, in magazines and books, and I spend my spare time drawing, and experimenting with various items in the cell that serve as art supplies.

My hands are still raw from my first job here: washing inmate dishes in the kitchen. I am transferred to a different kitchen job: prep crew. In the evening, when the clean-up crew is finished, we go to the kitchen and fill butter and jelly cups and make Kool-Aid. Then we cut fresh vegetables.

We fill 250 butter cups, 250 jelly cups, and make 50 gallons of Kool-Aid. Then we cut hundreds of pounds of vegetables; Okra, cucumbers, and squash. Most of the cut vegetables are used in inmate meals; guards occasionally take home sacks of the cut vegetables.

There is no screaming man in an isolation cell, and the guards are very nice, for the most part. Some are older; we call one elderly woman “Miss Granny.”

At night, I try to invent ways to minister to my swollen hands. They are shiny, red and blistered. The guards occasionally bring me a bandaid. I carefully slice the it into two strips with a tiny scalpel that I have made from my disposable razor. Two bandaid strips last me most of the day.

I make the scalpels by stepping on the plastic razor carefully, breaking the plastic away from the blade. Then, I fold the blade until it breaks into two parts. I leave some plastic around the ends of the blade. I use the tiny instruments for sharpening pencils and separating elastic sock threads to make hair ties.. However, since they are considered contraband shanks, I keep them carefully hidden.

Bandaids are not sold on commissary; the jail wants you to fill out a “protocol.” A protocol is also known in some circles as a “medical kite,” a request form to see the medical department. When you fill out a protocol, the jail takes $45.00 off your books, and sends you to an office where you have a conversation with someone who tells you there is nothing they can do, or, it is not their department.

Sometimes, but not very often, a Tylenol is given. I have seen inmates pay as much as $90.00 for a single Tylenol tablet. I prefer Advil anyway, and it sells for $1.00 per tablet on commissary, so sometimes I splurge and get some Advil. The jail makes hundreds of dollars each month from this alone.

One woman I work with also lives in my cell. Her name is Colleen. She must weigh at least three hundred pounds, and she is very sweet. Inmates take advantage of her and make fun of her. Her hair is thinning. So is mine. I wonder about some nutritional deficiency causing accelerated aging in everyone.

Colleen is accident prone, and one day in March of this year, she slipped and fell, while working in the kitchen. She may have broken her arm, but no real doctor ever looked at it.

Now it is nearly August, and her arm is still swollen, shiny, red and painful. It looks like a great big shiny ham hock. She wakes up crying at night.

The jail will not allow Colleen to have a bag of ice without a protocol. Colleen filled out the required protocol. She paid the required $45.00, met with some staff, and returned to the cell.

The staff did not want Colleen to open the bag of ice and use the ice in her KoolAid, so they put garlic, salt and spices all over the ice and then delivered the whole mess to the cell, not realizing, I assume, that salt melts ice.

In the middle of the night, the bag leaked garlic-spice-salt water all over a couple of bunks and the whole cell reeked of garlic. Colleen got no benefit for her $45.00 bag of ice because the salt melted the ice, and Colleen was left with a plastic bag that looked like a used condom.

“What do you think?” she asks me, as she tries to wiggle a puffy, sausage-sized finger.

“I think you need to see a doctor,” I say.

Colleen tries to tell the staff that she cannot work, and they threaten to put her in the hole if she does not work. Somehow, she fashions a sling from a t-shirt, comes to work, and asks me to whip the jelly for her, so that the jelly will be liquefied and she can use one hand to dip the jelly into jelly cups.

Meanwhile, I fill 250 butter cups and begin slicing cucumbers with another cucumber-cutter, named Fiona.

Fiona has some psychiatric issues that I have narrowed down to either borderline or Munchausen’s; I have not decided yet.

As we are cutting cucumbers, Fiona says, “I don’t know why they let me have knives. I put a butcher knife into my mother because she wouldn’t let me watch Rin-Tin-Tin on television.”

But she has a severe speech impediment, so the sentence comes out, “…I put a butchow knife intow my mothow…”

And I think, I am living in an insane asylum.