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.