The Felonious PhD.

White Collar Female PhD. Felon, Prison Camp, Re-Entry, Criminal Justice Reform. Women, Lesbian

Around and Around…

November 9, 2013

I awoke, as usual, at 5:30 am.  There is an uncomfortable silence from the desert we’re surrounded by that penetrates the walls of this multi-purpose room in an oppressive way on Saturdays when everyone can sleep later than usual.  I decided to get up and take my shower.  Early morning or late night showers are the best here because the water is hotter and more importantly, the shower stall is a little oasis of peace, privacy, and it soothes my soul.  I take as much time as I possibly can in the shower.  Mom’s know how that is!  A few moments of peace in the shower with the door locked is like being transported to a resort experience……until the sound of “Moooom!” makes its way under the door.  Nobody rushes you here, and there is no time limit, but I do wish it was the sound of my sonny’s voice that broke the silence in my private oasis instead of voices over the loud speaker or other commotion that comes with living with hundreds of women.

I have noticed that Saturday mornings are the time when many of the older women are in the t.v. rooms crocheting or knitting.  (Nope…still not crocheting or knitting! I have my limits!)  I already feel conditioned to get on the big track and walk continuously, going nowhere, in a circle.  Little J has refused to return for these walks after her one and only trip.  Every now and then I reverse the direction I walk, just to mix it up.  I’m not sure why it has an effect on me, but it does.  When I am sitting under a tree writing these blogs, or journaling, I look out towards the track full of women of all races, age groups and reasons for being here, I get sad.  it is truly a feeling of being trapped, like a herd of sheep being forced in a circle by a herder (system) that could care less.  Oh, boy!  I tell you, everything is political to me so it’s hard to even enjoy a walk without it becoming a metaphor!  Also, I am fully aware that most of the women are on that horrible, circular track of pain to relieve some of their worries.  Walking in circles is like falling asleep to white noise, at least that is their goal, to be lulled into numbness by the mundane to just avoid the emotions.

Every time I go for a walk, someone starts telling me their story.  I am up to five laps now, which is about two miles, before I am ready to scream out of sheer boredom.  The other day I was walking with a grandma who walks 10 to 12 laps a day.  She puts me to shame.  She is counting down the time until she can get to her grandkids.  She speaks adamantly about her disgust with the system as she is in here for something to do with illegal immigrants.  I try to keep the conversation geared toward her grandkids and her return home because her disposition turns far more rosy when she talks about that.

On this Saturday morning, I walked early and alone.  Now I am going to go practice shooting so I will be somewhat loose for the “Around the World” basketball contest that is usually only for the 45 and under ! Yes, all of the weekend activities and competitions are organized by age.   I get to be an exception.  Otherwise I’d be expected to play with the older group who plays boring games that involve sitting at a table for long time.  Not my style!

Am I in one of my group homes?

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The Big Shakedown…

November 9, 2013

The day began as usual…uneventful and slow.  I spent most of the day in the library doing my best to prepare for my 10 week creative writing class.  Around 1:30, as I was heading back to the unit, I was met by a wave of green moving hurriedly, but not running, out towards the courtyard.  What a sight!  Through the hushed conversations, I finally made out that the unit was being evacuated.  My first SHAKEDOWN!  I joined the crowd and got some clarification on the exact nature of a shakedown.  It’s a search of inmates lockers and storage bins.  As speculation spread through the camp about who the identified person was, and who snitched them out, I could not help but feel like I was in a bad episode of CSI or Lock Up.

An hour went by and we, about 140 of us from the North side, continued to be locked out.  The word is that the North unit, where I live, is the low-key unit so the South side was happy that for once the shakedown wasn’t happening to them.  We watched with anticipation as administrators arrived at the unit.  To pass the time, I began reading a book while others started a game of Spades in preparation for the upcoming Spades tournament happening over the weekend.  Ha!

Finally, more than two hours later, we were let back into the unit.  One of the beds had been stripped and she has not been seen since.  According to inmate.com, someone told the powers that be that the woman had “stuff” in her possession that could be considered contraband.  I have never been one for gossip, so I won’t list the variety of items that she has been speculated to have had in her possession.  All I know for a fact is that she is no longer here with us on the North side.

Every day and every hour, well, every minute actually, I become more certain that I do not belong here.  While at the same time realizing that this is my reality for now and I have to find a way to use it for my future benefit.  Whew!

What a challenge!

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Creative Writing and the Resistance to the Creative Voice…

Last night was the first night of my creative writing class.  To my surprise, of the 16 students, only two of them were under the age of 30.  Well, I guess when I think about it I’m not actually very surprised at all.  Young people hear the word writing, and immediately become afraid.  One of the young women came because I recruited her, the other because she was assigned to assist an elderly woman for the time they are both incarcerated.  That is an issue I’ll discuss when I’m out!!

As I discussed the environment I wanted to develop and nurture, a few of the older women were more interested in knowing about writing structure, grammar, commas, and precise essay writing.  Whew!  I expected this so I began by telling them that if they were looking for a class that teaches grammar, etc…..this is NOT it.  Most of the audience laughed and breathed a sigh of relief.  I let them know that I would be providing them an opportunity to just write.  No pressure.  No barriers.  However, the only rule was that their writing had to be shared.  They must make their private, public.

The hour was up before I knew it.  Most of the women left with smiles and said that they were going to start journalling while they were still there in the classroom.

There is nothing like a captive audience! I really enjoyed engaging in a conversation about words, writing, and the power of voice.  Even though we are all in one of the most oppressive environments we have ever experienced, writing can still save our souls.  Writing in every form saves my life daily.  Dang it!!  I miss texting!

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Three Weeks…

November 5, 2013

I can’t say that I am having a nice time because that would be the overstatement of the century.  However, I can let it be known that if  you are a woman, even a middle-aged woman, who has worked hard all of your life,  a woman who has taken care of all who have needed your help, a woman of real purpose, and you still find yourself entangled in this crazy, cryptic Federal legal system…you will be fine.

I know when I first received my sentence and the certainty of my being incarcerated became real, I searched everywhere for answers to the questions:  Will I be safe?  Will I have privacy in the shower?  Will I even have privacy in the restroom?  What in the hell is going to happen to me?  Will I find anything I can eat in there?  How will I communicate with my family and friends?  After three weeks, I have to say that most of my questions have been answered.  In regards to my basic needs and my safety, I feel safe here.  I mean as safe as anyone can feel being locked up or fenced in and surrounded by three higher level prisons.

I do have additional concerns regarding the over-crowding in the camp.  Having 40 women housed in the multi-purpose room is not ideal and speaks volumes about the inefficient and ineffective way our system overuses incarceration and underutilizes any alternative sentencing options, by surprisingly, it is relatively calm and low-key in here.  At bedtime my trusty earplugs minimize the volume of the snoring symphony and the middle of the night, dreamy screams of “fuck you” from my neighbor.  Up to now, those have been the biggest social annoyances that are inherent to the multi-purpose room.

The beds, or cots pretending to be beds, reminds me that this is jail.  I would recommend getting some good sleep in your soft cozy bed before you come…..you will miss your bed.  Also, at this camp, steel toe boots are required attire.  They hurt like heck.  They are heavy and the new ones are stiff, painful, and cause bruises on your feet and ankles.  There is nothing you can do about it unless you have documented any severe feet issues in your PSI report.  They have forced many with aches and pains to wear them or face getting a write-up which is called a “shot.”

There are a few other areas that have come to my attention over the past three weeks, some I had not even thought of before arriving, and I will share more details about those as the weeks go by.  The take away from this post is that I am safe. Also, time continues to go by even when you are not having the kind of fun you are used to having with those you love!

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As the Sun Comes Up, Continued…

Next to LittleJ is a newbie.  She is a young twenty-something, mixed-race woman.  She is very nice and still very quiet.

In the next bunk is Ms. J who is an Asian woman in her 40’s who is trying very hard to understand what she has done wrong and why the judge wants her in jail.  Ms. J spends much of her time in the library.  I go there for peace, she goes there for the Asian newspaper.  She reads the English one as well, as best she can, so that, according to her, she doesn’t have to ask so many questions/

On the farthest wall to my left there are three bunk beds.  The first bunk has a 30-year-old African-American woman who cried inconsolably when she received a picture of her beautiful 5-year-old son.  Her bottom bunkee is another Hispanic woman in her 40’s who always smiles when anyone walks by her bunk.  She talked to me yesterday about child welfare issues since she heard through our high-tech communication system, inmate.com, that I am a social worker.

The second of those three bunks is home to a 20-something Hispanic female who is excited about my creative writing class.  She said, “Little.  Are you going to make me talk about my private, personal business in front of people?”  I replied, “No, I am not going to make you do anything.  But, I will provide a forum and safe environment for you to speak your truth.”  She seemed more than satisfied with my response.    Her bottom bunkee is a 50ish caucasian woman who moved from the south side unit because she was being bullied.  She sits quietly in her corner looking around at everyone.  One day at count time, I stood next to her and asked her how she was doing.  Her response was, “The only thing that matters is that God would fix this.  God has to fix this. He sees all.”  Okay!

In the last bunk in that row of three , there are two older caucasian women who are very quiet, yet friendly.  They don’t talk much.  They just seem to be in shock or highly medicated.  I suppose the effect would be the same either way, so maybe a little more time will reveal which it is. Or maybe not.

Now to the far back wall.  On the left there is a young mixed-race woman who has been here for a while.  She bounces around listening to her music, like there’s not a care in the world.  Her bottom bunkee is a 50ish African-American substance abuse counselor, who is new like me, and  still trying to figure out why the system has given her jail time and what purpose it serves to have her here.  Next to them, on the right, are two caucasian women. On the bottom bunk is Ms. V (aka Big Country), who is often reading a romance novel to escape the reality of a 7 year sentence. Next to them are two caucasian women.  The 20 something on the top bunk seems to be a hard worker and has learned very well how to survive in this environment.  I hear she has been here for quite a while and some to not speak well of her because of her abrasive demeanor.  From what i have seen, she is just adapting to an environment where YOU are your only worry!  Her bunkee, who is 50ish, speaks very knowingly about the prison system.  I don’t know her story, but she is friendly, knowledgeable and shares whatever she has.

The next bunk is home to two of my favorite people.  Ms. R, a caucasian woman, resides on the top bunk and is in her 40s.  She is always good for a laugh and has generously been teaching LittleJ and me how to perfect a jail house spread.  Being my uppity self, at least in the food department, I have been a bit, shall we say, resistant to the chow line, but when she cooks, I eat!  She jokes that she has been incarcerated too long because she knows too many jailhouse recipes.  Ms. M is her bottom bunkee.  She is an African-American woman in her 40’s.  We often talk about how this process has devastated our careers and those who are close to us.  We also laugh out loud a lot about the prison camp culture.  Things like, count, recreation, the food, and the toilet paper.  You have to be “inside” to really appreciate that last one!  I will give some insight on that when I am free!!  Ms. M can often be found playing card games such as spades and golf.  She will be leaving soon and as a result, she is experience some “short-timer’s feelings.” Whew! That’s quite a mix of emotions that one would never expect!

In the last bunk is my ex-neighbor, Ms.E, who taught me my first lesson here.  “This is Jail.  Get used to it!”  She is Asian, 26 years old, and has too much experience with the system.  I enjoy joking with her and making her laugh.  Her bunkee is a 40ish woman from Africa.  She has begun to laugh and joke with Little J and I.  Initially, I think we disturbed her groove with our joke telling and laughter.  Now, she will just lets us be us and goes her own way or joins in if the mood strikes her.

That is the multipurpose room crew….for the moment.  For the past three weeks, I have seen plenty of people come and go.  It is a proverbial revolving door where true relationships are a risk.  For women, I can see how this system tears at the very fabric of who we are as mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends.  That is why it is important that society understand the consequences of throwing away and destroying non-violent, albeit law-offending women.  this is not a race, age, or income issue.  This is a gender issue.  This is a women’s issue which makes it a major issue for our country.

Listen up people!!

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As The Sun Comes Up…

November 5, 2013

6:25 am

I woke up this morning and looked around the room at my fellow bunkees.  Today, I am going to attempt to give you a visual of everyone in here, or at least a small introduction.

In the two beds to my right, there are three Hispanic, twenty-somethings who are very respectful and seem to accept responsibility for their actions.  From what I have witnessed, they are eager and ready to participate in any educational opportunities that are available.

In the far bunk, up against the window, there is a forty-something Hispanic woman and a 40ish Italian woman, Ms. Y.  The woman on the bottom bunk usually speaks Spanish and is very maternal with the younger girls.  They are always cooking meals-incredible mexican dishes-on the weekends.  Ms Y., who is presently in the top bunk but is very excited to be going home to her kids and family soon, is always ready for a conversation and told me she both laughed and cried when she read Black Butterfly Blues.  Little J and I sit in the unit and laugh with Ms. Y, quite often.

To my left is Ms. L.  She has declared herself to be my bodyguard.  Ms. L is a forty-something hispanic female who is hard-core, but has a very soft heart.  We often laugh and joke around with one another.  She reminds me that she has been incarcerated for so long that she has become used to it.  No tears, no worrying about the outside world, just existing in this limited environment.  Neither she nor I currently have a top bunk-mate, but I am learning that this revolving door system is about to bring a plane load (Con-Air style)  this week.  So neither of us will be without a bunk-mate for much longer, I assume.

To the far left of me, near the door, is Ms. M.  She is a fifty-something caucasian woman who has found her worth on the camp grounds by winning almost every competitive game that is offered on the weekend.  Yes…to keep us busy, they have card games, board games, sports, and ongoing competitions where the big prize for the winner is a goody bag filled with junk food that is not sold in the commissary.  Yes, Mrs. M received all seven of her winner’s goodie bags yesterday!  She was the most popular person in the unit! It was very cute and equally enlightening for me.  It validated my belief that all people truly need and desire is to be loved, accepted, to belong.  She finds value in her game winning skill and has found where she belongs here!

On the next row, in front of me on the far right bunk, is one of my favorite young people, Ms. L, a young hispanic woman who is here on a parole violation and leaves in less than two weeks.  Below her is Ms. C.  Ms. C is a 71 years old, African-American woman who reminds me of my grandmother and who humbles me daily when I wake up cursing the system for doing this to me.  Ms. C is a veteran of the Marines, the first black person in her unit and has the pictures to prove it.  She is a gospel singer and promoter….a God-fearing woman.  Every day after she reads her Bible I try to go talk to her.  She makes no bones about being angry at Obama and the system that she says has done her so wrong.  I wish I could help her, but unfortunately we are wearing the same green uniforms, stuck in the same dysfunctional system, so all I can do is listen.

In the next bunk, there is my counterpart, Ms. LittleJ.  She is a 40-something, Native American female who keeps reminding people she is not black.  We laugh continuously and even though she may be the loudest, most potty-mouthed person in here, at times she is the biggest softy.  She will cry at the blink of an eye just because she feels like it.  She is here for a year and a day, so she will leave before I do.  She is free of a bunk-mate as well…..for now.

Stay tuned to meet the rest of the characters…..

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Sunday Night…This Is Prison?

November 4, 2013

I am sitting in the unit and all around me there are women, positively interacting with each other.  To my right a group of Latinas are looking at pictures, laughing and talking about their lives and other things that an English-only speaking person is not privy to hearing.  To their right is a group of four women who have been playing spades, laughing, and having some fun competition.  Across the way a few other women are quietly crocheting and reading books.  This is Prison!!  As I sit here and absorb this whole experience, I can’t help but question this process…..again.

Honestly, we have not seen a C.O. since 4pm for count, a process I will discuss when I am free, for reasons that will be clear when that time comes.  I think to myself and say out loud that they would and could never manage 130 or more men in this manner.  Let our asses go home where we are more useful.  Really, I am just stating the truth.  Today the women had their visitors, went to church, practiced for the Christmas program, wrote letters, read, exercised, washed and ironed their clothes and to end the evening, many watched the daily movie, The Hunger Games, as the others watched “Black Girls Rock,” on BET.

On a normal night, when I felt tired and ready to go to bed, I would just go.  But here, that cannot happen until there is a count. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I want this place to be anybody’s hard time, but it’s just surreal.  There just has to be a more effective way to create the accountability and rehabilitation that the government wants.

The reality remains….this is prison

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The Longest Day…

November 4, 2013

3:25pm

Today was a long, long day.  I found myself going in circles, so I decided I would get more productive by walking on the track and doing some reading.  Yes, I can walk and read at the same time.  I am currently reading a book called Anything We Love Can Be Saved, A Writers Activism, by Alice Walker.  This is my second read.  I am enjoying it more now than I did in the past because I really want to learn how to perfect the powerful, potent book of essays.  After reading several of the essays in the boook and heading into my fourth lap, I decided to head to the library to see if I could find something, anything, by June Jordan or, my favorite, James Baldwin.   Of course, I was out of luck.  Our library  has a multitude of fiction, a few biographies, and a collection of other outdated readings.  Being out of luck for deeper mental stimulation, I decided to just work on my Thursday creative writing class to help pass some time. 

All of that action took up about ONE HOUR and 45 MINUTES! Whew!  I started asking myself this question. “What is life without a purpose?”  By that, you can tell that today has been one of those days for me.  Even though I stubbornly and politically do not want to performa a job for the B.O.P. for 12 cents an hour, internally I would go crazy sitting around here questioning and observing the absurdity of this process.

This was the longest day.  It will be over soon and I am hopeful for a better tomorrow.

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Ms. Nonna Y …

When I approached “Nonna Y” about sharing her story, she was more than willing.  She is a wonderful family woman who has catalogued all of her husband’s emails in a binder. (So cute!) Her main concern, like most of us in here, is the extent of the harm this has caused her family.  She wrote her story for all of us and then realized she forgot to discuss her own personal feelings….typical for us women!  So, she was gracious enough to add that part to her story.  Her story has been added to a new page, “Their Stories.”  Please take a few minutes to read about my fellow-camper.

I want to thank Nonna Y for sharing and I also want to thank her for always smiling and offering a pleasant and loving hello or good morning.  It’s hard to say I will be sad to see someone leave from here so I will say I am glad she will be returning ast the matriarch to her family.  They are very luck to have her!

Good luck Ms. Nonna Y

 

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Saturdays at the Camp…

I will do my best to give a clear description of my Saturday at camp.  I woke up at 6am, washed my face, changed into sweats, and went to breakfast.  I am not one for breakfast, but I did get a cup of coffe and returned to the unit to change out of my crocs, yes crocs, into my tennis shoes (that were given to me).  As I walked out of the unit door, I glanced up at the smooth blue pillowy sky, took a nice deep breath and continued on the concrete path that leads to the recreation department.  Saturday morning at 7am and the track was full of women doing their morning circular walk.  I, on the other hand, enjoy walking in the evening when the sun goes down. 

I entered the recreation department and on the left-hand side of the room there is a bulletin board that lists various recreational classes one could sign up to take.  It almost made me feel like I was at “Fitness Connection,” where I had a membership prior to self-surrendering.  I walked through the door and the t.v. on the wall was showing the movie of the day.  And like most gyms there is a line of treadmills and stationary bikes facing the television. 

I wanted to do some ab work, so I past the row of walking and riding nowhere machines into one of the private rooms with my partner, the ball, and worked out for 45 minutes.  It felt good!  I mean it was not fun, but it felt good

I returned to the unit, headed toward my bed, and was asked by “K,” one of the women who has been here for a while, if I wanted a pedicure.  Well, HELL yeah! I wanted a pedicure.  Honestly, in our unit we have a salon.  Now, I’m not trying to make this sound like the place to be, by any means, but since I have no choice, I won’t complain about the availability of “pampering” services.  In ther salon, there were other women washing, drying, braiding, and twisting their hair, laughing and telling stories, just like we were in a downtown salon in Yourtown, USA.  I do love the strength of the human spirit.  I sat in the corner where “K” does her pedicures and put my fee in a bucket of warm water.  I had a wonderful pedicure and had my toenails painted with a nice bright shade of purple.  It is not my idea of luxury, believe me when I say that, but I will make the best out of any situation I face. 

Life is truly to be lived to the fullest.  I will always do my very best to do it my way.  Today, I am thankful to “K.”  Hopefully I can get her to share her story on the blog soon.

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