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.


Egregious Public Defender Misconduct [part 2]

October 27, 2013

by Crane-Station

This post is lengthy and has to do with events that unfolded in my legal case.

Part one, with the case background, is here.

Public defender Chris McNeill complaint, continued:

McNeill waived my presence at a pretrial chambers conference where several motions in limine were decided without my knowledge or consent. During the conference, he agreed not to present my defense and never told me that he had done so.
Note: SCR 3.130-1.4(b) provides that “[a] lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.”

1. On the first morning of my trial of January 22, 2008, McNeill and Harris met secretly with the Court in chambers to discuss several motions in limine that would affect the outcome of my trial.

2. That is, the tape starts rolling AFTER they all listen to and tamper with, AND modify and alter, the recorded 911 dispatch evidence wav files – all 11 of them.

3. Since they recorded the secret meeting but intentionally did not record the evidence examination and evidence tampering, I believe the meeting was staged to benefit McNeill: he appears genuine, baffled and just doing his best to deal with harmful and confusing court behavior. This is not 11.42 worthy, when he was just doing his job. Otherwise, why bother to record the secret conference at all? Nobody knew about it. The reason the meeting is recorded is simple. When, on 11.42 I claim ineffective assistance because my lawyer failed to present a defense, McNeill could claim, “What on earth was I supposed to do, given that I was barred by ruling, from doing so? Look, see, I was barred from functioning!”

4. McNeill waived my appearance at this meeting without my consent. He failed to tell me that such a meeting was scheduled, let alone that I had a right to be there. He failed to explain what he had done in the meeting. Also, as his handwritten note in his case file shows, he falsely told my Frankfort attorney that the meeting tape was inaudible. The meeting tape is audible. He lied to my appeal attorney.

5. Please note: What I also did not know until just a couple of weeks ago when I examined the CDs in McNeill’s case file closely is, that there was some kind of a meeting-before-the-meeting, where McNeill apparently altered audiotape evidence of the recorded conversation between 911 dispatch and the deputies. In fact, all of the wav files of 911 dispatch that were recorded on the night of my arrest on June 26, 2008 were “created, modified and accessed” on the morning of my trial, January 22, 2008, at and around 8:35, 8:36, 8:37 and 8:38 AM. This information is readily available on the “properties” tab for each wav file. During the trial, McNeill entered a typewritten, Harris-authored and fake undated, sheet of paper called an ‘unofficial transcript’ of the 911 dispatch recording, the same recording that he had apparently listened to and examined that morning . At no time did McNeill ever submit any actual recorded evidence, with time stamps, to the court record as evidence or to the court record on appeal. This led to an important and misleading finding from the Court of Appeals, which had only the typed ‘unofficial transcript’ to work with: in reality, two different officers were looking to pull me over on the night of my arrest, based upon a 911 call, and in reality, the two officers were talking to each other, in addition to replying to dispatch.

6. The Court of Appeals, working off the fake document, was misled, and combined two different statements from two people into one. They did not have access to the time stamps, nor did they have a list of codes that dispatch and officers use, to communicate. The “unofficial transcript” was typed by Harris, who deliberately left off the time stamps and CAD call code meanings, because they conflicted with the perjury he was planning to suborn at trial as well as the post-trial agreed order based on the upcoming trial ‘testimony’ he was crafting, where the officer falsely testified that I got his attention on the road because I had my turn signal on “for and unusual period of time for no apparent reason.” That testimony was refuted by the CAD call sheet and by the dispatch statements, that were time-stamped. That testimony came up, not surprisingly, for the very first time, at trial.

7. McNeill likely never would have admitted that the pretrial meeting ever happened but for my husband’s pointed question upon noticing that a gathering had occurred. McNeill misinformed him, dismissing it as a minor housekeeping session. In reality, the meeting proceeded as follows:

8. The meeting began with a couple of Harris false statements about what is on the DUI arrest cruiser dash-cam videotape recording. Harris says the stop lasted only a few minutes, when in fact, it was a stop and search by three officers from two agencies that lasted 1.25 hours. Harris states that I was stumbling, when, in fact the tape refutes this, and also, the officer testified previously under oath at the preliminary and suppression hearings, that I was “steady on (my) feet.” McNeill does not correct the false statements even though he had copies of both transcripts.

9. The two lawyers shared some vague arguments about Schrimsher v. Commonwealth, 190 S.W.3d 318 (2006) that originated in the same court some years prior, having to do with the admissibility at trial of an exculpatory statement by a defendant during a taped custodial interrogation at the police station. The Kentucky Supreme Court held that, subject to the rule of completeness that did not apply in that case, the statement was inadmissible hearsay, unless offered by the prosecution as an admission by a party opponent.

10. Schrimsher did not apply, in part, because it did not involve a DUI arrest, or a DUI dash-cam videotape of a DUI arrest, which is governed by a Kentucky statute that is specific to DUI cases. KRS 189A.100 states, in pertinent part:

(2) Law enforcement agencies may record on film or videotape or by other visual and audible means the pursuit of a violator or suspected violator, the traffic stop, or field sobriety tests administered at the scene of an arrest for violation of KRS 189A.010 or such tests at a police station, jail, or other suitable facility subject to the following conditions:

b) The entire recording of the field sobriety tests and the entire recording of such portions of the pursuit and traffic stop as were recorded is shown in court unless the defendant waives the showing of any portions not offered by the prosecution; and

(c) The entire recording is available to be shown by the defense at trial if the defendant so desires regardless of whether it was introduced by the Commonwealth;

(emphasis added)

11. The DUI arrest videotape contained my recorded statements that night about an incident where, during the course of the DUI arrest, I directed the officer to do something and he did it. Specifically, at the hospital for the blood draw portion of the sobriety testing, I asked the officer to move the back seat of his cruiser, and retrieve my watch, which had fallen during the ride, through the crack at the back of the seat, to the floorboard underneath. I could not reach to the floorboard underneath the seat because I was handcuffed. The officer moved the seat as I requested and got my watch, but then suddenly claimed that I had put “heroin” with the watch. On the cruiser videotape, I ask, “Why would I ask you to get my watch if I had just put some kind of drug with it? Explain that. That makes no sense.” Also on the dash-cam tape, the officer insists that he has found heroin. Twice, I pointedly ask him to both “field test and lab test” his discovery, because it could be “some kind of bread crumb.” My clear speech and specific statements exhibit presence of mind and mental clarity. They show no sign of mental impairment and would have been admissible to contradict the deputy’s testimony at trial that I exhibited confusion, could not follow simple directions and was obviously impaired. In addition, the statements were not hearsay because they would have been offered to prove that he found the suspected controlled substance under his back seat in response to my request that he look under the seat for my watch. This is what he testified to under oath at the preliminary hearing, so it was also admissible as a prior inconsistent statement under oath. For these reasons my statements were not hearsay. McNeill, who is a licensed attorney, is presumed to know the law. At the very least, he should be presumed to know how to find, read and understand Schrimsher and the hearsay rule. Instead of objecting and preserving the objection for appellate review, he said nothing. His failure was deliberate, because my husband and I both showed McNeill the statute and the relevant portion of the deputy’s testimony at the preliminary hearing. My husband also explained to McNeill why my statement was not hearsay and why Schrimsher did not apply.

12. I believe McNeill may have also tampered with the dashcam DUI arrest recording so that it is cut short, eliminating this critical audio portion, and the last hour of the tape, for the record on appeal. The Court of Appeals states “Unfortunately, there is no audio.” This is false. There is audio, in the original, unmodified recorded evidence. His actions constituted a violation of the statute that prohibits tampering with evidence, a felony under Kentucky law.

13. Ironically, I was the only person charged with tampering and the only person in the case who did not tamper with evidence.

14. There would now be a planned and deliberate move of the drug exhibit evidence from ‘not in plain view’ before trial, to ‘plain view’ during trial, as if the events from the night of arrest as well as the under-oath testimony from the preliminary hearing, never existed.

15. McNeill pretended to be baffled when the court asked him about my specific request that the officer move the seat and get the watch. He says he did not know if I said that, even though the deputy testified about it at the preliminary hearing, and even though and I had given McNeill an official transcript of the testimony.

16. McNeill pretended to be baffled even though, just days prior, without my knowledge and without informing me, he spent the day with Harris, and with the arresting deputy, and, according to the chain of evidence log, the actual drug exhibit, taking dozens of photos of the cruiser backseat, with the drug exhibit, apparently, placed in various places in relation to the seat. In many photos, the seat is completely removed from the car. The photos were taken on January 16, on the same day that the ‘drug exhibit’ was checked out of the evidence locker. (Notably, the ‘evidence’ was not weighed, nor was it checked back into the locker, until after the trial ended on January 23. The evidence log corruption will be under separate heading.) McNeill never told the court that he, Harris, and the officer (and likely KSP Lab analyst Ryan Johnson) spent the better part of the day with drugs and a camera, six days prior, taking photos and planning trial testimony.

17. In the same pre-trial conference meeting that I never knew about, Harris promised not to mention a cup of beer found in the console during the vehicle stop, if McNeill would promise not to mention that the Commonwealth suborned blatant perjury at the Grand Jury to get the indictments in the first place, as McNeill well knew because he had the grand jury testimony in his briefcase. This was a motion in limine, from Harris, who knew about the grand jury perjury, but did not want the trial jury to hear about it.

18. Harris knew that the officer lied to the grand jury about: lab test results for alcohol, the smell of alcohol on my person, and me being essentially stumbling drunk. My alcohol blood test result was 0.00, and the Commonwealth knew it, because the exculpatory result was faxed to the Commonwealth four days prior to the grand jury meeting. Nonetheless, the Commonwealth and the officer took turns lying to the grand jury about 1) having blood test results back, claiming they weren’t available when they were 2) me stumbling, when the officer testified at preliminary that I was “steady on (my) feet” and 3) me smelling of alcohol, when my blood alcohol level was 0.00, the officer had previously testified that “alcohol wasn’t a factor” and the tape shows me passing 4 roadside PBT (portable breath test) tests, that the officer also testified to previously.

19. Harris moved in limine that McNeill be prevented from asking questions about the deputy’s perjured testimony, in front of the grand jury, that led to my indictment in the first place.

20. McNeill agreed not to mention any perjured statements made to the grand jury during the trial.

21. Ultimately at trial, Harris violated the agreed motion in limine, and he talked about a cup of beer in the console, but McNeill did not respond by 1) moving for a mistrial 2) exploring the suborned Grand Jury perjured testimony or 3) at the very least and as a Hail Mary pass, preserving the record with objection. The cup of beer would be addressed in the affirming published opinion, (even though I had zero alcohol in my blood) but the suborned perjured testimony would not be addressed in the published opinion affirming, as a direct result of McNeill’s actions.

22. Harris moved in limine for an order that would characterize my consenting to chemical blood testing at two Kentucky State labs as well as consenting to two out of four roadside sobriety tests during a 1.25-hour vehicle stop as a “refusal” to consent to sobriety testing. McNeill did object, even though the KRS statute is clear on refusals (ie, they concern blood, breath or urine). In other words, with the court’s consent and no objection by McNeill, Harris changed my consent into a refusal.

23. In the meeting, Harris wishes to use 404(b) evidence.

24. The court ruled that 404 (b) evidence was inadmissible. Harris violated this ruling with the first sentence of his opening statement. I asked McNeill to object and move for a mistrial, but he refused.

25. McNeill never did inform me of any of these developments, nor did he inform me that he would not be presenting defense, nor did he inform me that jury instructions were amended on a ‘refusal’ issue. I never knew until a couple of weeks ago, what he had done with recorded evidence, prior to the start of the videotape for the meeting.

26. Being in the dark until the trial was nearly concluded, I thought McNeill was still going to mention the main issue in my defense: that it would not make sense for anyone to ask for an officer to move the seat and retrieve a watch, if the person was attempting to conceal something with the watch. The officer himself had testified on this point previously. Late on the second and last day of trial I asked McNeill when he would be presenting my defense, and when he would be confronting the officer on his prior inconsistent statements about the watch. McNeill wrote it off with the statement: “The jury might be offended if they learned the cop was telling different stories.”

27. McNeill’s criminal behavior by tampering with evidence and his inexcusable failure to defend me deprived me of my Sixth Amendment right to present a defense in a criminal trial, where a person’s liberty and future is at stake.


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.



%d bloggers like this: