The Woman Who Moved During Count

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy.

Frog Gravy depicts daily life during incarceration in Kentucky in 2008 and 2009, in jails and in prison, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

KCIW PeWee (pronounced Pee Wee) Valley Women’s Penitentiary near Louisville, KY, a few days before Thanksgiving, 2008

We are meticulously counted, every four hours or so. For the count, which we refer to as “count,” or “count time,” we must be in our room, at our bedside, not moving and not talking.

During one of the evening count times an officer strolls the floor, looking into each room, pointing to each inmate, and counting to herself. A pregnant inmate, who has been having contractions for some time now, informs the officer that she is in labor. She is housed in the room across the hall from me. She is very restless and she cannot sit still during this count.

The officer accuses her of faking labor and playing a game to mess up the count. The woman talks back to the officer, saying, “I know when I am in fucking labor!”

The officer escorts the woman away. A little while later, two officers come to the pregnant woman’s room and pack all of her belongings into boxes. The rest of us, who witnessed the incident during count time, assume that she went to the hospital to have the baby. We were wrong. The officers had handcuffed the woman and taken her to cell block: the hole.

There is actually a jail within the confines of the prison, and it is a building that we call “cell block.” It is a brick building with isolation cells that are nearly identical to “hole” cells in the jails. The holes are tiny cement cells. “Isolation” cells in the jails sometimes have television, whereas the “hole” cells do not.

You may or may not have a mat. I think you do get a mat here at PeWee, but I am not sure because I have never been in the hole at PeWee. One blanket is issued at 11 PM and then taken away at 4 AM. The cells are ice cold. When I was in the hole in McCracken, I had arthritis so bad from the cold that I wrapped my legs in toilet paper strips. I had no socks or shoes.

The hole is perhaps best known for the 24/7 fluorescent lighting, that is disorienting as well as blinding. Also, holes are punishment cells known for sensory deprivation and time distortion. There is absolutely nothing to do but count cement blocks or look at the hairs in the floor drain, if you can see them; they do not allow you to have glasses in the hole.

Food is delivered through a slot in the steel door. This is the only way to know the approximate time. There is no view to the outside. There is a tiny window to the hallway, but the hallway side of the window is covered with a hinged steel flap that can be opened only if an officer decides to open the flap and peer into the cell.

There is no way to wash your hands in the hole. The push-button spout points upward and issues a tiny upward stream for a second or two, but the stream is certainly not continuous. After a bowel movement, therefore, you must simply hope for the best, because if you plan to eat, well…there is no bar of soap, and there are no paper towels. There are no real towels either. No washrags, no sheets, and certainly no pillow.

When inmates die in cell block nobody really cares because they were just inmates. The pregnant woman in labor was handcuffed and walked to cell block. Cell block is about a one-quarter mile walk from Ridgeview Dormitory. I hear the rest of the pregnant woman’s story from another inmate, who was there when she arrived. The woman telling the rest of the story spent 30 days in cell block for having cigarettes.

The woman in labor cried and pounded on the door, but staff ignored her, so other inmates tried to talk to the woman, because there was nothing else that they could do. The inmates talking to the woman were also mothers, for the most part. The nursing staff showed up briefly and told the woman in labor that until her water broke there was nothing they could do, because she was not really in labor, unless her water broke. The pregnant woman told the nursing staff that her water had broken.

They left her.

According to the woman telling the story as she observed it, although cell block staff is supposed to perform half-hourly checks on cell block inmates, they only checked on the woman in labor twice.

At about 3 AM, the pregnant woman exclaimed, “Oh my God!” Other inmates heard “like a pop, and then we heard a baby cry.”

It was a boy.

According to inmate witnesses in adjacent cells, the mother was “passed out, with the baby attached.” The staff refused to open the cell door until an ambulance arrived.When the ambulance arrived, the mother was handcuffed.

Had the baby not cried, it is likely that no one would have opened the flap to check on him or his mother.

Author’s end note: The woman and her baby survived. The baby was subsequently cared for by Amish women, through a program called The Galilean Home, where Amish women care for babies born into captivity, until the mother’s release.

The mother returned to prison. The day staff in cell block apparently refused to take her back, so she returned to population. The woman was serving time for non-violent drug offenses.

21 Responses to The Woman Who Moved During Count

  1. acemayo says:

    So if an person is walking toward you that is deadly force, if he don’t stop, and an old person 72,
    just shot him dead

    Sheriff says Georgia ‘stand-your-ground’ law may apply to fatal shooting of man suffering Alzheimer’s, report says…………………..
    They say Hendrix, who is “saddened and heartbroken,” walked outside the home he rented in the Chickamauga, a neighborhood near the Tennessee border, and confronted Westbrook. He gave several verbal commands but Westbook, who was slow to talk, continued to walk toward him, the paper reported. Hendrix, fearing for his safety, fired his handgun four times at the man, killing him with a bullet to the chest, police said. Westbrook was holding letters mailed to a home he used to live in in the neighborhood and was wearing a light jacket and straw hat despite freezing temperatures.

  2. Colin Black,

    Just now getting word about a helicopter crashing into a pub in Glascow. Say what?

  3. Hello everyone! Sorry for the delay, we were out most of the day. We had to get a part for the motorcycle and have a repair done, and then run some errands. Very very sorry, missed everyone! Will review comments, get our bearings here, and hopefully get a new post up and get a new discussion going soon.

    Thank you so much for your patience today!

  4. bettykath says:

    It’s really too bad she didn’t have political connections. In that case, she probably wouldn’t have been sent to prison in the first place, but if she had, it probably would have been to one of the country club prisons. Wait a minute. Martha Stewart was rich and she ended up in prison, and not a country club prison. Guess those are just for white, white collar men.

  5. Rachael says:

    This is not civilized.

  6. crazy1946 says:

    I’m sitting here in utter confusion (ok, that’s not unusual, but…) and wondering why we call it a “Justice System”? Is treating a person like an animal in an effort to break their spirit considered “justice”? What possible benefit to the rest of society could come from creating a person that develops a hatred for those that enforce the rules of society because of the way they are treated after they make a mistake? I can’t help but be angered when we hear of our fellow humans being treated worse than our laws permit live stock to be treated…. and to think, we do this while calling our selves civilized…

    • colin black says:

      An experiment In the early 70s had to be nixed before completion.

      Thirty middle class students randomly split in half to be either screws or inmates.

      Within days the Students picked as gaurds went way beyond the set parameters an abused the inmates horribley.

      This was monitored an supposed to be pretend there was no animosity between the dispirt groups.

      An yet abuses began from the get go.
      So imagine what happens in the phycie of Officers dealing with people they know are considered criminals by the legal system.

      Belive you me the ones that dehumanise inmates into product an numbers dehumanse themselves as there malice an cruelty has no borders.

      • crazy1946 says:

        colin, It would seem that only a particular type of personality would be interested in becoming a prison guard. I never considered that, I simply thought that the job had the effect of removing ones sense of humanity. However it now seem that the job would lure only those that lacked humanity into the position… Hmmm strange….

  7. colin black says:

    Regulation an Rules are so ingrained into prison staff they are like pavlovs dogs .

    The worck by rota an are incapaple of straying of script or using common sense.

    I once had a screw do the count at evening lock up my cell mate barged past him to go to the toilet as he needed a shit.

    An in the cells we had only a bucket he wanted to use the toilet foe obvious reasons .

    An you didn’t bother to ask certain screws as you no a refuseal would be there answer.

    Other screws reasonable ones you would ask ask they would comply.

    When an eejit opened your door you didn’t ask you just told them in passing am going to the head boss an your offski along the landing.

    So its a two man cell my cell mates left an that leaves me alone in the cell with the screw stood at the door some what agitated.

    I observed him an was full of pity as I realised he could not stop himself from repeatedly glanceing back into the cell even looking behind the door as if my mate had somehow materialised in mid air behind there.

    There was only one exit in or out he was stood in it yet his in bred instinct had his every fibre wanting to count two people in this cell an add it to the tally.

    I couldn’t stop myself from laughing at the inane stupidity of his repeated scans off the cell for a second person to count.

    I told him he is not behind the door or under the bed he went past you to the can.
    An in order for him to return he has to come pass you.

    An as I did so my cell mate re appeared an brushed past him to re enter the cell .

    So he did his count an moved on

  8. Two sides to a story says:

    It is madness to treat any laboring woman, no matter what’s she’s done, in this way. Beyond evil. Beyond shameful. This system has to go. I have heard equally reprehensible stories of extremely ill people locked up in the medical area, but only looked at once every 8 hours, and then barely looked at. What kind of sickness and inhumanity to suffering is this?

  9. neveragain says:

    Humans are evil…they are worst than animals…

  10. voiceofreason says:

    guards are like cops…scum

  11. bronxlady1 says:

    We have become barbaric. The entire prison system has to be looked at today. A person incarcerated for a non-violent “crime”, should not be finding themselves in solitary confinement, especially a pregnant woman in labor! What is this madness!

    • Well it is madness. And no matter how deeply the powers that be may believe that the nonviolent inmate in labor deserved what she got- to labor and birth her baby alone in a cold cement cell, one thing is for sure: the newborn committed no crime at all to be subjected to that. Both of them could have died. Shameful.

  12. crazy1946 says:

    Crane-Station, Thanks once again for allowing us a glimpse into the reality of prison life in this nation… Guess it is a good thing that we are such an advanced civilization or our prison system would not be even this good (?)… When and if we finally reach the point that we realize that a person does not cease to be human when they are convicted of a crime, perhaps we can actually begin the process of dealing with the cause and prevention of crime…

  13. The War on Drugs, Ladies and Gentlemen…

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