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Frog Gravy: The Kentucky Incarceration Experience Chapter 2

This story is non-fiction, reconstructed from my notes. Names have been changed.

Jail Cell 107. February, 2008

Phone calls are limited to fifteen minutes and this is frustrating, especially if there is some disagreement between the parties. Often, the inmate is in hysterical tears on the phone, over some disagreement or some profound misunderstanding. Many disputes involve custody or visitation. There is no counselor or social worker or group to resolve these issues, so there is a lot of screaming and crying, in fifteen-minute segments.

Thursday night going into Friday is miserable. Meg has made me a dreamcatcher and I have it hanging over my bed. She is Native American and she has blessed the dreamcatcher. It seems to alleviate some of the nightmares, but the odd thing is that I do not want to wake up in the morning because my dream life all takes place in the setting of freedom and my waking life takes place in a concrete coffin. I wonder at what point my dream life will be imprisoned as well, and Leese says this takes about seven months to achieve.

The cell next door taunts the crazy man in the isolation cell, yelling “HARRY! We wanna play with you Harry!” And Harry yells back, “HELLLP! Helpme help me HELP” all hours of the night.

At 1AM a guard comes by and asks us if we want to go to the gym. He routinely comes by between one and three AM, to offer “rec,” and we ask him to come back. He never does. He will mark this exchange as a “refusal” in the documents in case the State checks on our rec situation. They will be satisfied.

We will be out of the cell according to this routine, exactly three times in the following three months. We do not go outside, of course, these three times, the reason given is that it is winter. “Rec” is held in the gym or in the chapel. I do not care for the gym, because there is semen stuck to the wall behind the mat at the back of each basketball basket, and the din and echo give me a raging headache.

Breakfast is served at 6AM, after a mop bucket is rolled in with a cheery, “Time to sweep and clean, ladies!” We take turns sweeping and cleaning so the rest of the group can sleep in. We eat and then go back to sleep because we are exhausted from being up all night. Sleep deprivation will become a way of life for me.

During breakfast, Christie says, “You know this table here. I was in a jail once, and another inmate was so obese she got stuck between the steel table and the seat bolted to the floor.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Then her teeth became dislodged, and she was choking on her teeth and turning blue. The guards came running and they had to do the Heimlich maneuver and dislodge her from the picnic table.”

“Damn,” I said.

Christie tells a story of better days in the penitentiary, when a boot camp program for women was in place.

“If inmates completed the boot camp program in four months they were paroled. The penitentiary boot camp was run by real ex-military, ex-marines, ex-army. We did Jane Fonda exercises, chanting ‘I love you Jane.’

“Cool,” I say. “I used to go to the Jane Fonda studios in Encino in the eighties. Loved it.”

“Boot camp was co-ed. I bent down once and looked between my legs and there were a bunch of guys behind me, butt-ass naked and swinging their dicks and shit, and they were looking at me.”

“Hell no.”

“It was like real boot camp only ten times worse because we were inmates and they could do whatever they wanted. They called me ‘Pow-Wow,’ and I mean this motherfucker’s lost his mind. He’d say, “Pow-Wow what in the hell do you think is so fucking funny?” and I’d say “nothing sir” and he’d say “well then I’d suggest you get your ass moving.”

“Jacked Jesus.”

“Three count push-ups and I can’t even count to ten, so I would ask “permission for cover sir” (permission to quit) and he’d say “permission denied.”

“Did you finish the program?”

“No. I got kicked out for receiving a letter from some guy and I flushed it right away but this bitch named Biscuit snitched.”

“Does the program still exist?”

“No. Because a woman was raped.”

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