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Underground Education: Frog Gravy 23

Barn during storm by Crane-Station on flickr. Jail art, magazine ink, ink and colored pencil.

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration in Kentucky, in 2008 and 2009, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Names are changed, except for mine, which is clear in the documents below, and the social worker’s, also clear.

PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary, near Louisville, KY, 3-18-09, with a note about some animals on the grounds, penned on various dates and consolidated.

Before I enrolled in school, I worked recycle, breaking down cardboard boxes from the prison commissary, with a very shy woman named Roxi, who had the misfortune of being present in a home, when her boyfriend decapitated someone.

From our work area, we can see the large dining hall and the back entrance to the kitchen.

One day at work, I noticed a large, well-fed possum wander out of the kitchen area, where there is also a sewer, weave his way drunkenly led by pink snout, to the dumpster.

“You see Bob?” said Roxi.


“We done named him Bob. The possum.”

“Oh! He is so cute!”

“Yup. And we done fed him. A hot dog and a bologna sandwich.”

I look at Bob and think, well I’ll bet he never wants for anything.

If this weren’t real, it would be funny.

There were also a couple of prison calico cats that the inmates loved to feed and take care of, even though this was technically not allowed.

And then there was the baby bird that I was keeping warm and nursing back to health.

At the time I did not know any of this, but the prison staff would eventually kill Bob as well as the cats. They would ship Roxi, without notice to Otter Creek the private women’s prison, in Eastern Kentucky, a place where, according to some, “Lizards don’t even live in the yard.”

A guard will stomp my baby bird to death in front of me and then wipe the gore onto the pavement next to me, laughing.

If there is a place in hell…

Underground Education

I enroll in the Horticulture program, and immediately involve myself in the business of tutoring others, not in Horticulture, but in math, English, and Biology. I enjoy teaching because it is rewarding and sort of akin to clinical psychology.

Cricket never learned her times tables, but she wants to prepare for her GED, and so she asks for my help She is a mother of three small children, and when she got convicted, her hair fell out. She shows me some ‘before’ pictures. She does not have cancer, and doctors say it is not true alopecia either, because she still has eyebrows. Other inmates that live with her vouch that she is not pulling her own hair out.

Inmates are not allowed to teach.

My path crosses another inmate, Daffy, who also loves to teach, albeit under threat of the hole (or cell block, as it is called here) and we discuss strategy. My contraband teaching is difficult to prosecute, because, hey we were just studying together, right?

Daffy, however, who has a Master’s in Theology, has a following of inmates that are interested in learning more about Catholicism.

Daffy’s mother was Jewish, but she was raised Pentecostal, and later converted to Catholicism on her own. Her grandmother raised her on English literature.

We discuss our dilemma on the ball field.

Daffy says, “If someone just happens to find themselves out here on the ball field during recreation, say Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and they wish to join a few others…”

“For a discussion,” I add, “What’s to stop them? I mean they can discuss anything they want to, right?”

Contraband teaching. The truth is stranger than fiction.

One day, it all ends.

Cricket comes to me, in tears, and says, “I don’t need your help any more. They’ve done eliminated the GED classes.”

Others report the same thing. I make an appointment with my case worker and ‘out’ myself.

“What in the god damn,” I say. Some of the people I tutor are telling me that classes have been eliminated.”

“Thant’s right. The jails are complaining that they are not getting enough money because you guys are taking it all. Class D education is being eliminated; looks like inmates will be shipped back to the jails. I just wiped out an entire Life Without a Crutch class.”

My caseworker examines his computer screen.

“But Life Without a Crutch is a drug treatment class,” I say. “A good one, and most Class D’s are non-violent drug offenders.”

“I know.”

“There aren’t any educational programs at all in the jails, unless it is SAP (Substance Abuse Program) and you have to be a Class C (serving ten years or more for crimes such as trafficking and not simple possession) to even get into SAP!”

“I know.”

And so it goes. Inmates that were trying to do something, anything, to improve things with education and treatment were kicked out of school and out of treatment, in the name of money.

No educational materials allowed. This is a jail kite to the social worker in the McCracken County jail, requesting educational books. The request is denied.

A second request for educational materials is also denied by the social worker.

Author’s end note: I do not know the status of the programs today.

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