Frog Gravy: An Evening Spades Game

July 19, 2014

by Crane-Station

Author’s note: Frog Gravy has been around for quite a while. It is a non-fiction incarceration experience in Kentucky, in jails and in prison, during 2008 and 2009. Frog Gravy is reconstructed from voluminous notes that I took, during the time I was locked up. Three of the essays are published. I will seek to publish all of it; however, there has been an unfortunate delay because during the course of a home invasion, the original hand-written notes were stolen by someone unknown to me. This stalker is also an identity thief and a cyber stalker. Frog Gravy has graphic language and the inmate names are changed.

This is a new essay. While thieves may steal my identity and everything that I have written or scribbled over the last 30 years (because they did), my sincere wish is, that the voices of the women in Frog Gravy can be read by many who are interested in this subject.

Frog Gravy: An Evening Spades Game, KCIW ‘PeWee Valley’ women’s state prison, near Louisville, sometime in 2009.

I am seated at a steel table for four in Ridgeview Dormitory, in the ‘day room,’ only it is evening. The room is packed and loud, with the television blaring, the microwaves going, the washers and dryers going. Inmates are talking on the inmate phone in succession, near our table. Since our table is near the stairwell, people are constantly walking by.

My hillbilly friend in the wheelchair, Sandy, is my Spades game partner. We are playing against Suzy and Erica. We have been dealt a mediocre hand, and we will lose. But we are having fun. And my morning did not begin with the belief that the entire world was out to fuck me over. After all, the birds greeted me and escorted me during my walk to school.

We are discussing various reasons that inmates get sent to cell block, which is the jail within the prison, and serves as a euphemism for the ‘hole.’ Erica says, “Up in Shelby they was making dildos out of rubber gloves and pads and they was getting away with it.”

I say, “Yeah but that’s jail. Rules are different everywhere you go. I’ve heard that here, you get more time in the hole for getting caught with tobacco, than just about anything, right?”

Suzy says, “You remember Amy? That white girl? She had “cocksucker” tattooed onto the inside of her lip? She went home.”

I say, “But she didn’t get that tattoo while she was here.”

Sandy says, “Fuckin’ Sheila got ninety-for-one-hundred-and-eighty twice, for fuckin’ tattoos.”

I realize that I don’t have any idea what a 90-for-180 is, and I decide that, I actually don’t want to know. On the news, there is some sort of a headline story that our country is nearly broke, or something to that effect. An inmate news-watcher and card player at the table beside us poses two questions, relating to the news story: “Where did all the money go, are they smoking crack in the White House? Can’t Obama go suck some dick, and get it back?”

Meanwhile, near the phone, two inmates are conversing, and I only catch the last of one of them saying, “…murderer. Over dope. He burnt ‘em up in their trailer.” She adds, “Did I do anything to turn you off?”

“And, you can go to the hole for cussing someone here, I’ve heard,” I say.

Alecia, the inmate with horrific OCD, pauses as she walks by our table and says, “Well. At least if I go to the hole, I’ll go to the hole with a clean pussy.”

As she is leaving, I say, “Better not. Once you get there, there is no such thing as having the water cut on all the time.”

Your internal clock gets acclimated to a prison routine, in any given setting. We are losing the spades game, and I begin to keep a closer eye on the phone, wishing for some phone time with my family. The inmate on the phone hangs up and says, “Foster care just took her kids. It’s just a misdemeanor, so her dad’ll go pick her up from jail. So I told her sister, you know what, just don’t worry about it. And she didn’t.”

“How does that all work, foster care taking the kids and all?” I ask Sandy.

“The way Kentucky works is that it doesn’t,” she says. “You can murder your parents and then get on with your life. Just don’t get caught with weed.”

“Give me one saying you learned growing up, Sandy, please? It doesn’t have to be true hillbilly, you know, just a saying.”

“Well, slap my ass and call me a whore, I’ll call you Daddy and ask for more,” offers Sandy.

“Sandy. Not all the detail, and information.”

“Oh all right: He’ll tell a lie, and the other one’ll swear to it.”

It is nearly time to leave, and go to a night class. Tory, my classmate, is waiting for me to get up and walk to class with her. She asks me, for no particular reason, as we begin our walk, “Bird Lady, what do you think your plans will be, later this summer?”

I think about how to answer the question. I do not know what my plans are. What could they be? I say, “Maybe I’ll move to Pine Bluff Dormitory. What’s Pine Bluff like?”

Tory says, “They have lives. They cook. They have dogs.”

We walk to our evening class.


Christmas in Prison

December 26, 2013

Christmas in Prison

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

card from prison commissary

Christmas card from prison commissary that I sent to my family for Christmas, 2008.

Blue Jay, Prison art

Partially completed Blue Jay, prison art. I was not able to complete this drawing, because of the poor quality of the made-in-Indonesia colored pencils from prison commissary. The pencils broke, and the colors were not what they were labeled to be. It would not have mattered anyway; the prison stamped the drawing as you can see, to indicate that this was “Inmate mail.”

KCIW PeWee Valley, Christmas, 2008

While families across the country gather to exchange gifts, attend services, and enjoy the lights, food and decorations, we are gathered and silent, in the day room of Ridgeview Dormitory, waiting for our names to be called so that we can receive our Christmas gifts.

The gift is a Christmas card, handed to us each personally by the Ridgeview House Mother, Mary. Everyone receives the same card. For many, this is the only Christmas gift they will receive. We are thankful for this card.

Some women who trick write, will receive financial gifts from sugar daddies.

Christmas in prison is Christmas ruined because the pain of family separation is magnified. Women miss their grandchildren’s first Christmas, or their parent’s last Christmas, as was the case with my friend Sarah, whose father committed suicide two days after Christmas.

We miss our families. But what do we miss, exactly? We miss the innocence and awe of our childhood Christmases, I think. We chase and chase this rose-colored-glasses version of happier times, until we stop. Because it will never be that way again.

Many choose to continue the fantasy of family reunion. Of childhood excitement. Of joy. Of sleds and snow and kitchen baking smells, and opening presents early on Christmas Eve. We chase and chase the fantasy until we are too tired to chase it anymore and we must accept that we are unwanted. We must accept that it is possible for family love to stop. Even if we cannot understand, we must accept it.

Others widen the chasm from the outset and extend the geography and psychological valleys of separation because not to do so is too painful. These are the realistic women, I think. They are able to accept the end of love and move on to something else.

How does one accept the unacceptable? “You cannot live in here and out there at the same time,” other inmates tell me. “Do the time and do not let the time do you.” The women who tell me these things are wise women, I think. They are wise because they have let go of something I cannot turn loose of: regret.

When I was a child I loved snow globes. I broke one once, but I refused to believe that it was broken. I squeezed my eyes shut tight and prayed for it to magically come back. Each time I opened my eyes, the plastic globe remained broken on the floor, the liquid spreading. That is what Christmas is like in prison. No matter what you do, no matter how much you pray, no matter what you do not do, your life is still in shards. One time in my adult life I was within a mile of my childhood home. I kept on driving. Because to stop would have broken the fantasy that you can go home again and things will be the same.

When my name is called, I thank Mary for the card. But I cannot stop longing for my snow globe.


Noah Got Drunk

December 23, 2013


by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Inmate names are changed.

Cell 107, McCracken County Jail, Winter, 2008

Breakfast this morning was strange, because to me, just listening, it sounded like locusts devouring a biblical country. Jail eating is not normal. Inmates gobble, hoard, smack, belch and fart. We yank and choke down food, slurp, slobber and grunt. We eat with a single hard plastic utensil called a spork, a hybrid between a spoon and a fork that is engineered to bend on impact, making it useless as a shank. There is much trading, spooning, shoveling, hoarding and handing back and forth sporkfulls of food. The binge symphony is punctuated with the words, “Are you gonna eat that?” The meal lasts for ten minutes until guards and working Class D males pick up the trays.

Binge and sleep, binge and sleep, occurs three times a day, not including commissary days. On those days, some inmates binge before the binge.

For the women of this jail, there is absolutely nothing to do except eat, watch TV and sleep. Only five Class D (ie, non-violent, mostly petty drug crimes) female final-sentenced state inmates are allowed to work a job, and none of the female jobs involve outdoor or even hallway work. The remaining Class D final-sentenced female inmates are nothing more than revenue units for the jail. The state of Kentucky pays money to the county for each state inmate because this facility is really good at providing the appearance on paper of being a ‘Class D’ facility for women. That means jobs and activities for women. In reality it’s nothing more a cement cage for women.

For these women, the days turn to months and then to years, and then they are released from the cement cage into the community and the street, with nothing to show for the time spent but massive weight gain and the thousand-yard stare.

Many of them will return.

I am seated at a steel table wearing a terry cloth towel equivalent of a tin foil hat on my head, looking at some papers. The first one is a Kentucky Jail Ministries (US 42 Florence KY 41042) church handout. It says:

I once read: God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. The world might say there are many reasons why God wouldn’t want to use you or me, but don’t worry:

Moses stuttered
Mark was rejected by Paul
Hosea’s wife was a prostitute
Amos’ only training was in the school of fig tree pruning
Solomon was too rich
Abraham was too old
David was to young
Timothy had ulcers
Peter was afraid of death
John was self-righteous
Naomi was a widow
Paul was a murderer
So was Moses
Jonah ran from God
Miriam was a gossip
Gideon and Thomas both doubted
Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal
Elijah was burned out
John the Baptist was a loudmouth
Martha was a worry-wart
Samson had long hair
Noah got drunk

Things go from bad to worse in the cell. We are already on ‘double secret probation,’ and are without phone and TV. We lost these things because Ruthie was on Sirkka’s bunk getting her hair curled for her mother’s funeral the next day. We lost these privileges for longer than we did that time when the whole cell got busted smoking cigarettes.

Sirkka becomes progressively more infantile, manipulative, sexual and annoying, until finally she and Joyce get into hurling verbal insults at each other. Sirkka writes a note to the guards asking to be moved out to a suicide cell. They move her. We do not know if she will return or not; she is running out of options and will soon have on her list of past addresses, every female cell in the jail.

I am relieved for the temporary quiet. While I do not want to attack her personally, because I like her and think she has a good heart, some of the things she did enraged me. Her food binges, for example. She would start grabbing at, asking for, and hoarding food until she had a sick amount of food in front of her. Meat patties; four, five or six slices of bread; two, three or four helpings of mashed potatoes; mounds of cake and pudding. I had not thought of my own struggle with bulimia in years, but having someone binge-eat in front of me several times a day, bothers me.

She also ate and drank everyone else’s commissary, and weaseled people out of phone time, stamps, envelopes, paper, and anything else she could get. If you were away from your bunk, she took your blankets, or worse, demanded that you take your blankets and cover her up”like a baby,” and rub her back until she falls asleep “like a baby.”

Sirkks’a latest love interest on the outside is a crack-smoking married guy with four or five kids, whom she had been sleeping with for drugs. Inside she he walks around the cell half naked, screaming, yelling, giggling, and showing tits, ass and crotch to the Class D men working the hallway.

We suspect that she came to our cell during a manic phase of a bipolar cycle. She was unmedicated. We dealt with her situation the best we could, and tried to remain kind while she was here, but we couldn’t handle her and welcomed the quiet after she left.

All psychiatric medication is prescribed by a social worker, if it is prescribed at all. Perhaps an MD or ARNP is signing off on the prescriptions, but these people never lay eyes on the inmates, nor do they perform a single assessment. Given this deficiency in medical care, I have little hope that Sirkka will ever receive proper medical intervention during her stay in this jail.

I adjust the towel on my head and make my selection from the church handout before me:

Noah got drunk.


The Woman Who Moved During Count

November 29, 2013

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy.

Frog Gravy depicts daily life during incarceration in Kentucky in 2008 and 2009, in jails and in prison, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

KCIW PeWee (pronounced Pee Wee) Valley Women’s Penitentiary near Louisville, KY, a few days before Thanksgiving, 2008

We are meticulously counted, every four hours or so. For the count, which we refer to as “count,” or “count time,” we must be in our room, at our bedside, not moving and not talking.

During one of the evening count times an officer strolls the floor, looking into each room, pointing to each inmate, and counting to herself. A pregnant inmate, who has been having contractions for some time now, informs the officer that she is in labor. She is housed in the room across the hall from me. She is very restless and she cannot sit still during this count.

The officer accuses her of faking labor and playing a game to mess up the count. The woman talks back to the officer, saying, “I know when I am in fucking labor!”

The officer escorts the woman away. A little while later, two officers come to the pregnant woman’s room and pack all of her belongings into boxes. The rest of us, who witnessed the incident during count time, assume that she went to the hospital to have the baby. We were wrong. The officers had handcuffed the woman and taken her to cell block: the hole.

There is actually a jail within the confines of the prison, and it is a building that we call “cell block.” It is a brick building with isolation cells that are nearly identical to “hole” cells in the jails. The holes are tiny cement cells. “Isolation” cells in the jails sometimes have television, whereas the “hole” cells do not.

You may or may not have a mat. I think you do get a mat here at PeWee, but I am not sure because I have never been in the hole at PeWee. One blanket is issued at 11 PM and then taken away at 4 AM. The cells are ice cold. When I was in the hole in McCracken, I had arthritis so bad from the cold that I wrapped my legs in toilet paper strips. I had no socks or shoes.

The hole is perhaps best known for the 24/7 fluorescent lighting, that is disorienting as well as blinding. Also, holes are punishment cells known for sensory deprivation and time distortion. There is absolutely nothing to do but count cement blocks or look at the hairs in the floor drain, if you can see them; they do not allow you to have glasses in the hole.

Food is delivered through a slot in the steel door. This is the only way to know the approximate time. There is no view to the outside. There is a tiny window to the hallway, but the hallway side of the window is covered with a hinged steel flap that can be opened only if an officer decides to open the flap and peer into the cell.

There is no way to wash your hands in the hole. The push-button spout points upward and issues a tiny upward stream for a second or two, but the stream is certainly not continuous. After a bowel movement, therefore, you must simply hope for the best, because if you plan to eat, well…there is no bar of soap, and there are no paper towels. There are no real towels either. No washrags, no sheets, and certainly no pillow.

When inmates die in cell block nobody really cares because they were just inmates. The pregnant woman in labor was handcuffed and walked to cell block. Cell block is about a one-quarter mile walk from Ridgeview Dormitory. I hear the rest of the pregnant woman’s story from another inmate, who was there when she arrived. The woman telling the rest of the story spent 30 days in cell block for having cigarettes.

The woman in labor cried and pounded on the door, but staff ignored her, so other inmates tried to talk to the woman, because there was nothing else that they could do. The inmates talking to the woman were also mothers, for the most part. The nursing staff showed up briefly and told the woman in labor that until her water broke there was nothing they could do, because she was not really in labor, unless her water broke. The pregnant woman told the nursing staff that her water had broken.

They left her.

According to the woman telling the story as she observed it, although cell block staff is supposed to perform half-hourly checks on cell block inmates, they only checked on the woman in labor twice.

At about 3 AM, the pregnant woman exclaimed, “Oh my God!” Other inmates heard “like a pop, and then we heard a baby cry.”

It was a boy.

According to inmate witnesses in adjacent cells, the mother was “passed out, with the baby attached.” The staff refused to open the cell door until an ambulance arrived.When the ambulance arrived, the mother was handcuffed.

Had the baby not cried, it is likely that no one would have opened the flap to check on him or his mother.

Author’s end note: The woman and her baby survived. The baby was subsequently cared for by Amish women, through a program called The Galilean Home, where Amish women care for babies born into captivity, until the mother’s release.

The mother returned to prison. The day staff in cell block apparently refused to take her back, so she returned to population. The woman was serving time for non-violent drug offenses.


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.


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 »


The $45.00 Garlic Ice Pack [with jail art]

October 10, 2013

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

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.

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.


We Can Do This

September 28, 2013

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

Ducks. jail Art

Ducks, jail art by Crane-Station on flickr. Colored pencil and magazine ink.

Wild Turkey. Jail art.

Jail art by Crane-Station on flickr with comment:

For Dad. Wild Turkey. We have these beautiful birds here. I was not really able to finish, because they turned the lights out, and because I do not have the correct colors (such as rust). Turkeys have been nearly wiped out by unrestricted hunting and land development. Some programs are bringing them back. They roost in trees, but like to run on the ground.

note: Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail, Cell 107, early 2008

The social worker tells me that I am angry, and that I need to not be angry, and that I need to accept my situation like everyone else does, and I need to stop writing, because no one reads anything that I write anyway, because no one cares. She is referring, I assume, to the many letters that I write regarding jail conditions. I listen to her for a bit, and then decide that I would rather be back in the cell. I end the meeting. I continue to write.

I keep my writing to myself and I quit talking about the letters.

In the cell I wear a towel on my head and babble to myself endlessly, in my mind. Maybe the towel keeps others from hearing these conversations. The other me, the one I babble to, is elegant and strong and graceful, and says all of the right things to all of the wrong people. Things such as ‘I respectfully disagree,’ and ‘No, thank you,’ and ‘I am sorry but I cannot support you and your commissary habit in here,’ and ‘I will continue to write because it gives me meaning and purpose at the moment,’ and ‘Excuse me, do you think you could quit screaming for just a few moments, because I am finding it difficult to concentrate.’

However, it is not the other me that is in jail. It is me.

Sirkka is the new arrival. After introductions, she says to me, “Never take anything to trial in McCracken County. Everyone knows that.”

Sirkka is tiny, just 4’8,” and she drives me nuts in an endearing, pathetic sort of way. I want to hug her. I want to kill her.

She does not want to put clothes on and strolls about the cell half-naked, in bra and panties, talking at an indecipherable speed. Sirkka has an eating disorder. It reminds me of what I used to be and so, maybe this is why she annoys me. Her behavior is actually good for me because it reminds me of the horror of food binges and scamming for food at every opportunity. For a while, she convinced the staff she was pregnant because pregnant women get extra trays, but when the staff figured out that she was not pregnant, they placed her in the hole for a bit, and then back in the cell.

Today at breakfast, before I even sit down, she says, “Are you gonna eat that?”

“Here. Take the whole thing,” I say.

Down the hall, Harry screams from his isolation cell, “Somebody help me! Pleeeease! Let Me out! HELLLP! HELPmehelpmehelpmehelpme, PLEASE!”

Sirkka collects six sausages, five pieces of toast, two milks, and three servings of Fruit Loops. At lunch, four corn dogs, two helpings of corn, and three pieces of cake. The only thing I asked her for was one serving of applesauce but she would not give it up. She weighs 105 pounds, and has gained 30 pounds to get there; that is a 30 pound weight gain in a month. At this rate, she will be obese by May. That can happen in here. I met an inmate who gained 150 pounds in a year in jail. She had given up.

On one of the rare occasions that we do get to visit the outside cage for recreation, I cannot believe this, but Ruthie and I are the only ones who want to go outside.

Christie and Sally both claim that going outside briefly is actually more depressing than staying in the cell. I am worried about Christie. She stays on her bunk and cries all the time now. She says, “I just can’t help it, I just feel so bad inside.”

“Come on Christie, let’s just get out for a minute,” I say. “You’ll feel better. Tina, you too. Come on you guys. We’re going out. It’ll be all right. You’ll see. When we get back we’ll watch ‘Lost.’ I’ll even comb your hair Christie. Come on, we can do this.”

We go. In the outside cage Sirkka strips down to her bra and stands at the door, hoping a Class D male will walk by. Christie sits in a chair, silent. Tina takes a book and seats herself next to Christie. I stand in a corner and look up. The sun is shining. I shield my eyes.

I listen for a bird.


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