Noah Got Drunk

December 23, 2013


by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Inmate names are changed.

Cell 107, McCracken County Jail, Winter, 2008

Breakfast this morning was strange, because to me, just listening, it sounded like locusts devouring a biblical country. Jail eating is not normal. Inmates gobble, hoard, smack, belch and fart. We yank and choke down food, slurp, slobber and grunt. We eat with a single hard plastic utensil called a spork, a hybrid between a spoon and a fork that is engineered to bend on impact, making it useless as a shank. There is much trading, spooning, shoveling, hoarding and handing back and forth sporkfulls of food. The binge symphony is punctuated with the words, “Are you gonna eat that?” The meal lasts for ten minutes until guards and working Class D males pick up the trays.

Binge and sleep, binge and sleep, occurs three times a day, not including commissary days. On those days, some inmates binge before the binge.

For the women of this jail, there is absolutely nothing to do except eat, watch TV and sleep. Only five Class D (ie, non-violent, mostly petty drug crimes) female final-sentenced state inmates are allowed to work a job, and none of the female jobs involve outdoor or even hallway work. The remaining Class D final-sentenced female inmates are nothing more than revenue units for the jail. The state of Kentucky pays money to the county for each state inmate because this facility is really good at providing the appearance on paper of being a ‘Class D’ facility for women. That means jobs and activities for women. In reality it’s nothing more a cement cage for women.

For these women, the days turn to months and then to years, and then they are released from the cement cage into the community and the street, with nothing to show for the time spent but massive weight gain and the thousand-yard stare.

Many of them will return.

I am seated at a steel table wearing a terry cloth towel equivalent of a tin foil hat on my head, looking at some papers. The first one is a Kentucky Jail Ministries (US 42 Florence KY 41042) church handout. It says:

I once read: God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. The world might say there are many reasons why God wouldn’t want to use you or me, but don’t worry:

Moses stuttered
Mark was rejected by Paul
Hosea’s wife was a prostitute
Amos’ only training was in the school of fig tree pruning
Solomon was too rich
Abraham was too old
David was to young
Timothy had ulcers
Peter was afraid of death
John was self-righteous
Naomi was a widow
Paul was a murderer
So was Moses
Jonah ran from God
Miriam was a gossip
Gideon and Thomas both doubted
Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal
Elijah was burned out
John the Baptist was a loudmouth
Martha was a worry-wart
Samson had long hair
Noah got drunk

Things go from bad to worse in the cell. We are already on ‘double secret probation,’ and are without phone and TV. We lost these things because Ruthie was on Sirkka’s bunk getting her hair curled for her mother’s funeral the next day. We lost these privileges for longer than we did that time when the whole cell got busted smoking cigarettes.

Sirkka becomes progressively more infantile, manipulative, sexual and annoying, until finally she and Joyce get into hurling verbal insults at each other. Sirkka writes a note to the guards asking to be moved out to a suicide cell. They move her. We do not know if she will return or not; she is running out of options and will soon have on her list of past addresses, every female cell in the jail.

I am relieved for the temporary quiet. While I do not want to attack her personally, because I like her and think she has a good heart, some of the things she did enraged me. Her food binges, for example. She would start grabbing at, asking for, and hoarding food until she had a sick amount of food in front of her. Meat patties; four, five or six slices of bread; two, three or four helpings of mashed potatoes; mounds of cake and pudding. I had not thought of my own struggle with bulimia in years, but having someone binge-eat in front of me several times a day, bothers me.

She also ate and drank everyone else’s commissary, and weaseled people out of phone time, stamps, envelopes, paper, and anything else she could get. If you were away from your bunk, she took your blankets, or worse, demanded that you take your blankets and cover her up”like a baby,” and rub her back until she falls asleep “like a baby.”

Sirkks’a latest love interest on the outside is a crack-smoking married guy with four or five kids, whom she had been sleeping with for drugs. Inside she he walks around the cell half naked, screaming, yelling, giggling, and showing tits, ass and crotch to the Class D men working the hallway.

We suspect that she came to our cell during a manic phase of a bipolar cycle. She was unmedicated. We dealt with her situation the best we could, and tried to remain kind while she was here, but we couldn’t handle her and welcomed the quiet after she left.

All psychiatric medication is prescribed by a social worker, if it is prescribed at all. Perhaps an MD or ARNP is signing off on the prescriptions, but these people never lay eyes on the inmates, nor do they perform a single assessment. Given this deficiency in medical care, I have little hope that Sirkka will ever receive proper medical intervention during her stay in this jail.

I adjust the towel on my head and make my selection from the church handout before me:

Noah got drunk.


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.”




The Bat: Frog Gravy 73

December 27, 2011

Note: Here is another Frog Gravy post by Crane Station that she has given me permission to post here. For more Frog Gravy, please visit her website at http://froggravy.wordpress.com/

In case you missed it:

Bird drawing  by Crane-Station

Birds drawn at Ricky’s World by Crane-Station. Sorry if you have seen this. I have more jail art, but am having a temporary camera issue, that will be resolved soon. Thank you for your patience!

When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.

Franz Kafka
The Metamorphosis

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail Cell 107, winter, 2008

I am turning into a bat.

I wear a cape to fend off the cold. I am going blind from the fluorescent lighting. I wear a towel on my head. I speak very little. I have hair on my face and on my body that I have no way of controlling and it embarrasses me.

My cape is my greying thin sheet. Sometimes I put the grey square scratchy wool blanket on top of the sheet, but it itches me because I am allergic to wool. When I asked for a cotton blanket, the jail staff refused because I was unable to provide documentation from an outside physician stating that I am allergic to wool.

I am in the toilet trying to brush what is left of a tooth that lost a crown. I have asked to see a dentist for more than a moth now, to no avail.

I have just taken a shower. The cell has no toilet paper, and so, when you have a bowel movement, you have to cup your hand underneath your crotch, and make a run for it, out of the toilet area and through the cell to the shower stall. Someone must stand guard, because the inside of the cell is visible to the hallway occupants. The hallway occupants are usually working Class D men, because Class D women are not allowed to work hallway jobs. No one wants the working men to see them running through the cell naked with shit and piss cupped in one hand, and so we look out for each other. In the shower, you use the other hand to depress the push-button spout that issues a ten-second spray of cold water. Some inmates use rags after they pee, but after a bowel movement, you really have to do the shower thing.

In the cell, YaYa works on a grievance about the lack of toilet paper and we all sign it. It says (picture coming with update- we currently have a nonworking camera):

We have been without tissue paper for 8 hours or more and the 2nd shift is telling us to get it on the 1st shift, they are too busy now. We are without tissue and no guards will bring us any.. We’ve asked and still no tissue. The jail gets money for state, federal and county inmates. There is no reason we should have to drip-dry. We are not animals.

The response reads:

You are given allotted amount of t/p and feminine products. You must use them accordingly.

Meanwhile, in the cell, Meg says to Lea, “I have pinkeye. Isn’t that contagious?”

“It’s incredibly contagious,” says Lea.

Christie says, “I can’t afford to get pinkeye in my eye socket. I can not afford to get pinkeye.”

I say, “Write a note to the doctor.”

Tina says, “Wash your hands.”

“I do wash my hands,” says Meg.

“They won’t do nuthin,'” says Lea. “They want you to get full-blown pinkeye, so everybody in the mutherfucker’ll get it. I’ve been here when everybody in the place had it.”

Down the hall, Harry shouts from his isolation cell, “PLEEEEASE! Somebody,HELP!!”

On the television news, the Amish men, six or seven of them, are in court in neighboring Graves County. Their hats are off and they are quiet. Displaying a large reflective orange triangle on their horse-drawn buggy does not coincide with their religious beliefs, and they are opposing the charges. Graves County is eager to accommodate the Amish in their county jail, and so the jail has pre-ordered dark gray outfits for the men.

I am actually sort of an autistic bat. I speak little, because I want to avoid conflict. It does not help that much. Inmates make fun of me anyway, because I am not from here, and because I took my case to trial. But it is okay that they make fun of me, because everyone is in pain anyway.

I write because there is absolutely nothing else to do but listen, write down what I hear, readjust my towel hat and my cape, and fold cranes out of paper scraps. For breakfast we had applesauce, sausage and cereal; for lunch we had a hamburger patty, corn, an apple and green beans, and for dinner we had a hamburger patty, sweet potatoes, carrots and cake.

I wander to the hallway window and read a new sign that is posted there, regarding a new clergy visitation policy. The letter is from the jailer, and it is lengthy. It says in part:

Clergy Visitation Policy

The staff at McCracken County Jail recognize the importance of one-on-one clergy visits in the rehabilitation of inmates…

However,to ensure the safety of…

The gist of the lengthy letter is that the jail will now limit clergy visits to entombed inmates by narrowing the times that clergy can visit, and increasing the red tape for both clergy and inmates to coordinate such visits.

The new policy is out of grave concern for inmate safety, and it is authored by the same folks who walked the bleeding pregnant woman in premature labor down the hall in handcuffs.

The newer, safer Policy:

-Clergy must now show their theological licensing credentials and documents to the jail staff, and the staff must approve the credentials.

-Hours for clergy visits will be limited to:

8:30-10:30 M-F (no weekends)

(11:30-4:30 M, T, Th,F (no weekends)

-No more than 30 minutes per visit.

-No lay clergy will be allowed. (So much for the laity! ie: nuns and deacons)

-No more than 2 visits per week.

-Clergy must be listed on a visiting list and the visiting list must be approved by the in-house jail chaplain. In other words, if you are not from the area, or if you do not happen to know any clergy in the area, you are shit-out-of-luck.

There are 450-475 inmates warehoused in this jail at any given time. Non-religious texts and educational materials are banned. The only materials allowed are specific types of religious materials. Okay. So now, we agree to get to know God better, and what does the jail do? They limit clergy visits.

To insinuate that clergy, many of whom have ministered in this jail for a long time, somehow compromise inmate safety during brief visits over the phone behind bullet-proof glass is insulting to the clergy who dedicate ministry to this jail.

Meg leaves and vacates her prime real estate and we all rotate our positions in the concrete and steel cell for four, that will soon house six again, as soon as Meg’s replacement arrives. I am in line for a choice spot on a steel bunk next to the cement wall. I started at the beach, between the toilet and the shower on the cement floor. Then I moved to the mountains on a top bunk where the lights were in my face, but now I am hoping for a cave before I lose my eyesight.

In my cave I reflect on the clergy visits and surmise that if I were to ask for a Shaman or a Unitarian, I would be deemed a witch and burned at the stake. Eventually, I dose off.

My dreams become trapped in the walls.

[cross posted at froggravy.wordpress.com]


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