31 October 2016

Streak-Free, I Can See

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“I did everything I could to get away from that man. I cooked his chicken in Windex, everything.”

Wanda was telling me her past of abuse when I had been here about a year. These stories were starting to depress me, so to prevent myself from feeling them, I anointed myself an embedded reporter, convinced myself that I had to be objective in my understanding of my surroundings in order to inquire and investigate matters properly so I could explain to people what happens inside prisons when I got home.

“Wait, why did you cook his chicken in Windex? What does that do?” I asked.

She squinted at me.

“Cuz it’s poison. Ain’t nobody live through a Windex chicken,” Wanda explained.

“Oh, you were trying to kill him. To…to get away from him?” I tried to clarify.


“So, just let me ask you, what does the Windex do that, say, another household cleaner wouldn’t do? Is that, you know, like a thing? A ‘Windex chicken’? Do other people do that? I mean, I’ve never heard of that combination.”

“What the fuck is you talkin’ about?” She looked at me and searched my face for comprehension.

“I guess, I mean, why did you choose Windex and chicken to do this? Like, how did that combination come together for you?” I asked.

“Shit was in my kitchen.”

“Oh, so it was a combination of convenience, would you say?”

maxresdefault“I dunno,” she trailed off. The conversation veered away from her pain so she wasn’t interested in telling me anymore. I wanted to ask if the chicken turned blue, whether he ate it and, if so, did he taste the ammonia but she walked away and I heard her talk to another inmate about me in an un-subtle whisper:

“Everybody say that bitch so innocent. Trust and believe, she lookin’ to kill a motherfucker…”

Of course I wasn’t asking because I’m going to off someone with whatever’s under my sink at home. I was just fascinated. Maybe because it’s such an unnatural food color and the smell advances on you so quickly and she hadn’t said whether she used a breast or a thigh, I didn’t connect Windex with eating. Now I know that no one survives a Windex chicken. If they eat it.

Not only do other people view us through a prism of suspicion, it’s how we view ourselves. That’s because we see the potential for evil destruction in anything.

Where you see a cleaning solution, Wanda saw a solution to her problems, if you get what I’m saying. You see a kitchen, but I see an armory. Where you see a TV stand, I see a hangman’s noose.  You look at the edge of a wooden table which I behold as something that can crack a skull. You see streak-free windows but I look through them to see a murder. The means are around. We wait for opportunity.  Many of us already have motive.

I don’t want to hurt anyone. Never did. But all of this knowledge came to me in learning how to be safe. When you tell someone: this can hurt you, the corollary lesson is that it can hurt someone else, too. It’s amazing that teaching people how to protect themselves can make them lethal especially since, when you don’t teach them how to protect themselves, they can still become lethal, maybe moreso after they’ve been victimized.

Lexie was helping me and some of the other cooks. She’s here for stabbing her abusive husband in the neck and promises that, if she ever comes back to prison, “it’ll be for something serious” that time.

If the cans are big enough to need this to open them, imagine what the tops are like.

With Lexie, it was four of us opening cans. They’re number 10 cans, which means they can hold as much 100 ounces in them. They’re big, like 8 inches high and 6 across. To open them we puncture the seal at the top repeatedly with an industrial, pressure-powered can opener – Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. – until this round razor just drops into the can’s contents.

Then we slide those razor-y tops out and collect them in a garbage bag and chuck them. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Toss. We leave hundreds of weapons in the garbage for anyone to grab and use like Indian chakrams. Slit throats. Sever limbs. They’re sharp and big enough to do damage, especially if you bent them in half so the smooth edge is against your hand. I’ve considered their potential. I have means.

“Have the police ever let someone go for murder?” Lexie asked me.

Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Toss.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I replied. I’d like to say that I can have an intellectual conversation with anyone on any topic but Lexie’s questions worried me because she was so conversationally cavalier about violence.  I think I know her potential.

“Like, have the police ever known that somebody did a murder and they didn’t even arrest them?”

“I’ve never heard of that being a public story,” I admitted.

“So it can happen, it’s just not in the news?”

“I would assume if police gave someone a pass for murder and that became known, then the person wouldn’t get the pass anymore,” I explained.

Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Toss.

“Have the cops ever messed up murder investigations?”

“Of course. I mean, look at Jeffrey Dahmer” I answered her.

“Who’s he?”

There’s probably 300 of these in a dumpster available to all the inmates at York CI right now.

“That serial killer who ate his victims. One of his victims, a southeast Asian kid, naked, streaking down the street to get free of him, bleeding from his anus from being raped and didn’t make sense because Dahmer had drilled – get this – drilled a hole in his head and was pouring chemicals in…” I explained to the beat of Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Toss.

“What kind of chemicals?”

“I don’t know. That’s not the point. The kid couldn’t make a coherent sentence because he had a brain injury and already didn’t know much English, so the poor thing couldn’t even ask for help and the cops let Dahmer bring him back to his apartment to kill him. Said it was a ‘lover’s quarrel’ and let a naked, bleeding kid be brought back to his own death. Can you believe that?” I posed to her.

“He was from another country so they let him go?”

“No, because he had a physical and chemical assault to his brain by the guy who was about to kill him, he couldn’t say, you know, ‘help me’ to someone who could’ve helped him. The cops didn’t catch on, so, yeah, they screw up murder investigations.”

sinthasomphone_protestThat story always rises in my mind in here, how that kid was muted by his own victimization and difference in the community. I empathize with that kid and his inability to say something that would land in the mind of the authorities who were charged with protecting him, his lack of power to manipulate his surroundings to reach his own aims. I know his mind was in a frantic search for potential. There has to be a way out, there has to be…. He didn’t have the means when someone else had motive and opportunity.

“So how did he pour the chemicals in?” Lexie was intrigued.

“This bitch, stabs a dude in the head to get here, wants to know ‘What chemicals?’ and ‘How’d he pour the shit?’… Fuck outta here!”  Faith shouted as she slung a bag of can tops, essentially homemade Chinese stars that anyone could take out of the trash and slash someone with – lots of potential – over her shoulder and walked away disgustedly.

“Do you know what chemicals he probably used?” Lexie pressed on. I shrugged.

“I don’t really know. Windex, maybe?”




Jury nullification is alive and well. On Thursday, the seven anti-government activists who occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were acquitted of crimes they clearly committed. Everyone’s mad because they’re Caucasian and they think race was the reason for the acquittal. It’s not. The jury believed that the prosecution didn’t meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt for the crime of conspiracy – the glue of the entire case – which requires that you know exactly what the defendant was thinking.  Who can really know this? The jury was right and cleared the defendants, which makes the fact that defense counsel flipped out so badly that he had to be tasered by court marshals even more bizarre.

The State of Washington’s Department of Corrections banned a book, a novel, written by one of the Evergreen State’s own inmates, Arthur Longworth. While publishing a book from behind bars is rare, banning books written by inmates is common. It happened to me, if only for a while. These cases are silly because prison censors think they’re preventing the ideas in these books from spreading throughout the general population when they ban them. The truth is that the ideas started inside so they’ve already spread; we wrote the stinking things. They should just let in the inmate-written books. The censors are too late in these cases.

During the criminal investigation into former congressman and New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner’s online interaction with an underage girl, the FBI tripped over emails allegedly related to Hillary Clinton’s use of email that they were unable to find during their year-long investigation into…emails related to Hillary Clinton’s use of email.  My takeaway from this October surprise? The FBI is bad at the “I” in its name.

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24 October 2016

Pretty Little

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If she’s not a lawyer, then at least she’s rich, the type of rich that has no money. Prison houses the highest concentration in the world of wealthy people who never had any money.

The wealthy inmates are so rich that they forget where they live. During one week, an inmate claimed to live in Stamford, then Greenwich, then Farmington, then Litchfield, all upscale residential towns in Connecticut.

lincoln-lI know she lives in Norwalk and I know that she didn’t relocate; she lived with me during that week, a week containing a five-day lockdown during which neither of us moved at all, staying in our 9 x 12-foot cell, except to tread down a flight of stairs to pick up Styrofoam trays containing our three hots. If she said that she lived in a cell with me, only then would she have been telling the unglamorous truth.

Besides the rich, there are the uber-educated. One inmate boasted a PhD. I asked her “What’s your PhD in?”

“It’s in my house.”

These women must think that their partners-in-prison believe anything they say because no one can verify their claims directly without any internet access or glimpses of front pages. Because nothing can be verified, we have chefs, American Idol finalists, Boston University seniors (I never knew they had a campus in Norwich!), Mafia don-ettes (who obviously know that the women’s movement never invaded La Cosa Rostra) and accountants. Actually, the accountants are real. They’re here for embezzling.

There are a million explanations for the fibs: mental illness, denial of who they are or what they’ve done, escaping their current reality, trying to manipulate other people. It doesn’t take more than freshman psych to jot down a well-informed list.

Many women will soon be called on their double-dealing – referred to as “bipolar” even though they’re not – and ostracized as much as a group of prisoners can ostracize a woman with whom the state forces them to live with within 500 square yards.

I haven’t been ostracized yet for my lie because most other inmates have rarely experienced the kind of consistency and relatively gentle nature I display when I help them write letters, edit their schoolwork and help them complete judicial forms. These activities make me a good, nice person to them.

“You’re so nice. You’re like an angel, like Jesus the way you help people in here,” Gina told me.
12422518272044956422letter_i_in_a_red_circle-svg-med“If you only knew … ” I replied and she smiled and nodded. I believe she interpreted my words to mean something like If you only knew all the good I’ve done in my life … but I meant was Angel? Jesus? Me? No fucking way. My water always stayed water. I never multiplied the fish patties or hamburger buns here and I have yet to rise from the death of criminal conviction. In a very un-Jesus-like way, I was a raging asshole for a very long time, yet they compare me to the Christ anyway.

I describe myself as a nice person. It’s as fraudulent a label as self-imposed ones on the inmate who says she was in the Broadway version of Nunsense or the one who says she was Penn State’s college TV station weather girl.

Before landing in prison, I literally fell apart; I mean in two pieces. The nice person in me showed up when things were going well. The darker angel of my nature appeared whenever my fortune took a dive. I swore at people, made fun of them behind their backs and generally spewed nastiness at everyone because something bad was happening to me. Bad things happen to good people, but truly good people remain good and behave properly throughout the duration of the bad things. I thought that hitting a bad patch excused me from having to comport myself with civility, mercy and kindness like all good people do.

atheist-logoBeing mistreated gave me leeway to lash out, at least in my mind, but I was lying to myself, pathologically. As a result, people around me never knew what to expect from me. Was her kindness a lie? Does that explain why she just insulted me and called me a fucking idiot? People avoided me and the further isolation made me angrier and entitle me to more explosions. I was vicious and this was my cycle. Prison, quite frankly, is probably the only place that would reform me, the spaces between the bars acting like a mirror serving the ugliness of my behavior right back to me.

Initially, I was too scared to lash out at others here in prison because guards had so much more power than I did, inmates so much more experience than I. Silently, though, I convinced myself that I had every right -and probably even an obligation – to tell the staff who were so undereducated (despite the fact that many have college diplomas and a handful have advanced degrees) and inmates what I really thought of them, but I didn’t have time to do it. I was preparing to leave any day and leave them behind.

Then I sat with some nurse for a routine health screening. She knew my social and educational background.

“So, Chandra, what are you going to do while you’re here?”

“Nothing. I’m not going to be here long.”

“But if you are here for a while … your sentence is long,” she posed to me.

“Even if I am here for a while, there’s nothing here for me … ”

“What about cosmo?” she asked me, referring to the cosmetology course in the prison school.

“No. There’s nothing here for me. You can’t really be stupid enough to think I would go to cosmo,” l said, my words sounding like those of the haughty bitch in an after-school special. When I said them, the words seemed well-bred and tactful to me.

regensburg-legionare-rThen somehow a memory of a verbal altercation I had over the phone with one of my lawyer’s secretaries seeped into my consciousness. The secretary had made a snarky remark about me to my lawyer – the specifics of which I could not remember but, in hindsight, I’m sure I deserved – and I called her on it rather than forgiving it like my alleged nice personhood would have done.

“Who do you think you are?” I asked her “Do you think you’re special, that you have the right to put me down? Are you an Ivy League graduate, Patty? Don’t you realize that you don’t matter?” I asked her; my words were ludicrous, malevolent.  And dissonantly calm because I was evil, ugly and essentially not a person anymore.

“Chandra, leave me alone,” she said. I had always fancied myself a person who doesn’t bother anyone. I proclaimed it everywhere. I’m not. That was a lie.

Everyone warns against the perils of self-hatred; “Don’t say that!” people chant around the person who says he hates himself. But, at that moment in the prison nurse’s office, I loathed myself. And for the insufferable effrontery I showed, l should have hated myself; my self deserved to be despised. It was through detesting myself on that cold winter night on a molded plastic chair, slippery from endless friction with the asses of other self-loathers that made me realize I needed punishment and rehabilitation to rid myself of the parts I hated. I think it’s why I’ve fought more to overturn my convictions than just get out. It’s like I know a revolution needs to happen but I know it needs to happen in here.

Confinement reveals false life stories because it unifies personalities; that’s what it did to me. You are who you are in prison and you can never be someone else and l don’t speak of identity theft. Those women who Jekyll-and-Hyde everyone at home – self-described angels who are really nasty ghouls who heckle and hide – must pick one persona and go with it. Eventually all fake life stories get abandoned, if not by their tellers then by the people around them who know they’re full of shit.  It is what it is.

a07a30206f9490090b2d51a6f9a4366eIn prison, you need to decide who you are and then be that woman because she’s the only human being who will carry you through your time. It’s the one aspect of rehabilitation in which incarceration never fails: developing a type of self-reliance, even as one lives as a ward of the state. Being pulled out of society and out of your own cloud of lies lets you know how alone you really are and how the only one who can really fix you is you.

The way I got fixed was that I realized you can say you’re something for a long time but, eventually, you have to be it. Thinking and proclaiming that l was a decent person was a really nice verbal billboard but eventually I had to deliver the goods.

Prison isolates a woman from everything and everyone she knew but isolation is not without its perks. Often women isolate themselves willingly to achieve peace and reflection through meditation because introspection never happens in a crowd. I doubt that l would have attempted to answer the questions that plagued me, like why I value the elusive goal of having everyone like me, or why I’m so narcissistic if I had remained incarceration-free. As a free bird, I never asked myself why I’ll screw up my own endeavors to help someone who really needs to carry her own cross. Why must I be right all of the time? And when I am right why do I care so much if others still think I’m wrong. Or why do apologies – giving or receiving – frighten me so much? Could, as friends suggest, hate really mask jealousy? Before I came to prison, the amount of self-esteem I had was pretty little so I couldn’t and wouldn’t answer these questions. I haven’t locked in my responses as final, but since I got here, I’ve started to formulate truthful responses to myself. It’s about time.



Ideas put prosecutors in the hot seat this week.

The Dean of the Valparaiso School of Law made a great point: the United States has an Attorney General and a Solicitor General but we don’t have a Defender General, someone who can provide some pushback on top prosecuting authorities when they’re making big decisions on law or who to charge with a crime. Read her piece in Indiana Lawyer here.

Three professors think they have the answer to the systemic racial bias in criminal justice: not allowing prosecutors to know the race of the people they’re about to charge.  Love setting some blame at the feet of system.

Since criminal justice reform bills often don’t pass, if they get voted on at all, a new idea has come up to change the system: vote out the prosecutors who keep the spring of criminal defendants eternal. The replace them with reform sympathizers.


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17 October 2016

Ten Pounds in a Five-Pound Bag

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Prison is just society’s colostomy bag. People who’ve never been here, who live relatively successful lives, survive life’s peristalsis, moved along by the muscular contractions of education, work, marriage and offspring until they get pushed out life’s back end. Prisoners can’t even make it to the ass. Some authority siphons us away so that it can house all of the turds together.

Improvements to the bag don’t change its appeal. Any wearer wants to lose the bag, sew up his wounds and sit regally on the toilet like everyone else.

The United States Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Brown v. Plata that Yes, Governor Brown, you must empty your colostomy bag by at least 10,000 prisoners revealed something I never knew. In order for a prison to be considered officially, legally overcrowded, it has to be filled to 137.5% capacity. One-hundred and one percent, 110%, 125% – not overcrowded. You can’t fit ten pounds of shit into a 5-pound bag, but apparently you can squeeze in 6.875 pounds. Who knew?

This is a “boat” or “canoe,” as inmates call them. When a prison is overcrowded, these are placed on open floor space as beds. This one happens to be upside-down.

We get overcrowded here now and again. But maybe we don’t. The population is about 1000 women, so to be overcrowded we’d have to have approximately an extra 375 inmates. I don’t think we’ve had that many extra bodies, so I guess we’ve never been officially overcrowded. Maybe we’ve had 40 people in “boats” in the gym, perhaps 20 more in these makeshift beds in the medical unit. I know this only because I had to pack and deliver their meals from Main Dining and everyone called the people I was delivering to “overflow.”

I’ve never had to face our unofficial overcrowding myself as I’ve always had a dedicated bed. I really resent that I should be grateful for something that’s ruined my life: permanent, undeniable inclusion in a prison population.

No one wants a colostomy bag. Aside from the odor, the wearer has to watch his waste come out of him, a gruesome sight by itself but also a reminder that his body isn’t working. He’s sick. In the same way, the best prison is an empty prison, one that’s been drained by completed sentences and true rehabilitation. One that was never needed would’ve been better, but society’s sick.

This might just be a numbers game. York might have been designed to house 750 women and they just keep bumping up the capacity, buying bigger bags to show that we’re not too full. Maybe I’ve been living in overcrowded conditions since I got here – I came in when Governor Rell remanded all parolees after the Cheshire murders – and everything I see as unacceptable and just a part of ‘regular prison life’ – (stuff like bad medical care) – is just a part of ‘overcrowded prison life.’

Maybe conditions are different, livable, comprehensible when fewer women are here. Maybe we have less recidivism when the population is what it’s supposed to be and the colostomy bag doesn’t balloon and backup.

And that green thing has become someone’s living quarters. Welcome to my house.

What is the safest number of people in a certain area? Do we even know? A prison, by its nature, overcrowds itself. People were meant to live in community, but not so many people in a proscribed area. Even if the challenges of early civilization required people to gather closely to protect themselves and sustain the human race, I doubt they defecated two feet away from someone else’s head like we do in these cells. Maybe they did. Maybe they were into that.

But a modern society, one benefitting from social science research and PhD dissertations spread out across the land on the effects of overcrowding, that continues to pack human beings and their bodies into small spaces it gutless. Hence the bag and the presence in it that makes them waste, on display.

Whenever we have women sleeping in the canoes in the gym, rumors spread: “They need to get 200 people out by March” – “Warden has to approve 300 people for T.S. [transitional supervision or short-term parole] before November 1st” – “At least 150 have to be out by July or we get fined.”

“The state will fine itself? We’re not under any reduction order or anything. No one can do anything to York [CI] for not letting people out. Who’s going to fine us? ” I ask when they dump this crap on my lap.

And they always answer the same way, because they realize the rules governing their bodies are elastic and stretch to meet agendas that aren’t their own:




Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump unloaded a drug reform plan in New Hampshire on Saturday which kind of isn’t a plan. He will  stop drugs from coming into the United States by implementing his immigration plan, getting Mexico to gift us a southern border wall and closing shipping loopholes. He also promised to get the Food and Drug Administration to approve drugs that prevent abuse – like Vivitrol –  more quickly, ignoring the fact that we have these drugs now, they’re just too expensive for widespread use. He also said both candidates should be drug-tested. Donald, if Hillary is as crooked as you say, then she knows how to beat the piss-test. Do you?

An inmate in a federal facility in Beaumont, Texas has refused the clemency granted to him by President Obama because it required him to move into a residential drug treatment program before his release. Arnold Ray Jones figures he’ll be released 8 months later than Obama’s scheduled release date when he gets “good time” – time off for good behavior – applied to the end of his sentence.  The exact reason for rejecting the clemency is unknown – people speculate that it’s because he thinks drug treatment is a waste of time (I say it’s because he prefers his prison job to a bunch of group therapy situations). No matter what his reason is, this guy’s got guts. I think he’ll be okay, regardless of when he gets out.

Every 25 seconds someone is arrested for drug possession in the United States according to a report released on Wednesday by Human Rights Watch. Chew on that.



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10 October 2016


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vagina-flower-photo_burned-2The word “bitch” has lost all its sting in a prison.   Even “cunt” doesn’t cut it anymore. The verbal gauntlet for me?  The P-word:  “pussy.”

I’ve always hated the word “pu**y” – along with its wrapper, the word “panties.” They always sounded like something an aging, perverted chiropractor would say to a female patient as he convinced her to don a paper gown for an adjustment that could be done through her cable-knit J. Crew sweater. I doubt many chiropractors used the word to patients since it isn’t the target of treatment, but the image endures. To me, the words “pu**y” and “panties” are used only by people who shouldn’t be allowed inside either one.

In here there’s no other word for vagina except “pu**y.” Even when the C/O’s taunt an inmate that her “man” is probably cheating on her, they don’t say he’s getting laid, they say he’s getting pu**y. I think everyone in here’s been convinced that it’s a clinical term.

In the hallway of the medical building, Dr. Fetal Pig was instructing someone who works in Food Prep with me to avoid using commissary soap to wash her private parts – HIPAA and any common law respect for medical privacy be damned – when I walked past.

“It’s a self-cleaning oven,” the physician advised. “You don’t need more than water.”

“If you think that, then your pu**y must really stink,” the inmate said, thinking she was a polite patient.

“Can you not use that word?” I asked her when we got back to Food Prep.

“What word?”

“The P-word. You know…” I looked around. “Pu**y.”

“What’s wrong with pu**y?” She looked at me like I asked her not to say “is.”

“It’s, you know, derogatory.” Ever heard of another P-word? Propriety?

“What the fuck is that?” she asked.

“Never mind.”  I let it go.

I can run any number of theories on why inmates talk about their genitals so much and use the word “pu**y” to do it. They’re undereducated so they don’t know the difference between slang and acceptable language. High school science programs are on the wane so they’ve never heard biological terms. They like sounding irreverent.

They use “pu**y” because they’ve internalized the misogyny around them along with the most common word they’ve heard to reference their genitals. They become obsessed with what’s between their legs from living in here where a shower is never guaranteed.  When you haven’t washed and you start to waft, the essence of your femininity becomes your problem, not what you did or what was done to you. Your hole becomes your Achilles heel.

Of course, that’s how it is for many women, whether they bear an inmate number or not. But women on the outside aren’t psychotic about washing away their scent. Anyone who thinks cats dislike and avoid water should head in here, where someone’s constantly dunking one and trying to drown it.

Women on the inside go to great lengths to make sure they have no smell at all, which is impossible. They pour empty Fluff containers filled with soapy water on themselves on the toilet to wash after they’ve showered. Rub solid deodorant on between their legs. It isn’t primping. It’s pathology, in response to feeling dirty, being called dirty, being dirtied by men in the past.

I like to be clean, too and I have never smelled as bad or as often as I have in here. But I also like to exist. Sometimes the only way I’m sure I still do is my filth.

“I hate being a woman!” my roommate shouted from the toilet. She actually asked one of the inmate janitors for contraband bleach to use on her vagina. I motioned to the janitor from behind her to ignore the request.

“You know your scent is how you attract men. It’s called pheromones,” I tell her. Another P-word. Explain to her how Napoleon wrote to Josephine to tell her to stop bathing before he got home.

“Who’s Josephine? She on this tier?” she asks in all seriousness, furiously scouring her crotch. “I wish I could wash away my pu**y!” She almost has.

“You’re wasting your time washing away what makes you human, a woman,” I advise her. “This place will do a bang up job on that without your help.” Another P-word: punishment.

Pussy. Panties. Perverted. Pig. Privacy. Polite. Patient. Propriety. Problem. Psychotic. Primping. Pathology. Pheromones. Place. Punishment.





HUGE BUST: Eighty people took a collar – including 18 guards and 35 inmates – in a corruption probe into a Maryland prison that found C/O’s were arranging to smuggle contraband like opiate-substitute Suboxone and cell phones from outside. The C/O’s then tried to get inmates to stab other inmates who reported the ring. I am floored.  – Only 80 people?

HUGE LIST: 102 more sentence commutations by President Barack Obama. It fits. First black president frees the second largest number of people in history, after Abraham Lincoln.

HUGE HIT: Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th” premiered to the public on Friday on Netflix. Two things I learned from the film: 1) the Ku Klux Klan never used burning crosses until the movie “Birth of a Nation” used one as a cinematic device; and 2) getting arrested at civil rights rallies was never a by-product or accident of the protest. It was the purpose, black people’s meeting their worst fear: being arrested by white people. It’s a worthy watch. I thought I knew most of the history of incarceration but I don’t. Also, the juxtaposition of clips of Trump supporters beating black protesters with clips from years ago of mobs beating up black men says too much about this election.

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3 October 2016

Power of One

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“Did you see that R.M. is back?” another inmate asked me.  R.M. was one of my roommates in 2008.

Then I remember why I started a list of all my cellmates/cube-mates back in 2008. The reason for the list mirrored my view of my departure. At first I just wanted to remember their names because I thought I was leaving any day in 2008; I would send them cards as they wasted in jail. They left before I did.

Then I thought I might need their names as witnesses when I thought I might sue this shithouse back in 2009.

Then I knew I would need their names for fact-checkers for a future memoir when Orange Is the New Black came out in 2010.

Then I grudgingly accepted that I needed their names to track their movement in and out of the facility if I was going to convince anyone that recidivism is out of control and we need reform. I realized that only someone in prison would understand the truth behind reported recidivism rates; they range from 50 to 66 percent around the country.  Those numbers emerge at the far end of Mark Twain’s spectrum of falsehood as lying statistics. I’ve lived with 114 cellmates so far.  Eleven remain here; they never left.  Seventy-one have cycled through.  That’s a real recidivism rate of 69%; 70% with R.M. on the scene.

Translucence is overtaking the paper from the moisture on my skin from the number of times I’ve handled it.

Then I told Ms. D, the counselor, about the study when we waited silently in her office for a fax.

“The recidivism rate is much higher here than is reported.” She would understand. She has master’s degrees in forensic something on her walls.”I’m conducting my own recidivism study, using my assigned cellmates as the study sample.”

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?” She wasn’t angry, but incredulous.

“Well, it won’t be replicable and certainly won’t have any statistical significance, but I want to document what’s happening,” I conceded. She looked at me like I was the inmate who had just been digging in the carcass of a dead bird she found in the garden. Disgusted by the unfathomable.

Then a woman here told me to react to to abusive guards’  insults and humiliation with politeness. “Kill ’em with kindness,” she said in justification. I think this is bad advice. I’m sure someone here has a gun or a chainsaw at home she nicknamed “Kindness” and she’ll really do it.

Then I remembered prosecutor character, Jerry Kramer, in Tom Wolfe’s A Bonfire of the Vanities called crime’s eternal parade “The Chow,” the human flesh that grinds through the criminal justice system.

So I suggested an alternative.

“Deny them the target.  Starve the system. Just don’t come back.”

Then she looked at me like I’ve suggested the impossible and told me:

“J.P. just came back from a halfway house.”

71 percent on white

Then I watched that filthy, forlorn parade of tight skinny jeans and glitter T-shirts snake its way into the prison and recognize many faces from living with them and modern correction strikes me as internally inconsistent; if wardens and guards do their jobs and successfully rehabilitate women, then the lack of returning inmates – the recidivists, the ones who boomerang back inside after they leave to constitute the majority of the general population – will put them out of business.

“Did you see A.L.?  She’s here but she might bond out.”  A.L. split in April 2009.

72 percent on white

Then, as I await transport to court one morning, my soft parts static against a metal bench, I realize that rehabilitation is largely mortician’s work:  the job only begins after the stiffs land on your doorstep and then what do we expect to be done with them?  It would be much easier and more efficient to prevent crime in the first place but zero percent of people want to do that.

Then a voice came from below the bench, a woman, bent over, rolling up too-long pants.

Hey, weren’t you my roommate?”  It’s R.T.  Same cube in the dorms.

73 percent on white

Then she went to court with me and, when we returned, V.O., another of our roommates from South Dorm in 2008, sat in lockup. Came back to Niantic with us.

74 percent on white

Then I saw P.G. and C.J.’s names on the “move list” on the officers’ desk the day after my court trip.

76 percent on white

Then I decided that I am almost starting to enjoy this study, the fact that I’m documenting trends no one else has. I predict high eighties by the time I leave, even 90’s, which are numbers I’ve loved since high school. This endeavor tickles me a bit too much and I think it’s because I’m now seeing the other women as less than human. It was too much for me to see women rebounding from reentry so often and so quickly. The flow of failure tells me too much about my chances when I leave here; the commentary that recidivism provides on human potential is devastating. Prison is the real Hotel California. Check out. Never leave.

So I have conveniently reduced them to numbers to numb myself to the fact that prison for any amount of time is probably a life sentence.

Then S.D., my cellmate from 3 South, came back and moved onto the tier.  While she dragged garbage bags into cell E3, I asked her what she thought because she’s bright, a former nurse who’s decade-long downward spiral was started off by a drug addict husband who had her stealing narcotics from her work for him until the D.E.A. caught on. She agrees with me. The study makes my peers subjects rather than real people and this is how I’m getting though my sentence.

“Don’t ever think you don’t matter S.D.. You make difference in my life,” I told her and it sounded like I was thanking her for listening to my theory on how recidivism has calcified my soul, but then I realized I meant it in terms of percentages. She just bumped my study numbers up one notch. 77




The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that “county governments have a constitutional responsibility to provide counsel to poor criminal defendants and ensure that their defense is adequately funded.”  Define adequate, people. To provide decent representation, you’re looking at 5 times the current cost. I wonder if Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court would have decided the case this way if they knew how much money was actually in play. This isn’t a situation where another ten million dollars will solve it. The truth is that we can’t afford to prosecute as many people as we do.

The Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General released a report this week on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s use of confidential informants. It’s  An example: one confidential informant was paid over $400,000 for information even after

Instead of taking a knee or standing up, Green Bay Packer Ha Ha Clinton-Dix took a seat…in class. He re-enrolled at the University of Alabama to complete a degree in criminal justice as his answer to the growing problem of police brutality. Refreshing.





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