Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a non-fiction depiction of daily life during incarceration, first in jail and then in prison, in Kentucky, during 2008 and 2009. Names have been changed, except for mine, which is Rachel, or in cases of jail and prison nicknames that do not reveal identities, such as One-tit Barb, or Pickles, or FatBack, or Bird Lady.
I am sorry it has been a while since the last post; we are again disconnected from the internet for a while.
Frog Gravy contains graphic language.
Jail Cell 107, March, 2008.
Kentucky law states that education and endeavors that better the jail community can contribute to an inmate’s ‘good time.’ Good time days are days off of an inmate’s sentence for consistent positive behavior.
Since this jail specifically bans education, I write the social worker and inquire about maybe starting a 12-step meeting. She does not respond. I write and ask about having origami paper for origami cranes. She replies, “This is not allowed” on a written document.
Brother Phillip, the jailhouse chaplain, a fundamentalist Christian, starts to piss me off. After we were told that we could receive paperbacks and magazines, I told my family and they sent me paperbacks and magazines. One of the books they sent was a biography about Van Gogh, and I had looked forward to receiving it.
Brother Phillip now stands at the cell door with empty envelopes. He says, “Only religious materials.”
I retrieve a copy of Hand Picked Husband, a romance novel, from the windowsill to the hallway that serves as our makeshift bookshelf and say, “I cannot read about artists. But I can read this.” I hold up the romance novel. “From your library, or watch that on your TV.” I yank my thumb to the television set, where Jerry Springer is exploring the topic of mothers that sleep with their daughters’ boyfriends. “We cannot educate ourselves but we can watch that.”
“Your artist’s book is fiction,” replies Brother Philip. This establishes his bona fides as an idiot. The concept that an entire section of unreadable fiction is readily available in his own library also escapes him.
“No it isn’t. Fine. Donate the book to the library. I’ll check it out. From the library, that is.”
“No educational materials whatsoever. You can go over my head on this…”
I cut him off. “Well you see that’s my problem. You do allow educational materials. If they are Pentecostal.”
“I am putting the artist book in your property and not in the library.” He hands me some Catholic materials that my sister, a devout Catholic has sent, as if he has been holding dog shit. Although I am not Catholic, I enjoy and appreciate the Catholic bible, and Catholic readings. When I told my sister that Catholic bibles and materials were missing from the library, she called Brother Phillip herself and said, “Are you all anti-Catholic? Because if you are, I am calling the Governor.”
By miracle, the next week, five Catholic bibles showed up in the library. I now have one.
After he hands me the Catholic literature I say, “Better wash your hands.”
“Unbelievable,” I say. “They don’t want us educated.”
Tina says, “They have Christian books.”
“Fine, if you want to be a minister. I want to get a job and go to school when I get out of this hellhole. Don’t you see? Don’t you get it? They want us to fail. They want us to keep coming back and coming back. Specifically denying any education or treatment of any sort is something they are doing on purpose. They are making money and laughing at us, don’t you see? Carol and I, for example. We are State inmates. We should not even be here in county jail. We should be in prison, working or in school. This jail collects funds that it is not entitled to for each State inmate. They are warehousing humans because they can.”
Meg says, “They have Christian stories.”
“Right. Let’s see how that is working now. You are trying to smuggle pills into the cell for yourself every single day. I say the Christian stories are not helping your pill habit.”
In the morning, it is the Chapel as rec game again, where we are offered rec in the tiny chapel, and this is documented as actual recreation.
Then guard Sally comes into the cell with two Class D men in tow to bleach and clean the shower.
Class D inmates are non-violent inmates serving prison time in a county jail, where they generally work, although female class D inmates in this jail are not allowed to work. The reasoning for this sexist policy is that women who work may get pregnant. Ironically, a woman will get pregnant, but not during any work duties because she cannot work. She will get pregnant, a year from now, in her own cell, in the shower stall to be exact, while other inmates listen to the sexual commotion.
Class D inmates are usually War On Drugs inmates. The State’s solution to penitentiary overcrowding is to warehouse Class D non-violent inmates in the overcrowded county jails instead. Professor Robert Lawson has written about this situation in an article entitled Turning Jails Into Prisons-Collateral Damage from Kentucky’s “War on Crime.” Lawson is a University of Kentucky Law Professor and author; the article is available here on Lexus Nexus (subscription only).
“That’s odd,” I say. “Class D’s suddenly cleaning our shower like this.”
“State’s coming. Must be,” says Meg.
“Definitely,” says Christie. “The State gives the jail plenty of notice. The guards all have new uniforms.”
“That must be why they are taking our laundry on Wednesday instead of Thursday,” I say.
“State hasn’t been here in months, we’re due for a visit,” says Christie, who is inspecting the Class D men.
“Think we’ll get a decent meal?” I ask.
“On the actual day they are here.”
“Wow. We might even get out of the cell.”