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Part 2: Behind Bars, Day to Day

Posted on Feb 9, 2017

By Serena P. Green

  The entryway to the correctional facility where the author served her sentence. (montcopa.org)

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of three installments by Serena Green in which she tells the story of her arrest and time in Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Eagleville, Pa. Part 3 will run Friday; read Part 1 here.

The food today looks like vomit, but I do not give it away. I don’t want anyone to think I’m signing up to be their bitch. I’d have to give them everything I get. I’m not comfortable with throwing food away, either. Even if it’s dog food. I’ve been collecting sugar and juice packets. They are excellent bartering tools. Plus, it’s a fun little hobby. I feel like a pack rat. This is how I humor myself and tune out the reality.

I’ve lost my will to be hygienic. I haven’t showered in two days. At home, I take my Beats Pill into the bathroom and listen to Sade as I perform a ritual bath with all my soaps and privacy. Here, there is mold and dirt in the bathroom. There’s no shower caddy, and you have to carry everything you need. I’m terrified of dropping something. There’s an ongoing joke about dropping the soap in jail. It’s scary as hell. Not because of rape or abuse, but because of your soap getting covered with mold, dirt, blood, hair and someone else’s excretions.

I gather my things: towel, washcloth, soap, underwear, pants, shirt, flip-flops. By the way, flip-flops are a suicide tool. You will slip. You had better be agile. You can land in a pile of the aforementioned. And do not grab for the shower curtain. It will come down with you. It is covered in mold. Speaking of the shower curtain, it doesn’t cover the entire entryway. It’s a free peep show for anyone fantasizing or even curious about your birthday suit.

The water is lukewarm or cold. It comes out in one-minute spurts. You have to press a button to turn it back on. Shower thoughts are a thing of the past. Your mind is consumed with counting the seconds to ensure you don’t get stuck without water. The soap is an antibacterial (which I can appreciate) no-name bar. It leaves a woman of color looking like she’s been rolled in flour and prepped for a deep fry. You can dry off only down to your ankles because there is always a puddle. There are a million fruit flies in the shower.

Writing in my journal about showering makes me decide to take one. I apparently decide to do this at the wrong time. I am put on lockdown by myself until dinner. Fine by me. But I can’t use the phone until tonight.

Voices. All day and all night. The woman whose bunk is next to mine has no teeth. When she talks, it’s next to impossible to understand what she’s saying. She gets frustrated when you ask her to repeat herself. I avoid talking to her. I don’t know how she lost her teeth. I could probably guess. I have no idea what she’s trying to say. She may as well be speaking Mandarin. I am so lost. She’s extremely chatty.

Today is my uncle’s birthday. I can’t call him. Yesterday, when I was waiting to use the phone, I struck up a conversation with a woman. She wanted to call home to make arrangements for her daughter’s birthday, which is today. She was sad, because last year she had promised her daughter that she wouldn’t miss another birthday. Now, she’s not only in jail, she’s dealing with the fact that she broke a promise to her baby. To date, she’s missed all of her daughter’s birthdays.

I’m 31 years old. My mom still goes banana-sandwich for my birthday. She buys me cake and cards. She grins all day. Hopefully, next year this woman I’m talking to can wake her daughter up with balloons and a fanfare. Everyone deserves love.

This has been a long-ass day. I got moved from N-Pod to P-Pod. The other women being moved whine. They take their sweet time packing up. It doesn’t bother me, because I don’t have any personal relationships with anyone. The girl who had to move with me has a crush on someone in the room. How sweet. Onward and upward for me.

Debbie is in P-Pod. I know her from when I was doing weekends. She went to high school with my mom. She’s sweet and funny. I’m sure she’ll help me pass the time. She’s on her way out. Good for her. Deidre, who was with me on weekends, is still here. She’s in the hole.

Jesus. The whole jail was on lockdown this morning because the prison society was here. This afternoon I was on lockdown because my careless ass took an out-of-bounds shower. The guard took away my free time to set an example to others.

The guard who put me on lockdown comes to talk to me. I am sitting in my room, serving my “punishment” time.

“I didn’t know I was out of bounds.” I say. “Am I going to be on lockdown the rest of the night? I don’t mind sitting, but I need to call my family.”

“You can have free time later,” she says.

I smile and thank her. She winks at me. I know those winks. She is flirting with me. It is uncomfortable. Not because she is a woman; I mean, kudos to her for finding me attractive with no makeup and a headscarf. She has seen me naked. But she has total power. I have none.

It is dinner. A friendly guard says, ever so pleasantly, “Hi, girls!”

Why are we “girls”? Because we are prisoners, are we stripped of our adulthood? No real woman would find herself in jail, but “girls” do. She could have just as easily said, “Hi, ladies!” She couched it in her pleasant tone, but it was about control, as if she was the only woman in the room because she hadn’t gone before a judge and gotten locked up.

I’m working out. Before I came to jail, my boyfriend, Walt, wrote up a daily workout regimen for me to do. It includes jumping jacks, lunges, planks, weight-lifting (where I put books in a laundry bag and lift them), stretching and sit-ups. It makes me look forward to seeing myself in a full-length mirror. I talk to Walt today for over an hour. The 15-minute increments, which cost $3.30, fly by. It makes me aware of how much we talk when it costs us nothing.

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