Ridgeview Dormitory

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration in Kentucky, during the years 2008 and 2009, reconstructed from my notes. Some entries are from jail; others are from prison, such as this one.

I have changed the names, except in cases of nicknames that do not reveal identities.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Ridgeview Dormitory (aka The Ghetto), PeWee (pronounced Pee Wee) Valley Women’s Penitentiary, near Louisville, KY, 11-19-08

Dayroom

I am sitting at a table in the noisy “dayroom,” of the Ridgway Dormitory at PeWee Valley Penitentiary, talking to two fellow inmates, Cindy and Wheels Jimmy. Cindy is a 46-year-old woman in a neck brace who looks thirty years older. She was in a bad accident, has had several neck surgeries, and requires more neck surgery. Her voice is hoarse from all the surgery. She has no teeth and hopes to get dentures from the State, for $188.

Cindy, like many other War on Drugs inmates, mostly older, disabled women, is in prison for buying or selling her pain medicine, either to get pain relief or make ends meet by paying the winter heat bill or other necessary bills.

Kentucky views women like Cindy, who can barely walk, and women like Wheels Jimmy, who is wheelchair-bound after breaking legs and arms, her hip, knee and back plus four or five ribs, and women like me as threats to society. So, toothless Cindy, Wheels Jimmy and I sit in a penitentiary dayroom and chat. Taxpayers are paying $26,000 per year room and board plus medical, dental and eye care for each of the three of us to sit in this dayroom and have this conversation, because if we sit here, in wheelchairs, toothless, with neck braces and talk at great taxpayer expense, the community at large will be much safer (than say, for example, if the likes of George Zimmerman were to be sitting here.)

I am talking to Cindy. I only understand about 50% of what she is saying in her hoarse, toothless Kentucky drawl.

Cindy leans over to me, conspiratorially, and whispers, pointing to another inmate, “She can make sounds, like a chipmunk.”

However, I did not hear her quite right and I thought she said, “She can make a sow suck a chipmunk.”

Therefore, I answered Cindy and said, “Well then. So she’s a hustler.”

Cindy says, “Uh-huh. And that girl there…” She points. “That one barks like a dog.”

At this point, my mind is still processing the sow-chipmunk scene: The chipmunk has a litter of chipmunk-ettes somewhere, so she must have mama’s nipples, right? Moreover, the gigantic sow is somehow suckling from the chipmunk when suddenly there is a dog barking. Wait. Could the sow be sucking a chipmunk dick?

My hand to God, I am thinking these things.

So I say, “Really?”

Cindy says, “Yeah, she sounds just like a chipmunk and she sounds just like a dog.” She points.

I say, “Oh that’s so funny,” but Cindy has no idea how funny it really was and I never tell her.

I am reminded of that comedian that attended some function with then-President Bill Clinton, and the comedian could have sworn that Clinton leaned over and whispered, “Bet they’s some bitches in here.”

We moved to our new home- Ridgeview Dormitory- on Friday. Ridgeview is a large dorm, with four wings. This dorm is the farthest away from the dining hall, library, and main building. Everything is about a quarter to a half-mile walk. After the horrific year in the jails, I appreciate the walk, but for the many disabled women in wheelchairs, navigation about the property is difficult.

Wheelchairs line the front patio of Ridgeview Dormitory. At first blush and absent razor wire, one might mistake Ridgeview for a gigantic assisted living center for the mentally ill. With inmates doing all of the assisting.

Ridgeview does not house inmates serving lengthy sentences for violent crimes, for the most part. These inmates are generally housed in Pine Bluff Dormitory, unless, for some rare reason they lose their “honors” housing status. Long-term inmates are generally more stable and well behaved, and they hold jobs in industries, the guide-dog training program, or the Braille translation program.

For example, an inmate must be at least five years away from parole eligibility to apply to be in the guide-dog training program. When the dog is a puppy, it is assigned to a specific inmate and lives with that inmate 24/7, never leaving the inmate’s side during its years of training. If a dog has a vest on, which is most of the time, other inmates do not interact with the dog by touching or petting it.

The Braille translation program has similar eligibility requirements due to the length of time it takes to learn Braille and then to apply the language to translate maps, for example.

I include this information for the online community because I am not sure how many folks are aware that inmates train guide dogs or translate Braille.

Ridgeview Dormitory is fairly new, very clean, and has the look of an institution. There are two people to each room. Each wing shares a common dayroom, with TV washer/dryer, microwaves and phones, and there are four wings.

A central, windowed, elevated security/control area houses officers in an aquarium. Officers see all from the aquarium, and they announce, summons, lecture, scold, and berate, pretty much all day, every day, usually because they must, or the place would come apart at the seams. Hence, Ridgeview Dormitory is also known as “The Ghetto.”

On my first night in Ridgeview, an officer announces from the aquarium, “There will be no bull-dyking tonight.”

note:
For those who have not seen the CEBU dancing inmates, this is well worth the watch. They are in the Philippines. Of course, there are no such programs here in the states, because the US prison system is designed to ruin, and not to improve people.

11 Responses to Ridgeview Dormitory

  1. pat deadder says:

    Luv how you are able to bring this to life.Are prisons in Kentucky privately owned.
    The Phillippine prisoners dancing was a hoot but am wondering how many are in prison there.I asked a customer today who is from there she said the population is about 100 million but seems to think the prison population is pretty large as well.
    I am wondering do you ever have any contact with any of the women you met in prison.

    • Oh, my goodness, I am so sorry for being away and not replying to everyone sooner!

      Let’s see, while I was out and on parole, one of the conditions of my parole was no contact with anyone who had been convicted of a felony, so no, I have not had any contact with anyone, even now that I am off parole as well (came off in February of this year, I believe, not sure the exact date). I did bump into one friend in passing, but since we were both still on paper at the time, we did not say more than hello to each other. Since I live a very (extremely) isolated life, I have not contacted anyone, since my parole ended.

    • “Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) is a prison in Cebu, in Cebu Province, Philippines. It is a maximum security prison facility with a capacity for 1600 inmates.[1]
      The prison became well known for its rehabilitation program in 2005-2010 based on a program of choreographed exercise routines for the inmates. Known as CPDRC Dancing Inmates, the recordings of the various routines of the prisoners online supervised by the head of the prison Byron F. Garcia rendered them an international online celebrity sensation and phenomenon.”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cebu_Provincial_Detention_and_Rehabilitation_Center

  2. Boyd says:

    you have enough material for a movie

  3. kllypyn says:

    How exactly were these women threats?

    • colin black says:

      There not threats just nuisances to the athouraties they don’t confirm to societys un written ettiqettte..Like drunks whom shout at the traffic an passers by.

      They are no threat to any one except themselves.Hospitals cant deal as they cause disruption same with nurseing homes group homes ect .

      So they are slung into societys dustbins Prison.

  4. colin black says:

    Never experiaced dorm living except in youth hostels but the thought of having to endure it in jail is horrific to me.

    Even shareing a cell with one other is bad enough if your cell mate turns out to be intollarable.

    Youd be amazed how irritated you can get with a cell mates foibles like wanting to strangle some one whom insists on singing along or humming to every song on the radio.

    Just the way some one eats or breathes or even talks can drive you batty.

    Forrinstance this is GOSPEL TRUTH.

    This young Irish lad about mid twentys same sort of age to me at the time gets ushered into my cell one morning.

    My other cell mate had been released that day an this is a new one.
    Seemed ok slim Irish lilt from a Travelling Family in for pick pocketing Im thinking this might be ok.

    I have a couple of hours snooze on the top bunk an don’t here a peep out of him then its lunch time.

    Wich means you leave your cell go down to the hot plate collect a tray with compartments an walk along getting various alleged food stuffs slopped on to said tray .

    Return to your cell an eat food or not an trays are put out an collected an hour an a half later.

    Anyway my new cell mate ploughs through his food like a ravenous beasts whom hadn’t seen food in days ,

    Polishies it of double quick before Ive even touched mine an then flops on to his bed the bottom bunk an announces that there nothing he likes better than to toss himself of after a meal.

    An whips out his member just a foot or so from where Im no longer eating but jaw hitting the floor.

    An starts tossing himself of thankfully another persuit he finished in record time I had to dive out the friggin way to avoid getting jazzed.

    He rolls over an is snorimg in like thirty seconds.

    See this is why I hated cell mates come time for trays out I put him out as well as the slops I told the screw what the little fucker had done an said either you take me down solitary or this xxxxxx out of here.

    An he was removed thing is he was clueless as to why?

  5. Two sides to a story says:

    ” . . . the US prison system is designed to ruin, and not to improve people.” How amazing it would be if prisons were designed to heal people.

    Great writing, Crane!

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