Peace, peace

October 24, 2013

Boiling Frog

"Boiling Frog" by Donkey Hotey on flickr

Peace, peace

by Crane-Station
Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration in Kentucky, in 2008 and 2009, first in jails and then in prison, and is reconstructed from my notes.

This post is from prison.

Names have been changed, except for the teacher’s name and the name Columbus Dorsey in this post. My nickname in prison was Bird Lady.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

PeWee (pronounced Pee Wee) Valley Women’s Penitentiary near Louisville, KY, 5-4-09

Last night, officers woke three Ridgeview inmates at 2 AM, ordered them to pack their belongings, and then shipped them to Otter Creek, the privately owned prison in Appalachia, Pike County, eastern Kentucky. Inmates are loaded and transported like slaughter cows in the middle of the night. This way, families have no advance notice.

Two of the women were enrolled in college courses on scholarship, and were one exam shy of course completion.

Rhonda was my classmate in Horticulture. I had tutored Ashley, who had never completed the tenth grade, through perfect squares and complex polynomials in Algebra.

Fearful that I may be in the next Otter Creek shipment, I decide to walk to school in the morning to see if I am still enrolled.

As I leave the dorm, Rochelle says, “Bird Lady. Your birds is waitin’ on you.”

“I know. Thank you,” I say.

Twenty-five pairs of black liquid eyes watch my every move. They recognize my face, hat or no hat, pony tail or not., and they follow me and only me. Fussing and chirping, they dive-fly in front of me, reading my kindness for the weakness that it always is.

I toss them some bread when the officer is not looking. Read the rest of this entry »


The $45.00 Garlic Ice Pack [with jail art]

October 10, 2013

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

Bird drawing  by Crane-Station

Birds, drawn in jail, by Crane-Station. Colored pencil, magazine ink.

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

This post is from jail.

Names have been changed, except in this post, the name Ricky is real.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Ricky’s World, Fulton County Detention Center, Hickman, KY, 7-31-08

Ricky’s World is a vast improvement over McCracken County Jail,contrary to inmate urban legend. Some would strongly disagree with me. Ricky runs a tight ship. His is, for the most part, a jail that serves as a prison for Class D non-violent drug offenders. Men outnumber the women, and the jail is overcrowded.

Almost everyone is offered work, since nearly all of the inmates are “final sentenced” State inmates. There is one 12-step meeting each week. A caring priest, who is like a counselor to me and many others, visits each week.

The library is actually quite good. When family members send books to us, we are required to donate them to the library, and then check them out. One of the first books I checked out was The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. There are history books, some educational materials, and children’s books. Since I love Mother Goose, I occasionally check out nursery rhyme books. I also become a fan of Sudoku. We can check out board games as well.

We are actually offered legitimate recreation for one hour each day. The outside cage is tiny, but it is outside nonetheless, and if you crouch and peek through the keyhole in the steel door to the outside world, you can see a cemetery.

There is another view to the outside, through a small window in the kitchen. You can even see some trees.

Lights are actually turned off at night. During the day, they are not quite as burning to the eyes as the lights are in McCracken.

We are allowed real pens. But the best part is the colored pencils. We can get them from canteen. I begin drawing nearly every day. I mail the drawings to my family. I combine colored pencil work with colors from magazine pictures. If you rub deodorant onto some toilet paper and then rub that onto a magazine picture, the ink comes off nicely and you can use it for art work. It also makes nice makeup. I find all sorts of pictures, in magazines and books, and I spend my spare time drawing, and experimenting with various items in the cell that serve as art supplies.

My hands are still raw from my first job here: washing inmate dishes in the kitchen. I am transferred to a different kitchen job: prep crew. In the evening, when the clean-up crew is finished, we go to the kitchen and fill butter and jelly cups and make Kool-Aid. Then we cut fresh vegetables.

We fill 250 butter cups, 250 jelly cups, and make 50 gallons of Kool-Aid. Then we cut hundreds of pounds of vegetables; Okra, cucumbers, and squash. Most of the cut vegetables are used in inmate meals; guards occasionally take home sacks of the cut vegetables.

There is no screaming man in an isolation cell, and the guards are very nice, for the most part. Some are older; we call one elderly woman “Miss Granny.”

At night, I try to invent ways to minister to my swollen hands. They are shiny, red and blistered. The guards occasionally bring me a bandaid. I carefully slice the it into two strips with a tiny scalpel that I have made from my disposable razor. Two bandaid strips last me most of the day.

I make the scalpels by stepping on the plastic razor carefully, breaking the plastic away from the blade. Then, I fold the blade until it breaks into two parts. I leave some plastic around the ends of the blade. I use the tiny instruments for sharpening pencils and separating elastic sock threads to make hair ties.. However, since they are considered contraband shanks, I keep them carefully hidden.

Bandaids are not sold on commissary; the jail wants you to fill out a “protocol.” A protocol is also known in some circles as a “medical kite,” a request form to see the medical department. When you fill out a protocol, the jail takes $45.00 off your books, and sends you to an office where you have a conversation with someone who tells you there is nothing they can do, or, it is not their department.

Sometimes, but not very often, a Tylenol is given. I have seen inmates pay as much as $90.00 for a single Tylenol tablet. I prefer Advil anyway, and it sells for $1.00 per tablet on commissary, so sometimes I splurge and get some Advil. The jail makes hundreds of dollars each month from this alone.

One woman I work with also lives in my cell. Her name is Colleen. She must weigh at least three hundred pounds, and she is very sweet. Inmates take advantage of her and make fun of her. Her hair is thinning. So is mine. I wonder about some nutritional deficiency causing accelerated aging in everyone.

Colleen is accident prone, and one day in March of this year, she slipped and fell, while working in the kitchen. She may have broken her arm, but no real doctor ever looked at it.

Now it is nearly August, and her arm is still swollen, shiny, red and painful. It looks like a great big shiny ham hock. She wakes up crying at night.

The jail will not allow Colleen to have a bag of ice without a protocol. Colleen filled out the required protocol. She paid the required $45.00, met with some staff, and returned to the cell.

The staff did not want Colleen to open the bag of ice and use the ice in her KoolAid, so they put garlic, salt and spices all over the ice and then delivered the whole mess to the cell, not realizing, I assume, that salt melts ice.

In the middle of the night, the bag leaked garlic-spice-salt water all over a couple of bunks and the whole cell reeked of garlic. Colleen got no benefit for her $45.00 bag of ice because the salt melted the ice, and Colleen was left with a plastic bag that looked like a used condom.

“What do you think?” she asks me, as she tries to wiggle a puffy, sausage-sized finger.

“I think you need to see a doctor,” I say.

Colleen tries to tell the staff that she cannot work, and they threaten to put her in the hole if she does not work. Somehow, she fashions a sling from a t-shirt, comes to work, and asks me to whip the jelly for her, so that the jelly will be liquefied and she can use one hand to dip the jelly into jelly cups.

Meanwhile, I fill 250 butter cups and begin slicing cucumbers with another cucumber-cutter, named Fiona.

Fiona has some psychiatric issues that I have narrowed down to either borderline or Munchausen’s; I have not decided yet.

As we are cutting cucumbers, Fiona says, “I don’t know why they let me have knives. I put a butcher knife into my mother because she wouldn’t let me watch Rin-Tin-Tin on television.”

But she has a severe speech impediment, so the sentence comes out, “…I put a butchow knife intow my mothow…”

And I think, I am living in an insane asylum.


We Can Do This

September 28, 2013

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

Ducks. jail Art

Ducks, jail art by Crane-Station on flickr. Colored pencil and magazine ink.

Wild Turkey. Jail art.

Jail art by Crane-Station on flickr with comment:

For Dad. Wild Turkey. We have these beautiful birds here. I was not really able to finish, because they turned the lights out, and because I do not have the correct colors (such as rust). Turkeys have been nearly wiped out by unrestricted hunting and land development. Some programs are bringing them back. They roost in trees, but like to run on the ground.

note: Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail, Cell 107, early 2008

The social worker tells me that I am angry, and that I need to not be angry, and that I need to accept my situation like everyone else does, and I need to stop writing, because no one reads anything that I write anyway, because no one cares. She is referring, I assume, to the many letters that I write regarding jail conditions. I listen to her for a bit, and then decide that I would rather be back in the cell. I end the meeting. I continue to write.

I keep my writing to myself and I quit talking about the letters.

In the cell I wear a towel on my head and babble to myself endlessly, in my mind. Maybe the towel keeps others from hearing these conversations. The other me, the one I babble to, is elegant and strong and graceful, and says all of the right things to all of the wrong people. Things such as ‘I respectfully disagree,’ and ‘No, thank you,’ and ‘I am sorry but I cannot support you and your commissary habit in here,’ and ‘I will continue to write because it gives me meaning and purpose at the moment,’ and ‘Excuse me, do you think you could quit screaming for just a few moments, because I am finding it difficult to concentrate.’

However, it is not the other me that is in jail. It is me.

Sirkka is the new arrival. After introductions, she says to me, “Never take anything to trial in McCracken County. Everyone knows that.”

Sirkka is tiny, just 4’8,” and she drives me nuts in an endearing, pathetic sort of way. I want to hug her. I want to kill her.

She does not want to put clothes on and strolls about the cell half-naked, in bra and panties, talking at an indecipherable speed. Sirkka has an eating disorder. It reminds me of what I used to be and so, maybe this is why she annoys me. Her behavior is actually good for me because it reminds me of the horror of food binges and scamming for food at every opportunity. For a while, she convinced the staff she was pregnant because pregnant women get extra trays, but when the staff figured out that she was not pregnant, they placed her in the hole for a bit, and then back in the cell.

Today at breakfast, before I even sit down, she says, “Are you gonna eat that?”

“Here. Take the whole thing,” I say.

Down the hall, Harry screams from his isolation cell, “Somebody help me! Pleeeease! Let Me out! HELLLP! HELPmehelpmehelpmehelpme, PLEASE!”

Sirkka collects six sausages, five pieces of toast, two milks, and three servings of Fruit Loops. At lunch, four corn dogs, two helpings of corn, and three pieces of cake. The only thing I asked her for was one serving of applesauce but she would not give it up. She weighs 105 pounds, and has gained 30 pounds to get there; that is a 30 pound weight gain in a month. At this rate, she will be obese by May. That can happen in here. I met an inmate who gained 150 pounds in a year in jail. She had given up.

On one of the rare occasions that we do get to visit the outside cage for recreation, I cannot believe this, but Ruthie and I are the only ones who want to go outside.

Christie and Sally both claim that going outside briefly is actually more depressing than staying in the cell. I am worried about Christie. She stays on her bunk and cries all the time now. She says, “I just can’t help it, I just feel so bad inside.”

“Come on Christie, let’s just get out for a minute,” I say. “You’ll feel better. Tina, you too. Come on you guys. We’re going out. It’ll be all right. You’ll see. When we get back we’ll watch ‘Lost.’ I’ll even comb your hair Christie. Come on, we can do this.”

We go. In the outside cage Sirkka strips down to her bra and stands at the door, hoping a Class D male will walk by. Christie sits in a chair, silent. Tina takes a book and seats herself next to Christie. I stand in a corner and look up. The sun is shining. I shield my eyes.

I listen for a bird.



Ridgeview Dormitory

September 23, 2013

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration in Kentucky, during the years 2008 and 2009, reconstructed from my notes. Some entries are from jail; others are from prison, such as this one.

I have changed the names, except in cases of nicknames that do not reveal identities.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Ridgeview Dormitory (aka The Ghetto), PeWee (pronounced Pee Wee) Valley Women’s Penitentiary, near Louisville, KY, 11-19-08

Dayroom

I am sitting at a table in the noisy “dayroom,” of the Ridgway Dormitory at PeWee Valley Penitentiary, talking to two fellow inmates, Cindy and Wheels Jimmy. Cindy is a 46-year-old woman in a neck brace who looks thirty years older. She was in a bad accident, has had several neck surgeries, and requires more neck surgery. Her voice is hoarse from all the surgery. She has no teeth and hopes to get dentures from the State, for $188.

Cindy, like many other War on Drugs inmates, mostly older, disabled women, is in prison for buying or selling her pain medicine, either to get pain relief or make ends meet by paying the winter heat bill or other necessary bills.

Kentucky views women like Cindy, who can barely walk, and women like Wheels Jimmy, who is wheelchair-bound after breaking legs and arms, her hip, knee and back plus four or five ribs, and women like me as threats to society. So, toothless Cindy, Wheels Jimmy and I sit in a penitentiary dayroom and chat. Taxpayers are paying $26,000 per year room and board plus medical, dental and eye care for each of the three of us to sit in this dayroom and have this conversation, because if we sit here, in wheelchairs, toothless, with neck braces and talk at great taxpayer expense, the community at large will be much safer (than say, for example, if the likes of George Zimmerman were to be sitting here.)

I am talking to Cindy. I only understand about 50% of what she is saying in her hoarse, toothless Kentucky drawl.

Cindy leans over to me, conspiratorially, and whispers, pointing to another inmate, “She can make sounds, like a chipmunk.”

However, I did not hear her quite right and I thought she said, “She can make a sow suck a chipmunk.”

Therefore, I answered Cindy and said, “Well then. So she’s a hustler.”

Cindy says, “Uh-huh. And that girl there…” She points. “That one barks like a dog.”

At this point, my mind is still processing the sow-chipmunk scene: The chipmunk has a litter of chipmunk-ettes somewhere, so she must have mama’s nipples, right? Moreover, the gigantic sow is somehow suckling from the chipmunk when suddenly there is a dog barking. Wait. Could the sow be sucking a chipmunk dick?

My hand to God, I am thinking these things.

So I say, “Really?”

Cindy says, “Yeah, she sounds just like a chipmunk and she sounds just like a dog.” She points.

I say, “Oh that’s so funny,” but Cindy has no idea how funny it really was and I never tell her.

I am reminded of that comedian that attended some function with then-President Bill Clinton, and the comedian could have sworn that Clinton leaned over and whispered, “Bet they’s some bitches in here.”

We moved to our new home- Ridgeview Dormitory- on Friday. Ridgeview is a large dorm, with four wings. This dorm is the farthest away from the dining hall, library, and main building. Everything is about a quarter to a half-mile walk. After the horrific year in the jails, I appreciate the walk, but for the many disabled women in wheelchairs, navigation about the property is difficult.

Wheelchairs line the front patio of Ridgeview Dormitory. At first blush and absent razor wire, one might mistake Ridgeview for a gigantic assisted living center for the mentally ill. With inmates doing all of the assisting.

Ridgeview does not house inmates serving lengthy sentences for violent crimes, for the most part. These inmates are generally housed in Pine Bluff Dormitory, unless, for some rare reason they lose their “honors” housing status. Long-term inmates are generally more stable and well behaved, and they hold jobs in industries, the guide-dog training program, or the Braille translation program.

For example, an inmate must be at least five years away from parole eligibility to apply to be in the guide-dog training program. When the dog is a puppy, it is assigned to a specific inmate and lives with that inmate 24/7, never leaving the inmate’s side during its years of training. If a dog has a vest on, which is most of the time, other inmates do not interact with the dog by touching or petting it.

The Braille translation program has similar eligibility requirements due to the length of time it takes to learn Braille and then to apply the language to translate maps, for example.

I include this information for the online community because I am not sure how many folks are aware that inmates train guide dogs or translate Braille.

Ridgeview Dormitory is fairly new, very clean, and has the look of an institution. There are two people to each room. Each wing shares a common dayroom, with TV washer/dryer, microwaves and phones, and there are four wings.

A central, windowed, elevated security/control area houses officers in an aquarium. Officers see all from the aquarium, and they announce, summons, lecture, scold, and berate, pretty much all day, every day, usually because they must, or the place would come apart at the seams. Hence, Ridgeview Dormitory is also known as “The Ghetto.”

On my first night in Ridgeview, an officer announces from the aquarium, “There will be no bull-dyking tonight.”

note:
For those who have not seen the CEBU dancing inmates, this is well worth the watch. They are in the Philippines. Of course, there are no such programs here in the states, because the US prison system is designed to ruin, and not to improve people.


How Frog Gravy Got Its Name

September 23, 2013

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

Boiling Frog

“Boiling Frog” by Donkey Hotey on Flickr

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration in Kentucky, during 2008 and 2009, in jails and in prison.

Names are changed, except for nicknames that do not reveal identity.

This post is from prison.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Early April, 2009, PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary (pronounced Pee Wee), near Louisville, KY

In Horticulture class one morning I am ear-hustling (eavesdropping) on a conversation between some fellow inmates.

“The problem with my case is,” says Carla, “that the judge didn’t get his dick sucked the night before I went to Court. That’s the problem with my legal case.”

“Bet he takes his teeth out at night and sucks his own dick,” replies Renada.

The teacher, Miss Heavren, overhears the exchange, and reminds us all that we are strictly forbidden to speak about our legal cases during school. The conversation shifts to an acceptable (by school rules) subject: retrieving and preparing road killed animals, for consumption.

Julia says, (I swear to God) “I don’t really go for all that suckin’ the brains out stuff but I do eat the tails.

I am reminded of the scene from A Fish called Wanda, when the sadistic Otto says, as he is eating goldfish from a tank, “Avoid the green ones. They’re not ripe yet.”

When ‘sucking out brains and eating tails’ sinks into my psyche, I focus on my deadpan, indifferent expression that betrays none of the horror that my mind conjures up because I have long ago mastered the Prison Face. The conversation continues.

“…but we got there at the same time and were about to fight over the body but it turns out he just wanted the head and I just wanted the body so we decided to go ahead and split it…”

Like the poker face, Prison Face misleads with just the right lack of expression that conveys understanding, non-judgment, empathy and concern, much like the doctor’s expression on x-ray discovery that a bowling trophy is lodged in the patient’s rectum. Deadpan, as if one sees this every day, but with empathy, in the deadpan.

“…even though the head on the deer was missing when we found it…”

“Oh yeah. Didn’t you know that? People are always stealing the deer heads.”

Prison Face says, ‘I can relate. I am just like you.’ You do not have to study or practice Prison Face for very long. If you are institutionalized for long enough, Prison Face becomes a sincere, apathetic blank expression.

“…I would have done the same thing with the body….”

I have seen Prison Face on the outside. I once worked with another nurse who was African. He told me of his early childhood memories, where he, at age five, watched public executions on a nearly daily basis. At the time, I did not know about Prison Face. I just thought he was ‘stoic’ and ‘hard to read.’ He was always quiet. He was actually a nurse’s aide, and he was always saving our butts when things got too busy. He never received due credit for his quiet yet passionate work with patients and staff. I always thought of him as a nurse, because he was better at nursing than many nurses I had encountered over the years.

“…Oh, yeah, my dad used to bring home the turtles off the road all the time… Ever had turtle soup?”

In our class, Horticulture Lab, really, we are planting tiny marigold seedlings into blister packs that resemble ice cube trays, a tedious task that is like trying to separate and plant thousands of spider webs. Marigold seedlings have long, threadlike roots, and we are using popsicle sticks to untangle them, but also to plow under dozens of those monstrously rooted little seedlings and dispose of them quickly and secretly when the teacher is not looking, because if we don’t, we will never finish this lab. We do not formally plan nor do we speak about the mass marigold murder with each other. It is a silently understood and agreed upon activity.

The popsicle sticks remind me of the psych wards that I have been locked up in after various suicide attempts, and for reasons that I do not fully understand I make a mental note to make a birdhouse out of the popsicle sticks when I get out of prison.

Then, when I think I understand the significance of the birdhouses as safe houses for free creatures, designed and constructed by a damaged human that is not free, and am allowing this epiphany to sink in, the conversation in the foreground shifts to the subject of frog legs in an iron skillet.

Julia says, “And what you gotta do is, you save the crispy frog skins in the iron skillet and you pour off the frog grease, and use your frog drippins to make you some frog gravy. And girrrl, I ain’t lyin’, them frog drippins in that frog gravy is dope!”

My eyebrows jerk slightly, ruining my Prison Face. With sudden clarity, I envision my hero, the frog.

Coincidentally, I have just finished a book from the prison library about frogs and their race to extinction. Populations of deformed frogs have been discovered, with extra limbs and digits, or with limbs missing in the right places, not unlike the Thalidomide babies. Although the consensus is that a fungus is killing the amphibians, the book points out that frogs are literally permeable, making them an environmental indicator for our planet.

I read the book because I love frogs. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories involve frogs. I remember walking creeks and going to ponds as a child, to look for the gelatinous egg masses, and I remember the frogs’ beautiful yet haunting chorus during camping trips, a chorus that now seems eerily absent from any given evening, when I can hear the rhythmic buzzing of cicadas, but not the songs of many frogs.

I have never eaten a frog. In fact, I have rescued many a frog, after the rainstorms, by stopping my car in the middle of the dark road, getting out, and moving the doomed frog to the side of the road. I also rescued three frogs once, who were trapped in a plastic garbage bag that I found in a dumpster.
I suppose I could eat one, but only if it were already killed in the road.

I decide that I will immortalize the frog.

On my notepad that I carry everywhere, I write the words “Frog Gravy,” and circle them.

The iron skillet, in addition to being a murder weapon, is as much a part of the South as racism is in this prison. Fried apples. Fried green tomatoes. Fried okra. Cornbread with buttermilk and bacon. What is cornbread after all, without bacon grease and buttermilk in an iron skillet? My parents are from Missouri, but spent a good deal of their early-married life in the South and so my mother made fried apples, cornbread, and other Southern dishes in an iron skillet. I can almost smell it now.

Later in the evening, I discuss my plan for the book title with Tina and Christie, two of my closest friends that were in Cell 107 with me in McCracken. They both know that I have been writing things down since the beginning, and they have encouraged me to write the whole story someday.

“I have a name for it. You’re not going to believe this,” I say, “but I am going to call it Frog Gravy.”



%d bloggers like this: