RICE STREET JAIL
On March 3, 2005, I turned myself in to the Fulton County Courthouse to serve my sentence. As you'll find here, I was told repeatedly by attorneys, bailiffs, inmates, corrections officers, and counselors that I would never serve my entire sentence given the nature of my crime, my pristine history, and the overcrowding of the prison system. I believed that all the way up until the day I was released.
To give you some background, Rice Street Jail is located in downtown, Atlanta. It is probably one of the last places on earth you would ever want to be. I had a tiny bit of experience, given my accidental arrest a few months prior to turning myself in. I knew how horrible it would be, so I tried to mentally prepare as much as possible.
As you'll find, not two weeks after my incarceration, I was at Rice Street Jail when Brian Nichols escaped from a floor above mine, and killed a few officers during his escape.
Most people only spend a week or two in jail in whatever county they originate from, but what we didn't know was that they were in the midst of transferring men and boys out of Lee Arrendale State Prison in Alto, Georgia to turn it into a women's' prison due to overcrowding. That meant movement in the whole state stopped for women. While I was stuck in Fulton County for 3 months, other women were stuck in Diagnostics at Metro State Prison during that time, waiting for prison beds to open. Prior to Lee Arrendale opening, or Alto as it is called, the only two women's prisons in the state were Metro State Prison in Atlanta and Pulaski State Prison in Hawkinsville.
March 2005 to May 2005
Tuesday, March 8, 2005
I cannot tell you the torture of waiting for pen and paper in this place. They do commissary every Tuesday, and if you don’t do your form perfectly, your entire order gets rejected. And that’s the only way to get pen and paper and anything else other than the bar of soap, a roll of toilet paper and a comb that the county provides to each inmate. I’ve been here since Thursday, so finally getting pen and paper has turned my world around.
I wish I could take a picture of this contraption I have to write with. The only thing available to write with are security pens, which is just the ink barrel sheathed in very flexible plastic. It’s like writing with a noodle. I suppose this is so you can’t stab your roommate with it and cause serious harm. I started off trying to rubber band a contraband plastic spoon leftover from breakfast to the pen. It worked, but my hand cramped. Then one of the other girls showed me the trick: peeling off the clear label from a deodorant bottle and wrapping it around the pen. It makes it nice and stiff!
All things considered, I’ve adjusted okay to life in jail, since I have no choice. I will be here for at least five or six weeks, waiting for a bed at Metro State Prison, which is just up the street. All inmates have to go through the Diagnostics program where they do full physical and mental evaluations. That’s something about prison I never considered, really.
Rumor among the ‘priors’ who’ve done this before is that I should be paroled well before nine months is up. But nothing can happen by way of parole until I get into the prison system.
My journey to this pen and paper was odd, to say the least. Kelly spent the night with me the last night before turning myself in. I just couldn’t be alone. We woke up early and left in plenty of time to get to the courthouse by 9 a.m. We stopped at McDonald’s for what would be my last real meal for a long time: a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich with extra cheese, hashbrowns and a Coke. My stomach protested, but I swallowed the food anyway. I knew from my previous experience that the next two to three days would be very difficult with little sleep or food since booking into the jail takes so long.
I didn’t linger too long outside the courtroom. But letting go and saying that final goodbye to Kelly was so hard. I finally forced myself to walk into the courtroom and surrender to the same bailiff. Kelly hugged me and said nothing, only gave me a look of encouragement. The bailiff smiled when he realized who I was. He was a sturdy man in his early thirties. I recalled witnessing his demand for respect and proper behavior in the courtroom the years prior, telling young men to remove their hats, sit up straight in their chairs and to take off their sunglasses. No one defied his instructions as he barked with solid authority, but there was also a kindness to his demeanor.
As he led me back to the holding cell, he offered me the only advice he had.
“Young lady,” he said, “Keep to yourself. Don’t get hung up in everyone else’s drama.”
I told him the only part I was truly scared of was spending any length of time here at the jail in general population. My attorney instilled the fear of the jail on Rice Street into me years ago, telling me it was the last place on earth I wanted to end up. And here I was, processing into the jail.
He estimated I would only be here for a few days since they do transfers on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was optimistic that I could just endure the weekend and be on the first bus out of there.
“Once you get to the prison, it won’t be so bad,” he said. “Tell the intake person that you have years of business experience so you can be placed on a good prison detail, perhaps in the library or other administrative position. The better your behavior, the quicker you will get out of there.”
He isn’t the first person, and certainly won’t be the last, to tell me that with no prior background record and a solid home environment I will serve no more than a third of my time, or six months. The parole board, he said, will jump at the chance to send me home and free up a bed in the overcrowded system.
He put me into the holding cell, wished me luck while he locked the door, and was on his way. Sitting in that jail cell, I couldn’t fathom how I will make it through the next 24 hours, much less the 548 hours of prison time ahead of me, if I am to serve all of my sentence.
The jail cell was oddly shaped and located somewhere in the guts of the Fulton County Courthouse. The smell of dried urine hung in the air, which I suspected came from the dried urine stains decorating the end of the bench I sat on and the entire left corner of the room. The wall in front of me was a solid, plexiglass window where I had a view of deputies constantly passing by and peering in. To my left was a combination toilet and sink. A very short wall sat in front of the stainless steel cluster to provide minimal privacy when using the facilities. I vowed early in the day to drink as little water as possible to avoid using the stained toilet.
I was alone in the cell. I was afraid to be alone with my thoughts and of the many days ahead of me, but even more afraid of the inmates I would soon be surrounded with. I spent the majority of the day meditating and keeping internal conversations with myself. I contemplated how to handle my time. My options are limited, really. I could either play the part of victim and stay bitter at having been dealt a hard hand, or I could make the best of my time and use this time to grow. I have obviously chosen to go with the latter.
Mike is distraught over having to turn me over to the prison system, both scared for my well being and scared for how he would handle daily life without me. Over our final dinner, I pitched the idea to him about approaching my serving time as one big psychology experiment. I mean, how often in life was one removed from everything they know and are used to and put into a place they would never know otherwise? This experience is the ultimate in being removed from my comfort zone.
I’d been making a living in graphic design for the last twelve years. I’ve been a part of corporate America for as long as I could remember, but my passion was always in psychology. Shortly before the court date that brought me here, I enrolled in school to finish my bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Many psychologists and research groups interview and study criminals, drug addicts inmates and the like. But how many actually lived with them and became one of them? Maybe it’s my defense mechanism, but I’ve decided to embrace living within the inmate society, take notes and learn all that I can. From what I can tell already, inmates have their very own culture.
I tried not to check my watch every ten minutes while sitting in the holding cell. It’s hard getting used to the idea that I don’t have anywhere to be. I don’t have any control anymore over anything but my own thoughts. In my real life, if I don’t like my job, I can quit. If I don’t like where I live, I can move. If someone makes me mad, I can just put them on my ‘do not call’ list. But being here eliminates the ability to choose for myself. I am locked in a cell and only a deputy can decide when I can leave. There’s no quitting in jail; now throwing up my hands and walking away. I am in for the long haul.
The deputy that brought me back to the holding cell must’ve ended his shift because around 3 p.m. a different deputy came to retrieve me and take me to another cell. She wasn’t friendly, but she wasn’t mean either. She was very direct which I’m sure is part of her job. She handcuffed my hands behind my back and walked me down a long hallway. To my left and right were more empty holding cells. The elevated noise of talking women grew louder and louder as we approached the end of the hallway.
The deputy unlocked another holding cell, this one much smaller, and asked me to step inside. Once inside she removed the handcuffs and told me she would bring a sack lunch shortly. The holding cell was about eight feet wide by twelve feet long with the standard stainless steel sink and toilet set up with a short privacy wall. I took a seat on the three foot bench. With it being much shorter, I was thankful for no urine stains.
The only view I had besides three walls was out into the hallway through the standard plexiglass window. I heard a commotion outside just as a string of female inmates, all dressed in the standard Fulton County Jail scrubs and handcuffed together, came streaming down the hall. Each one slowed to look me over as she passed by my little cell. A few stopped to waved and yell unintelligible things through the glass and make gestures, leaving me to feel like an animal in the zoo. I tried my best to look brave and unaffected, but I’m sure my tear-stained face spoke volumes for me.
Two more handcuffed strands of women came down the hall, and I later realized they were all crammed into two larger holding cells. Having just appeared in court they were waiting for transfer back over to the Rice Street jail where I was headed.
As promised, the deputy returned with a sack lunch. The brown bag contained two pieces of odd smelling bologna, four slices of white bread, a packet of mustard, an apple and a red fruit drink. I didn’t have an appetite but I forced myself to eat the apple if for no other reason than to feel like I was boosting my immune system. It is impossible not to feel germ-infested while sitting in jail. I saved the sandwiches and fruit drink. I tried to get a little rest on the narrow bench because I knew the night ahead would be a long one.
The transfer ride from the courthouse holding room to intake at Fulton County Jail on Rice Street is one I will never forget. In more ways than one, it’s a sign that I am capable of spending the majority of my sentence in a very humorous state. I grew up under the impression that anything, no matter how terrible, could be dealt with by way of humor. I know it’s a defense mechanism, but I figure there are worse ways to handle such stressful situations.
The girls in the other holding were chained and shackled together one at a time and led toward the sallyport area where inmates are loaded and unloaded. When the last chain of girls was put together, the deputy came to my door and instructed that I step out and join the others. My heart raced knowing I was about to have my first interaction with the other inmates. Most of the girls were too busy telling the others about their outcomes, disappointments and occasional excitement surrounding their own situations as they played out in the courtroom. As conversations died down, the girls started to take notice that there was a stranger among them. I stood out I’m sure, wearing jeans and a St. Louis Rams sweatshirt, the only one in civilian clothing.
“You goin’ to jail?” a Latino woman asked, looking me over. She looked as though she was once young and full of life, but the years had hardened her face into stone.
“Yes,” I replied.
“You get arrested in court?” the same woman asked.
“No, I had to turn myself in today.”
The girl looked at me quizzically for a moment as if to decide her next words. The room suddenly became very quiet. I had the feeling not too many people voluntarily turn themselves in. Several girls stared at me as if to say, “you stupid fool, why wouldn’t you wait for the police to find you?” I have a feeling I’m going to be asked that a lot.
The conversation eventually picked up and I was left alone with my own thoughts, waiting as patiently as I could to get things going. A deputy finally showed up and instructed us to exit the holding cell. Slowly we were loaded on to buses and vans. There were only twelve girls so we loaded into the smaller van.
Several men filed out of another bay and loaded on to one of the two full-sized school buses. But these weren’t really school buses. They were quite menacing, built like school buses but painted a dingy gray color. ‘Fulton County Inmates’ was scrawled on the side of the bus in bold letters. Several blue and white lights were installed on the sides and top of the buses much like a police car. All the windows were covered in a thick-grade mesh fence to avoid breaking the glass to escape. The mesh was so thick it was difficult to see inside the bus.
Loading ino the van is no easy task when shackled and handcuffed to a string of women. It took great coordination to lift myself into the van without bringing down the women in front of me. It was much harder for the other women to hold their balance because they were wearing flimsy shower shoes.
Once inside, I felt like a canned sardine, squished between two women and face-to-face with another who was only three feet from my face. The first thing I noticed about her was the random and gruesome burns and scars all over her hands. Of course I was curious, but too scared to ask. I remember reading on the internet that rule number one in jail conduct is to never ask questions because inmates don’t like people who pry. That must only apply to others, because the women in here are constantly asking me questions.
She looked older, or at least appeared to be in her late 40s. Long, stringy brown and silver hair hung in chunks around her face. I’m not sure that it’d been washed or combed in at least a week. Most of her teeth were missing and the ones that remained were broken off and strained a brownish-orange color. She noticed the other girls staring at her hands.
“I burned my hands from years of addiction, smoking two crack pipes at one time,” she said. That statement alone has stayed with me. I know nothing about crack cocaine or the pipes used to smoke it, I just know that it must be a serious addiction to get burns on your hands of that nature.
I noted several police cars parked along the bay while waiting to load the van, but I had no idea they were part of the transfer convoy. It was nearly 3 p.m. and Atlanta’s afternoon rush hour traffic was picking up. As soon as the convoy reached Peachtree Street, a main artery through downtown, traffic backed up in all directions along the side streets. Traffic wasn’t a problem for us though. These buses weren’t stopping for anyone or anything, and the reality of my new life suddenly came into focus.
The police cars surrounding the convoy had full sirens blaring and lights flashing. It looked like a controlled high-speed police chase. The police on both sides of the buses were to stop traffic on the side streets. One police car floored the gas to run up to the cross street and block traffic, then the next floored the gas to move on to the next street and so on.
I never witnessed such a thing in my life, even on ‘America’s Most Wanted’. Little did I know at the time that this scenario plays out twice a day, everyday, between Fulton County Jail and the courthouse. People on the sidewalk stopped and gawked at the obnoxious convoy making its way down Peachtree Street, some pointing and nudging others standing around them. I noticed one group of citizens on the corner of a large intersection applauding as we drove by, apparently pleased that the most dangerous criminals in Georgia were finally locked up and put away.
And I was among them. It suddenly set in that I may, indeed, be surrounded by dangerous people now and for the remaining days ahead.
That’s when I began to laugh at myself. How did I get here? I wasn’t a dangerous criminal. I never brandished a weapon or killed anyone. Hell, being a practicing Buddhist, I don’t even kill spiders in my house, much less harm another human being.
I’ve always been a good kid. I’ve been a good adult for the most part, too. A real stickler for rules. I once took one of those personality tests as part of the hiring process for a job and the results said loud and clear that I am definitely rule-driven. I’m not sure what went wrong or at what point I decided to go against my better judgment.
It doesn’t matter what my crime was, what color my skin or my hair color, financial status or education. When I’m wearing handcuffs and shackled to the woman next to me, we are all treated exactly the same.
The process of booking in to the jail was as painful as I remembered. Booking involved being stripped down to nothing and ‘shook down’, which means searching your body for contraband, changing into jail uniform, collecting personal items and signing inventory sheets, fingerprinting, blood pressure and temperature check, an interview with a nurse to determine need for medication or medical assistance, classification based on your crime and mug shots. On this busy Thursday night, it took us just over 20 hours to process. Most of the time was spent sitting in plastic chairs in the common area waiting for your turn at each station. The common area is a very large, open room. The larger side of the room was reserved for men processing in, who far outnumber the amount of women. If I had to guess, I’d say there were over 300 men booking in to the jail that night, compared to just 24 women.
A line of vending machines sat in front of the room, which could be used by the inmates with permission given they haven’t changed into jail clothing yet and had money put into their property yet. A bank of pay phones sat in the middle of the room to make phone calls, which is especially important for the average jailer who is trying to find someone to bail them out. It’s sad, really, because this is the last chance to have a vending machine snack or to spend actual money before becoming a resident of the jail.
The longest part of processing is waiting for classification and a bed in the general population area of the jail. It took about eight hours for my file to be classified. During that time, 22 of us were crammed into a cell with enough seating for eight. Those of us that were without a seat on the bench had no choice but to find a spot on the cold, hard floor. I eyeballed that floor knowing by the look and smell of it that it hadn’t been mopped or washed in ages. But exhaustion took over, and eventually I went to sleep on the floor. No wonder I’m sick.
I managed to make three ‘friends’ during the booking-in process. I don’t know that I have much in common with these women, but it is easier to face going into general population when someone is on your side.
We were finally taken to our zone. I am in 1 North 300, which is the same zone I was placed into a few months ago. Luckily, everyone was still in lockdown when we got there, so it gave me a little time to get settled and to get my bearings. If it weren’t for that issue that landed me here a few months ago, this whole ordeal could’ve been awful. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I feel like an old veteran this time.
The Zone is an octagon-shaped dorm with 20 cells lining one wall on two stories.
The routine is easy to fall into.
There’s a definite schedule, but it’s sort of a guess as to when anything will happen. We have to be ready for anything at all times, but there is a shortage of deputies and staff, which really affects when anything gets done.
3 a.m. – We rise for breakfast if we choose. Usually breakfast doesn’t arrive until between 3:45 a.m. and 4 a.m. But we have to be standing on the stairs waiting. You can’t just sleep until the cart arrives. After breakfast, it’s back to our cell for lockdown.
7 a.m. – rise again, stand around outside our door waiting for mandatory head count for shift change. We see numerous head counts everyday, about every two hours. The head count at shift changes are most important. We are required to remain standing outside our door until the count clears, which means the entire jail is counted accurately and paperwork matches up with actual head count. This rarely happens on the first try, so it’s not uncommon to spend an hour and a half waiting for count to clear. Once count clears, the television comes on and the pay phones are turned on. We are then allowed to come out of our cells and spend time in the common area, take a shower, etc. Most people go back to bed.
10:15 a.m. – lunch is served. Well, we stand around and wait for lunch, just like we do breakfast. Usually we end up eating around 11:15 a.m.
Noon – After lunch, we are required to return to our cells for ‘Quiet Time’, though it’s never really quiet in here. We aren’t usually locked in our cells during this time unless either the inmates are being unusually rowdy or the deputy in charge is cranky. The rule is you have to be in a cell, not in the common area, and you have to be relatively quiet. This is my favorite time of day since it is usually pretty quiet. Most of the inmates sleep or go to someone else’s cell to play cards. I use Quiet Time to do my writing. I am more miserable on the days that we don’t have required Quiet Time (like the weekends).
3 p.m. – Official count again, then we are allowed to come out and the television comes on again.
5 p.m. to 11 p.m. – Dinner, television, phone calls and whatever else until final count and lockdown.
The food… eh, the food. There’s horrible, and then there’s what we eat. Breakfast typically consists of powdered eggs, grits, bologna, three slices of bread and a carton of milk. The only reason I get up for breakfast is the milk, but I also eat the bread when it’s available. I think I see the reason the old “bread and water” joke has been said about prison all these years.
Lunch is the same thing everyday: two slices of the odd, slimy bologna with no flavor, two slices of glossy processed cheese food, four pieces of slightly stale bread, a packet of mustard, a fat free oatmeal pie and most days an orange, though we’ve been known to get an apple now and then. On days that apples are included, I usually end up with quite a stock of them since most of the women are missing too many teeth to handle eating an apple. I don’t like the oatmeal pies; they taste nothing like Little Debbies. They are a hot commodity in here, so I can usually trade them for an extra orange. I figure all the Vitamin C I can get will help. Each meal comes with a community container of what looks like Gatorade, but certainly doesn’t taste like Gatorade. I love the rumors and speculation that there is something put into the drink to take away sexual libido in the jail system. If that’s true, it’s not working based on the things I see and hear in this dorm.
Of all the meals considered, dinner is not usually that bad. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had fish (which is mostly breading and no actual fish that I’ve seen), spaghetti, a hot dog, veal (or something like it, we’re not sure), “hamburger”, potatoes, vegetables, bread, cornbread and cake. The chicken is served on Sundays and is baked. It was a leg and a thigh so it was pretty greasy, but it was real chicken and distinguishable as such. My roommate at the time was a vegetarian so I had a double serving. Most of the dinners aren’t horrible, just bland. Seasonings and salt aren’t offered or used in cooking due to a high population (over 6,000 inmates) and possible hypertension or allergies. This is really hard for a girl who loves salt.
As far as survival things are good for the most part. The problem with county jail is that no matter how positive my attitude is, this place is so negative and depressing. The way the inmates treat each other and the way we are treated by most of the deputies is difficult. For one, it’s so loud in here most of the day. We live in a cement dorm which is one large room so everything echoes. There are 50 women in here, give or take, at any one time. Black women are loud, all but maybe 5 women in here right now are black. This is not a racist comment, merely an observation based on my experience. On top of 50 women yelling above each other, there is a television blaring full blast and deputies screaming at us over the intercom. I’m so used to my quiet apartment that the noise in this environment is by far my most difficult adjustment. Well, that and having florescent lights overhead 24 hours a day.
There is a lot of fighting here, but I’m not surprised considering there are over 50 women crammed into a small space. The thing I’m learning about black women is they can’t let anything go. Ever. I don’t care if someone walks by another person and accidentally brushes her sleeve. That’s an invite for confrontation. I can’t say that about all of the women in here, but most of them. There is always a group of three or four women that runt things by intimidation. They are always the loudest; they never talk, they just yell. Somehow I’ve gotten used to and can tune it out most of the time. I’m convinced that attitude has a lot to do with it. I do my best to stay out of the way and no one really messes with me. In fact, even the bullies always say ‘hi’. I don’t befriend them, but I haven’t felt threatened by them so far.
The worst part about being here is as I suspected: there’s nothing to do. Television and sleep. Up until today, I slept a lot. I usually sleep from 11 p.m. or midnight until about 3 p.m., getting up only for count time and meals. With me being sick sleep came easy. Now that I’m able to write I’ll feel more functional.
My commissary items finally arrived today. The only thing I had to shower with for the last five days was a cheap bar of soap that the state issues each inmate. Not that I’m prissy, but trying to wash my long hair with a bar of soap really wasn’t working. And while this is sort of funny, there won’t be any shaving of anything while I’m here. I can’t recall a time in my adult life that I’ve gone more than a week without shaving my legs and underarms.
Most of the commissary food is junk, mostly candy. There is an unwritten rule about respecting other people’s belongings, but I’d say half or more of the inmates in here are Crack Cocaine addicts. In withdrawal, they crave chocolate and sweets and will steal other people’s stuff before anyone realizes it. On days that commissary is delivered, I have to take my pillowcase to the door of the dorm where the officer reads through the inventory list and dumps my items into the pillowcase. As each inmate walks back to her cell, the other inmates that don’t have the luxury of commissary purchases stares the other down, trying to figure out a weak mark to con for some of the items. It really is a nerve-racking ordeal.
Being here is nothing like its portrayed on television. In Fulton County Jail, we don’t get a free phone call upon arrest. We don’t get one hour of exercise a day. We leave our cells a good portion of the day but we never leave the zone. I left once today for medical and I will for visitation, but that’s it. And there aren’t any bars in this jail. The doors on the cells are solid steel with a small window.
With the jail being so overcrowded, there are ten sets of bunk beds lining the zone. When I first arrived, I was forced to live in one of those beds until a bed in a cell opened up. This meant being exposed full force to the constant noise and blaring television and overhead lights. Thanks to my decision to sleep on the floor during intake, I ended up with the flu my first few nights here. I had to endure those nights in one of the exposed bunk beds.
Moving to a room can be good or bad. On the positive side, each cell has its own toilet and sink, the lights are off at night and its somewhat quieter. Your stuff is safer, too. The main variable is the roommate. If you end up with a bad roommate, you will be more miserable. My roommate experience so far has been okay. A deep secret of mine is that I find it very hard to sleep if someone is snoring. That’s my phobia about sleeping in a tiny room with someone. But so far it’s not been a problem. I doubt it will always be this good.
I was moved into a room Saturday night. I have a feeling that while it’s not supposed to, race plays a big hand in the way things are done around here. There were several other women in the bunk beds in the day room that were here before me, yet I was moved into a cell. And the roommate I was moved in with happened to be white also. I think that they do try to keep the races together as much as possible, especially the white girls since they are a rare occurance.
Chris was my first roommate. Unfortunately she left yesterday. She was white, 20-year-old. She and her active duty husband are stationed in Germany. She had a son and was married at 17. Being a former military wife, I’m all too familiar with those stories. Apparently, Chris and her husband had a rough patch three years ago, just after their son was born. When she moved out, he got angry and reported her for child abuse. No charges were officially filed, but the warrant is still active. Chris’ husband just returned from Iraq and they flew to the states to see his family in Alabama. When they swiped her passport here at Hartsfield Airport, the warrant came up and she was arrested. She was held here until Tuscaloosa County decided they wanted to come get her. She’d been waiting a week for them to decide.
Nicky is my new roommate. She’s black and 25-years-old. She’s actually very pretty, which is only a surprise because her life is a mess and centered around a Crack Cocaine addiction. She seems so intelligent, but she knows nothing other than drug addiction and prostitution. She is the first inmate who sat and just talked to me about her life. That was a real treat for me.
Ms. Kathi and I are becoming friends in a strange way. After knowing her, I can say I know someone who’s killed another person. She’s a Mexican woman, 39-years-old. She so darn gentle, though. She’s very naïve and uneducated, yet very smart at the same time. I recognized her immediately when I first got here since she was here in December. I don’t have all the details, but apparently she’s bipolar and being treated for it. She and an 85-year-old man ended up fighting and he died. I don’t know anything beyond that, but you know I’m curious. She’s been here since August waiting for trial, which is finally set for March 11.
The Psychologist and her attorney think she won’t be sentenced to life or anything, but she won’t have all the charges cleared. All I know is she’s been one of the kindest people to me. She’s shown me the ropes and been very nice company. We play cards every night to pass the time, but lately we’ve started playing Chess. It’s been a very long time since I’ve played Chess and I don’t think I was ever very good at it. I like knowing there’s something challenging to work on to build skill. She’s really helped me maintain my sanity.
Dee Dee is another girl I recognize from my last visit. She’s a 23-year-old black girl and one of the sweetest girls in here. What made me remember Dee Dee so well was our interaction the last time I was here. We were at sick call together near the nurses station and somehow the topic of STDs came up. She really didn’t know much about safe sex or what the risks were for unsafe sex. When she figured out I knew a lot about the topic, she sat for several hours asking me all kinds of questions. It’s still hard to wrap my head around knowing that there are girls out there that don’t know about the risk for HIV or other STDs.
We didn’t get much of a chance to talk this time, but something happened that truly touched me. She’s been here for several months, pregnant at that, and was released yesterday. I have no idea what the circumstances of her charges are. Right before she left, she came down to my room to find me. Now, up until then, I assumed she didn’t remember me from the last time. But she did. And she remembered my name, too. She came to my room and said, “Andrea, I just came to say goodbye and to tell you to keep spreading that positive attitude and outlook you have. It was so nice just to have someone to sit and talk to when you were here last time, and you never made me feel stupid. I just wanted to thank you for that.” She grabbed my hands and said a prayer, then left.
The other woman I recognize from December is Paula. She’s a white, 38-year-old woman and as hilarious as I remembered her to be. Not to sound judgmental, but she is a walking stereotype: stringy-hair, missing teeth and most of her stories are funny but they involve being drunk. Oh, and she has eleven kids. Regardless, she and I got along great. She left a few days after me in December and was sentenced five weeks ago with charges of burglary, armed robbery and assault. She’s been here waiting for transfer to prison. Fortunately she was transferred yesterday. She was sentenced five years. Normally she’d only serve two or so, but because they are cracking down on armed robbery charges, which is considered a violent crime, she will likely serve all of her sentence, or at least 90 percent of it.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Today marks my first full week of incarceration. It’s almost hard to believe it’s been a week already. The first half crawled by so slowly. Once I got used to the routine it seems to go quicker. And having something meaningful to do with pen and paper have made such a difference.
If you ever want to be disappointed in the human race, spend a week in jail. I know that sounds negative, but it’s true. I’ve never seen people treat each other so terribly. Very rarely do I see common courtesy and simple respect in here. I know this shouldn’t come as a big surprise considering its jail, but I’m not used to the way things work in here.
Race shouldn’t matter, but it does. The way the races interact in the real world here in the South are far different than any place I’ve lived. I’ve experienced a lot of hatred and discord between the races here in Atlanta, and even worse in jail. Everything is very separate, and it’s like there’s an unwritten law here that you have to ‘keep to your own kind’.
I had a chance to listen in on conversations earlier this week. Considering out of fifty women in here at any one time, and I am one of only five or six white women on a good day, most of my day is spent listening to black women speak their mind. I couldn’t avoid these conversations if I tried, considering the volume to which they escalate.
On one particular night I was still sleeping in a bunk in the common room. The woman in bed next to me had three or four other women standing around talking to her. One was a Mexican woman and the rest were black. They were discussing who doesn’t like whom. Of course the first statement said by one of the black women is that white women sure do like black men, but white women don’t like black women. At that moment I could hear the tension in the air as all their eyes turned toward me to wait for a response.
Shit, is there a right answer to that? I don’t dislike black women based on their race. I don’t dislike anyone based on their race. If I dislike someone, it’s a personality issue or some other reason. And there is stupidity, but that runs rampant across all races. I told her this, and the other looked at me like a deer in headlights. One of the other girls asked if I dated black men. Again, I knew there wasn’t a correct answer for this question. Regardless of my answer, I was stuck. If I said ‘yes’, they would see me as another white woman taking the last of the good black men.
I said, “no, not currently. And when I date people its based on personality, not race.”
I don’t remember a good portion of the conversation since it was during the time I had the flu. I do remember the overall consensus among them being that black women dislike all women of other races and only date black men, but love Mexican men because they are more loyal and hard workers. Mexican women only befriend other purebred Mexican men and women. This particular girl holding the conversation was clearly Mexican but not full-blooded and said Mexican women would not befriend her in the ‘real world’. As for us white folk, apparently we dislike everyone except other white people, except those that ‘steal all the good black men’.
Despite the conversation among those few women, I’ve met several black women in here who can’t stand other black women. The difference I’ve noticed in those women so far is that they all are well-spoken and at least educated through high school. High school diplomas are rare in here.
I can understand their opinion based purly on our daily life inside this little room we all live in. Never are any of the fights, arguments or screaming matches involve white women. Never do you see white women berating or bullying someone else. All of the white women here are sociable, but they keep their business to themselves and never get into someone else’s business if they can help it.
In listening to the conversation go on around me, I also learned that should I have a husband and kids someday, only one partner should hustle at a time. ‘Hustling’ is whatever illegal activity one does to make money, usually selling drugs and prostitution. The theory is that it’s not a matter of if someone will get caught, but when. While one parent is hustling, the other needs to keep a legitimate job to prepare for such circumstances. This way if the other parent goes to jail or something bad happens, the working parent can provide for the child and keep money on the incarcerated parent’s books.
On a larger scale, it seems to me that while yes, we are living in very shitty and sometimes in appropriate conditions, most of the women will complain all day long about how they deserve this or that. I’m talking about hairstyles, manicures and pedicures. Things that obviously shouldn’t be allowed in jail. I suppose it’s human nature to want those things, even when you know you’re being punished for your misdeeds.
I’ve been here a week now. Out of seven days, maybe three we’ve gone the whole day without having to go into lockdown. Lockdown means locked in our cell for bad behavior. Around here, its usually group punishment. When one group of girls do something to warrant a lockdown, we are all punished across the board. Currently it’s the same four or five girls that cause trouble every time. We’ve been to lockdown the entire day today so far. I actually prefer it, though – it stays remotely quiet in here during lockdown.
Several women in here, regardless of their race, have said that black women shouldn’t be in a position of authority. Considering the high population of the black race in Atlanta, this whole system (court, jail, etc.) is staffed by black personnel. In my three years in ‘the system’, I can count on one hand how many white employees I’ve seen including now. Even the judges. Every single one of our deputies here are black. Even I have to admit that the way we are treated most of the time is over the top and inappropriate. I understand we’re in jail, but to cures at inmates and to scream at them unnecessarily only escalates the situation.
Tonight we had the nicest Deputy in the entire system so far. She was the Deputy on duty the night I processed in. She was so kind, and tonight I noticed how the inmates cooperated with her because she didn’t enter the zone screaming and yelling. She speaks in a normal tone and makes requests instead of demands, unless there is a true need.
On a side note, she remembered me from last week. She smiled real bright and said, “Hey you! How you doin? You all right? You need anything?” I was caught off guard by her blatant kindness since I’m so used to the ugliness already. It really did brighten my day.
In watching the way the inmates and deputies interact with each other this week, it’s obvious that the deputies love their power and control and the way the inmates react. I think they are addicted to the chaos. Perhaps they are miserable in their lives and with themselves and they bring that to work with them.
Just like any other institution, there are always going to be a few bad seeds. Well, in jail there’s more bad seeds than good. As of right now, there are two particular girls I can’t wait to see released. I could spend days listing reasons why.
Most of the women in here call Frieda “The Babysitter”. Never in my life have I seen such a superiority complex. I think she forgets she’s in jail like the rest of us. She’s a black woman in her late 30s and she’s all mouth. She never talks, she just screams and barks orders at everyone else. She is one of the two inmates that can’t go a full day without talking back to the deputies, which always lands us in lockdown. She gets released in sixteen days. I’m officially counting down.
Redd is the other one I can’t wait to see go, and in some ways she’s worse than Frieda. Red is black, 23-years-old and all mouth as well. But Redd is much louder than Frieda. She’s openly gay. Not only does she look like a walking stereotype, but she makes regular announcements of her gayness. If you don’t know her, you would think she is a man. Even more strange, Redd wears her jail uniform the way thug men wear their pants on the street. They are about three sizes too large and she wears the waistband well below her ass. It looks stupid on the street, so it sure as hell looks stupid in here.
Redd is usually the loudest person in here. The deputies will yell at her over the intercom, and I’ll be damned if she doesn’t yell back at them every single time. Even if she’s at fault, she can’t let anything go. It’s usually over something stupid like a card game with another inmate. And every time, it lands us all in lockdown.
Friday, March 11, 2005
There is some crazy shit going on around here. I wish we knew something solid.
Today was a normal trial day in Fulton County’s court system. My friend Kathi was due to start her trial today, finally. Today would’ve been jury selection. This poor woman has been rotting away in this fucking jail for 7 months now waiting for this trial. Well, due to tragic events, she never made it to the courtroom.
The alarm in our zone sounded around 8 a.m. this morning, shortly after court would’ve started. We didn’t pay much attention since they sounded yesterday but went off after a few minutes. Usually it means someone smuggled a cigarette somewhere and set off a smoke alarm. Around 9 a.m., they sent us all to lockdown. We figured it was group punishment for said cigarette.
It’s now 12:30 p.m. and they just let us out for lunch. They wouldn’t even let us eat in the common room area. Rumor has it we’ll be on lockdown the remainder of the day.
I was surprised to see Ms. Kathi since I knew she was supposed to be in court today. Everything is rumor and I’m not sure I believe anything I hear. I don’t know where people get their information, so I’m really skeptical. The most recent rumor is that four guys that were transferred from the jail to the courthouse this morning, all facing life in prison, escaped and killed a deputy in the process. At first we heard one of them strangled her, but now we’re hearing she was shot. Since there was an escape, we’ll continue to be in lockdown.
The whole thing is tragic, especially if a deputy was killed. Also, the entire trial system is going to be screwed up since they cancelled all regular court hearings (bonds, probation revocation, etc.). This could also delay all releases for several days. I’m lucky in this case – this doesn’t really affect me at all. I know it seems crazy that one day of cancelled court could affect so much, but this is one of the busiest and most overcrowded systems in the country.
It’s very concerning since we have no idea what this means for us, either in the short term or the long term. Not to say they’d punish us directly but I can see them taking or limiting our already limited privileges. Guess we’ll see.
Either way, I’m locked in this cell for awhile, so I might as well write.
Rodriquez is a girl that processed in with me. She’s a tiny little girl, a beautiful, 20-year-old Spanish girl that doesn’t speak any English. You can tell she’s terrified. The Deputy told us she was brought here with three other guys who also don’t speak English and she was basically charged due to guilt by association. This is very common in Georgia. Apparently in this case the group of people were arrested for a crime, but since no one speaks English and can’t or won’t take responsibility for the charges, everyone gets charged with all the charges and its left up to a Judge and the system to sort them out.
If it really is guilt by association, this is very unfortunate for this girl. The charges are serious: drug trafficking, possession of crystal meth, 12 pounds of marijuana and 200 oz. of cocaine, possession of two firearms and I think a few other charges. Her bond was set at $100,000. If she doesn’t get those charges cleared, she will see some serious time.
Imagine being thrown into this place without speaking a word of English. Hell, I speak English rather well and I was terrified coming in here. Not to mention she’s so tiny she could never hold her own in here against someone. Because there wasn’t a translator on hand, she ended up signing all her paperwork blindly. I tried to help, but I only know basic Spanish and I have forgotten most of it. My heart goes out to her, though.
Another girl in here speaks fluent Spanish and sort of became a translator, which is how I know as much as I do. She hasn’t been able to keep any food down since she got here. The second day she was here, she learned she was just over one month pregnant and they had to put her on an IV since she was so dehydrated.
As if she didn’t have enough trauma going on, she’s had to deal with the ugliness of Frieda and Redd. The girl that is helping to translate didn’t really participate actively but she was telling Frieda and Redd words or phrases in Spanish and they kept yelling them at this poor girl. I don’t know what all they were saying, but Redd was yelling, “I’m going to make you such my pussy, little girl!”
The poor girl just sat there and cried and looked so terrified. Having to sit here and listen to this and just watch the whole thing happen… I just feel so helpless that I can’t really do anything to help this girl. I can’t just ask them to stop or say anything as that’s an invitation for confrontation. If I go up against one of them, I go up against all of them. The most I could do was wait until they were bored with bothering her, then I went over and sat with her. I tried to comfort her. So did a few of the other nicer girls.
A few nights ago I woke up in the middle of the night to hear there was a medical emergency downstairs. I found out the next morning it was Rodriguez and that she was starting to lose her baby. She returned from Grady Hospital the next morning. She managed to keep the baby, but now they have her in the infirmary to monitor her constantly. I’m happy that she’s somewhere safe away from the animals.
This is just one negative experience I’ve had since I’ve been here, but this is the saddest one so far. I’ve always despised bullies and their ugliness, so its sometimes hard to adjust to an environment that breeds the ugliest ones.
Fortunately, Frieda is out of here in fifteen days. Redd is here for a good long time, since I think she either killed someone or seriously harmed someone. It doesn’t matter, really, since they will eventually leave and new bullies will come in to take their place. I’m convinced that attitude must have something to do with it. Somehow I’ve managed to stay off of their radars because neither of them really mess with me.
Having been in lockdown for nearly 24 hours and having almost no other human contact, I’ve been alone with my thoughts. Among other things, my mind keeps wandering to all the things I want to do when I get out of here. I realize now I have been slack ass about my Master To Do List this year, the one I revise every year on January 1. Admittedly, I was not feeling too inspired at the time this year. But take a person out of their busy life, throw them in a 6 x 8 cell with nothing to do and magic happens.
I cringe just thinking about the pressure of immediately finding a high-paying job as soon as I’m released. Missing one single payment to Ben could take away my freedom and put me away for the next twenty years. But I’m trying to do this list regardless of what financial hurdles stand in my way.
I wonder if this experience is the universe’s way of saying my life needs to take a different turn. I’ve always tried to make the most of every day and create the best opportunities to live life to the fullest and overcome obstacles. But being taken from a familiar life really forces me to slow down and take stock of everything. I’ve always known that Ben and this trial have dominated my life for the last three years but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that other areas of my life have suffered.
I realized this when I was writing to Alison last night and asking her about life at the AMTREC office. I first spoke to Mike, who said Tom has been calling my cell phone several times a day, leaving voicemails and demanding a call back. Suddenly I realized that despite leaving my outside life and being locked up having stresses of its own, I honestly believe I’m far less stressed right now that in my daily life working for Tom.
Yeah, sure. I knew this before I was sent to jail. But I refused to do anything about it since the salary was too good and considering the financial predicament I am in. Coming to jail certainly forces change. I know it seems ridiculous that Tom could cause that much stress, but he really does.
My biggest goals when I leave here, outside of finding a job, include:
1. Publish something (article, book, essay, whatever).
2. Re-enlist in the Georgia State Defense Force
3. Become EMT certified, and hopefully find a station to volunteer as a firefighter
4.Get a Mac and a camera to continue doing contract work
5. Build an empire. Learn as much about business and build my own dream instead of someone else's.
Friday, March 11, 2005
Well, I attempted to visit Andi last night but was not successful. I did talk to her, though. She was in an exceptionally good mood, and not just because the hamburger she had for dinner was easily distinguishable as a hamburger (the other day she told me that dinner was good but she wasn’t sure if it was chicken or veal - and then it turned out it was a burger). She was up because she got her first mail from Rae and Kelly S. It really cheered her up a bunch.
Keep the mail coming to her!
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Finally, we’re out of lockdown for now. I think all of the jail systems in the state were locked down. Little did we know that the guy who escaped the other day caused the biggest manhunt in the history of Georgia.
Because we were able to watch the news today, we finally know what really happened. Brian Nichols, and inmate here at the jail, shot a female Deputy near the holding cell area at the courthouse. He took off through the courtroom, shot and killed the judge, the court clerk and another deputy. Then he ran out of the courthouse, caught MARTA to Lenox Station and went to the house of a customs agent. He shot and killed the agent, gook his ID, money, etc. Finally he was caught last night in Duluth.
Well, lockdown has finally ended. I thought I was in hell when I first got to jail, then they locked me in a cell for two damn days. Just goes to show you things can always get worse.
But we’re out now and feeling much better. I got my first shower since Tuesday. Yeah, that’s about five days of sitting in my own filth. Talk about feeling disgusting. It’s bad enough that I can’t shave. I also finally got to talk to Mike this morning. What I would give to meet him at the Georgia Diner for breakfast!
Seems like a lot of information we got about the shooting incident was incorrect, which is what I suspected. I had no idea that it was such a big deal that it’s been national news for quite some time. I imagine you all have been wondering about me and I’ve been oblivious to all of the action.
I’m getting used to life here, I guess. My stomach has mostly adjusted to the food, except I still refuse to eat breakfast, which is almost always grits. And I swear, if I come home to bologna in the fridge, someone will die!
I imagine I’ll be grieving things as they sink in – things I miss in my daily life. And I’ll deal with them as they come. But I can already tell the one thing that’s going to bother me the most for awhile and that’s being stuck inside. Anyone who knows me knows I despise cold weather and that I count the days until Spring. I absolutely live for Spring and I swear I transform into a completely different person in beautiful weather.
Last night while watching the ten o’clock news, the weather in the bottom corner said 67 degrees. I know if its 67 degrees outside that late at night, it must’ve been a beautiful day and a very nice evening. Instantly my eyes started to water at the thought of being home and in my hammock. Having just endured Winter, I am so ready for Spring. Being the optimist that I am, I remain hopeful that I’ll be home in June.
I’m surprised I haven’t really cried yet. I have no doubt something will hit me eventually, but I have accepted that this is life as I know it for awhile. That’s about it for now. This sounds weird, but I’m hoping for a much less exciting week with no lockdowns.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Today would’ve been Pop’s 55th birthday. It’s been on my mind all day. Strangely, it’s not bringing me down. I’ve certainly reached a point where I can smile when I think about him. Despite it being no relation to his birthday, I feel a little bit of guilt when I think about him and I’m sitting her in jail. I guess it’s normal to not want to disappoint your parents.
Today was just another day. Fortunately, I was able to sleep most of the day away. It sounds depressing, but I like days like this when I’m really sleepy. Last night was the first time they let us have “recreation”. I took it since it was a chance to get out of these four walls. Recreation consists of us going over to a small room with a basketball and net. The upside is the wall only goes halfway up and the rest is covered with mesh fencing so we actually get fresh air. It was 73 degrees at 8 p.m., so it felt wonderful. Ms. Kathi and I just walked the perimeter of the small room but it was better exercise than we get otherwise.
I should get to start reading the newspaper tomorrow. I saw it on the commissary list last week but didn’t really think to order it. It says the price is $5.00 but I wasn’t sure how it would work. Ms. Kathi said they bring the paper to me everyday, minus the want ads, and then I have to turn it in when I get the next day’s paper. Seems strange to me, but it doesn’t surprise me. They know inmates can be rather resourceful.
We’ve had a surge of white women in our zone lately. We’re up to at least ten right now. One woman is here for a probation violation that is twenty-seven years old. That’s crazy and a waste of tax dollars. She’ll sit here for a few days, go before a judge and go home.
I’ve been talking to women about prison and the more I hear, the more I’m ready to get the fuck out of here. I know this is the hardest part, but I am getting the impression that Diagnositcs at Metro is not much better. I’m told the food is better, the commissary is better, recreation outside (not within walls) is on a regular basis, visitations are face-to-face, and I’ll get to shave. I still won’t have access to books, but at least I won’t be confined to this room 24 hours a day with these animals.
Here’s a strange thing about jail: I’ve always heard jokes and assumptions about all women in jail being lesbians, but I thought it was just humor and stereotypes. I guess it would make sense in prison where some people spend life and have no other choice. But in county jail where the average stay is anywhere from three days to one month?
I sat with a few woman I can openly talk to last night and we did the math – by our calculations, 75% of this zone is openly gay, or at least “gay for the stay”, as they say in jail. So… only gay women commit crimes in this county? And this isn’t statistically based on rumor that a person is gay, this is straight from the person’s mouth. Most of these women have girlfriends that visit them here, too.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
In the grander scheme of things, I have a lot to smile about today!
1. I managed to trade my grits for an extra milk at breakfast this morning.
2. I got my firs pieces of mail: a letter from Rae and a letter from Kelly S., which also included a clipping with a photo of Vin Diesel!
3. Ms. Kathi taught me how to stiffen my pen using the plastic label from the state-issued deodorant bottle.. It’s ingenious.
4. I finally got to talk to Kelly. Only for a few minutes, but it was wonderful.
5. We got thirty minutes of recreation time today, so I got a taste of the fresh air.
6. I also got to talk to Mike. He tired to visit but couldn’t since he can only visit on certain days.
7. Ms. Kathi gave me some depilatory for my underarms!
The most important part of today was finally getting to talk to Kelly. I’m not falling apart without him, but there is a dark cloud hanging over me since I’ve not had communication with him other than through Mike and sending him letters. When I heard the call start to process, tears instantly jumped into my eyes.
We couldn’t talk but for a few minutes since I completely forgot he was working. But I get to call him and talk to him longer tomorrow. Even better, I found out it only costs under $3.00 for each 20 minute phone call. That’s cheaper than we thought it would be for collect calls. I’m relieved more for Kelly’s sake, as he is already carrying enough financial burden because of me.
Mike tried to visit tonight. I was told by an in-processing deputy that people from out of town are considered special visitors and they are allowed to visit any time. Since Mike has a Florida driver’s license still, he’s considered an out of town visitor. He called today and they told him that my visitors list is approved, which is good.
Not only did he not get to visit, but the deputy he dealt with was very rude to him. She told him he couldn’t visit except during normal visiting hours and asked why he thought he was special.
He said, “She told me since I’m from out of town I’m considered a special visitor and I can visit anytime.”
The Deputy said, “Well, she’s in jail and she doesn’t make the rules!” That was so rude and uncalled for, but that’s normal and that’s how they treat us around here.
The most interesting news of the day is that I removed three inches of underarm hair, thanks to Ms. Kathi. She was so kind to give me what was left of the depilatory that she had. The funny thing is the label says, ‘specially formulated for black men’s beards’. Well, whatever. It worked on my underarms. The legs will have to wait until commissary next week. I smell like rotten eggs now, but that’s a small price to pay for smooth underarms.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
I think today has to be a vent day. If there’s anything county jail is teaching me its tolerance of others, tolerance of stupidity, and how to pick your battles. I’m a very non-confrontational person. I always have been and I always will be. Just ask my sister and brother – both of them loved a good fight, and it would just make them more mad to rarely get a reaction from me.
I hate bullies. I can’t think of much else in life that I despise more than someone who bullies others to feel good about themselves. I guess I despise them so much because I was bullied for two years in grade school. My birth mother was also a bully herself, to me and others. I just learned to fear bullies, not how to respond to them, so they just walked all over me.
As an adult I learned the power of overcoming my insecurities. In my day-to-day life I don’t run across bullies, so coming to jail has been a true test of who I’ve become.
Today I was forced to make a decision: either stay quiet and allow the biggest bully in here to keep harassing an older lady on medication, or say something and risk confrontation. For the most part, I just stay quiet because I don’t need to get involved in trouble in here. And speaking up against one of the bullies means their cronies will step in and help kick your ass. But on days like today, I felt it was right with ever fiber of my being to do what I was afraid to do in school – speak up and defend. It was happening right in front of me and was impossible to ignore.
Mrs. Stephenson has been here for three months. She’s 50-years-old, but she’s had a very rough life with some illnesses and looks like she’s well past her 70s. Ms. Kathi said she was much better mentally when she first got here, but she seems to deteriorate as time goes on because of the medication they give her, one of them being Lithium. When I speak to her, I can tell that she’s not all there. She’s just an old lady who keeps to herself in a very rough environment.
Ms. Kathi tells me Mrs. Stephenson is here on two felony charges of terroristic threats. Her father passed away and left her brother as the beneficiary, but he refuses to release any of the funds due to Mrs. Stephenson because he was trying to find away to keep the money for himself. As sick and poor as she is, she begged her brother for money but he refused. She was mad at him and she threatened him on the phone one night, so he had her arrested and charged. She had a bond of $500 three months ago, but she has no money to pay it to get herself out. Her sister sends her a letter once in awhile and puts a few dollars on her books each month, but that’s all she has.
The community shower is in the common room, the area where we spend the majority of our day except for quiet time and sleep. When showering, we are out in the middle of everyone. As if that isn’t intimidating enough for a normal person, much less a scared old lady, the first time she took a shower when she first got here, the two bullies and a few others harassed her and scared the shit out of her. The only thing between that shower and the other forty women in the zone is a flimsy plastic curtain that doesn’t really cover everything. Ms. Kathi said they kept opening the curtain on her and throwing cups of cold water on her.
Since that incident, she refuses to shower and instead takes a whore’s bath, using a washcloth and soap at the sink in her cell. You can’t smell her unless you are right up on her, and even then, she just smells like an old lady. The only problem is that her roommate has to live with it, but she understands the situation and she’s fine with it.
This afternoon, we were all standing outside our doors waiting for shift change and for the deputy to come around for count. Ms. Stephenson’s door is two doors down from mine. Frieda was sitting on the top of the stairs, which she should’ve been downstairs in front of her own door. She and another inmate started yelling cruel things at Ms. Stephenson. Ms. Stephenson went into her room to get some water, and more likely to escape the name calling, when Frieda ran down to our end of the hall calling her “Pissy Wissy”. She got to Ms. Stephenson’s door and yelled at her that she was going to lock her in her room since she refused to shower. With that, she swung the steel door shut.
If you close our cell doors all the way, they automatically lock. The only way to get them open is to hope and pray the deputy on duty in the control room will cut you some slack and release the door. Usually they won’t. when people accidentally lock themselves in or out of their room, which happens frequently, they are stuck in there as punishment until the next time they have to release all the doors. This was at 4 p.m. and the next time the doors would be released would be around 2:45 a.m. for breakfast. Knowing she would miss dinner, Ms. Stephenson ran and let the door hit her and knock her over to avoid being locked in. That just provided more entertainment for Frieda and her friends. That alone pissed me off.
Frieda didn’t leave the immediate area, and Mrs. Stephenson sat down on the floor on the other side of me. I don’t think she was looking for protection, but she knows I’m safe since I always talk nicely to her. Frieda just kept on yelling obscenities at her and calling her names. Finally I’d had enough. I couldn’t just stand there and not say anything.
I didn’t want to be confrontational, and I really wasn’t trying to teach Frieda a lesson or make her feel intimidated. All I wanted was for her to leave Mrs. Stephenson alone. At the moment, the gamble seemed worth it. I guess Frieda realized I was staring at her while contemplating my next move. She glared at me as if I were next, so I knew I had to either say something or just stay quiet forever. If I didn’t say something then, she would know I’d never confront her about anything.
“Frieda, just leave her alone,” I said.
“Huh?” she said.
“Just leave hear alone. She’s not bothering you or even talking to you at all,” I said calmly.
“She stinks and she don’t never take no shower.”
“Then stay away from her. She never comes near you so you shouldn’t ever have to smell her.”
“Well, you don’t have to sleep in the same cell as her.”
“Neither do you. Your room is downstairs and hers is right here. That’s plenty of distance between you,” I said, careful to stay calm and keep an even tone.
With that, she kept mumbling at me, trying to get me all excited, but I wouldn’t give her the pleasure of a fight. She wandered off. In my mind I was successful.
Mrs. Stephenson wants out of this jail so bad that she’s pleading guilty to the charges. She’s hoping the judge will just give her probation. She’s said she doesn’t think she’s guilty but if she has to sit here and wait for trial she’ll be in this place for well over a year. Women who are waiting for murder trials even have been hear for over a year.
I’m trying very hard to practice tolerance in a place where only ignorance is spoken. I still say its going to take a whole lot more than this place to break my spirit.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
I had a little bit of false excitement this morning. My roommate was due in court for a hearing. At lunch, the deputy said, “I need both girls in 316, Settlemoir and Harris, to get ready for court now.”
“What?” I said. I have no reason to appear in court since I’ve already been sentenced. I had a feeling it was a mistake. Transfers for Superior Court only happen at 4 a.m. Probation violation hearings happen during the day, and I knew I didn’t qualify for a probation hearing. The only thing I could think of was that maybe I was getting a reconsideration hearing since my attorney’s office filed for one with my judge.
It was an error as I predicted. Just outside the door to our zone, the deputy figured out he’d called the wrong name, even though I’d asked him to check several times.
It doesn’t take much to qualify an event as “exciting” around here.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
It feels really good to have two and a half weeks under my belt. Things have been hectic – card playing, chess games, my first visitation, new roommate, mail call and lots of sleep. Whew! One day just feels like the next. We eat, we sleep. People fight and argue. Lather, rinse and repeat.
Today has been a bit of a tough pill to swallow. I’m feeling very sensitive to my environment. It reminds me of a conversation Kelly and I had a few years ago about his Bosnia deployment with the Army. He told me that he never came to like, he just got used to it. But even when he was used to it, it didn’t mean every day was easy.
I think its because I didn’t get much sleep last night. The new girls in the outside bunks stayed up laughing and yelling all night. It’s just constant noise 24 hours a day now. And I don’t mean a low rumble. Forty-six women yelling all day long is just really irritating to me today. Not to mention it’s the first day of Spring and its 70 degrees outside according to the television.
There was some residual talk of my confrontation with Frieda for awhile. I guess not too many people stand up to her, especially white girls. One girl told me she thought the reason Frieda backed down was because I talk with some sense, since most women in here, especially the ones like Frieda, can fight with their hands but not with their minds. I suppose that could be true, but I don’t know what I did that was so special other than ask nicely for her to leave Mrs. Stephenson alone. Maybe being nice was the key. Other girls think its because women like Frieda fear white people and their resources. I kind of chuckle thinking about my lack of resources, though I won’t tell them that.
Either way, I’ve gotten them to leave her alone for the most part. I had my first real cry a few nights ago. It wasn’t about me; it was the pure frustration of that situation and having to constantly tolerate people treating each other this way. Two of the girls I consider my friends were the only ones who saw me cry. They kind of freaked out about it since I’m usually the one counseling others and I’m always upbeat and chipper. They didn’t know how to react. After a few minutes I was fine and back to my usual self.
In keeping with having the full jail experience in one of the most ghetto jails in the country, Denise talked me into putting plats in my hair last night. Plats, also known as corn rows, are the braids that black women wear in their hair. I have seven lines of plats. Everyone loves the look. Me? Eh. It’s fun, but not something I’d ever do outside of here.
I didn’t tell Kelly or Mike about it and figured I’d surprise them at visitation. Kelly loved it, or so he said. Hopefully I’ll see Mike today to see what he thinks. I wish I could take a picture.
In a random act of kindness, I asked Kelly to put $25 on Ms. Kathi’s books. She has no one on the outside at all and has never had money on her books for commissary. It was partly his idea as well. I think I’m going to sacrifice some of my commissary every week and have Kelly put money on her books on a regular basis. I don’t need that much junk anyway.
I’ve become a trusted friend to her, something she’s never had in jail or in real life. She asked me to read her discovery file, which is all the evidence and information for her upcoming trial. I was very flattered since I believe a person’s discovery file is very personal and intimate. To me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
It was strange to read about the details of her case, as I know her as nothing but a very kind, gentle woman. She’s bipolar according to an evaluation she had done a year ago, but she’s medicated. I’ve never seen the un-medicated side of her, so I don’t have anything to compare it to.
Her complete list of charges are one count of murder, two counts of felony murder (murder while committing another crime, i.e. burglary) and one count of aggravated assault. I guess I can say I know someone who’s killed another person. Its likely she won’t be acquitted altogether but after reading her file I’m sure the murder charges will be reduced. I’ve got a lot of writing to do about her and her story, but I think I need to process it and examine it first. Regardless, it doesn’t change my opinion of her, for better or worse.
Denise, who is black, initiated a conversation with me yesterday about prejudice and racism. It was great to talk openly about such topics, though this is the last place I expected it.
Speaking of racial differences, we had a very interesting experience Friday. The funeral service for one of the deputies that Brian Nichols shot and killed took place and the Fulton County deputies were encouraged to attend. Deputies were brought in from the rural counties to secure the jail Friday. The two in our zone were from Rockdale County. From what I understand, Rockdale County doesn’t see very much action.
What a difference! Lunch on Friday was the first time we didn’t have deputies entering the zone cussing and screaming at us. The entire zone was just different. Everyone lined up as they were supposed to and silent the entire time. The deputies treated us with great respect, even saying, “Good afternoon” to everyone. I said out loud, “Man, transfer me! These deputies are really nice!”
I swear, eight black girls turned to me and said, “That’s because they’re white!” Being the only white girl in the vicinity, I agreed – silently. The point is, I think this proves my theory that these inmates respond to the way they are treated most of the time. I’m not saying they would necessarily act like angels with nicer deputies, but its obvious that it would make a huge difference in the chaos and behavior.
Some of the girls have been teaching me the ropes as far as food survival goes. They take a bag of either regular potato chips or sour cream and onion chips and crunch them up in the bag. If they have some Vienna Sausages or summer sausage that’s available through the commissary, they add that to the bag. They also save the juice from the Vienna Sausages to use and add that to the mixture, then shape it into a log. It kind of looks like a burrito. Then they take a packet of squeeze cheese, which is sort of like Easy Cheese but in a single serve pouch, and squirt that on top. They eat it plain, on crackers or with corn chips. That’s what they call a “Baked Potato” in jail. This ‘treat’ happens once or twice a week for some of the inmates, depending on how much commissary they have available. I’ve tried it. I think it’s okay except for the Vienna Sausages. It’s not as gross as I thought it would be.
My recent roommate told me about a Cake recipe that I’m anxious to try after Commissary this week. They take several Duplex cookies or Oreos and remove the cream, then crunch up the cookie portion. Add a little milk, enough to make it moist and cake-like. Then they spread the cream mixture across the top, and sprinkle any other candies that are available such as M&Ms. Robin, my roommate, just transferred here from Douglas County where they were lucky enough to have hot chocolate on their commissary. Apparently hot chocolate can be used to make several things, including mixing it in with the cookie cream to make a chocolate icing. I’ll have to give a proper review of this Cake after I try it.
My cast of characters in this experience is growing, but these folks just can’t go unmentioned. I’m serious about this place being a circus – complete with a bearded lady.
Another white girl joined our ranks today. Her name is Stephanie, and this isn’t her first trip to Fulton County Jail or Zone 300. She’s well known around here. She’s really strange – I don’t think she’s all there. But she’s intelligent and fairly nice for the most part. She’s in here for stalking an Atlanta Falcons football player. I mean serious stalking – she knew his social security number and everything. Apparently this time when she was found on his property with a handgun. She’s already violating her probation by being here. I know her probation also included not having access to computers or the internet, where she also stalked this football player.
Friday, March 18
Damn. Lockdown again today. We were told for just one shift, until 3 p.m., but who knows. Its for another funeral from the courthouse shooting. It’s hard not to be selfish, but Fridays are the worst days for lockdowns. We only get visitation on Fridays and Sundays so no visitation for today. Also, no mail call on weekends so today we probably won’t get to send or receive mail. It won’t be too bad if it’s just this shift since I try to sleep until 3 p.m. everyday anyway.
Wow. I am completely overwhelmed and speechless. I had my first cry today and it was a good one. But unlike most cries in here it wasn’t mournful, upsetting or depressing. My tears were of complete and utter joy.
My friend Jill sent a letter saying my blog community has decided to wear handmade, old-school friendship bracelets in red, black and white until I am released from prison. Are they nuts? I am so touched and flattered. I don’t even know what to say to that. I’m just a girl going to prison, and people go to prison everyday.
Monday, March 21, 2005
There was a faint rumor that beds opened up at Metro State Prison last night and that I might get to transfer today. Didn’t happen, but I didn’t expect it to. I know miracles happen, but not after being here two and a half weeks with the system all backed up from Brian Nichols.
I thought I would be disappointed, but I’m not. I don’t think I’m mentally prepared for transfer to prison. I guess I’m prepared to be here for five weeks at least. It just never occurred to me it could be sooner. Everyone keeps saying the transfer to prison will be a good thing. I agree, but all transitions in this system are the most difficult to me. Fear of the unknown, I think. Even though I knew how awful this place would be when I got here, at least it was familiar. I knew what to expect, and I was mentally prepared to be on guard. I’ve been here two and a half weeks now so I know the people, the rules, the protocol and the environment. Despite being miserable, it’s still comfortable and familiar.
I keep hearing bits and pieces about Metro from women who’ve been there before or know of someone who’s been through the prison system. None of this builds solid expectations, though. I will have to start over with finding ‘safe’ people to be around and learn the hard way again who I need to avoid.
Today was a pretty good day considering. I slept until 3 p.m., getting up only for meals and count time. It was much needed. The deputy woke me up at 9 a.m. for my newspaper finally. I ordered the service on last week’s commissary, but it takes a week to kick in. I’m really happy about having a link to the outside world.
I was awoken again at 10 a.m. for mail call. Talk about pay dirt. People look at me with such envy during mail call since I get mail every single day. Imagine their surprise today when I got mail all the way from Canada.
It was also a good dinner tonight – spaghetti, lettuce (a.k.a. salad), cornbread and cake, which I think is horrid. I traded my cake for a chunk of pineapple. I hope it doesn’t kill her, she's a known diabetic.
Mike is going to try sending some books to me. The official jail rules are that the books must be spiritual in nature and must come directly from the bookstore or the publisher. I’ve pretty much had enough of Christianity since I’m at odds with God right now and it’s practically shoved down your throat here. I did a lot of reading about Buddhism before coming here, so we are testing the system to see if books on that topic are accepted. For fun, Mike wants to send some books on Witchcraft in a separate package to see what happens.
Wednesday, March 22, 2005
I realized its been awhile since I posted a ‘positives list’. Being in jail should be no exception. It’s amazing how long my list is given the circumstances.
1. Mail everyday for a week and a half (20 letters total!)
2. Pictures of Stuart and Missy, my cats, arrived. More pics from Kelly on the way.
3. Successful commissary order three weeks in a row.
4. I acquired an extra mattress so now I have four inches of padding over steel.
5. I have depilatory to remove leg and underarm hair.
6. Today marks three weeks of incarceration.
7. I have friends here and keep making new ones.
8. Frieda, the bully, is finally leaving in two days if all goes well.
9. Said bully has made peace with Ms. Stephenson, the older lady, and leaves her alone now.
10. I am able to talk to Kelly and Mike everyday.
11. Despite being in a really nasty jail, I’ve only seen bugs. No rodents so far.
12. Mike is very kind to keep money on my books and to send me reading material.
13. I am blessed with the best friends in the world.
14. I’ve been lucky with four consecutive good roommates.
15. Though sometimes difficult, I still manage to overcome diversity and obstacles.
16. I’m learning so much from people I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to associate with.
17. I saw a beautiful full moon in a stormy sky.
18. Dinner was identifiable as a chicken patty tonight.
19. I am mentally prepared for prison transfer.
20. I am blessed for everything Kelly is doing to keep my house and finances in order. He is literally living life for me out there.
21. I have an excuse to eat junk food. And a lot of it.
22. My new bathroom is coming along from what I hear.
23. Bonus: ceiling fan installed in the bedroom.
Things I’ve learned and obstacles I’ve overcome:
1. I have very few female friends in my real life, but in here I’m forced to live with 47 other women every minute of every day.
2. Patience is a virtue.
3. People really do judge the entire world based on the tiny bubble they live in (myself included).
4. Stereotypes usually do stem from the truth.
5. Money and material objects mean very little when it comes down to it.
6. Nothing is guaranteed in ‘the system’.
7. Authority is often abused.
8. Even if its for the worst, you really can and will adapt to your environment.
9. Some people need to be loved more.
10. People will keep repeating the same behaviors expecting different results.
11. Learning true tolerance and patience takes time.
12. You really do choose how external forces will affect you.
13. You have a choice as to how you will react to any situation regardless of how bad it is.
14. If you ask stupid questions, you’ll probably get stupid answers.
15. Just because it smells like chicken and sort of looks like chicken doesn’t mean it’s actually chicken.
16. There are occasions in which having underwear would be nice.
17. What you put out you will get back.
18. You are surrounded by lessons to be learned. You just have to pay attention to them.
19. Body hair grows at an alarming rate when ignored.
20. If I know nothing else, I know I am loved.
21. No matter how strong you are, you will have weak moments.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
I’m outside my door again, sitting on the cool concrete during Quiet Time. It’s so hot and humid in here. They still refuse to turn on the cold air. Mold and mildew must be growing because my allergies have been bothering me all day and night.
Kelly came and visited this morning. Everyone that seems him says he’s really good looking. And then they see the pictures he sent and no one can understand why we aren’t a couple. They all think we made a great couple in our photos.
It occurred to me today that this is the very first time I looked at pictures of us since our breakup. During our breakup, when I was still bitter, I did what most people do – I put all our pictures away, buried deep in my closet. Of course I got over that and we became friends again, but since we see each other often, there was never really any reason to pull those photos out again.
Getting all the photos of us he sent was wonderful. I got to thinking I’m so glad we took the time to work out our friendship and heal ourselves. Otherwise, we would’ve ended up bitter and I probably wouldn’t be able to look back on our memories and years together and still smile.
I am getting very restless in here. I’m fighting it off as best I can. It’s the extreme boredom. Life here is so boring even though I’ve adapted. I’m not surprised – I was constantly seeking out mental stimulation in my real life and I wasn’t even bored. What makes the boredom so hard in here is that it just makes me lazy. Everyone likes a day now and then to lay around, but several weeks worth will drive a person crazy.
I am still baffled that they cram 50 women in a tiny room with nothing to do but eat, sleep, talk, watch a little television and play cards, yet they expect them to rehabilitate. One of the girls said she just learns how to be a better criminal.
But I digress. I don’t really feel down. At times I feel very frustrated. I am ready to transfer and get on with it. I really didn’t want to get to this point of holding my breath every Monday and feel a serious stab of disappointment when they don’t call my name. I’m hoping some books will be delivered Monday since that will help if I have to stay.
In addition to no more bologna whatsoever in my real life (I never ate it anyway but its officially banned now), I never ever want to see another WB show EVER (The Parkers, Jamie Foxx, A Different World, etc.) or the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime, which has Touched by an Angel and all those ultra-sappy movies.
I did get to see a very rare treat that I’m thankful for. Some of the women were watching The Image Awards or whatever they were. Prince, whom I’m a huge fan of, had one hell of a performance. Most of the music was from the Musicology CD, but then he brought out Morris Day, then he brought out Sheila E. on her drums. Fantastic and amazing. It would’ve been better if I could hear it over the other 49 women in here.
I was just talking to Sonya, the other girl waiting for a prison transfer if they decide to take her. She’s been to prison before. She was telling me more about Metro and what Diagnostics is like. Not only do inmates wear combat boots, but they march everywhere the go. I knew the Georgia State Defense Force would come in handy for something.
Tomorrow needs to be my transfer day. There are not enough beds here for the women. I wonder what they do when there are too many people? They’ve only released about five women from our zone last week. There are a slew of girls going to court tomorrow. Most everyone in the group I socialize with is going. Most importantly, Ms. Kathi is going.
I’ve experienced so much just in this leg of the trip so far. I’ve met so many people and learned so many things. I wish I could write fast enough to record it all because I’m afraid I will forget. Sometimes it feels surreal that I’m here. I wonder how many girls have ever said, “No way – I’ll never go to jail.” I know I said that once.
On a funny side note, I was forced to go to “church” last week. I was in visitation with Mike Sunday morning when church started. Church is held in the same room as visitation. Once church starts, inmates aren’t allowed to move in or out of the room, so I was stuck in there for the entire service.
Church here is social hour since it’s the only time all six zones on our floor interact with each other. I noticed last week a few of the girls in my zone go to see their girlfriends (yes, actual girlfriends) in 200, the zone next to ours. Rumor had it they would sit and feel each up. I never witnessed it but you could tell they weren’t there to hear a sermon.
So today they call for church service, but apparently someone told on the girls that were trying to see a little action last week. The deputy on the intercom says, “I heard the girls in 300 were using church to get sex. Stop putting your hands down each other’s pants!”
Only in jail, folks.
Frieda is gone! She was finally released. The applause and screaming was so loud when the deputy on the intercom said, “Adams, pack it up!” The deputies outside were stifling laughter when they escorted her out and the rest of us were singing the song from “The Wizard of Oz”, except the word ‘witch’ was replaced with ‘bitch’. It was suddenly a happy day in Zone 300.
March 29, 2005
I didn’t get to visit Andi this weekend since I was out of town. I know Kelly made it because I talked to Andi briefly last night.
The good news is this weekend was that Frieda, Andi’s least favorite fellow inmate, was released over the weekend. She said people in the jail actually cheered as she was escorted out. Andi will not miss her and hopes she is transferred prior to Frieda’s return.
The other mixed news is that due to hypertension, Andi has been placed on a “healthy” diet. It still contains a lot of bologna so someone needs to explain the “healthy” descriptor… She’s happy about the new diet because she gets two rations of milk per day and she’s supposed to get a serving of canned mixed fruit. Due to cutbacks, though, she’s not seen her fruit in three days. Still not Ruth’s Chris, but much better. Also, Easter Dinner at Fulton County Jail was chicken, which is Andi’s favorite meal, so life was okay.
She is really, really hoping for transfer today. She will call me if not transferred, so let’s hope I don’t get a phone call. She said it’s getting super crowded so hopefully that will expedite her transfer.
Also, the books I sent her haven’t reached her as of yesterday. Not sure what to think about that right now.
Thursday, March 31, 2005
It’s been creeping up on me little by little. So I guess its inevitable that being uprooted from the miserable comforts of Fulton County Jail would bring it on full force.
I’m almost embarrassed to say I’m a crying mess right now. I fear depression has set in. I know, I know. Mentally, I should be able to overcome this. I am the queen of using your mind to overcome such obstacles. But I am struggling with this one. This is the first time I’ve really felt like breaking down this much. I’ve tried talking myself out of it, but it hasn’t worked. Calling Kelly and Mike today sort of helped to bring it on. I planned on calling Mom tonight but I don’t think I can do it in this condition.
This feeling started to nag at me two days ago I guess. Nothing big, just getting tired of this environment and feeling more than ready to move on. Then out of the blue, I was uprooted, and not even to go to prison. Yesterday morning I was dead asleep. I heard the deputy calling out a list of names. I thought it was the court calendar, but then I realized a lot of the names were people already sentenced. I stepped out of my cell and hear her say those people needed to pack up to be moved to another facility. I didn’t hear my name but I noticed that all the loud, mean and ‘trouble’ people were on this list. I was kind of happy about that.
Ten minutes later the deputy returned and called out three more names. Mine was the last one called. She told me I only had five minutes to collect all of my personal items and report to the door of the zone. Five minutes isn’t much time, even for someone in jail with very few belongings. I managed to forget all of my toiletries in the fray except for shampoo & conditioner. The deputy didn’t tell us to bring anything else so I’m stuck wearing this already-nasty uniform until they decide if they’ll issue a new one.
I only got to say goodbye to a few people as I was herded out the door. The only of my ‘friends’ to go was Valencia. They piled us into the rec room, which was nice for a minute because it was the first time I’d been remotely close to outside to see the blue sky and the sun. What few rec times we have are always at night.
So we’ve made Fulton County history. The jail is so overcrowded that they had to move some of us to Atlanta City Detention Center, which is basically a Pre-Trial holding center. Our beds have been full in our zone for over a week so I’m not surprised. The deputies told us there were women sitting in the intake area for three and four days waiting for a bed. I can only imagine how miserable that must be.
Every night the deputies roam the floors looking for empty beds in all the zones. The last night I was in 300 they accidentally brought up one too many inmates. They forced her to sleep on the floor in the common room – the same floor that can only be mopped with water because of the wax. They gave her a sheet for the pad but no blanket. One of the other inmates had an extra blanket and was nice enough to argue with the deputy to get it to her.
It used to be that if you were arrested in Fulton County or within Atlanta city limits, you were brought here to the city jail for Pre-trial and booked in. Then if your stay exceeded two weeks, you were transferred to Fulton County Jail. In most cases, people bond out within one to four days so they take up unnecessary space at Rice Street. No one knows why the changed the system.
About 70 of us were brought over yesterday and more came over today. One of the deputies sad that the people brought over were based on the shortest stay and were tagged as the least ‘trouble’. I would like to see their criteria for that, because it seems they brought the ones that are the most trouble.
One would think being taken from Fulton County Jail and its misery would be a blessing. And in many ways it is. But as is in life, its always a trade-off. One of the things I like is the way they run this jail. This jail is living proof that Fulton County is doing it all wrong. All their cussing does more harm than good at the County jail. I’ve been here two days and have yet to be screamed or cussed at and I’ve never seen my fellow inmates so calm. Don’t get me wrong – these officers aren’t exactly kind and these inmates are not exactly angels. But its clear that the officers have control here, not the inmates.
One of the major pluses of being here is that it’s a much newer, cleaner facility. The zones are larger but house more people. At least they are built to hold more people and there won’t bodies packed in and forced to sleep in bunk beds lining the walls of the common room. The floors are tile instead of cement so we actually get to mop and clean the floors with chemicals instead of just water. We can actually walk barefoot in our rooms because they are so clean.
It feels less institutional in the common room. At County jail, the tables are stainless steel and welded to the floor. The only thing to sit on are stainless steel stools without a back, which were welded to the tables. Here we have regular, four-person tables with independent chairs. The chairs resemble the plastic ones used as patio furniture. I can’t describe the bliss of having something to lean back on!
There is an officer inside the zone at all times. If an inmate has a question or needs assistance we have someone to ask instead of submitting a piece of paper and maybe getting a response three or four days later if we got a response at all. The intercoms in our rooms actually work so if there’s a medical emergency we get a response instead of being left for dead like at County jail.
As a result of the full-time officer station, our cell doors are locked 24 hours a day. It’s good for keeping your personal stuff safe, but it’s a pain otherwise. We are only out of our rooms a total of maybe five hours a day. That would honestly be okay except it leaves me with two major issues: one, my roommate snores terribly loud and of course does nothing but sleep. Two, it’s so hot in this room I can’t breathe very well.
There is no air moving in our rooms at all. Its pure torture for me since I’m always hot anyway and we have to wear our full uniforms at all times, even for sleeping. I don’t even have asthma and even I have trouble breathing at night. I asked the officer about it thinking maybe it would just take time to get the air moving. The answer was rather discouraging: the entire building is kept at the same temperature and this is as good as it gets. At County jail, at least they kept the temperature rather cool to prevent germs and bacteria from breeding since the building was so old and deteriorated. I thought the same theory would apply here, like a hospital environment.
Because a few federal inmates, are housed here the whole facility is treated as a federal facility, even though its mostly used for city and county inmates. This means the food is usually better than County facilities. Our first dinner Wednesday night when we arrived was great, just really small. We had a very small, but very tasty, bean burrito, taco sauce, mashed potatoes, carrots, a cookie and the standard fruit punch.
Breakfast is the standard grits or oatmeal, bread and eggs. We get juice with breakfast and one major bonus: black coffee! I don’t drink coffee much in the real world but here it’s a huge treat. The other inmates are mad that we don’t get any breakfast meat (bologna or fake, watery sausage). Me? I’m mad that we’ve been here for three days and haven’t see one sign of milk at any meal.
Lunch is the best change – no more bologna! We are actually served a hot meal. Yesterday’s lunch was fantastic. Bread, green beans, a cookie and a barbecue chicken breast. And it wasn’t one of those pesky mystery meat patties either. It actually tasted like a very big McDonald’s chicken nugget coated lightly in barbecue sauce. Very processed, but very tasty for once. Dinner, unfortunately, was a huge disappointment. I had white rice, carrots and corn bread since the standard nasty-ass sausage still doesn’t appeal to me.
We actually have windows in our rooms here. They are only a foot high, very narrow and very high up. Since we’re on the 7th floor I can see outside life in downtown Atlanta. I am assigned to the top bunk, which is a pain, but I can only see out the window when standing on my bed. Having natural sunlight in the room again is wonderful. We are in the southwest wing so I can see Interstate 75/85 Connector and watch I-20 back up at rush hour.
When the clouds finally move out I’ll be able to see sunset. I saw a lot of lightening the first night here. They had us in the Southeast wing for a few hours Wednesday night. I wish I could’ve stayed there since I had a view of the Atlanta Braves stadium. I couldn’t see inside but I could tell there was a game in progress.
Of course there is a tradeoff to having a window in our room: I won’t be getting any fresh air. This is a smoking facility because of the federal inmates. Every zone here has its very own recreation area attached. It’s a very small room. This is also where inmates are allowed to smoke. We are allowed to go out there anytime during free time. But 59 other women go out there to smoke for the entire free time period. I think I am the only non-smoker, so I doubt I’ll be going out there.
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Due to overcrowding, Andi was transferred this morning to one of the city jails downtown. It’s a stone’s throw away from Turner Field. She said she witnessed a game being played, though she could not provide a score. She got a hot shower, a delicious burrito and actually has a pillow for the first time since “checking in”.
On a different note, while visiting Fulton County I was not allowed to carry keys, money or any materials. But inside, inmates were smoking pot and using heroine. I would think drugs are more dangerous than car keys. But hey, I’m no expert. What do I know?
I will keep everyone posted when I know more.
Friday, April 1, 2005
It’s Friday now and my spirits are a little better. I am definitely not as down as I was yesterday and I’m not crying anymore. I think lack of sleep had a lot to do with it, as did getting ushered out of my home without processing what was going on.
We just found out two frustrating pieces of news: one is that we won’t receive mail that was sent to Fulton County Jail. The deputy told us Wednesday that everything – mail, medical records, money on books, etc. – follows us, which meant our mail would be brought over to us. The officer told us its standard procedure for the jail to ‘return to sender’ if the inmate is not at the jail. Hopefully there is still hope that they take into consideration this is a special circumstance.
The other thing is visitation. Each zone only has two booths so they do visitation in rotation – A though L this weekend and M-Z next weekend. Mike and Kelly won’t get to see me this weekend. Also, you can have up to three visitors but they all have to visit at the same time. Hopefully I’ll get transferred Monday and none of this will matter.
We just had lunch. Still better than over at County, but too small. Today we had a taco (one shell, a little meat, a slice of cheese, a small pile of wilted lettuce and a packet of taco sauce) and applesauce. It wasn’t Taco Bell but it was good. If only they’d given us two tacos.
Most of these girls have been in and out of County jail quite a bit so they aren’t used to the structure we follow at this jail. I don’t mind because it makes me feel productive and more human again. We are awoken at 5 a.m. to make our bed and fully clean our rooms, something that was never once done at County jail. We don’t get our breakfast served until our rooms are inspected and pass. Our beds have to remain made all day long. If we want to sleep, we have to sleep on top of the covers. At least they issue us an extra blanket for this reason.
My move here is probably more for the better than the worse. It’s so much quieter and run better. I think being uprooted in a very unorganized manner is what upset me. That, and I’m just ready to move on to the next phase. I was uprooted from people I know and like, then suddenly thrown together with the people from my zone I can’t stand, and people from other zones that have attitudes. I was just hit with a sudden, overwhelming feeling of loneliness.
It’s subsiding. This jail makes it very easy to be anti-social. I’m not saying I don’t want to socialize, it just means its easier for me to escape the constant attitudes and negative crap from other inmates.
Other than snoring terribly loud, I have a great roommate once again. Lindsay is 24-years-old and a real sweet girl. She just had a baby in January and was locked up a month later. She’s now waiting for a spot in boot camp and has to go for two years. I don’t know much about her since she sleeps so much, but it sounds like she just fell in with the wrong crowd.
When we processed in to this jail, they took away our ink pens, which was devastating to me. The commissary here sells blue ink while ours are considered black ink. Because it’s considered a security issue, they confiscated them. Talk about depressing. Considering we are locked up almost all day with no books or anything, that’s all we have to do. A few girls managed to smuggle in their ink pen so I traded a bunch of commissary food items for a pen. I’m hungry without food, but it was worth it. I think it would push me over the edge right now to be without pen and paper.
Last night I was so freaked out and worried about falling too deeply into the red that I filled out a request form to see mental health. No, not for suicide watch or anything but even I know my limits. I think it would be nice to at least talk to someone trustworthy to gain some perspective. I hate to say this, but if I could get something to help me sleep I would handle things better. I realize this could mean they want to put me on an anti-depressant even though I don’t advocate the use of them. If whatever they give me helps me sleep at night, I’ll take it. I know that if I go long periods without sleep, that will be what pushes me into the red.
Anyway, spirits are up today. It makes a world of difference sitting on my bed writing this letter by the light coming through my window and not hearing constant screaming and fighting. I am really hoping Monday is my day to get out of jail and move on to prison. I even told Kelly I would consider making a deal with God. You know it’s serious when I start talking like that.
Should I be concerned that every time they give me my hypertension medication it’s a different looking pill?
Saturday, April 2, 2005
It seemed last night that submitting that request to see mental health was going to come back and bite me in the ass. I wasn’t truly looking for anti-depressant medication. At most, I just wanted some advice (not from a fellow inmate) on how to handle this transition and maybe something to help me sleep.
Around 1 p.m. the mental health nurse came down and interviewed everyone who submitted a request to get more information. There were quite a few people transferred that are on serious mental health medication who weren’t given their medication. They weren’t supposed to be transferred in the first place. Anyway, I told the nurse my situation. She said she was just there to gather information and they would review it and get back to me.
The day prior I’d heard them call out about six names in our zone while we were in lockdown. They told them to pack up to be moved again. I knew at least three of them were on medication so we assumed they were being moved to the 4th floor which is mental health. We learned earlier in the day that they don’t mix people on mental health medication with the rest of the population. I didn’t really think much of it.
Then around 3 p.m. or so the office called my name on our room intercom and told me to pack up for transfer. I asked her if I was going back to County jail and she said she didn’t know. I immediately started to panic. It made no sense. All I asked for was some guidance in adjusting to this transfer. Apparently this jail wasn’t set up to handle mental health issues for the County inmates. That’s why they sent the girls on medication back to County jail. Nor do they give sound advice to a slightly stressed inmate who didn’t even want medication.
I instantly regretted submitting that request and talking to the mental health nurse. The looming thought of going back to 52 loud, obnoxious women in an overcrowded cell just took over and I had to fight back tears the whole transfer over. Theresa, a girl from zone 300 at County jail was going back with me as was another nice girl from 200 I’d seen a few times. My only saving grace was knowing that at least Ms. Kathi, Diana, Liz and my old roommate would be there – people I can call friends and trust.
The transport deputy brought that idea crashing down. He told us he had to take us through in-take (where you spend a day and a half booking in). The thought of us sitting there that long again was depressing. He also said it was because we may have to wait for beds to reopen since it still overcrowded, and chances were that we wouldn’t be going back to the zone we came from.
They searched our person and our belongings going in. What gets me is the female deputy, who had an attitude and didn’t want to be there with us, freaked out over Theresa having chapstick in her pocket that she thought was something else, but didn’t even look inside the pill envelope I had in my pocket containing three pills of medication. They never bothered to look inside our huge bags of commissary and personal items, either.
The good news is intake didn’t want to mess with us since we were already booked in and had stayed in custody the whole time despite being moved around. We only sat in the intake area for ten minutes. They even gave us a food tray – it was mystery veal/chicken/hamburger night. Even better news? Back to zone 300.
Going back to 300 was like coming home despite only being gone three days. After I was transferred, I had no idea what happened there. As I came in the door to the zone, everyone ran to the window to check me out thinking I was a new inmate. And when they saw it was me, I was greeted with the loudest screams. Crowded around me were all my friends. When I finally got to see the rest of the dorm, I realized there were maybe 25 inmates total. The dorm was built to hold 36 without the overflow daybeds. This means everyone has a place to sit at dinner and we can actually hear the television. The best improvement is that its quiet in here now since all the loud people and bullies are gone. I still look around and wonder how this miracle happened and how I got so lucky.
Saturday, April 2, 2005
Over the past several weeks Kelly and I have shared many stories, anecdotes and experiences that Andi has had as a resident at Fulton County Jail. For the most part they have been good stories and Andi has certainly sought out the silver lining of every cloud…
I’m sorry to say that Andi has had a couple of really bad days. The move to the detention center seemed like a positive move initially, but it soon became apparent she missed her ‘friends’ from the county jail. Her medical records were left behind, her mail stopped completely and the policy at the detention center is 75% cell confinement. Even when she was free to stroll, the exercise area doubled as the smoking area and that was always one huge cloud of blue smoke.
She called me last night in tears. She was losing it. I felt so helpless because there was nothing I could do for her. I promised I would inquire about her transfer status but could offer very little else. She was so upset she requested a conference with a counselor which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The center is not equipped to deal with mental health scenarios (not that Andi is one) so this morning she was transferred back to Fulton County Jail, which in her words means she is “home”. When she got there, all her enemies seemed to be gone and all her “friends” were still there so she is very happy. Still hoping for a transfer Monday, but happy to be among friends.
Listen, I know this email is getting long. But Andi means the world to me and I know she means the world to all of you. Her mental state right now is fragile at best. She is doing her best but its getting really tough for her. She lives for mail and that knowledge that all of us are with her. So please don’t stop writing. Even if it’s a postcard, a joke, a printed article off the internet – she is a sponge right now. Don’t let her dry out.
Sunday, April 3, 2005
The message I sent you all yesterday was less than positive, but I feel obligated to be honest and truthful. Andi did just go through a very tough few days, but I am happy to report that I talked to her this afternoon and she is 2000% better. She is back in familiar surroundings. She was able to watch a movie last night and it was quiet enough to hear it.
We found out she has an EA number assigned which means she’s probably close to transfer. I was able to put money on her books today so she should be able to buy plenty of stuff off the commissary tomorrow. I plan to visit her tomorrow which is always the highlight of my week. So keep the letters coming and keep your fingers crossed she gets her transfer.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Some days I’m overwhelmed with the kindness and generosity of the loved ones in my life. Mike and Kelly are two of the most important people in my daily life and I wonder sometimes if this trip to jail isn’t meant for more than reason. I know it’s brought several of my blog friends together who lost touch. And it seems to be bringing Kelly and Mike together, too.
I’ve had a chronic earache that has sucked the life out of me. I’ve not slept much for over a week. They gave me Motrin 600 which is supposed to make me sleepy and takes away my energy when mixed with the beta-blockers for my blood pressure. Either way, at least I finally got some sleep.
Saturday marked the three year anniversary of this whole ordeal. Three years ago Saturday, I was fired from That Place. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, yet it seems like an eternity.
We are overcrowded again. They completely filled up the zone to 52 women this weekend. That’s 20 over capacity. They let them out left and right the last two days but they are coming in just as fast.
Obviously, I’m still here. I thought I might cry Monday if it wasn’t my day to transfer, but I didn’t. I had a gut feeling the night before that I wouldn’t be going. We finally found out the truth about what the problem is: Washington State Prison, one of only three prisons for women, has been shut down for repairs. This is really backing up the whole system because there is no where incoming women to go until they open a prison for women in Alto, Georgia. It sounds like they’ve been holding women in Diagnostics at Metro State Prison here in the city. I’ve heard tales of women in other counties that have been waiting since September to go to Metro for Diagnostics.
The women in here have given me a bit of a scare. I’m hesitant to listen to the ‘sudden experts’ in here, but they’ve been doing this much longer than I have. Rumor has it that short timers like myself (under two years) usually serve their entire sentence.
In good news, Mike was finally successful in getting books to me! It appears there really isn’t a limit on how many books I can have in county jail as long as I receive no more than four books at a time in a package. I can only imagine the difference in how my time moves when I have access to books that I want to read. I could certainly deal with my environment better. Knowing books are on the way makes not being transferred Monday okay.
It seems my books arriving will come at a very good time. Most of my friends are gone now. Diana, the pregnant Mexian and Karen, the Jamaican, are gone. I’m happy for them, but I miss them terribly. Some of the most stimulating and intelligent conversation I’ve had in here was with them. I was more concerned with Diana leaving than my own transfer because I am sure she’ll have her baby this week.
[My roommate Robin is still here and we get along fine. Ms. Kathi and Valencia are still here but both are on medication that makes them sleep all day. Despite not having good friends, I don’t feel lonely.
Speaking of my roommate, she finally got into a fight. I’m surprised it took this long because outside of me, she’s always looking for one. I left for all of 20 minutes during Kelly’s visit Sunday and I missed it. Rumor has it if they hadn’t pulled the other girl off of her, she would’ve gotten her ass beat. Another day in paradise.
It appears that Fulton County pulled a ridiculously childish stunt last week. We were scheduled for an inspection by the Sheriff. When the Sheriff does an inspection, the deputies’ asses are on the line if the place isn’t sparkling clean. The deputy on duty made an announcement that the cleanest zone on the floor Thursday would get pizza, hot wings, popcorn and DVD movies the following weekend.
The girls went nuts and cleaned and scrubbed for three days. I certainly did my share but but drew the line when they wanted me to dig ten years worth of stuff like dried toilet paper balls out of the vents. No way. I would’ve broken my neck trying anyway. I scraped toothpaste off of the walls in our room, which is used as an adhesive to hang pictures. What more do they want?
After all that work, there never was an inspection, an announcement for a winner and no one got the goods. The inmates are not amused.
The day that the inspection never happened, our zone started falling apart. Several of the septic tanks were leaking and all the toilets were overflowing. It was disgusting. For about six hours the entire floor for the common room and floors of the cells on the bottom floor was covered in sewage. And yes, waste was floating in the water. The smell was unbearable.
Knowing someone would have a fit if they knew we were living in those conditions, they turned off our phones for the day so we couldn’t make phone calls out and alert anyone of the situation. They finally got everything fixed and cleaned up. There is one closet in the common room that leaks constantly. They just leave the water on the floor and ignore it. We don’t have a mop or anything to clean it up with. About four girls have fallen and busted a knee because of the water already. These are the things that make jail really hard.
There are so many things going on in the real world I’m missing that I have to mourn and get over. The Dogwood Festival, The Jazz Festival and a whole line up of concerts at Chastain I want to see. I really miss that sort of thing, but what I’m really craving is a ‘normal’ spring Saturday – grocery shopping, running errands, cleaning house with the windows open. Maybe being productive is what I miss the most right now.
Monday, April 18, 2005
I got to visit Andi today. Because her friend Karen had a visitor I got to meet her while there. Karen is from Jamaica but apparently goes by the name Shanna among her Jamaican friends. I haven’t exactly figured all that out yet. Anyway, she is a beautiful black girl with a very strong Jamaican accent. Long dreadlocks and a very pretty smile.
Andi is doing well. Apparently she has discovered the exciting world of chicken pouches from the commissary. Imagine a pouch like the tuna company came out with a few years ago, but instead of tuna it contains chicken. Now when the chicken is mixed with mayo and mustard, the result is a heavenly sandwich compared to the standard stale bologna.
I urged Andi to publish a “tricks of the trade” guide upon her release because this experience has certainly been a learning experience. Who knew you could hang pictures on a wall with toothpaste?
Andi looked great as usual. It makes me miss her terribly.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Books have arrived! Actually, they arrived two days ago but I’ve been too wrapped up in reading them to write about them. I only wish I could properly express my joy in having received them. The anticipation of waiting for the mail delivery was crazy. The mail lady came right before lunch. I took my time to eat my lunch and read my mail before breaking into the books. I guess I thought it would be fun to torture myself and prolong the anticipation.
The books are so crisp and new. I even smelled them – so clean and unjail-like! Several fellow inmates whom I really don’t know clamored around to see if there was anything they could read. Not to sound selfish, but I am glad that few people would have a remote interest in reading my selection of books. So few things lent out rarely get returned.
By Tuesday morning I had completely devoured the first of four books. I told Mike and Kelly that my world took a drastic change in a matter of minutes on Monday. In the real world, I was surrounded by books but so rarely had an opportunity to read them. Now I have all the time in the world. I used to be extremely limited, too. I couldn’t afford my book habit, so I had to force myself not to go to the bookstore. Or I would go and browse and either painfully not buy anything, or I would narrow my selection down to just one book to take home. That was pure torture.
Tomorrow makes eight weeks already that I’ve been here. I don’t leave my room much anymore except to eat, use the phone and to visit the occasional inmate. Sometimes I keep to myself so much that other people think I’m new. Before books, I spent so much time with Karen and Keisha. But everything has fallen into place nicely. Karen and Keisha decided to become a couple once they return to the real world, so that leaves me as a third wheel if I hang around too much. Robin, my roommate has decided to join the human race and doesn’t sleep 23 hours a day anymore, leaving me alone in our room most of the day.
On a negative note, I ended up in a fight the other day, something I’ve strived so hard to stay away from. Even worse, it really didn’t involve me at all. Last night after dinner, two black women started to argue, and of course one was egging on the other. They were at the top of the stairs at the opposite end of the catwalk from my cell. My door was open and I could hear them.
I climbed down from my bed where I was reading to shut the door. The one girl trying to walk away is a very large girl named Leisa. She is a bit of a shit starter. The other woman, who’s name I don’t know, was following her and screaming at her. Leisa is 35, the crazy woman is easily 40. You’d think they were children – they were fighting over the rules of a card game.
I noticed one of the other white girls standing between them, trying to keep the crazy lady from attacking Leisa. I just shook my head and swing my door shut a little, careful to not lock myself in. Just as I’d stepped back in my room to start reading again, robin came into the room. Leisa was right behind her. So the next thing I know, Robin, Leisa, myself and Crazy Lady are all in our cell. Its very small and quite crowded in here when its just Robin and me and even more so with two extra bodies and one of them being quite large.
Now, I’m not afraid of Leisa by any means. I’m not a big fan of her either since she’s loud and obnoxious, but she’s always been fairly kind to me. The crazy woman, on the other hand, I had a bad feeling about. She was acting very erratic. She came barreling into the room, screaming and charging at Leisa, then she switched over to screaming at Robin I, making some racist comments at us. I have no idea why; I’ve never spoken to her, but she was trying to start something with us, too.
Neither of us wanted to fight, but I was concerned now that was physically in our room. Getting locked in a cell with a crazy woman is not good. First of all, she could easily hurt us or kill us. Our entire cell is made of concrete, porcelain and steel. Its too easy to get your head knocked against a hard surface. And I know stories of girls who have kicked the porcelain sink off the wall and used it as a weapon. Furthermore, if someone gets locked in your room and gets hurt in a fight, they can claim self-defense against you, which never has a good outcome.
In trying to keep the fight out of our room, we ignored the crazy woman’s screaming and tried to crowd her out the door, telling her they weren’t going to fight in our room. She backed up and Robin tried to hold her back without touching her as I went for the door. I saw the deputy come into the dorm out of the corner of my eye, so I figured we were pretty safe. A deputy usually won’t break up a fight but inmates usually won’t swing on another person or start a fight in front of a deputy.
Apparently crazy lady didn’t care, because she waited to catch me off guard and hit me square in the cheek.
I guess my natural instincts kicked in as did my anger and frustration for putting up with this bullshit for the last eight weeks. She got that one swing in. I got three or four good hits in before Robin pulled me away. I wasn’t even trying to hurt her or fight her for real, but I knew if I didn’t she would keep hitting me. The deputy pulled both of us away and took us to the zone where the nurses station is – carefully, because crazy lady’s nose was bleeding
Instantly I felt awful. One, at the shock of what just happened, as honestly in my adult life I’ve never really been in a fight and I found it to be an ugly feeling. And two, I was worried about the consequences. Usually when two inmates get into a fight, both get in trouble regardless of who swung first. A good portion of the time if the right deputy is on duty, the inmates get sent over to city jail with new charges and a fine to deal with. Being on First Offender status could mean my entire being on the line.
Lucky for me, I have a reputation among the deputies as a peacemaker and never the cause of trouble. Not to mention they saw everything from the monitor and knew I was not even in the original argument. The deputy, having come in as crazy woman approached our cell, knew I was trying to protect myself.
“You have two choices,” the deputy said to me while pulling me aside, “you have a right to file a report and press charges against the girl or walk away and leave it alone.”
“What’s going to happen to me?” I asked.
“Well,” she said. “The report is supposed to be filed regardless. The only problem is it would go on your record, not as a charge though, and the parole board will see it when they review your file.”
Despite not having started it, being in an altercation could seriously delay my parole. The deputy said she’d be willing to forego filing the report if I could live without pressing charges and we could all pretend it never happened.
They didn’t bring crazy woman back to our zone. I’m glad because I certainly wasn’t proud of having hit a 40-year-old woman. I know her nose was pretty bloody and one of the trustees told me her eye was bloodshot. I’m glad I stood up for myself, but this confirms that I’m a peaceful person and I don’t like fighting.
Still no word on transferring. It’s becoming more and more possible that I may be doing the bulk of my time here and they may transfer me just so I can parole out. There is another girl in here that had an 18-month sentence last year and only served three months of it. That’s very uplifting, but I don’t rely on it.
April 25, 2005
I’ve done my best to not be bitter about having to serve a prison sentence for a crime I didn’t commit. And I’ve tried really hard to accept that there must be a reason why I was sentenced so harshly considering the crime and the fact I have never, ever been in trouble. But this situation takes the cake so far.
There is a girl in here named LuKeisha that I have very little tolerance for. She’s loud, annoying and sometimes mean. She’s the kind of girl that has to be the center of attention at all times and goes so far as to fake seizures all the time to get it.
Her girlfriend is in the zone next to ours. They’ve been fighting for a month by talking through the crack in the door that connects our zones and by passing notes under the door when the deputies are preoccupied with something else. Apparently the other girl, who goes by the name “Tweet” wanted to make up with LuKeisha. We’re not supposed to sit or stand in front of the zone door, but if we do, we can see into their zone.
LuKeisha was sitting near our front door and demanded that if Tweet loved her, she would drink bleach. She poured about a cup and a half into a Styrofoam cup and gave it to one of the trustees outside who passed it over to Tweet. I’m guess the bleach was left over from the rare occasion they give us a little bit of chemicals to clean our showers with.
Granted, Tweet was dumb enough to drink it, but LuKeisha never should’ve asked that. The girl, of course, threw up. LuKeisha kept frantically telling the deputies that the medication and the fish we had for dinner is what was making her sick. They ended up taking Tweet to Grady Hospital.
Most of the girls in our zone are mad that the incident happened. LuKeisha got mad and kept saying it wasn’t any of our business. Which is strange because I was in my cell with the door pulled shut and I could hear her yelling at Tweet to drink the bleach, which makes it everyone’s business.
Earlier the same day, her attorney came to see her. She’s been at Fulton County Jail for fifteen months now waiting for trial. She killed a man by shooting him in the forehead. She was charged with Murder, Felony Murder, Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Voluntary Manslaughter. Her intentions were to fight the charges on the grounds of self-defense. I have no idea what the circumstances were, but she said she aimed the pistol, which was unlicensed, at the ground and the bullet ricocheted. Yeah, okay. At best, she might’ve gotten the charges down to Involuntary Manslaughter but that still carries a life sentence. The DA offered her a sentence of ten years to serve at least eight of them.
She turned down the offer and went to court Friday. Her sentence? Time served (15 months) and 10 years probation. I was shocked and sickened. Talk about a questionable justice system. I was charged with Forgery, never accused of physically harming someone, and I’m sentenced to nearly two years of prison, eight years of probation and $25,000 in restitution? Call me childish, but does this seem fair?
I refuse to be bitter.
April 26, 2005
My friend Ms. Kathy made some progress in court this week. The court finally appointed her a private attorney. He spent three days with her last week to do some case preparation. He sounds like a good attorney – young and hungry for a win, so he’ll work hard for her despite having to work pro bono. He managed to get her a $2,000 bond. Something tells us that the court already sees Ms. Kathy’s case as one of self-defense because getting a bond that low for Murder, Felony Murder and Aggravated Assault is unheard of otherwise.
She returned from court happy that things are moving and that she finally made it into the courtroom. It gave her hope, but bless her heart – she was a little down because even though she got a bond, she knew with having no one on the outside she couldn’t be bonded out. She tried really hard not to let that get to her. She was just happy to have an attorney working on her case. The thing about Ms. Kathi is that she is so at peace with herself and her situation so she wouldn’t let it destroy her. She’s made the best of it. I thought about this for awhile. I know she would never ask anyone for help, but I know in my heart I won’t rest until I can help her out.
I recalled several offers from several of my friends offering to take a collection for Mrs. Stephenson when she was being bullied. I also knew my final check from my freelance check was due anytime. So I had resources to come up with the $260 or so it would take to get her out. I called Mike and asked him for the huge favor of taking up a collection to bail Ms. Kathi out. That to me is asking a lot since bail bondsmen can be a hassle. But being the kind guy that he is, he forewent the money collection and put up the money himself. I am pleased and grateful that he offered to bail out a woman he doesn’t even know.
Last night I went to Ms. Kathi’s room and told her I think she’s going home. She was confused until I told her Mike and I are trying to bond her out. She cried and tried to protest and that of course made me cry. She kept thanking me, hugging me and telling me she would pay us back, but I told her we weren’t worried about that. Mike is contacting the bond company and getting information on how to do everything. I’ve never had to handle a bond so we’re clueless.
So hopefully within a week Ms. Kathi will be back home. I sat down with her this morning to make sure she’ll be okay once she’s released. I know she owns her house, but I want to make sure she has money and necessities since she really doesn’t have anyone. She will be fine. She’s been studying a lot of resources on getting assistance as needed. One of the reasons I’m confident about helping her is she’s very smart and seems to always have a backup plan.
Word has slowly circulated about bonding Ms. Kathi out and apparently everyone things I’m ‘rich’. That makes me laugh. I’m the poorest rich girl I know, unemployed and in jail! This woman just deserves her freedom. Her attorney thinks it will be two to three years before she even sees a trial.
Nothing else to report. Life is good with plenty of reading material. I have a total of 15 books in my possession.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
I feel antsy tonight. Not down. My spirit is actually pretty high. I think its extreme boredom. I even called Kelly again to chat even though I already talked to him today. Its not that I don’t have anything to do. I have plenty of books to read, letters to write and television to watch. But I guess doing the same things everyday for two months has its moments. This, like the occasional ‘mean reds’, will pass. I think talking so much about a possible early release got me thinking about going home. Now I’m really ready. Not that I haven’t been ready, but now I can just taste freedom!
One of my pals that came in the same time I did, Valencia, is in for probation violation. Her release date is July 2. Lucky girl. They called her and a few other girls out today and offered them house arrest for the remainder of their time. I would love to get that deal! I’m going to mention that in my letter to the parole board.
Our zone remains under capacity. Today I was blessed with a bonus – a major one. LuKeisha left our zone today. The deputies found out about the bleach incident and charged here with something. And since her girlfriend is in the zone next to ours she was moved upstairs to one of the new dorms. Is it bad that I’m ecstatic? Everything instantly changed just like when Freida left. Its nice to be rewarded a little bit after so much suffering.
Speaking of suffering, what little bit of sleep I got last night was not quality at all. For some reason, Robin snored all night, no matter what position she was in. Not to mention she has horrendous gas. Dinner didn’t seem to settle too well with anyone last night, but to make it worse, Robin hasn’t gone to the bathroom but maybe four times in the last six weeks she’s been here. Its pure torture being locked in a tiny, stuffy cell with no ventilation or moving air. Unlike me, she’s medicated heavily so she sleeps through the night (and through the day for that matter). Hopefully I’m tired enough tonight to sleep good.
Robin’s bonding out isn’t going so well. Seems the poor decisions she’s made in the past are working against her right now. Two bonding companies her boyfriend tried to use refused to bond her because she has two prior Failure to Appear charges. Hope she isn’t stuck here. I won’t lie; I’d love to have a room to myself even if just for a few nights.
Let me illustrate the ‘good hands’ I’m in here at Fulton County. I’ve been on Lopressor, a beta-blocker for my blood pressure, for about a month. They called me down to medical today for my monthly blood pressure check-up. The vital stats nurse took my blood pressure, which was 112/60, so much lower and normal than it was when I came in.
Then the main nurse called me in. She looked at my file, and commenting on my blood pressure she said, “Oh, well, I guess you were just under stress or something when you came in and that’s why your blood pressure was high.”
“Yes,” I said. “But my blood pressure was high for several months before coming here. Or maybe the medication is working?”
She looked at me strangely for a moment and said, “You haven’t been taking your medication…”
A nurse with a medication cart comes around twice a day, once around 11 a.m. and once around 5 p.m. I give the nurse my name, she looks up my information and sees what has been prescribed to me. She gives the pill to me in a little paper cup and marks off on the info sheet that I’ve received my medication. I get my medication every single evening. The very first time I got it I could’ve sworn the nurse said I get it once a day, so I get it at night before I go to bed, and she always marks something down.
But their records say I’m not collecting my medication? Scary.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Two painfully handwritten letters are finished – one to the parole board and one to the Department of Corrections. Then one more to keep for my records since it’s not like I can make a photocopy. Mike also sent out his letter to the parole board today and Kelly has one closely following. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for house arrest at the very least.
Robin bonded out. She’ll probably leave tomorrow when Douglas County picks her up to answer their charges. I’ll admit that as much as I got along with her, the sane part of me is happy to see her go. For one, I didn’t get any sleep again last night because she’s started snoring so loud. She’s gained so much weight so quickly that her body can’t support the weight. She went from 98 lbs. to 210 lbs. since January. Not to mention, her cleanliness habits are severely lacking. She’s always been rather messy. Our room is always littered with food wrappers and trash until I clean it up. She eats junk food in her sleep and the wrappers pile up on the floor. As annoying as that is, its livable. What I can’t stand is that at some point she completely stopped washing her hands. I go behind her with a cleaning rag every chance I get. Without bleach or disinfectant, I don’t know how much good it does.
I actually got to see blue sky today. They let us into the recreation room around 6 p.m. which is much earlier than usual. I guess I haven’t been outside in so long it didn’t occur to me it would still be daylight. The cool fresh air was amazing!
All things considered, life on the inside is on the upside right now. Really, I’m tired of playing convict and its really time to go home now.
Friday, April 29, 2005
I decided to something a little different today. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned since I’ve been here since its been almost two months now. I decided to put my thoughts together in more of an essay or informational piece. I’ve touched on a lot of these thoughts already, but I thought putting everything together might help me think about things from a different angle.
What is the purpose of jail?
Being incarcerated and enduring life in jail has certainly opened my eyes, as I guess it would anyone who isn’t prone to criminal activity. I guess when you’re on the outside and haven’t ever had to live on the inside, its impossible to really put yourself in an inmate’s shoes. I’ll be the first to admit that prior to incarceration my attitude toward jails and prisons and people living in them was the same as most other people. At best I figured, hey, they’re criminals, so what? They deserve it, right?
Even I understand that jail is jail. It’s not meant to be a pleasurable vacation, nor would I expect it to be. But safe and humane conditions should be expected. I believe that was one of the founding ‘rules’ of the jail and prison system – to reform criminals while proving a safe, humane environment and to provide basic necessities. Forget about the ‘extra’ rights, such as the right to a fair and speedy trial, that have fallen by the wayside in currently overcrowded conditions. Its not uncommon for inmates to be held six month to a year or more because they aren’t given a bond or can’t afford to bond out.
The problem is county jails aren’t built for long-term housing. A good portion of these inmates will finally get a hearing, or even get to trial, and eventually be acquitted of their charges. Then what? The former inmate goes free, but what about all the time and money spent locked up for nothing? Jobs are lost, money and time are lost.
I’ve noticed there are two types of inmates: those who love being in jail and those who hate it. In the two months I’ve been here, I noticed that those who hate it, obviously, are the non-repeat offenders. For the repeat offenders who come to feel at home in jail, I hear the term “institutionalized” a lot. I read a statistic in a book last week that says basically 20% of the population commits 80% of the crimes in America. This makes sense based on my experience.
The vast majority of women in my zone, say 45 out of 52 women at any one time, have been to jail three or more times (for either separate or new charges). The remaining few are first timers or have returned for something small like a probation violation hearing or something that will be dropped once appearing in front of a judge. I guess we make up the other 20% of crimes. If this is true, isn’t anyone worried about this? I’m not sure who should be worried, but someone should.
Whatever the system is doing is not working. I really want to do research to find solid evidence of the purpose of jail. If I were ask Sheriff Myron Freeman what the purpose of jail is, what would he say? Punishment? Holding? Reform? I am sure there is a mission statement or guideline somewhere. I could assume its for punishment for doing wrong and that seems logical. But I guess I want to know specifically what they are trying to accomplish here?
I think the big misconception about going to jail to the general population is that it is miserable enough to make you not want to commit another crime again. Yes, it works for someone like me who doesn’t already live a life of criminal activity. But its not working for the majority of women in here who are repeat offenders.
I know not all jails are as rundown or unsafe as this one. In face, my roommate’s boyfriend just paid $1500 to bond her out – not to go home, to go to Douglas County just for a better quality of life. At the very least, a GED and literacy program should be offered. Fulton County used to have a program but it doesn’t exist anymore. I requested to volunteer to help with the program but I was told the program is no longer available. Several inmates in my zone requested the GED program and were told the same thing. I also believe, based on my experiences here, that there needs to be some basic living courses or some type of counseling available, something besides doling out medication.
I would guess that 90% of the crimes of inmates in this zone are drug possession (from an obvious drug addiction) and the crimes that tend to accompany drug addiction such as prostitution, robbery, armed robbery, theft by taking, etc. The one program the jail offers for those court ordered to complete is a program called “New Beginnings”. The program is similar to AA, but it’s a live-in program. Let’s just assume this program is successful for the term that the inmate is in jail and the inmate does leave the jail with life anew. After all, drugs are much harder to obtain in jail. Most of these programs deal with the immediate, the actual drug addiction. This is good.
But what about afterward, out in the real world? A good deal of the users only know a life supporting a habit – dealing, selling, buying – and in a lot of cases, stealing and robbing. The drug habit or addiction may be cured, but most don’t know how to start a new life, especially with limited or no resources. Even simple things like getting a legitimate job, opening a checking/savings account, managing money, etc. This puts them back on the street to keep repeating the same behavior over and over.
I suppose prison is better equipped to reform criminals. At least I hope so, I haven’t been there yet so it’s just a guess. Putting my personal biases aside, it seems odd and ill-balanced to me that several inmates here have been arrested and locked up and have a criminal record two pages long, some with violent and semi-violent crimes, but have never seen a day of prison in their time. Yet another inmate, like myself, hasn’t so much as had two speeding tickets in her lifetime and no other criminal history and I’m sentenced to 18 months of prison time. My focus isn’t on my sentence, but the fact that jail is apparently not working for most if they have a rap sheet two pages long. Of the repeat offenders in here, some of the girls have been to prison once on a short sentence. One or two have already been four or five times.
If I had to give my best guess on one of the problems with the system, I would say inmates aren’t given any incentives to change. No one tells them the benefits of having a non-criminal life. A good deal of women I’ve met here have told me they are envious that I am smart and have a clean life. That I have an education and use it. For those women, it would seem beneficial to provide some counseling or guidance by real women who can help them understand they can have quality of life also.
More often, there are women here who have a more cynical point-of-view. Many of the women who harbor bitterness toward me tend to assume I come from a wealthy family and everything I have is bought and paid for, that I don’t earn anything I have. Not to say this the wrong way, but these are the women that are intimidated by me and are bitter because they are too scared to live a straight and clean life, and rightfully so. Perhaps a program that starts small and builds their self-esteem and skills could be successful. This is something I want to think about and study more.
The other group of criminals I wonder about in regards to reform is the professional, high-end drug dealer. A few of these women have had a “and why would I want your lifestyle?” attitude toward me. At first, I was defensive. It was easy for me to fire back with, “why the hell wouldn’t you?” I suppose it’s easy for ‘us’, people with a straight life, to forget the draw to high-end drug dealing despite the risky, illegal activity. After hearing their stories from successful women in the industry, it makes me wonder why would they want a clean life?
The few women I’ve met in this category that will talk openly about it are very much like me – white, smart, nice home, nice things, but their education, cars, homes, vacations, kids’ educations and everything else are paid for. Most even have pre-paid legal services paid for. They don’t kill themselves working 60+ hours a week, working for miserable bosses or ever have to work more than two jobs just to make ends meet. They are home when their kids get home from school and can ‘take a day off’ to attend school functions and take family vacations. They have ample savings and nest eggs, retirement plans and better healthcare plan than I’ve ever had.
Of course the trade-off is the grand: the risk of getting caught. Getting caught means being away from your kids and your life. But as I said, these are smart women. Business women of a different sort. Smart dealers adopt the attitude of, “its not a matter of if I’ll get caught, it’s a matter of when.” They have a plan, a backup plan and more plans. They make sure their kids will be taken care of if something happens. Its obvious the payoffs are worth it, usually citing that their kids’ needs being completely met makes it all worth it.
Of the three women I’ve gotten to know pretty well, they have been selling drugs anywhere from seven to 25 years, and none of them have ever been caught. Only one of them actually uses illegal drugs (marijuana) and was caught for possession, which is just a misdemeanor here. The other two are here for non-drug charges: one of theft by receiving and the other for aggravated assault.
I honestly believe the answers to this type of reform goes well beyond in-house counseling programs. These women are smart and know that clean jobs, even high-up, corporate ladder jobs, don’t compare in salary or benefits and usually consume too many hours a week and are sometimes miserable. I’m holding off on contemplating this particular issue because it’s so complex.
My experience here has started a fire within me. At the very least, I intend to find out what to do about Fulton County Jail issues since I’ve live it. It seems Martha Stewart has taken an interest in federal prisons herself now that she’s lived in one. She seems to be getting a lot of negative feedback from regular, non-incarcerated citizens. First of all, in terms of her sentence, a lot of people are complaining that because she’s white, rich and famous she got off easy. The truth is, I think, she was made an example of because of who she is. She served the same amount of time a regular average-Joe would, but I think I read that she served slightly more time.
Martha, like me (from what little bit I’ve read), doesn’t think the jail or prison system is doing much to reform or rehabilitate. It sounds like she’s making this her personal cause. I wonder if she has horror stories to tell like I do? Maybe Martha never cared about prisons before she was forced to live in one. The same is true of me.
I’m not sure if this could ever turn into a career, but it has certainly sparked an interest. My career path is research, and I personally see a need for lots of research and development to go into prison programs. In being here, I find myself coming up with so many questions I would love to ask of deputies, counselors, etc. I know no one will talk to me while I’m incarcerated. I even tried asking Ms. Jeter, one of the kindest and most easy-going deputies, some questions. No good.
Mike sent me a very interesting, yet disturbing, article he found in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from June of last year. The title of the article is “Fulton jail is in ‘scary’ condition, monitor declares”. It’s about the findings of Robert Greifinger, a man who apparently monitors the jail since a lawsuit was filed back in 1999. I would love to research his reports. I wonder how many lawsuits have been filed against the jail?
Monday, May 2, 2005
Today has been my blah day. The yucky, “I don’t want to be here anymore” cloud is following me today. The fact that it’s Monday night and I’m still here doesn’t help. That means I’m here for at least another seven days, waiting and hoping.
I’ve been dreaming and fantasizing again. What I’ve been dreaming about probably sounds very basic and simple. The one thing I think I miss and think about the most is the weekend. Friday nights out in the real world used to be my favorite time, especially at 5 or 6 o’clock when it was quitting time at work. I’d get in my car, roll the windows down for a cool breeze, have my favorite music on and singing at the top of my lungs with pure joy. This is what I was doing Friday night in December, when I was in a good mood for no reason., when I got pulled over and arrested.
I love Friday nights because very rarely did I make plans. Friday nights were usually for take out sushi from Mali next door, wine and a marathon of television shows to catch up on. But my favorite part of Fridays is that drive home, with just the feeling there is a whole weekend ahead of me.
The other thing I find myself still thinking about and yearning for are errand-running Saturdays. Yes, I’m crazy. But I love getting up early to meet Mike or Kelly for breakfast then getting stuff done – Target, the gym, grocery shopping and anything else that needed to be done. I suppose being locked up without any responsibilities causes such a yearning.
I really crave human interaction. I interact a lot in here, but I miss actually having things in common with people. In here, the only thing I have in common with most everyone is that we’re all in jail. Before coming to jail, I took a break from dating for the most part. And jail certainly maintains that break. I don’t imagine I’ll be dating for the first few weeks I’m home, either. I don’t suppose being recently released from jail, unemployed and living with your ex-boyfriend attracts quality dates.
Monday, May 2, 2005
This is really no way to live. Really it isn’t. I guess I’m having a ‘down day’. Just out of the blue, I feel like I can’t hold it together anymore. I’m sure it will pass as it usually does. I wish I could pinpoint it. I think everything is just piling up. Going on two months of doing nothing, sharing a small space with a roommate who clearly has a different idea of hygiene than I do, living in such a negative environment, etc.
This has been the best time to practice Buddhism and meditation. I’m really glad I’ve been reading up on it and putting it to use. If I were a really good practicing Buddhist I would recognize the problem is me, that my life is just not meeting my expectations. I think that’s generally true of all of us, Buddhist or not.
In great news, Ms. Kathi is free! This certainly perks up my day even though I miss her already. Kelly said they put her in a holding cell and pretty much forgot about her. But he got her eventually and took her home. I’m so happy.
Tuesday, May 3, 2005
Today marks two months.
We’re on lockdown yet again. Just as I went to call Kelly, they locked us down. One bad apple has to ruin it for everyone. At least it s was after they delivered our commissary, otherwise it might’ve been cancelled.
My roommate is gone, so at least I’m alone for awhile. Douglas County came to pick her up first thing this morning. This sounds mean, but it is so nice without her. I don’t care if she’d been someone I truly loved being around – its too hard to live in such tight quarters with someone for a long time. As soon as she left, I cleaned and sanitized the room as best I could. I used the last of my stolen bleach. My living alone right now makes lockdown heavenly.
They haven’t brought any new people into our zone for over two weeks now. Yeah, that’s a good thing but I fear another upheaval is coming. They’ve been taking the incoming females upstairs to 2 North, the floor they opened a week ago or so for women. Of course we assumed they opened a second floor since this one was so overcrowded. That’s probably true. But also know they redid the upstairs so it’s now cleaner and in better condition. If they’re not bringing anyone new down here, what are the chances that they are filtering us out down here and moving the remainder upstairs to redo this floor?
I get anxiety just thinking about it. I’d hate to be uprooted again and set down in the middle of another group of strangers to get used to. That part I can handle since I’m adapting. I almost feel like a stranger in here anyway. But having to cycle through new roommates again… What really starts the anxiety is going back to extremely overcrowded conditions again. I know its much cleaner and nicer up there but if I had to choose, I’d stay here in my dingy cell alone. I’m hoping for a speedy transfer so I don’t have to worry about it.
I got my letter sent off to Stephen Bright, the director of the Southern Center of Human Rights. I opened the lines of communications with him in case we can be of use to each other. I’d really like a copy of any public info from his 1999 lawsuit against Fulton County Jail.
I also got a reply back from the information officer her at the jail from when I asked about possible house arrest until I get transferred. I’m sure she laughed before saying, “no.” The note said I’m under the state Board of Corrections and unless they say otherwise, I’m stuck in this jail until transfer.
Wednesday, May 4, 2005
I saw Andi Sunday. As usual, she looked wonderful. She claims to be gaining weight but I thought she looked great. This past weekend Andi and I went book shopping together. We made arrangements for her to call me on my cell at a predetermined time when I was at Barnes & Noble. I know that sounds strange, but it was really fun. She would select books from her wish list and I would attempt to locate them in the bookstore. It was kind of like a literary scavenger hunt. Result? She will be getting seven books on Thursday if all goes well. It made me miss her even more, but it put a huge smile on both our faces. Hopefully this will all be over for her soon.
Fridauy, May 6, 2005
So I finally got the room to myself…. For just over 24 hours. Since no one declared live to be fair, I got a roommate today. Never mind the fact that the girl next door and several others in this zone have been without a roommate for over two weeks.
Yesterday I was awoken first thing in the morning right before 8 a.m. count to a young girl barging into my room, announcing she was glad to finally be out of lockdown. Swell. At least she was kind and offered me an apple. She said her name was Irene, threw her stuff on the top bunk and said she’d fix it all later. Pure frustration washed over me.
I realize I was letting the fact I only got one day without a roommate cloud the situation. All things considered, I am really lucky in terms of getting a decent roommate. Irene is 20 – actually, she’ll be 21 this Sunday. She’s white, from the south side of the city. What’s kind of strange is she’s almost identical to Robin. Both are from the ghetto and talk like it. Both have been locked up off and on since the age of 17. both live life on the streets. I don’t think Irene smokes crack like Robin, though. Irene has been here on this charge since June 10, 2004. The charge is aggravated assault which carries at least a five year sentence, and she’s still going through the trial process and hoping to work out a plea bargain. How come I keep getting the violent offenders?
The only negative drawback to having Irene for a roommate so far is that she is very hyper and very loud. She reminds me of a teenager that’s stuck in that immature stage and always needing attention. She likes to press everyone’s luck but never means any harm. I am sure there are going to be times when she really gets on my nerves. I think she’ll quiet down and respect my space if I put my foot down with her. She was really quiet and read her book last night and during quiet time. If this is the only negative attribute I have to deal with, I am blessed.
She comes with all the important positives: she doesn’t touch anything of mine and she’s very big on hygiene. As a bonus, she doesn’t snore! This is very important to my mental health. Since Irene doesn’t sleep 23 hours a day like Robin did, she’s out of the room and into everyone else’s business almost all day. Event tonight I’ve had the whole night to myself to read, write and meditate. This is so rare to my jail experience.
Even though Irene is younger and sometimes lacking maturity, she seems to have more sense than Robin did. I didn’t even realize until now how much anxiety Robin was causing me. I think it’s because she liked the jailhouse drama. After all, she got into three fights here. I get the feeling that in order to fit in, Robin was always talking about me to other people; she just seemed to hold it against me that I was a ‘goody-two-shoes’.
Saturday, May 7, 2005
Irene is definitely proving to be one of the better roommates I could have here. We had just been locked down for the night last night when we heard the deputy bring an inmate in from another zone, apparently for fighting. We looked out our little window and Irene started to panic. It was a girl that started a fight with Irene in the zone next to ours. The fight landed Irene in serious, solitary lockdown in zone 600 for the last week. She said the girl liked to start trouble with anyone she could. She didn’t want the girl coming to the zone because one, she just got out of lockdown and two, she didn’t want the girl’s drama coming into our zone. This surprised me as most girls who’ve been locked up awhile live for drama. She got the officer’s attention, the officer checked out the report from Irene’s incident and moved the girl to another zone.
Our zone is pretty quiet and drama-free right now. There is one girl who apparently doesn’t like white women on the street and has tried to overcome those issues in here. Last week, Rhonda seemed okay with me. We had a good conversation one night. Then she made a deal with Robin, my previous roommate. Robin actually seemed to be good friends with Rhonda. Robin “bought’ Rhonda’s Nike tennis shoes from her last week for some commissary items.
Well, Robin bonded out and was picked up to go to Douglas County Tuesday morning before commissary was delivered. It sounds like Robin still owed Rhonda more commissary items that she was supposed to get that afternoon. I knew nothing about it, nor did I care about their business dealings. The first I heard of it was when commissary arrived. They called my name first. As I was coming down the stairs, Rhonda yelled out, “Andi, make sure I get some of your commissary since Robin owes me.”
For a minute I thought she didn’t realize Robin was gone so I said, “Robin went to Douglas County this morning.”
“Yeah, I know.” She said. “She still owes me for my tennis shoes!” I assumed she was kidding. There was no way she was expecting me to give her anything for her deal with someone else.
Wednesday afternoon, Shon, a girl I’m becoming friends with, was in our room having her hair braided by my roommate. We were talking about the fight Robin started with Shon two weeks ago and that led to Shon telling me Robin owed a bunch of people commissary. She said Rhonda was really mad about it and thought that since I was her roommate, I should pay off Robin’s debt. I laughed because this is so ridiculous. I still didn’t let it bother me.
Thursday morning I slept again after morning count. Something happened with Mrs. Stephenson, the older lady, to set Rhonda off. All I could hear was some yelling and Rhonda screaming that Mrs. Stephenson is prejudice.
“See?” I could hear Rhonda yelling. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve tried real hard to forget all the reasons why I hate white people, and this right here brought every damn one of them back.”
I have no idea what she said or did to make Rhonda mad, and really I don’t want to know. Whatever happened probably gave Rhonda a valid reason to be mad, but I know it didn’t involve me so I didn’t want to be in it. I’m still trying hard to stay out of everyone’s issues, especially these petty race issues.
I got up about 30 minutes later and went down to the common room where all the action took place. I hated to, but it was nearly lunchtime. I sensed something coming. Sure enough, the first words spoken to me were from Rhonda.
“Mrs. Stephenson is prejudice,” she said. “Don’t give her anymore food.”
I just shook my head and said, “I really don’t want to be brought into this. This has nothing to do with me.” It sounded like the smart thing to say, but I think she was hoping for more of a reaction or hoping I would rally with her or something. I think she thought I was siding with Mrs. Stephenson because she looked bewildered, but she didn’t have anything else to say to me.
I figured whatever the problem was, it would settle between them. But later in the day I was walking through the common room to another inmate’s door and I hear Rhonda yelling again, something about “goody-two-shoes” and some other things I couldn’t understand. I had no idea who she was talking to or what she was saying. But when I glanced back, I realized she was looking right at me the whole time.
“Are you talking to me?” I asked as nicely as possible. “Because if you are, I’m not trying to be rude and walk away.”
“No,” she said rudely, as she continued to stare me down.
I went on about my business. My roommate told me later she’d been going on and on about stuck-up white people and that’s why she was staring at me and Kellie, another white girl in here.
I don’t understand why she was playing cards with Kellie later in the evening if she has such a problem with white people. I could tell they were talking about me, but I couldn’t hear the whole conversation. I heard Kellie tell Rhonda that she should talk to me about the situation. I really don’t care if anything is solved. If the girl has a problem with me, I it’s only because of the color of my skin. Anything else is just a reason to create unnecessary drama and tension, and I am not interested.
Monday, May 9, 2005
Nearly three days of lockdown hasn’t been fun. I guess with it being Mother’s Day weekend deputies were calling in sick. When there aren’t enough deputies to safely handle inmates, we go on lockdown. I was starting to feel really gross without a shower. Not being able to call Mom was really hard, too.
To further complicate things, the nurse gave me the wrong medication last night. Talk about scary. I’m still on the Lopressor and aspirin twice a day for the hypertension, and Zantac for acid reflux. Sometimes they are out of the Lopressor and Zantac so they just give me the aspirin. What she gave me last night looked like the large, generic Tylenol they usually give me. I should’ve asked about it just to be sure.
I took it before bedtime as usual. About 40 minutes later I felt really weird. Almost high. Then awhile later my arms and legs started tingling, especially in my extremities. It was so irritating I couldn’t sleep. I already knew then something was wrong. I was kind of scared to go to sleep even though I was really tired. I started dozing off when I remembered something Robin said to me. She said she had a tingle problem the first few days she was on her medication.
I wondered if the nurse gave me her medication. No one would’ve caught it otherwise since Robin is gone now. It’s likely because the nurse didn’t ask my name last night, she just marked on her list and handed me the medication. People used to confuse us all the time. With so few white people in this jail, there’s a running joke that we all look the same.
After a restless and worrisome night I asked the morning nurse about the medication and mentioned the tingling. Sure enough, the records are marked that Robin received her medication (never mind she’s been released!) and I did not. Nice. Robin was on Trazadone to help her sleep. Most people take 50 mg, Robin was prescribed 100 mg. Trazadone works by lowering blood pressure to make the person taking it relaxed and sleepy. I’m already on medication to lower my blood pressure! The tingling was because my blood pressure was so low that the blood wasn’t circulating well in my extremities. I’m glad now that I didn’t go to sleep until the medication wore off.
In other news, its Monday and I’m still here. My friend Kellie in here has been trying to track the latest on the prison news for me from the sources she has. She finally went to court today and just happened to be stuck in a holding cell with two girls who were transported here from Metro State Prison for court hearings. They said absolutely nothing is moving in the prison system since its so overcrowded and there’s nowhere for them to go with the one prison closed.
There isn’t anything an attorney can do unless I reach 18 months and haven’t been released. Just in case, I’m going to send a letter to my attorney and ask him to contact the Board of Corrections and see about getting a parole board hearing to request serving the rest of my sentence on house arrest.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
I got a reply back from the Southern Center for Human Rights, the people I sent a letter to requesting information on the lawsuit they filed against this jail last summer. What I read blew me away! The lawsuit started with a male inmate who was assaulted by a deputy and grew into a class-action lawsuit on behalf of present and future inmates. I am enduring really bad, inhumane conditions but this inmate had it much worse most of the time. Currently, the jail isn’t meeting the terms of the court order.
I was shocked to learn the jail was built to hold 1,375 inmates. Bunk beds were added to the common rooms on floors one through five to make the official capacity of the jail 2,250. That alone is a problem because as I said, there are only 36 seating places at tables for meals in our zone (the number of beds in actual cells). But with bunk beds full we have 52 inmates, leaving 16 inmates to find a place to sit somewhere else (the stairs or in their rooms). At the time of the lawsuit, the jail population was 3,365 – 2,000 more than the jail was designed for.
The paralegal said she would be happy to meet with me to discuss the conditions I’m enduring, as “it would not be possible for [them} to work for change without my willingness to share information.” I’m going to offer her to visit me anytime here, or if this is not a high priority to them it can wait until I get out. I know it may seem petty, but it feels good to know someone wants to know what’s really going on here. It’s a small step but I was thrilled to get such a quick response.
In other news, I think our dorm is changing. It seems we’re going from the trustee dorm where all the ‘good kids’ used to be to the dorm where they are bringing all the people coming out lockdown. My roommate came from lockdown for lots of fighting. Then today, much to my chagrin, another girl came back. She was here before we were transferred to city jail. She got into a near-violent confrontation with a deputy and went to lockdown. That was five weeks ago and she’s been in lockdown since. Everytime they put her into a different zone she gets into a fight and ends up back in lockdown. She’s been to every zone on both floors and ended up back here. I couldn’t stand her then, I can’t stand her now.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Darn. It’s nearly mid-May already. What I would do for some fresh air. I’ll bet it’s beautiful outside. It’s got to be pretty warm because its hot and humid in here and we are way under-crowded with just 22 people at last count.
Today is a blah Thursday. To fight off the blahs, I’m trying to maintain some sort of purpose in jail. My subconscious mind came through with another project to get on. One of my goal’s from going through the three-year trial process is getting an article into some of the women’s magazines about my experience with Ben. I’d like to tell my story to hopefully keep other young women from making the same naïve mistakes I did. It would’ve been much easier to tell had I just gone to trial and won. I think I let that goal go when I lost my opportunity to go to trial and clear my name. I thought the message was lost when I took the plea bargain, the easy way out.
But really, what was lost? Being misled into the plea bargain doesn’t change what happened to get me here. It adds so many angles and elements to the story, actually. This is something I need to think about.
I’m frustrated that no one will volunteer any information to us – not the Department of Corrections nor anyone here at the information office. I understand I’m incarcerated and considered a felon, but shouldn’t I be informed of the process and have some information on what’s going on? I’ve tried so hard to fight against the negative and worrisome feelings that have been haunting me all day. If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself in jail its that I truly don’t like not being in control of my life. Being in here is the epitome of no control. That’s not very comforting considering I’m in the hands of a very overcrowded and careless system that can’t even keep track of its inmates.
I think what’s really getting to me today is the sheer loneliness in here. I wish I could find a way to make it go away. But I know I can’t and it’s just something I have to deal with. I mean yeah, there are people I can have conversation with, but no one to really talk to. Everyone here is used to life here so they don’t relate to me, nor I to them. I don’t have anyone I can cry in front of so I have to hold it in and hope I can steal a moment alone. There’s no one to hug or to get some positive encouragement from.
I can’t really call Mike or Kelly when I’m feeling this bad because I’ll keep breaking down. I am sitting here crying, but I’m in my room. The phones are out in the common room where everyone is sitting. It’s been great meeting people so very different than me, but I miss the familiar. Even worse is I have no idea how long I’ll be here. Maybe that’s the scary root of all this – not knowing how long I have to endure and hold it all together.
The sudden realization that life is going on without me doesn’t help. I called Kelly tonight as he asked me to, but he was driving to Alabama to make a delivery for his job. Rae answered the phone, and I ended up talking to here instead. She delivered the news to me that Department of Corrections has no idea when things will be moving within the prison system again. That was crushing enough.
The topic changed and she got to talking about cooking. I know about her and Kelly spending quite a bit of time at my apartment, and I’m okay with that. It’s not really bothered me. Until tonight when she was sharing anecdotes about cooking dinner. I know what it was that unexpectedly set me off. She said, “Well, we have to be creative because…”
It was the “we” part. It has nothing to do with any residual feelings for Kelly or lack thereof, but as far as Kelly and I, WE have always been “we”. WE have always been creative about dinners and getting by in life. And to hear someone else say “we” while I’m here, well, I guess it was a sock to the gut.
I think the realization that someone is living in my house, driving my car, sleeping in my bed, watching movies on my television, feeding and loving my cats and it’s not me. To make it worse, it feels like I’m having to finally do battle alone. For so many years, Kelly has been with me in the thick of things, supporting me and helping me get through. And really, he still is. More than I probably can understand right now. But there’s only so much he can do out there. It comes down to me being locked in an 8x10 cell while he’s weathering different storms with someone else now. Yes, that’s very dramatic and self-pitying, but that’s how I feel right now.
I know the bigger picture is this is how it’s supposed to be. I am supposed to be here fighting this battle by myself but that doesn’t mean its easy. Its not always easy to practice what I preach. Its forcing me to take a hard look at myself and deal with a bunch of emotions and issues that I’ve refused to acknowledge.
I suppose the meditation has a lot to do with this. I am the poster girl for examples of someone who can’t just accept life as it is right at this moment. At least not yet. I’m working on it.
I just realized today marks nine weeks of jailhouse fun. I bet if I could look back on my journal entries I’d find that, ironically, Thursdays are always my blah days. For some reason time moves fairly quickly Sunday afternoon through Wednesday, but everything slows down on Thursdays on. It’s probably psychological.
We got four new people yesterday but they all left in record time. One was another white girl with glasses. She just turned 18 yesterday. Every single white girl that’s come through here is on a drug charge though its usually in addition to something else. For example, my roommate is here mainly because of aggravated assault for stabbing someone but also a possession charge. Everyone in this dorm is here on some sort of drug-related charge to the best of my knowledge. Yes, it seems our war on drugs IS working.
In good news, I got a letter from Ms. Kathi. She sounds so good and alive in her letters. It was a short one, just to let me know she is doing well. She said her asthma isn’t bother her much and her roommate brings her roses everyday.
Saturday, May 14, 2005
I talked to Kelly tonight.
“How are you doing?” He asked.
“I’m doing much better,” I said. “I think I just hit one of the usual rough patches last night.
“Yeah,” he said. “Then you called me and had to talk to Rae.”
I laughed when he said that. I have to give him credit. I think he’s been more in-tune to everyone, especially me, the last year and a half than in the entire eight years I’ve known him.
I told him it wasn’t her that upset me and that I wasn’t mad about it. He didn’t think I was mad, but he wondered if it bothered me because all he heard her talk about was life outside of jail and how I am probably glad I’m not there to take care of mundane details like cooking and cleaning. I’m over it though. It’s a new day.
People are obsessed with their eyebrows in here. I mean, I am too in the real world. But in here, who cares? I’m not here to impress anyone. If I were, I’m not doing a very good job of it. Being German I do have some big eyebrows when they are grown out. Several people keep insisting that I let them “do” my eyebrows. First of all, only professionals “do” my eyebrows. Second, they only get waxed. The only option in here is to use the magic shave depilatory (which the label specifically says “formulated for black men’s beards). No way.
Irene has been bugging me constantly. I’m glad I stuck to my guns on this one despite her claims of doing the best eyebrow work in jail. Everyone who’s had their eyebrows done is missing half an eyebrow. Thanks for the offer, but while my eyebrows may be large and a tiny bit bushy, at least they’re whole.
To bring some much needed humor to the table, I started a reference sheet of words and phrases I hear constantly. I practically had to learn a new language to figure out what people were saying. Here’s what I have so far:
Phrase/Word What it means
“That bitch is shot the fuck out!” “That girl is crazy!”
“You gotta be shittin’ me!” “No way!” or “Get outta here!”
“O-Kay! (accent on the “kay”) “I agree.”
“Urnge” pronunciation for “orange”
“I ain’t be studdin’ dem!” “I’m not worried about them!”
“Where you be at?” “Where do you hang out when
you’re not in jail?”
“on the street” “outside of jail”
“geeked up” “high” (on drugs)
“for a minute” “for awhile”
“for a whole minute” “for a long while”
“showing out” “showing off”, “acting up”
“making store” “getting commissary”
Monday, May 16, 2005
We are on lockdown again. Three times a week on average we end up on lockdown due to deputy shortage. Why can’t it be on the morning shift? Most of us sleep until 3 p.m. anyway. But instead we always end up on lockdown during the evening shift when we are all awake to watch television, make phone calls and just… be awake. At least they let us out to eat dinner tonight instead of making us eat in our rooms as usual, especially since we had spaghetti tonight which we have to eat with a spoon. I tried to sneak a phone call to Kelly but he didn’t answer.
It turns out a girl next door (if that’s what you want to call her) was transferred to prison this morning. Our curious minds are especially curious now about what’s going on. This is exactly why I don’t believe anything I hear until I actually see it happen. All I know about Rocky is that she was sentence to three years and has been waiting now about as long as I have been waiting. This sheds a little hope that something is moving.
Other than that, there’s very little to report. They messed up our regular Sunday night dinner we all look forward to. We usually have real chicken on the bone every Sunday. Last night they gave us a processed chicken hockey puck. We were not amused.
Oh, and now I have my own version of the “Free Andi” bracelet everyone is wearing. Mine is made out of thread from my uniform so my color choices consisted of navy blue, navy blue and… oh, navy blue. I had long forgotten about these bracelets until Jill made them for everyone. The last time I made one of these was at a summer camp prior to 7th grade, circa 1986.
Ironically, they are very popular in jail. People actually ‘pay’ other people in commissary to make them. Obviously navy blue is the main color but every once in awhile, you can find a lone strand of another color thread in the uniforms – red, green, gold and gray. One day and a handful of sour cream and onion chips later, I have my very own bracelet. It even has the intricate spiral. I got mine at a serious discount since she’s my roommate and I give her commissary for free all the time anyway.
They finally decided to stop torturing us and turned on the air yesterday. I slept so good last night. Now the only problem is that it has two settings : on and off. It’s a bit chilly in the common room. I fear too many wimpy inmates will complain and get the air turned off again. Me? I’m in much better spirits when I’m not forced to sleep in a pool of my own sweat and forced to stay in it through constant lockdowns. But hey, that’s just me.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
I must’ve stopped calculating how long I’ve been here because I just realized this Thursday will make 11 weeks I’ve been here. Almost three months.
In exciting news, we got mattress covers today. I was dead asleep at 8 a.m. when my roommate woke me up all excitedly, saying we needed to line up to get something. So yes, I was woken up for a mattress cover. I’m still very thankful.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
I really need to get out of here. Of course, that would just be me running away from situations that make me extremely uncomfortable. Things have been going on around here. I have a heart and I care about human beings, so it’s hard to put aside and ignore the situation at hand.
Wanda, one of the bullies from when I first got here, is back. Wanda’s track record since I last saw her, the day we were both transferred to city jail, is quite impressive. She and another girl got into some trouble on the bus when we were transferred. Both girls were yelling things about being fans of Brian Nichols, the now famed courthouse shooter, and how they wish he’d succeeded in killing everybody. They were yelling these things out of the bus window. Keep in mind this was only two weeks after Nichols shooting rampage. While at the city jail, she went crazy screaming and all but assaulting the nurse because she didn’t have her medication.
They sent her back to county jail a day before I came back. I was not happy to return to the likes of her. But when I got here, I found out she’d assaulted a deputy on the way back and ended up downstairs in a holding cell. It was one of the city officers and that officer pressed charges against Wanda. I was happy to hear she ended up in 28 days of lockdown since that would mean less for us to deal with.
I didn’t know about the lockdown; I just assumed she’d gone to court and was released or moved on to another jail. Imagine my surprise when she showed up here a week ago. The very first day she came down to my room to ask me for some potato chips and to announce that ‘she’s back’. She let us know she’d been back and forth out of lockdown several times since city jail.
So we’re stuck with her again. She and everyone she hangs out with has decided to make Mrs. Stephenson a target again. Talk about a bunch of hypocrites. These are the same people who hare constantly preaching about being a good Christian and getting along. They are always singing praises and church hymns and preaching scripture to other inmates. Not only are they bullying her now, they decided to force her into the shower.
The officer on duty for this shift is new, at least to our floor. She’s encouraged to a degree. Three of the inmates asked the officer if they can force her to get in the shower, and the officer said, “Yes.”
Mrs. Stephenson is only in her 50s but she easily looks 80. Her health is terrible. She has serious heart problems. She’s also been admitted to a mental hospital three times for manic depression and is on Lithium, which is nothing to mess around with. She’s been through enough trauma, both in and out of jail. She’s here on serious charges involving her brother and the rest of her family abandoned her. A bunch of bullying and unkind inmates physically forcing her into a tiny shower probably won’t be good for her.
Believe me, she gets on my nerves, too. She is a bother, but so is everyone else in here. She really doesn’t belong here. For whatever reason they didn’t classify her into the mental health zone because that’s for people who are seriously mental (yes, most of them really are cross-eyed and such). So poor Mrs. Stephenson doesn’t really belong anywhere and they just put her in general population to fend for herself. My opinion is that it should be a serious liability for that officer telling these inmates they can forcefully put her in the shower.
I’ve stayed in my room because I really don’t want to be involved in anything. The inmates started telling Mrs. Stephenson they were going to throw her in the shower after dinner and were calling her names. They decided to do it sooner and started chasing her around. I can only go off what I heard because I refused to leave my room. For one, I don’t want to take part in this, and two, if the security camera in here really works I don’t want to be on it.
I hate caring because no human being should be treated like this, even in jail. But really, what can be done when an officer gives them permission? Honestly, I’m scared of Wanda. I don’t think she’d hesitate to try and kill me, or worse. She’s a lot bigger than me. And even if I could hold my own, I have already been in one fight and that’s one fight too many for my stay in jail.
The whole event with Mrs. Stephenson has been sidetracked by an incident involving my roommate Irene and Karen, one of the bullies. I don’t really know what happened and I really don’t care. I’m obviously tired of jail today. This is a ridiculous snapshot of life in jail.
Much to our surprise, the baked chicken they failed to serve us Sunday night appeared in our Styrofoam cartons tonight! This was a much-needed surprise. Furthermore, Valencia and I made a trade – some peanut butter cookies I had for the thigh of her chicken. I was stuffed full. As an added bonus, Gladys, our zone trustee, came back with a bunch of extra trays and was kind enough to give me one. A whole second chicken! Now I have leftovers to make up for the commissary I didn’t get.
Some days these little things are all I have to hang on to.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
I received a call from Andi’s roommate this morning at 8:42 a.m. She was happy to tell me that Andi had gone to prison. She’s been transferred! Apparently she was called to transfer around 3 a.m. and that was all her roommate could tell me. She said Andi probably won’t be able to contact me or Mike for about 3 days so we can only wait and bite our nails until we hear from her. I’ll let you know when I hear something.
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Okay, a little update. There apparently was some confusion about Andi’s transfer. Andi was still at Fulton County Jail as of last night. But Kelly was not wrong in his announcement. They did tell her she was being transferred, but when the sun set she was still there. It was a false alarm and she was yanked around. Andi is stressed out because the deputy that handles inmate property when they are transferred to prison told her they may dispose of her books since she has so many of them. That’s over $250 worth of books. Believe me, I don’t care, but Andi is stressing about it. I tried to tell her last night not to worry about it but she is because they are her books. I anticipate she will be transferred in the next few days and we may not hear from her for a few weeks, but as soon as I know more I will let you know. I am praying that parole is in her near future but she anticipates at least three more months of incarceration.
Keep your fingers crossed!