For my friends
ATTENTION: You are receiving a story from a slave—ahem—from an inmate inside the Bad People Department of Corrections. We are adding to our multi B-B-Billion dollar purse just by letting you communicate with our property. Please remain in the “grab your ankles, bitch” position as we continue to fuck society in the ass.
Thank you for your continued ignorance—hah, whoops…
Thank you for your cooperation :)
Holy shit. Prison is nothing like County. Intake was just as violating, but this place is actually clean… ish. It smells like stale air and generic Windex rather than the lingering aroma of sewage pipes and boob sweat.
Walking through the unit, I see that there’s more than just 5 showers per 100 women, and every line has less than 10 zombies shuffling along in it. I must’ve won the lottery of prisons because County was nothing but endless wall-sliding and single-file, consuming your whole day just to eat, bathe, and call home.
The biggest mind fuck is my cell. I have a door that I can not only close, but I have keys to lock it. Even more shocking, my bunkie is apparently in the infirmary (so I’ll have privacy for once). All a far cry from the cramped pole barn at the jail where personal space is nonexistent. It’s like I just moved to a different planet. I’m hesitant to feel comfortable, but the slightly muffled noise from outside my closed cell is a bunch of sweet nothing compared to the echo chamber of hysteria I’ve lived in for the last 13 months.
I finish organizing my bunk and change into my standard-issued prison blues to try to make use of the day I have left. I lock up my cell and head towards the rec area to get in line for the mail kiosks. I’m feeling good because blue is so my color (and my husband’s favorite). He says it brings out my eyes. Oh, my heart! I can’t wait for our first visit next month! I just know he’s going to tell me how good I look in this dark indigo instead of that gross bright orange I’ve been wearing. We never had kids so he calls me his pride and joy, and I’m finally feeling like it again in this pretty color. I’ve learned to really appreciate the small things in life.
I hop in line for the kiosks so I can write a letter to my baby. I need to let him know I’ve made the transport safely. I don’t have a tablet yet, so I’ll have to type something quick on the big screen. The girl ahead of me is much younger, but she looks familiar with the place.
“Hey girl, what’s the time limit on the screens?” I ask in that high-pitched tone us females use when we want to appear harmless.
“Fifteen.” She replies over her shoulder.
Wow! We only got ten at County! Five whole extra minutes when you don’t have a tablet is a godsend. It’s a pain in the ass to type on the big screens that barely register your touch to begin with.
When my turn arrives, I see a new message from my husband… from today? Whoa! Mail actually comes on time here? It took up to 5 days to receive digital letters at the jail (even for short messages), and weeks for snail mail. I’m starting to feel like I’m in the twilight zone. Like this is all too good to be true. Let’s see what my dearest has sent me:
FROM: Ian Flores
TO: Jasmine Flores 11130013
I hope the bus ride went smoothly this morning. Must’ve been a sauna in there without AC. The high is supposed to be 99 today. Please let me know when you’ve arrived. About to jump in the car with Pop. He’s ready to go to the airport now. Your sister wants to come for the drive. Pop’s flight was delayed to 12:13. He sends his love. Stay safe.
Aww! My baby just cares for me. I don’t know what I’d do without him. My husband is the only thing that keeps me sane as a prisoner. I’m actually excited about the future for the first time in over a year because I get to have family visits here. Well, with the family I have left, that is. My sister barely talks to me anymore, and the trial was hard on Pop’s heart. My father-in-law is the only parent I’ve ever known, and I’m the daughter he’s always wanted, but he doesn’t fly down as much now with his failing health. This whole situation has been tough on everyone.
The screen is slow to load, but the timer says I have just over 13 minutes left. I have a million things to tell my husband about this new world in Bad Girl Prison:
BPDOC INMATE ACCOUNT
11130013 Jasmine Flores
TO: Approved Contact:
Thank you so much for your well wishes. I made it in one piece. The travel time you looked up for me proved useless. I’m sure it will only take you about 1 hour to drive to the BGP, but for us, it took FOUR HOURS in that oven on wheels. They insisted on taking the back roads and confusing routes to make sure us “dangers to society” couldn’t ehscayp into populated areas. It took all day just to get to my new lockup.
I miss home so much, but I’m trying to stay focused on the positives. This new facility is MUCH nicer than expected. Prison is soooo different, babe. Well, this one is, at least. They try to make it look homey in the common areas, and there’s even decorations! They’re really pretty, actually. And guess what else? I heard the jobs here pay $1 per hour! ONE WHOLE DOLLAR, BABE!!! If I’m lucky enough to snag one, I could pay for my own medical visits! Yay! And get this: WE GET TO HAVE A 3 SECOND HUG AT THE BEGINNING AND END OF VISITS HERE!!! Oh, baby! I’m getting you know what just thinking about it! Will you wear that Tom Ford I bought for your bday for me? Mmm, I can’t wait!
I miss Pop already. Let me know how his next doctor appointment goes? I hope he’s feeling better. Tell him I’m so hungry that I could eat my chanclas. LOL! It’ll make him laugh. All we had was a sack lunch of slimy bologna and stale bread for the ride over. They should be calling last chow soon. I’ll let you know when I get my tablet and commissary. The money hasn’t gone through yet, but everything seems to run faster here so I’m sure I’ll get it tomorrow. Thank you for always keeping money on my books. You’re the light leading me home.
Hope you had a lovely day!
I love you!
PS: I tried calling right when I got to the unit but it says there’s no money on the phone. Perhaps you need to reset automatic payments for this new location? I’ll try to find out how that works. Thanks, babe.
I learned that I can’t write stuff like “escape” because the system will instantly deny my mail before the COs even read it (because I’ve typed a no-no word), and they don’t give refunds either. And I definitely can’t tell my husband I’m getting wet in anticipation of touching him for the first time in a year. A chick from County taught me to use bad spelling to have some freedom of speech in our letters.
I once got reprimanded for telling my own husband that I miss making love to him through the partition at the jail (shut it down folks, we’ve got a psychopath on our hands!). All the while, I had to watch certain male officers fuck us with their eyes every damn day. And since they don’t give a shit about those of us disabilities, they had no clue I could read their lips as they fucked us with their words, too.
The worst COs would sexually harass us right to our faces (both male and female). But, they can do that because they’re allowed to break the rules (and they get paid and praised for it). However, when the rest of us make mistakes, we don’t deserve to be human anymore. Scratch that—when you’ve been caught making mistakes. Until then, you get to walk around with a golden stick up your ass, shaking your finger at everyone else.
The screen confirms that my email has been sent 09/13/2023 at 16:13 PM. My account has been charged 1 stamp and—look at that! A whole 6 minutes to spare! Not too shabby! I’ll let the chick behind me step on early…
Wait! I’ve got a new message from Ian! Screw it, I’ll make a good impression another time. I’m taking this:
FROM: Ian Flores
TO: Jasmine Flores 11130013
We just got home. I want a divorce.
What the FUCK?! No. No, no, no! I read it over and over:
A divorce?! WHY?! How is this possible?! We’ve never so much as uttered the word “breakup,” let alone “DIVORCE!” Ian and Jazz are that couple who grow old together! And what does he mean by “we” just got home?! That’s our home! My fucking home! The house I bought for us! Is he talking about him and my sister?! Is he fucking my fucking sister?!? Has he just been using me this whole time to secure a way out? Is that why my sister stopped talking to me?! Or wait—did he fly home with his father?! What does he mean?! If he’s with my sister, I’m gonna fucking kill him. Everything was fine! Oh fuck, I’m gonna throw up…
I rush to the giant rubber trash can secured to the wall next to the kiosk and quickly puke my guts out. I hear a couple women in the line laughing at me as I leap to grab my last 5 minutes, but the chick who was behind me has already taken my place.
“Hey, sorry, I had 5 minutes left. Can I go back? Please? It’s urgent.” I plead to her in a guttural, low-pitched tone.
“You snooze you loose. Well, more like ‘you puke you lose.’ Yuck. Go to the back of the line. Your breath stinks.” She doesn’t even look up from the screen as she shoos me away.
I race to the back of the line. There’s 6 people ahead of me. With 3 machines, that’s up to 30 minutes of waiting just to send a “WTF” to my husband. My husband! The love of my life! I feel like I’m about to shit my pants. My whole world is spinning. What the fuck is happening?! I shift from one foot to the other, holding my stomach as I wait.
Just as I’m about to take my turn on the next available screen, they blow an emergency count. The siren is deafening and my head is already pounding.
“No! Please! I just need one minute!” I beg the officer headed our way to wrangle us back to our cells.
“Sorry. No can do. You’ve got 3 minutes to be in your bunk. Go on, get!” He, too, shoos me away like a dog.
I speed walk in the direction of my cell, ducking under the stairs to save a few seconds, as if that will help count go faster. I’m already calculating the time it will take to tally every single woman in the prison. My stomach turns even more.
They sound the alarm again, signaling the end of a successful count. I immediately race back to the mail kiosks. A woman gets on the loud speaker to call our unit for chow, but there’s no way I can eat now. Maybe I can grab a phone when everyone is at dinner. I hope the money went through. Shit, now I’m unsure if Ian put money on my accounts at all.
I have no way of accessing what’s left of my funds without Ian. How will I buy my necessities? I don’t even have tampons yet and my period is supposed to start this week. The pads the DOC gave me in my indigent kit couldn’t absorb a ball of spit, let alone my endometriosis horrorshow. The last few e-stamps on my account are my only hope. I need to find out what the fuck is going on. I hope Ian hasn’t blocked me by now. No. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t leave me all alone in here. Would he?
The same douchebag officer stops me just before reaching the kiosks.
“Phones and screens just went down. You’ll have to try back after dinner.” He scoffs while holding his duty belt, creating a firm barricade between me and my only link to the outside world.
“Sir, please! It’s urg—"
The CO stops me by putting his hand in front of my face.
“Go to the chow hall or back to your cell! NOW!” He commands, pointing his finger over my shoulder, waiting for me to turn around and leave.
I huff away, knowing full well he can give me a ticket for “poor attitude,” but I couldn’t care less right now.
I storm into my cell, lock the door behind me, and climb up to my bunk. I plop down onto the 3 inch mat and shove my face into the flat pillow so I can scream. My anger is boiling.
We’ve been married for eighteen fucking years. Together for twenty. It’s always been just the two of us. Ian and Jazz against the world because we are the perfect couple—minus my convictions. But my side hustle paid off our mortgage! We would’ve been homeless without it! All because my darling husband ruined our legitimate business. When we went under, I found a way to keep our heads above water. Me! I’m the one who paid off all our debt. How could he leave me like this? And without explanation? Now I’m here, paying our debt to society for the both of us! Like always! Am I really this easy to throw away? After all I’ve done?!
My thoughts spin out of control, and before I know it, the stress of today knocks me out cold.
I wake up startled by the horn, not realizing where I even am. Oh—it’s final count. I wave at the flashlight shining into my dark cell through the window to prove I am where I’m supposed to be. I see the silhouette of someone walking in front of the light. A woman unlocks my door and enters the cell. She reaches for the lamp below me and flicks it on. It’s my bunkie, back from the infirmary. She’s very young and frail looking. She waits for the second horn and closes the door, locking us in for the night.
“Hey.” She says quietly, looking up at me as I stare down at her.
“Hey.” I reply softly.
We both instantly recognize deep sadness in each other.
“I’m Sandra. You just get here?” She asks, trying to be polite despite her obvious melancholy.
“Yeah, earlier today. I’m Jasmine, but everyone calls me Jazz. How long you been here?” I ask, trying to match conversation.
“I got transferred here 3 weeks ago, but this is my second time down… and last…” Her voice dwindles.
“You come from County, too?” I ask.
“No, the Max. Way out in the woods. I just made Level 2 after seven months there. I worked hard to complete my treatment plan in time for… whatever. Now I’m here.” She looks away, hiding her pain.
I heard a couple of female guards gossiping about my bunkie when they assigned my cell. She apparently took a murder plea for stabbing her husband to death after he beat her for years. If that’s true, I say he had it comin’ and he ran his damn self into her knife. Ugh, I shouldn’t think like that. How horribly sad for her and her family. But, it must’ve been a good deal to not fight a murder case like that—any murder case. I want to find out more, but I’ve learned not to ask about people’s cases. She’ll tell me eventually if she wants me to know. I just hope she has a chance to get out someday, as young as she is.
Sandra finishes organizing her things and slowly sits down on her bunk, wincing loudly in pain.
“Hey, you okay?” I hop down from the top bunk to see if she needs help. “You were in the infirmary, right?”
“Down the road at Saint Mary’s, actually. Or ‘Hell Mary’s’ more like it.” She holds her hips in pain and lowers the elastic waistband of her bottoms to find comfort. That’s the first time I notice her big belly.
“Oh! Did you just have a baby?!” I ask in excitement, but immediately realize my mistake and apologize with my expression.
She stares up at me in despair as tears rush into her eyes, trying to muster a response.
“Yeah.” Her voice cracks.
The pain on Sandra’s face is haunting. That’s not just the “baby blues,” that’s someone who’s been through torture. Oh my God… I can see the marks on her wrists from being shackled while giving birth.
“I’m gonna get some sleep. Nice meeting you.” She whispers.
Sandra turns to her side and kicks her slides off the bed. She’s clearly in too much agony to even change into her casuals. I see her inmate number splayed across the back of her blues. Oh, no. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Her number is my wedding date: 10132005. Well, I guess October 13th used to be my anniversary. I’ve always had shit luck, Pop even says that I must’ve been born under a bad sign, but this feels like a cruel joke from God. And what happened to Sandra is just fucking cruel.
“Goodnight.” My voice trails, failing to offer her any comfort because I’m a sad sack of shit.
I climb back up to my bunk. Sandra waits for me to get settled to turn off her lamp. Her kindness makes my heart ache even more.
This is insane! I woke up this morning the same Jazz I’ve been for the last 18 years. I’d never felt special until I became Mrs. Jasmine Flores. Ian always called me his spring flower when we were newlyweds. I hate my maiden name. Am I plain old Jasmine Withers again? Oh, God… old. What will a middle-aged woman with no family and a record do on the outside? I’ll be forty-fucking-six and ten years gone when I’m released. Who’s gonna give a shit about me now? Nobody knows you when you’re down and out. Shit, I don’t even know me. The only identity I’m absolutely sure of right now is 11130013.
The shapes of the room fade to black, but my mind refuses settle. I toss over in frustration, making both bunks squeak and clank. As soon as the clatter stops, I hear Sandra start to cry.
Holy fuck. This poor girl. She just gave birth and can’t even hold her child—hell, can’t even see her child—when all mom and baby need are each other right now. Captivity breeds madness, but being forced apart from all that you know and love… that’s the real punishment.
I can already imagine ignorant ass people talking their shit about someone like Sandra. They would say she’s not a “real” mother, or that she doesn’t deserve her child. But I can feel her maternal desperation in my bones with every uncontrollable wail coming from her soul. It’s the most agonizing sound I’ve ever heard.
I begin to cry along with Sandra, trying to hide my own sorrows in her sobs. I feel pathetic for drowning in self pity when she is going through something much worse, but my pain hurts, too. It really hurts! And it’s all my fault. What have I done to my marriage? To my life? I did this! Me!
In our own way, no matter how much time we get, we are all serving (and giving) life sentences. We will always be paying for our mistakes, and no amount of pain in here can fix the pain out there. It just creates more pain for innocent people who don’t deserve to be motherless, daughterless… wifeless. I don’t know how to fix any of this, but hurting more people can’t be the answer… can it?
The sounds of Sandra’s loud, painful bellowing causes women from other cells to start shouting all over the unit.
Woman 1: “I’m trying to sleep!”
Woman 2: “Stop being a little bitch, Sandra! I had to do it, too! Shut the fuck up!”
Woman 3: “YOU shut the fuck up, Dee! Put your headphones on, you heartless bitch!”
Woman 4: “JUST SHUT UP!!!”
Woman 5: “Y’all bitches are crazy! Haha! Craaazaaay weeoo weeoo!”
The douchebag guard from earlier comes to our door and bangs on the window, scaring Sandra and I so bad that we both jump.
“Hey, Flores! How do you like it here? Hah! Welcome to the machine!” He taunts me loudly, making sure I know I’m on his shit list. I can hear the other guards laughing, joining in his schadenfreude.
Ah, yes. There it is. This is more like the punishment I deserve. Nonstop chaos. The optimism I had when I arrived was but a momentary lapse of reason. Prison isn’t this cozy, decorated home they’re trying to fool us with. It’s fucking prison: a torture chamber designed to destroy human beings… and it is succeeding.
The personal laments of 100 women continue to fill the thick, nobody gives a shit atmosphere. I cover my head to shut out the madness, but it’s just no use. There will be little sleep as this symphony of destruction plays in the BGP tonight.
This has been the worst day of my life…
And it’s just day one.
A “Those Damn Enigmas” Production
This is a work of fiction. However, it was written with real men and women at heart, because their stories matter. They, matter.
Getting here, I'd say everyone misrepresents it— cinematically, I mean.
Stale air and concrete walls closed in on me earlier during processing. My autonomy was violated as they clicked cameras at me. I'm unsmiling, naked as the day I was born, and handed scratchy clothes— my identity erased and replaced with a number. The clanging keys and buzzing doors disorient, and I'm led to a sparse mini studio with lifeless grey walls. An uneven, thin cot and metal toilet welcome me. The closest thing I have to a window is the cell-bar door to the corridor, where a guard roams back and forth.
I conceded that I'd be greeted with painful shrieks and howling shouts of others echoing down the cell block, and the newbies would be seated alone, head in hands, mind racing to establish how they got there. I don't think everyone is an irrational murderer like they tell us... some people are probably feeling self-resentfully accountable for their non-violent burglary offense, tax evasions (ironic), immigration mistakes, or their ceaseless drug habits that they've tried to stop a couple of times leading up to now.
Though, I'm sure there are still plenty of inmates who are unbothered, thinking, what's a few years a pause before going back to what got me here in the first place? I would say that life before already feels so distant to the former, whenever they arrived. Friends, family, freedom, namesake— gone. For the latter, I don't think they're thinking about it, just living out this nice little vacation from the exhaustive nature of committing unlawful acts.
At the scream of a whistle, we shuffled to the dining hall, tense and silent. I stared down at whatever the 'making-school-cafeteria-lunches-look-like-a-Michelin-Star-meal' of the day was. I think guilt or indifference would come back into play here again. The inmates who knew they fucked up— though still less culpable than others, look down to avoid the glare of anyone who might see them as weak, while those who firmly and aggressively deserved their sentence had defensive eyes darting around the room, watching over their tough hides especially closely. Then, we were herded back to our cages, heads counted like preschool children after recess. This was surely emasculating for the hardened criminals.
It's difficult not to want to ask what happened to the person sharing my cell or those passing by, but I preferred not to speak if it wasn't necessary. I figured I'd get to that in a few days once I'd processed the new situation. I'm not exactly a guiltless type who fears nothing.
After hours of tedium, a bell rings for yard time and I fast blinked as I stepped into the sunlight, blinded temporarily. It was shocking and the air felt different, almost foreign, even through the chain link fences and watchtowers. Some inmates would be pacing the far end, struck by a heated argument. Others tossed a basketball around or played cards. Mostly, though, faces would be blank with boredom.
At this point, I found an empty patch of dirt to sit down in, staring at the sky, trying to reminisce about the freedom of open spaces and the warmth of a loved one’s touch. But it was a bit like recalling a dream upon waking. Too soon, the bell clanged lazily again, and everyone was lined up and counted. We trudged back inside. I had some time to myself— as myself as I could get. I wrote a bit before lights out. I didn't sleep that first night and long, dark hours stretched endlessly ahead while my cell-mate slept seemingly peacefully. He must have been here a while.
Tomorrow will be the same routine, the next day too. If Hollywood wants to show this cinematically, they'd be better off using a movie like Groundhog Day. After some monotonous days, I knew I'd simply be going through the same motions, now I'd join up with the thousand-yard starers wandering aimlessly within the walls, biding my time until release.
My uniform is not an orange jumpsuit. It's sweatpants and a hoodie stripped of their strings, but full of colour and pills from my mother's dryer.
I am stripped of those-- I am also stripped of my laces, necklace and bracelets. I am unflinching, the youthful fat in my cheeks sway with every rough shove of the night police officer, tired and assigned to me like a chore.
I am also stripped of my youthful washer and dryer scent, as it's overwhelmed by antiseptic and rough hands.
I swallow my bile. I bite back my spite.
I do not deserve to be forced into a wheelchair, when I am young with working limbs.
I do not deserve to be painted green and brown from the abandoned hall I am wheeled down.
No one speaks to me as they push me along. The only reassurance I am okay is my conscious, nervously glancing at my surroundings.
The officers say nothing as they load me onto my edgeless cot.
I awake an hour later to a woman stealing my blood. Not taking. That would be kind, and inquisitive. A question, perhaps, if she could. She drew it while I slept, and yelled at me for waking because I tensed and slowed the stream of blood.
She offers me a melatonin pill that I cant swallow without water. My tears are enough to pool around my lips and wet the throat.
Lambs and Lions
I exist in a haze. My head’s a Rolodex cranking through a thousand thoughts for how I’ll survive the next eighteen months, but I expend no effort walking the painted line because everything here is planned out for us—I just need to follow orders, lay low, and do my time. Eighteen fucking months’ worth of time. My sandals drag over polished tile. I stay glued to the faded D.O.C. taunting me between the shoulders of another man's whites while nine of us are escorted to D-Unit. If we’re fresh fish in a glass bowl, I’d hate to meet the sharks. Each of us is a little rough, probably cut from similar lives, but the tension of this place has everyone's pride tucked between our legs. It makes us walk funny. Fear and body odor become the stench that stings my nose like a cheap prison cologne. I don’t know what anyone’s in for and don’t give a fuck ’cause I’m too concerned about myself, but I’d be willing to bet most of us only got dirty to keep our loved ones clean. They're under God's watch now. Regardless, we’re unwashed men, and we’re here.
to be continued...
Fish Out of Water
Following the guard's directions out of intake, I make my way outside and towards the large, brick building across the yard. My cheeks still burn from the humiliation of my recent strip search and the impersonal and accusatory questioning I encountered. I feel judged all over again, though I'm not sure if it's because I don’t belong to a gang, or because I have no tattoos or substance abuse history to report. I guess I'm not the "typical" prisoner. I suppose that should make me feel good about myself, but instead I feel like an anomaly.
As I cross the yard, I see other men jogging, doing pull-ups and push-ups, and congregating in clearly divided racial groups. I've already been warned by prison staff to avoid certain areas of the yard, and I can't help but sneak glances in those directions. I also notice the line of men gathered by the antiquated telephones, waiting for their turn to call home. I've been told the phone rates are high, and I soon find out that everything costs more in prison.
It will later shock me that a total institution run by a supposedly democratic government should support monopolies in prison industries. After all, the same government regulates and penalizes monopolies on Wall Street. For now, I begin to worry about the financial cost of my incarceration on my family, beyond my inability to provide for their needs. Now, I'm in a system that will cause me to be a drain on their limited resources.
Finally, I enter my assigned housing unit. I carry my bag of linens (sheets, pillow cases, and blankets) to the desk to check in with the unit officer. I stand at the desk for several minutes before the clearly bored guard looks up and gives me his attention.
"Who are you?" he asks accusingly, as if I haven't been sent to his unit.
I tell him my name, and after consulting a paper on the desk he points to the right.
"Third gallery, cell 52, top bunk. Up those stairs. Don't hang out in front of other cells. No passing anything to other cells. Yard times and chow times are posted on the bulletin board over there. Be ready when your door breaks. If you miss your door you miss your chance. If you have questions, consult the bulletin board. Don't ask me any question that can be answered there. I hate answering questions I don't have to."
He glares at me as if I ought to be gone already. I have a list of questions in my mind, but his glare makes me hesitate.
"Thank you," I mumble, wanting to say more but thinking better of it.
I trudge upstairs with my linens, wondering when I'll get the rest of my clothing assignments, when I'll be able to take a shower, how soon I can order hygiene necessities, what the commissary prices are, how to even order commissary, how I make phone calls, and a host of other questions. I decide to scope out my situation before asking questions, and I figure I'll find other prisoners to answer most of my unknowns.
Careful to avoid looking in other cells as I pass, I use my peripheral vision to locate the numbers on the cell doors. I'm overwhelmed by the cacophony of prison noise permeating the housing unit and distracted by the activity of prisoners bustling about the unit. I hear a few cat calls and whistles, complete with "Fresh meat!" hollered out by a few, but I avoid looking around to see if I'm the object of their lecherous shouts.
When I finally locate my cell, I look through the window and see someone lying on the bottom bunk watching TV. I stand by the door until the guard at the end of the gallery breaks the door so I can enter it. I step tentatively into the cell as my new bunkie looks up with an indifferent glance. He looks back at his TV without a word. Oh, this will be fun, I think. Shutting the door behind me, I'm surprised by the instant muffling of prison noise.
"What's up?" I venture carefully. "I guess I'm your new bunkie. Is this my locker?" I gesture towards the clearly empty locker, knowing I just asked a stupid question but not wanting to step on toes.
My bunkie swings his feet over the edge of the bed, resigning himself to introducing the new guy to his cell.
"Yes, that's your locker. When you have stuff you want to lock up, you can buy a lock from commissary. I'm not a thief though, and I don't tolerate thieves, so don't touch my shit. I don't lock up my own shit in the cell." He glares at me like I've already been scoping out his coffee and ramen noodles.
"If you have to shit, do it when I'm not in the cell. You can do it at yard times, or chow times, or when I'm at work. When you use the sink, clean up after yourself. I'm not your mother and won't clean up after you. We clean the room every other day, including sweeping and mopping. Keep your shit organized so it doesn't draw the attention of the police."
He continues, "Is this your first time down?"
I nod in the affirmative. "Yep, first and last, I hope."
My new bunkie snuffs his nose like he knows better. "Look, I'm not going to babysit you, but don't bring any heat to the room. If you have beefs, handle them out there. This feels like a dumb question, but are you affiliated?"
I groan inwardly, feeling like I'm being interrogated all over again. "No," I reply. "I'm solo."
He looks down and shakes his head. "Me too, but I've been doing this for a while. Just stay away from gang shit, and don't get conned into anything stupid. If it feels questionable to you, don't do it. Ask me if you have questions about something. I can advise you, but you'll do whatever you decide to do. I'm not going to bail you out. If you've got money on the outside, don't tell people. Don't buy too much too soon or people will notice."
I can tell there's going to be a lot to learn about prison life, and I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. I have so many questions about basic things like phone usage and commissary orders, but I don't want to bug my new bunkie.
He stands up from his bunk and moves towards the door. "Go ahead and make your bed. I'll wait for you. I don't wanna have your shit in my face. And by the way, don't hang your feet over the bunk. I don't want your feet in my face either."
There seems to be a lot to remember, dos and don'ts, but I just focus on the task at hand and start making my bed.
I quickly finish, thank him, and climb into my rack after kicking off my shoes. I had noticed my bunkie's shoes neatly arranged under his bunk, so I slide mine in neatly under the opposite side under his bunk. My new roommate climbs back into his bunk, presumably to resume watching the television show that had his attention before I diverted it.
I lay back on my pillow staring up at the ceiling, my stomach growling quietly because I'd only eaten a sack lunch on the ride to the prison. I notice the graffiti on the walls and ceiling, some barely muted by a thin layer of cheap paint. I see a lot of what I assume are gang symbols, penises, and the word "bitch" scratched in various handwriting. What a legacy to leave behind, I think. Signs of ignorance and destruction.
Our solid window, barely eight inches wide, looks out behind the housing unit. I notice there are two parallel rows of concertina wire topped fences surrounding the prison. The space between is packed with huge bundles of the razor wire, doubly ensuring there is no escape. I wonder if anyone has tried what looks like an impossible feat. For a moment, I imagine the gruesome results.
After a while, I hear a loudspeaker announce "Five minutes to count. Catch your doors." I wonder if he means us, but my bunkie doesn't move. A minute or two later, the clanging of shutting doors is punctuated by an eerie silence that follows. The overhead light turns on, even though it's still bright outside, and the loudspeaker crackles to life again. "Count time. On your bunks. Be visible to staff."
I sigh quietly, turn on my side, close my eyes and try to shut out my new reality for a few minutes. What the fuck have I gotten myself into? I think with despair. Is this really my life for the next few years? I start feeling sorry for myself, and as I think about all that I've lost and all the people I've disappointed, I feel tears begin to push their way to the corner of my eyes.
Toughen up! I tell myself. Don't show weakness! Crying is weak. You've got to survive this hell hole. I pep-talk myself silently, sucking back the tears and pushing down all the emotion that longs for escape. It's crazy, I think. I have to imprison my emotions because I'm in prison. I'll have to process my grief, my shame, my losses some other time. Right now, my job is to make it to tomorrow alive.
The emotional exhaustion catches up to me, overcoming my worry that my bunkie could murder me in my sleep. He doesn't seem like a killer, but you never know. I drift off to sleep, the raw pain of loneliness enveloping me like a blanket. I don't know how long I sleep, but I am soon awakened to the sound of the doors popping open and my bunkie calling out to me.
"It's chow time. If you're going, you better get moving. Pull the door shut behind you."
I watch him walk out the door as I scramble down from the bunk and quickly put on my shoes. I still want to shower and call home, but for now I know I better go eat or I'll be hungry all night. I slip through the door and shut it behind me, merging into the herd of men making their way towards the stairs.
Keeping my eyes down, I can feel all the other guys staring at me as I walk with the crowd. For now, I know, I'm an unknown quantity to them, but soon enough, I'll know some of them, and some of them will know me. Soon enough, I'll be one of them, watching the new guys walk through the door with their own looks of bewilderment and fear. Soon enough, I'll feel like a veteran instead of a fish.
After dinner, I finally get to shower. I don’t yet have slides so I have to bathe in my dirty socks. I’m going to have nightmares about the foot fungus growing in this place. I brush my teeth with a cheap indigent toothbrush and barely effective toothpaste before climbing back into my bunk for an early bedtime. I can't wait to purchase some necessities and settle into a routine. It’ll make me feel more human than I do right now.
Over the next couple of years, I'll need to figure out how to make a life in prison without making prison my life. When I walk out of these walls, I am never coming back. This is just the first day of my long journey home.
Day in Day out
The minute you are handcuffed, you cease to think.
Time passes. You don't know how much time, because it would fill you with desperation to know how little time has passed. You live for the moment you are awakened to eat. At some moment, you are awakened and shuffled into the
shower. You are handed a towel. But before that, the next girl in line has appraised your body, says she should recruit you. You are bashful, yet thankful for the attention.
You are shuffled back to your cell. You hear names being called. Girls you know arrived after you. You don't hear yours. You wonder about that one phone call you get to make. You will ask the guard the next time she slides the opening at the the top of your door to drop the food off. You wake up to hear the grate slide open and you jump off your bunk and run to the door, but you're too late, she's already gone until God knows when.
You gobble down the food, but you're still hungry. You notice your cellie hasn't eaten all her sandwich. You ask, "Hey, you gonna eat that?". She says you can have it, as she's falling back asleep in that stupor induced by the meds they give at least 80 percent of the girls here that are heroin addicts, but not You wonder if you should've just lied to them at intake as the guards dole out the little pulls that knock out most of your fellow inmates into a l
You gobble down the food, but you're still hungry. You notice your cellie hasn't eaten all her sandwich. You ask, "Hey, you gonna eat that?". She says you can have it, as she's falling back asleep in that stupor induced by the meds they give at least 80 percent of the girls here that are heroin addicts, but not you. You wonder if you should've just lied to them at intake as the guards dole out the little pulls that knock out most of your fellow inmates into a seemingly blissful sleep as you struggle to quiet your brain and not NOT think about the outside.
The grate slides open again and you manage to rush out, "Can I get an extra sandwich?". And until the blessed day they finally call your name and say"Court", all you look forward to is food and then sleep, food and then sleep.
The Safest Place I’ve Ever Been
I am strip-searched and they find everything.
I am thrown into a cell, but not after a long, clichéd walk down corridors of cells with hands grabbing out and voices murmuring and yelling at the same time. What they are reaching out for is anybody's guess.
"Here's your new cell-mate, Grysia," says the prison officer, as he opens the door or at least that is what I think he said her name was. All I see is a shadow in a grey uniform on a shelf, (could it be a bed?) on the left side of the room. The shadow has matted, greasy hair cascading down over its face and there is no relatable identity visible.
"Great," I say, without a care in the world. What would it matter to me if I had a roommate or not?
"Lunch is at 1pm and lights out at 10."
The door is slammed shut.
I notice that a pile of 'essentials' is in my arms; I don't remember anybody giving me the bedsheet or the flimsy excuse of a pillow or whatever else there is. I drop it all onto the shelf bed on the right side of the room. 'First time I've been on the right,' I smirk to myself. 'Right never gets associated with me,' I despond.
I don't say anything to the thing across the room from me. I've learned that over the years: never look keen and never look desperate, no matter how much you might want a friend. Let them come to you. Then, you can destroy their lives. Not intentionally, of course, but inevitably, if the past was anything to go by.
I feel relaxed in the concrete cold ugliness. Those doors are secure ones. I don't even have to test them. Nobody is getting in here without a key. All of my enemies - locked out.
Did they say 'lunch'? I hadn't had a lunch for days.
I breathe in deeply and out slowly.
'Lights out at 10'? No more glaring, strobing, chaotic electric city lights might make it possible for me to actually sleep.
A shadow for a roommate? I could deal with shadows. I laid out the sheet on the bed, propped up the pillow and laid down onto my new bed, taking comfort in every agonising contact with the hard surface, as my body made gradual and full contact with it. I closed my eyes.
'Maybeeeee, you're gonna be the one that saves me?' spat out my memory of the most stable song Oasis ever sang, as the words repeated themselves in my mind.
I sank into a light slumber.
Suddenly, I was flipped over, tied up and bashed with what felt like an iron bar on my lower body. My mouth was covered, so I could not make loud enough sounds to warrant help, as the sounds of the locals blended in with mine.
I turned my face to see what was happening to me, only to see the shadow was my worst enemy and the bar in the hand walloped the last I would ever know of my face.
I would rate my stay there 10/10, exhilarating all the way.
Locked Echoes: Life Behind Prison Walls
As I find myself confined within the prison's unforgiving walls, the environment reeks of despair and faded hope. The cell, a dimly lit chamber barely big enough for a single cot, offers no comfort. The cracked concrete floor holds countless secrets of past occupants, and the graffiti-covered walls bear witness to countless stories etched in frustration.
The routine here is a symphony of clanging bars and gruff commands. Mornings begin with the shrill call of a prison whistle, echoing through the corridor like a haunting melody. The guards, clad in uniform indifference, stomp down the aisle, their boots echoing off the cold, gray floor. The harsh fluorescent lights overhead flicker erratically, casting eerie shadows on the peeling paint.
Breakfast is a colorless affair, a tray of tasteless gruel passed through the bars. Inmates huddle around scarred metal tables, their faces etched with resignation or defiance. Conversations are hushed, and eye contact is fleeting, as trust is scarce in this concrete jungle.
Mid-mornings are filled with mandatory activities—a mix of counseling sessions and menial labor. The counselors, stone-faced and unyielding, attempt to extract traces of remorse or rehabilitation from the inmates. The labor is relentless, from sewing license plates to breaking rocks, each task a futile effort to repay society's debt.
Lunch is a reprieve of sorts, though the food remains an uninspiring gray. In the claustrophobic cafeteria, alliances form and tensions simmer beneath the surface. It's a place where vulnerability is concealed and alliances shift like the tides.
Afternoons are marked by routine headcounts, the jarring clang of cell doors closing, and the cacophony of voices echoing off the cold, unforgiving walls. Guard shifts are rotated, each new face carrying its own blend of stern authority or indifference.
Evenings offer a semblance of respite, though tension still lingers in the air. The clang of metal doors echoes through the corridors as inmates retreat to their cells, their narrow bunks offering a brief escape from the harsh reality beyond.
Nights are restless, filled with the murmur of secrets and whispers of dreams that may never come true. The occasional cries of anguish pierce the silence, a stark reminder of the darkness that dwells within these walls.
In this world, routine is a lifeline, a fragile thread that holds sanity together. Yet, amid the monotony, there remains a glimmer of humanity—a shared nod of understanding, a stolen moment of laughter, or an act of kindness in the most unlikely of places. It is a reminder that even within the confines of a prison, the human spirit can find ways to endure, to connect, and, perhaps, to hope.
"Strip and raise your testicles, inmate!"
Stupid, spiteful, uneducated, and angry-at-their-own-lives "correction" officers, all of whom were either bullied as children or were bullies and still are. These paradigms of humanity are in charge of me now. Incarceration not for rehabilitation or even recompensense, but just for revenge — and nothing else. They hired the right people for it. The most accurate personification of "fucktards" ever to be: my bosses. My divine right authority figures.
"You're nothing here!" and the mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging oaf is right. Who can I complain to? The head oaf? My senator?
Senator: "You should have thought about this when you were doing all your bad things."
Who can argue with that?
Should I keep a calendar? Too painful to check off days one by one.
Correction Officers all angrier than the people they think they're correcting.
"Here, eat this shit."
"What'd you say?"
It'd be bad enough just to be sequestered from society. But to be ruled by these troglodytes and Neandertals. The TV isn't mine--it belongs to the shot-caller. The seat at the movie isn't mine--it belongs to the OG. The weights are off-limits except for the musclehead ingorati. Can't get a magazine that shows a nipple; or see a movie that shows a movie. But murder is OK entertainment for the likes of us. Nipples. They're on that forbidden list.
Dental floss? No, you might hang yourself.
Your own headphones? How's the Bush family gonna make money selling their crappy stock ones?
Computer? Are you out of your fucking mind? Who knows what you'll do with information? Use the 1973 encyclopedia in that library.
See the doctor. Now. ASAPly!
How many wake-ups till I'm out? Will I still be nothing when I get out? Will I have paid my debt to society? No! My debt to society will never be paid. Penal debt is like student debt.
Will I finally be able to let my testicles down?
It's dull and pretends to be sanitary. The shape that pervades is the rectangle and its insider, the square. The walls, the corners of the halls, and the rooms; above the ceiling tiles, and below the mopped linoleum, all conform to the official order, disinfected by the florescent panels that confuse day and night, to the weary and worried bloodshot eye.
After the obligatory grope by tan uniforms with badges and holsters and walk-talkie, and digital scanner, there is a denial of personal items, and a jangling of keys. One hears what one expects. The keys are replaced by swipe cards. The labeled ziplock bag is filed. Shuffling muffles. Dull voices. The cell also loses those remnants of personality, the lines of separate tiles, and becomes a concrete slab, drab and hardened, like designed to make one on the brink, become criminal in thought. It is the wait that is most palpable. Sitting.
One doesn't think of eating. Pissing, shitting in public.
The phone call pervades the thoughts.
Words that in moments will be exchanged and hover incoherently afterwards.
This I only know because I went to pick up Mother from an overnight.
We weren't able to bring the bond soon enough that time.
It was early morning. Dark, and when she got out it was like Daylight for us.
Even with the shadows behind, and her nervous laughter that she thought she heard rats.
1rst Prison Day challenge @GentlmanBastard