Jail Art by Crane-Station
Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.
Inmate names are changed.
Frog Gravy contains graphic language.
McCracken County Jail, Cell 107, April, 2008
Ruthie’s 49-year-old mother just died. She was obese, like Ruthie, and she chain-smoked. She lived alone in a trailer. No one checked on her the entire weekend. She was found Monday, sitting next to the air conditioner, with an inhaler in her hand. The air conditioner was off, so the skin on the body split open and turned colors; the funeral will not be open casket.
Ruthie sits next to me at a steel table with a no-shank pen and paper. She starts to write a letter to a treatment center:
“I’m writeing to see if I could get into your program
Im really own drugs bad especily crack cocane I started using when I was 12 years old and it was pot then I started dranking at 16 then started snorting cocane at age 17 then about 19…”
“How do you spell snortin’?” asks Ruthie.
“s-n-o-r-t-i-n-g,” I reply.
She thanks me and continues:
“…then about 19 crack cocane I stop using drugs there for awhile when I found out I was pregnet I had 2 little girls did good for awhile unlike the father of my kids, my old man, went to jail for about 2 years at first I stayed clean about 4 months after he got locked up.”
This is the first and only period in the letter so far. She continues:
“then things got hard for me, like paying bills, supporting my kids, just life in general, and everyone around almost did crack cocane, so I look for that for an axcuse, to start back smoking crack-cocane, I started smoking crack-cocane for about the first 6 months then started doing it all almost, But I never really been addicted to pills, like I’ll have a crack pipe and a meth pipe goin at the same time and my old man wuz sellin dope and doin weekins in jail…”
Ruthie giggles and says, “A crack pipe and a meth pipe at the same time, that is high, don’t you thank that’s high?”
She continues writing:
“…my reasons I looked up to my sister when I wuz a child is my sister took care of me when my mom wuz in and out of jail and on drugs.”
Ruthie never knew her real mother, the one who just died, until Ruthie was 18, and they met each other here in this jail. Until that time, Ruthie had a last name and a social security number given to her by her foster parents. Then, her real mother gave her a name and a social security number, since the foster parents had been sexually abusive.
I ask, “What about your father?”
“Oh, he was murdered,” replies Ruthie. “I got a tattoo of him right here, on my arm. Yeah, he was murdered. It was in the news.”
“What happened to him?” I ask.
“Oh, it was over money. They done hung him with his own belt buckle. This man and this lady.”
Terry says, “Well fuck me runnin’.”
“They tried to stuff him into the trunk of a car, but he was too big, so they done drug him back into the house. I saw his body. He’d been dead for a week. He was split open, and there was maggots everywhere. Seein’ that changes you. I ain’t been right after seein’ that. Don’t you think it changes you, Rachel?”
“I cannot imagine that,” I say.
Down the hall, a guard yells at a white man in an isolation cell to “stop acting black,” and further down the hall, Harry yells from his isolation cell, “HELP! Let me out! Helpmehelpme help. HELP!” The mailman comes and retrieves Sirkka’s outgoing trick letters that she has written in hopes of receiving some commissary money.
Ruthie says, “And Mama’s body done swolled up and busted. They cain’t have no open casket. They say the smell was awful.”
Terry asks, “Where did your mama live?”
“The trailer park out Twin Oaks Road by the church and down by the liquor store.”
I note that everything in Kentucky seems to be in relation to a church, a jail or a liquor store.
Ruthie says, “Yeah, and you know when that lady came by the cell with Brother Phillip?”
“She had me sign some papers to say they could sell Mama’s trailer, and car, and all her things, so they could bury her. They said that that burial insurance wasn’t no good.”
“Oh jeez,” I say. “It was probably a scam.”
“Now I ain’t got nowhere to go when I git out,” says Ruthie. “I ain’t gonna have nothing.”
Christie says, “You signed something?”
I ask, “Do you have a copy?”
“No,” says Ruthie. “I shouldn’t a signed it, huh?”
Christie says, “Ruthie! Don’t ever sign anything when you don’t know what it is!”
In the next day or so, Ruthie leaves the jail in handcuffs, to spend ½ hour at her mother’s funeral. One of the jail guards, Sally, knew Ruthie’s mother and sent flowers; they were the only flowers that anyone sent. The day after the funeral, guards come by and get Ruthie, and she returns to the cell in tears and in hives. She has been charged with two new felonies, each carrying a potential additional five-year sentence: giving a false name and giving a false address.
The address is false, because the trailer was sold, to pay for the mother’s burial.The name was false, because Ruthie provided both her foster care name and the name that her real mother had given her.
Ruthie was 9th-grade special educated and did not understand the forms. She is on disability and cannot even work a cash register because she cannot count back change. She is obese, because she does not know anything about nutrition or diet. She does not understand her own drug addiction, and she does not really even understand her original charges.
We again admonish Ruthie for signing forms that she does not understand. We tell her to go before the judge and explain her inability to comprehend, her education level and her learning disability.I feel a terrible sense of guilt, because Ruthie had initially asked me for help with the forms, and I told her that it was inappropriate for me to see her private information and help her with legal documents. I honestly thought that an appropriate person such as a public defender would help Ruthie.
I was wrong.