Frog Gravy: Penny

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Inmate names are changed.

Ricky’s World, Summer, 2008

At 4 AM, the lights go on in our tiny cell, and a guard opens the steel door. Next to the guard, in the hallway, are five full 30-gallon black garbage bags.

“Well come on,” says the guard. “Help me with these.”

We drag the bags into the cell. The bags are heavy. There is one full bag for each inmate in this cell. The bags contain ears of corn that male inmates picked, from the jail garden. Our assignment is to shuck the corn, and be finished in time to go to work in the kitchen.

I get paid sixty-three cents a day for working in the kitchen but I do not get paid for the corn work, and neither does anyone else. Inmates who merely prepare vegetables for the whole jail never see a paycheck. On the days that we work, we may or may not have time in the outside cage for rec, because we are told that work counts as recreation.

We stare at the bags of corn.

Christina says, “You’ve got to be fuckin’ kidding me.”

“You ain’t never shucked corn?” says Monica. “And you from the country?”

“Hail no.”

“Well,” I say. “I’ve shucked corn. Just not at four o’clock in the morning.”

The irony is, that if this place, in Hickman Kentucky is not country, I do not know what country is. We are in the middle of nowhere, someplace near Tennessee, seven miles or so from the now-swollen Mississippi River.

I enjoy shucking corn and I enjoy work, but being forced to work with Penny in the kitchen after we shuck this corn is, I think, a little over the top, as far as punishment goes.

During our walk to work in the kitchen, where we will work unaccompanied by any guard, Penny engages in some transparent brown nosing of the guard, that includes ratting out the previous guard for various petty non-offenses. Penny’s brown nosing is usually more pronounced on the nights that she plans to steal stuff from the kitchen, because in her way of thinking, solidifying a chummy relationship with a guard on the way into the kitchen will elicit a less-than-thorough strip search on the way out.

While I have often joked about attempting to smuggle packets of this or that from the kitchen, I cannot imagine stealing while in jail, and so I refrain from it, and I refuse to ‘hold’ stolen items in my things, back in the cell.

In the kitchen, we pass the large ovens that sometimes have the porn magazines stashed behind them by male inmates who also work in the kitchen at staggered times, and I go to get a hair net, while Penny tries to hustle the guard out of food for consumption during work in the kitchen. Penny’s modus operandi is to spend as much time as possible eating, hoarding, snooping around the place off camera, and stealing stuff, while pausing to look up Bible passages, criticize my work, question my faith in God and conclude that I am most likely a non-believer on the fast-track to Hell.

Penny locates a bible and I locate the work list for the night. Penny says something to me about how, according to the Bible, God allowed the holocaust to happen, in order to make the world a better place, and I say a silent prayer to the God of my own understanding to please not allow me to kill Penny with my bare hands, on the spot.

The work list says:

-make 50 gallons KoolAid.
-make 250 butter (margarine) cups.
-make 250 onion/pickle packs.
clean vent hoods.
-clean bathroom.

The rate-limiting step will be the onion/pickle packs, which take forever, even with two people, but while I begin this task, Penny takes out 1/4 pound of margarine, and fries up an enormous plate of onions for herself. While Penny is eating, I make the KoolAid, then do the butter cups, then slice the onions, and then begin assembling the packs.

All told, I completed 240 of the 250 onion/pickle packs, while Penny berated me for using and recording the allotted amount of Equal that I used for the KoolAid, instead of fudging the paperwork, and stealing the sweetener. This annoys me. While I have joked around about taking stuff, the fact is, that in the cell, in my things, I have commissary receipts and matching sweetener packets for every teaspoon of sweetener I have had in my possession. In my mind, I am not going to risk parole denial over theft of a teaspoon of sweetener.

For refusing to participate in petty jailhouse theft, Penny tells me that I really need to read James.

In the cell, Penny and I get along better, and one day, she tells me that she wants my help in preparing her for her GED, and I am thrilled because I love to teach. However, I realize, early in this process, that Penny never learned her times tables. I make some flash cards and say, “Okay. Let’s begin with the twos.”

Each day, we tackle a few more flash cards, and Penny begins to make progress.

I begin to re-think my initial harsh judgments of Penny. I had known nothing about her, or her life, or her struggles. I conclude that Penny is utilizing the same ineffective coping skills in jail that she used on the outside, because those skills are the only skills she has.

We become friends.

Later on, Penny asks for my help with a letter she is writing to a treatment center. The letter says:

To whom it may concern:

My name is Penny Stenson. I am in jail at Fulton County Detention Center in Hickman, KY

The reason for my unfortunate stay is my alcholism I am writting in hope of getting information about your program I would also appriciated a admittance application I only hope to get treatment for my sickness

Im look for a 30day inpatient program
I have three children that need there mother to be clean.
They are on there way to foster care by Decmber if I dont recive help. I am willing to go any were that will give me a bed date right away. I am willing to tr…

She hands me the letter and asks, “Can you help me with this?”

I read the letter. I feel the tears forming, and the hitch in my throat.

“Sure,” I say. “Of course I will.”

13 Responses to Frog Gravy: Penny

  1. acemayo says:

    TM’s teacher Michelle Kypriss says good things about him
    because TM had failed his FCAT(Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test)
    Quote from: SuzieTampa on August 15, 2013, 01:14:40 PM
    After I left a suggestion about the FCAT, the Wikipedia editors decided to remove the reference to TM’s teacher Michelle Kypriss, thus avoiding the mention of the FCAT.

  2. Boyd says:

    What we have here is a failure to communicate.

    But seriously what year was this? 1962?

    And what the hell are onion/pickle packs?

    And corn taste better with the shucks on while cooking even the microwave.

    These guys are behind the times like 50 years, no wonder they have the Senators they do.

    • colin black says:

      And what the hell are onion/pickle packs?

      Im not Crane but I would imagine packets of onion an pickle.

      Most inmate meals in fact all prison food is cooked way way in advance of it being consumed an then kept warm or mummified.

      ;Lunch is prepared with breakfasts an evening meal wich is useallly what youd call a packed lunch sandwiches onion pickle packs? margarine is a circle bout the size of a doghnut hole half an inch thick . are handed out either with the lunches or when you return from work.

      Food prep is all about effeciancy an the least prep time possible so 7 hours of cooking prep is condenced into 3 so all the convicts whom do the cooking can be locked up as soon as poss.

      That’s why the food is mostly inedible imagine every meal served is like a tv dinner left to long it becomes vulcanised

  3. Soulcatcher says:

    That is a heartbreaker Crane. Just think if you hadn’t been there for her, would anyone else be there.

  4. Soulcatcher says:

    Isn’t it funny how they all bitched because alot of people bitched because he was reffered to as a minor, child, kid, teen, and those same people who somehow thought he was an adult now want Zippy to sue Travons parents as the responsible parents of a minor.

  5. acemayo says:

    O’Mara: George Zimmerman will ask state to cover $200K-$300K of his legal bills
    GZ fans says he can sue anybody that said bad things about because he was
    found not guilty
    Is that so

    • Anyone can file a lawsuit, but they have to have a legitimate cause of action that they can prove by a preponderance of the evidence and the defendant they sue has to have the ability to pay a judgment.

      A jury verdict of not guilty does not mean GZ was found innocent or immune from civil liability for killing Trayvon.

      Truth is a defense to any lawsuit for defamation, so anyone he sues could defend against the lawsuit by alleging that he did not kill Trayvon in self-defense and proving that he did not by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lesser burden of proof than the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard that the State failed to prove, according to the jury verdict.

      As usual, GZ’s fans do not know what they are talking about.

  6. colin black says:

    Why she had an educated woman working her ass of .
    Whilst she sat an stuffed her face with fried onions.

    She knew that this Lady was vunarable an out of her elemant an desperate to get back to the real world.

    To her jail was probably if not the norm at least common place

    You’ve all heard of passive aggression well Penny was employing passive bulling or cohesrion to take advantage of Cranes situation.

    She knew of heer terror at loseing good time an reluctance to cause a fuss.

    So she let her do all the work whilst belittleing her

    Another more jail wise con with respect inside wouldn’t have received this type of disrespect this Penny one would have been brown Noseing her just as she did the Guard

    Manipulitive is thease people choice of behaviour so much so they don’t even realise there doing it .

    As Crane so rightly realised this is not just a copeing mechanism they use in jail.

    Its there modis operandi since well forever.

    You may well feel sorry for them but if the roles were reversed they would show no empathy or compassion for you it just doesn’t exist in there world.

  7. Two sides to a story says:

    Ah, your heart has to break for some of these folks.

  8. From out of nowhere, this one hits hard when you least expect it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: