The Bridge of Sighs

October 26, 2013

by Crane-Station

I wrote this essay while I was in prison. I entered it in the 2009 Metroversity Creative Writing Contest. Since I was enrolled in college courses, I qualified to enter the contest. However, I was technically not allowed computer use to do this, because computer use was strictly limited to classroom assignment word processing. After several discussions with me pointing out that the school itself had posted the contest notice, making it school-related, I was allowed to enter.

The Bridge of Sighs won the 2009 Metroversity contest for creative nonfiction essay, but the essay was then lost in my notes. I found it recently and so here is the original version, with a couple of minor changes.

For anyone who does not know me, I do have a drug and alcohol history. I shared this history with the judge in my case, and presented bed dates and proposals for short and long-term treatment, as well as a five-year monitoring plan to follow. He denied it. He also denied drug court.

When I was locked up I wrote. I wrote to keep my sanity.

Bridges are, I think, wonderful metaphors for a lot of things.

The Bridge Of Sighs

In the stockyards of 1920s Chicago, even the business of killing was engineered for maximum efficiency. From Upton Sinclair, we know that animals, mostly pigs, were herded by the millions up wooden ramps, never to return. At the top of the ramp, they were hoisted and killed in a manner such that their own weight would carry them through the butchering process, a process that claimed the lives and souls of animals and immigrant workers alike.

The ramp was called the Bridge of Sighs.

Its namesake is in Europe and is, in fact a bridge that once connected a castle to a prison. For condemned prisoners crossing the bridge, the view was breathtaking and final. So, unlike most real and symbolic bridges that begin journeys and lead to new places, the Bridge of Sighs was both a real and figurative bridge of sorrow.

I walked on such a bridge for a while before I even realized I was on it. As if in a grandiose daydream about fulfilling the immense potential I just knew I had, I awakened one day to realize that I was old. And stuck on this one-way bridge.

My husband was with me, walking beside me, our respective addictions different, mutually maddening, and conveniently symbiotic. He would spend eighteen hours in his; I would spend eighteen hours in mine. Or, alternatively, I would spend eighteen hours looking for what he was looking for. On the internet.

I deemed my addiction to be more mysterious, exciting, and therefore glamorous. Heroin has a rich history, I reasoned, and since its users often included artists and writers, the arrogance of its associated culture is justified. My husband’s internet pornography addiction, on the other hand, is relatively new to the addiction scene, and therefore undeserving of its newfound stature. Plus, I had a solid justification: what woman wouldn’t drink or use when her husband is constantly looking at other women on the internet.

Upon settling into our respective comfort zones on the bridge of doom together, my husband and I began to experience, gradually and almost imperceptibly, what they call in physics an increase in entropy. Our lives were disordered and falling apart in increments that carried significant additive impact.

For example, we never seemed to have a clean pair of matching socks that had been neatly placed in the sock drawer, fresh from the dryer. At some point it was apparent that we would never have clean, matching, folded socks. We settled for this. We bought new socks.

In similar senseless fashion, we tried to compensate for our increasing and irreversible disorganization. We would pay our heat bill but the water would be turned off. We would pay our water and the lights would be turned off. There was never any gas in the car. We were always looking for loose change. Our phone was turned off more than it was on. The trash and dirty clothes piled up. Weeds grew. One entire winter, we had no hot water. We could never completely fix the car. For some reason, everything seemed to cost a thousand dollars that we did not have. Fines. Late fees. Twenty-nine percent interest payday loans. Each time we were on the verge of eviction we would throw a hail Mary pass and hawk something. Together, we moved more and more to society’s outer margins, to survival mode. Both of us were exhausted all the time. Making love took too much energy anymore.

Just when we thought life could not get any worse, it always did.

We continued to dream about all of the massively important things we would do someday. It was lost on us that we were on a bridge. Going nowhere. Without socks.

My parents walked patiently and lovingly beside me on the bridge, because that is what parents do when they love their children.

Brothers and sisters at times assumed an active role in pushing, pulling, shoving or kicking me off the bridge, knowing what was best for me. The solution for them was simple, jump off and swim away, but the more they pushed, the more I pushed back. Inevitibly, a part of me wanted to stay.

I tried a myriad of delay tactics on the bridge. I would use drugs so I would not drink. I would drink so I would not use drugs. I would work more jobs. Exercise more. Cut my hair. Plan a move. I quit using drugs and began drinking heavily. Liquor store hours determined my schedule. I never felt well. I never slept. I felt sick, worthless and ashamed all of the time. I was afraid to answer the phone, the door, the mail.

My debt to everyone was too great ever to make things right with anyone. My mantra was this: Tomorrow will be different. It never was.

My son walked beside me on the bridge. He cried, tugged, and begged me to leave. All he ever wanted was to see his mother happy, so he loved me and walked with me.

That I was on the bridge at one time only became apparent or important when I was no longer on it. In retrospect, the bridge was a journey of dying while living, of beating the odds, and existing. But it was not the fear, or pain, or screaming or struggling that gently lifted me to safety.

Perhaps it was the silence. The silence at the end of the Bridge of Sighs.


Water runs downhill

October 26, 2013

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language. Do not read this post at work.

Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill…You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go. Why things are what they are.

William Golding
Lord of the Flies

Water runs downill

KCIW, PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary, Winter, 2008-2009

We are in the noisy day room of Ridgeview Dormitory, playing Spades. As usual, my friend in the wheelchair, Sandy, is my partner. She loves to talk, and I love to listen. She explains the characteristics and tendencies of humans to me, as would a college professor, in a lovely eastern Kentucky hillbilly drawl.

Sandy explains, “…You put a pussy on a man, he gonna take it. This don’t take no damn rocket scientist to figure out; people start fuckin’ at thirteen.”

The TV is blaring. Everyone is talking. The faucet in the kitchen area sink is cut on to full stream, because everyone has given up the battle of turning faucets off, after the OCD inmate’s hundreds-of-times-a-day hand washing routine. The washer and the dryer and the microwave are all running. Several groups of four other than our group, are seated at tables, playing Spades. Since the OCD inmate’s canteen Nike tennis shoes are in the dryer, there is a loud, regularly irregular ka-ka-kunk, ka-ka-kunk sound coming from the dryer.

LaDonna, the bipolar inmate who is chronically manic and laugh-out-loud funny, stops at our table and says to Sandy, referring to me, “Well, I see you got you a crazy-ass Spades partner again.”

LaDonna and I are friends, and she has stopped by to confirm that I will be buying her psych drugs this evening. Everyone at the table gets it, but no one says anything. LaDonna robbed a bank at gunpoint and stole a car, then evaded police, and got less time than me, seven years, a fact that she is proud of, and rubs in. She says, “I’ma sing you guys a song, do a little dance.”

She raises her hands and, snapping and clapping and stepping, sings, “…In-house, out-house…” (clap. clap-clap clap) “…Crack-house, whore-house…” (clap. Snap-clap) Then, something distracts her and she leaves.

I ask Sandy how old God is. She replies, “Older than dirt. Balls hang lower than his knees.”

We are called to line up outside, if we are enrolled in night class. Tory comes to the table, books in hand and says, “Time to go.”

I tell Sandy, “Gotta run. Hey, what’s a hundred yards long and has three teeth?”

“What?”

“KCIW Med line!”

She laughs, and as we are leaving, she says, “Bird Lady. Them Bluegrass people. They ain’t no joke.”

“I know,” I say.

Later, I take LaDonna’s evening meds. Within some period of time, and I have no idea how long it is, I am trying to find my room. But I am plastered up against the cement wall, and drool runs down it in a trail. I am literally higher than God. My feet are not even touching the floor; rather, they keep searching for ground, in the cloud. I have never been this fucked up, ever in my entire life and I am convinced that I have to find my bunk before I cough up a heart valve onto the wall, where it will stick and ten thut-thut-thut-tut, in a fan, to the floor. A doorknob! I open a door, and I am saying, “What are you guys doing in my room?” Blank stares. Next, the 5:45 AM wakeup call is issued, and I get up as always, from my own bunk.

LaDonna will be shipped to CCA-owned Otter Creek. There will be a medication error. LaDonna will fight for her life on a ventilator, but we do not know this yet.

On the way to school, Christie hands me a letter and two photographs and says, “Here. Put this in your book.”

The letter is from a male inmate to someone who arranges prison pen pals. He is young and nice looking. In one photo, he poses in a tank top in front of a weight set. He wears a gold watch and a gold chain. Sunglasses hang from the front of his tank top. He has a chest tattoo from a parlor on the outside.

“Nice,” I say.

“His balls just dropped,” says Christie.” He is looking for someone to write sex letters to. I know him. He really is very nice.”

The penmanship is neat, meticulous cursive. Every line is filled out on the lined paper. Photocopied, hand-drawn roses and vines outline the letter. It says (names changed):

Mrs. Barker,

My name is Anthony Acree and my inmate number is #XXXXXX and I’m looking for a pen-pal to write if you could please hook-a-nigga up one time- “then good lookin.'” She can write to me at Northpoint Training Center PO Box 479 Burgin, KY 40310)

Once she writes, her and I will take it from there. I’ve enclosed two photos of myself. “Look” real talk in a good nigga to write, and I am going to keep her mind in the mist. But at the same time I want to get her drunk and in the back seat of my truck about 2:17 AM in an alley, sucken da dog shit outa dat pussy, I will lick her wet and suck her dry, ya dig. And as she holds on for dear life I will slide dis cock in dat A22 and fuck dat perm out her muthafucken head.

Fuck wit a nigga, Brick

“Dang,” I tell Christie. “He writes better than most of the legal profession around here. What’s with the 2:17 AM”

“I know.I wondered about the 2:17 myself.”

Tory says, “Bird Lady, you’re brave, writing about this stuff.”

“I have nothing to lose,” I say.

In night Biology class, Mr. Burke tells us that his choice to teach this class, here in this prison, is one of the most enlightening and delightful things he has ever done and that, other teachers refuse to do what he does because “they do not know what they are missing.”

He inspires me to want to return to the prison and teach someday. If they would ever let me back in, that is. Every student in the class loves Mr. Burke. No one is ever late or absent, unless she has been involved in an altercation unrelated to school.

During break I tell Tory, “Check this out. Here is a way to memorize that list of elements he wants us to know.”

We discuss the mnemonic device See Mag Men Mob Cousin Hopkins’ Nice Clean Cafe: C Mag Men Mob CuZn Hopkins NiCe Clean CaFe.

Tory asks, “What else do you think we should know?”

“That is a really good question,” I say. “And a tough one.” I think for a moment, What one thing, if I know it, will help me to figure out everything else?

“Water runs downhill,” I say.


Ten grammar essentials

October 25, 2013

Ten Grammar essentials

by Crane-Station

note: I am not a grammar expert, nor do I have a doctorate degree. I enjoy the topic. This is a repost of something I had on my old site a long time ago.

1. alright is not a word. All right is two words.

2. alot is not a word. A lot is two words.

3. To split an infinitive is wrong in the formal sense, but sometimes it is okay to occasionally split an infinitive because it sounds better to do so. Six infinitives that express time relationships are listed here.

4. Avoid the word “which” in favor of “that’,” if possible. Chicago Manual of Style debate on which versus that. (I always favor that if possible)

5. Do not end a sentence in a preposition, unless you are asking a question (what horse did you bet on?)

6.Do not start an essay with a dummy subject such as There or It.

7.Unless you wish to kill the essay outright, use the active voice. Proofread and eliminate passive voice.

8. Unless you are quoting dialogue, contractions are too informal for quality writing.

9. “Lay” is a verb.
lay – definition of lay by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and …
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/laylay 1 (l ). v. laid (l d), lay·ing, lays. v.tr. 1. To cause to lie down: lay a child in its crib. 2. a. To place in or bring to a particular position: lay the cloth over the painting.

10.Lay is the the past of lie.
Laid must have an object: He laid the fork down.

He laid down is a grammatical mistake.

11. Get a copy of Struck and White: Elements of Style.

Remember the Stephen King quote, “The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.”

Has this been helpful?

BTW: Four places that you likely will not find grammatical errors in are: The Christian Science Monitor, The Atlantic, Harper’s and The National Geographic.

Here is a recent Christian Science Monitor article on grammar.


The mother, her baby and the man

October 25, 2013

When Parrots Go Bad

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction account of incarceration in Kentucky, in jails and in prison, during 2008 and 2009, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Inmate names are changed, except for nick names that do not reveal identity.

The mother, her baby and the man

McCracken County Jail Cell 107, sometime in February, 2008.

Before my trial, my husband, a retired criminal defense attorney with thirty years of experience, actually tried to help my court-appointed local attorney, who was about as useless as a cat with side pockets.

My husband advised the following:

1. Never ask a question that you do not know the answer to. Each and every question has a reference-at-the-ready in the transcript, wherein the deputy previously testified under oath. He did not quite go so far as to suggest my attorney to say something like, “So. Were you lying then? Or are you lying now?” But it was pretty close.

2. Never allow the witness any wiggle room. Only ask questions that can be answered “yes” or “no.”

Had my lawyer been even marginally competent, and had he any integrity whatsoever, I may not have been given the opportunity to sit in this cell and write this. My husband describes Chris McNeill’s performance as “abysmal.” I believe this is too kind. I believe the man was actually working with and for the prosecution, and at least one Frankfort attorney that I know of does not deny this possibility.

For some reason, I now wear a towel on my head at all times. I have spent hours planning my hat for the Kentucky Derby, still months away, but I will wear jail-issue underpants on my head for the event. Wrapped just right, they look like a white do-rag, and they go quite nicely with the cornrows I am also planning.

I also have a solid plan to obtain an extra pair of socks, and I tell Christie, “Check this out. My sock has a big hole in it, right? So, I ask the guard for new socks, but I wrap the ones with holes into the rest of my laundry. She brings me new socks. I take the elastic threads from the old pair and make them into hair ties. Come to Mama!”

“It won’t work,” says Christie.

“What do you mean it won’t work? This is the rock-solidest plan I’ve ever had. I got this.”

“She’ll take them. She’ll take them home, sew the hole, and bring back the old pair.”

“Who the hell does that shit?”

Sure enough, this is exactly what the guard does. She brings the old, now-sewn socks back. She has a male Class D inmate in tow to do some work in the cell, and they begin a conversation about drug court.

The guard says, “All I know is that drug court is really hard.”

“Drug court sucks,” says the Class D.”I got kicked out. Two of us got five years on one check. I was clean. I am a contractor on the outside. I was called for a UA when I was working in Murray. I told them I’d go to the hospital or the jail in Murray, and give them a urine, and pay for it myself. They refused. they sent me to rehab. The day I was discharged I missed an appointment they never told me about, so they violated me. I’ve got eight years on the shelf.”

“Huh,” I say, adjusting the towel on my head. “Funny. I asked for drug court and they denied me, and just gave me eight years without all the bother. Drug court is a scam though, I agree. They probably did me a favor, denying me drug court. Come to think of it, I should have just killed someone. I’d be doing way less time.”

“So, you took it to trial then,” says the Class D.

“Here it comes,” I say.

“Never take anything to trial in McCracken County,” says the Class D. “Everybody knows that.”

“She didn’t know. Not from here,” Christie offers.

Lea says, “Drug Court’s a buuuunch of bullshit. I got kicked out and now I’m doing a nine-month flop in this hole.”

Down the hall, Harry shouts from his isolation cell, “HELP! Let me OUT! HelpmehelpmehelpmeHELP!”

Sirkka, the 4’8″ 105 lb self-described crack whore is, at times, oddly stuck in infancy, and she asks Lea to rub her legs and burp her like a baby. Lea snaps, “You ain’t no damn baby. You are a grown woman!”

The guard says, to Lea, “Well, I guess McCracken is better than Hickman.”

Lea says, “Fulton’s worse. Ricky’s World.”

“Hickman’s worse,” says the Class D.

“Yeah, Hickman,” says the guard. “It’s a dungeon. My sister was there and they feed you, like hog guts, what’s that called?”

“Chitlins?” I offer.

“Tripe?” says Tina.

“Tripe. That’s it.”

“Is that a gland?” I ask.

“Rub my legs,” says Sirkka to me.

“You need to quit. I’m not a pedophile. Really.”

Lea says, “I never shoulda done drug court.”

Later in the day, I find comfort in writing because I find my friend Tina’s case so upsetting that I do not know what else to do.

As near as I can tell, Tina met a man and moved in with him three weeks later, with her two-year-old son. Over time, the child showed various bruises, but she was unconcerned because “of course he had bruises. he was an active little boy.” At some point, there was a bizarre story about the man doing the Heimlich maneuver on the boy. This resulted in a spleen injury, but it seemed to Tina anyway to be the result of a good-faith effort to prevent the boy from choking.

The man was the boy’s caretaker while Tina was at work. One morning in August she went to work at 6AM and received a call at 10 AM, that the man had called 911. He initially reported that he was wrestling with the baby and there was an accident.

The baby was flown to Vanderbilt (the nearest Level One trauma center), where he was later declared brain dead, with “global” brain injury, a broken neck, a bruised intestine and a damaged spleen. He was removed from life support and became an organ donor.

The man later admitted to the murder, and claimed that he himself was a “sociopath.”

Tina, who was at work that day, is charged with complicity to commit murder.

I become close friends with Tina, here and later in prison. I know her as an artist, a deeply religious and spiritual woman with a sense of humor and capacity for love and caring. She was not only crushed by the violent death of her son, but now she is forever marked as a violent criminal. Exhausted and grief-stricken, she often resorts to balling herself up in the corner of the shower, to moan and cry. For court appearances, the jail staff chains her onto the same chain gang as her son’s confessed murderer, and when she returns to the cell in tears, we console her.

Tina’s public defender, who is useless, allows the Commonwealth to threaten her with 60 years if she does not take a plea. Tina tells me one day, “I can’t fight them. I am done. I am out done.” She takes a plea for seven years on lesser charges, and she will serve 85% of that.


Peace, peace

October 24, 2013

Boiling Frog

"Boiling Frog" by Donkey Hotey on flickr

Peace, peace

by Crane-Station
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 prison.

Names have been changed, except for the teacher’s name and the name Columbus Dorsey in this post. My nickname in prison was Bird Lady.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

PeWee (pronounced Pee Wee) Valley Women’s Penitentiary near Louisville, KY, 5-4-09

Last night, officers woke three Ridgeview inmates at 2 AM, ordered them to pack their belongings, and then shipped them to Otter Creek, the privately owned prison in Appalachia, Pike County, eastern Kentucky. Inmates are loaded and transported like slaughter cows in the middle of the night. This way, families have no advance notice.

Two of the women were enrolled in college courses on scholarship, and were one exam shy of course completion.

Rhonda was my classmate in Horticulture. I had tutored Ashley, who had never completed the tenth grade, through perfect squares and complex polynomials in Algebra.

Fearful that I may be in the next Otter Creek shipment, I decide to walk to school in the morning to see if I am still enrolled.

As I leave the dorm, Rochelle says, “Bird Lady. Your birds is waitin’ on you.”

“I know. Thank you,” I say.

Twenty-five pairs of black liquid eyes watch my every move. They recognize my face, hat or no hat, pony tail or not., and they follow me and only me. Fussing and chirping, they dive-fly in front of me, reading my kindness for the weakness that it always is.

I toss them some bread when the officer is not looking. Read the rest of this entry »


Monsanto Spends Millions to Kill GMO Labeling Initiative I-522 in WA State

October 24, 2013

Monsanto Spends Millions to Kill GMO Labeling Initiative I-522 in WA State
by Crane-Station

Voters are already mailing in ballots for food labeling initiative I-522 in Washington State, where large food corporations have set a state record, contributing 17.1 million dollars, to defeat the truth-in-labeling initiative. A ‘Yes’ vote supports labeling of foods to reflect that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are in food where genetic enginnering was utitized. The ballot summary states:

This measure would require foods produced entirely or partly with genetic engineering, as defined, to be labeled as genetically engineered when offered for retail sale in Washington, beginning in July 2015. The labeling requirement would apply generally to raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, and seeds and seed stock, with some exceptions, but would not require that specific genetically-engineered ingredients be identified. The measure would authorize state enforcement and civil penalties, and allow private enforcement actions.

The ballot is significant in Washington State because, as it explains: “Agriculture is Washington’s number one employer and wheat is Washington’s number two export crop, second only to goods and services produced by the Boeing company, and ahead of Microsoft, which ranks third. Preserving the identity, quality, and reliability of Washington’s agricultural products is of prime importance to our state’s fiscal health.”

Shameless and arrogant agribusiness behemoth Monsanto leads the way in donations to defeat the initiative (ie. election buying), not even bothering, in an oddly honest way, to hide its 4.8 million dollar donation to an effort that would in essence allow dishonesty in food labeling.

Other large companies in the Big Food Lobby like General Mills, Inc. ($598,819), PepsiCo, Inc.($1,620,899), Kellogg Company ($221,852), Nestlé USA, Inc. ($1,052,743) and ConAgra Foods ($285,281), aka Big Junk Foods, slithered around in secret meetings, laundering money and hiding donor disclosure until Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against ‘junk food lobby’ Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), forcing them to disclose their identities and donation amounts. The disclosure was published on October 18.

Final ballots will be cast in Washington on November 5. Ballot initiative I-522 is similar to California’s Proposition 37, which was narrowly rejected by voters last year. Given the fierce battle that is unfolding in Washington and the amount of money that large companies are pumping into what amounts to a propaganda campaign that one might associate with a different era, some Washington voters fear that the truth-in-labeling initiative in Washington will fail as well.

The bottom line is, Monsanto and its supporters who supply our food do not want to be honest with the consumer, nor do they want the consumer to make informed decisions, for fear that informed decisions will decrease profit. Without even getting into discussions about why, for example, Monsanto’s scientists failed to foresee that weeds would become resistant to their best-selling miracle weed-killer RoundUp, we can surely agree that from a philosophical view, we have a basic right to know whether or not the food we put into our mouths has been produced through a process of genetic modification.

The ballot initiative does not ask, “Do you think Monsanto has done a pretty good job of convincing you that it is not Pure Evil this time around, or do you still want to shower and check for your wallet every time you see their name?”

The initiative states, in pertinent part:

Read the rest of this entry »


13-year-old shot and killed by Santa Rosa sheriff’s deputies

October 23, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Good afternoon again:

More bad news, this time from the Bay Area.

Yesterday, Santa Rosa Sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a 13-year-old boy who was walking down the street carrying a plastic replica of an assault weapon.

He is the third person to have been shot by police in the Bay Area during the past 24 hours.

The boy’s name is Andy Lopez.

File under “situation crazy, getting crazier.”

(H/T to Ace Mayo for posting the link to the story.)


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