Chris Hedges’ Interview About the ‘Bowl Phone’ (Full Transcript and Audio)
Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges recently interviewed three former inmates of a New Jersey jail to learn about the way prisoners communicate among themselves through the plumbing — the “bowl phone.” Below are an audio recording and a transcript of the interview.
Click here to read the column that grew out of the meeting.
Alveda Torrado: Let me know when it come out in the newspaper so we can get the newspaper.
Chris Hedges: Gloria what?
GB: Gloria Blount. B-l-o-u-n-t.
CH: B-l-o-u-n-t. And you were in Union County how long?
GB: Off and on like about years, I’m like I can’t even — .
CH: Off and on years.
AT: Oh, well, you did less than me.
Irene Pabey: Well, I know I haven’t been in trouble for almost two years.
GB: I been since I was 18.
IP: I been, I been outta trouble — .
CH: And what’s your name?
IP: Irene Pabey.
CH: Irene, how do you spell your last name?
CH: And how long were you in Union County?
IP: I was in Union for like a good four, five months.
GB: Oh yeah, me too.
CH: And then your name is?
AT: Alveda. A-l-v-e-d-a.
CH: And last name?
AT: Torrado. T-o-r-r-a-d-o.
CH: OK, and how long were you in Union County?
AT: Eighteen months.
CH: OK, wait till Todd gets [here]. I’m going to write a little story about the bowl phone.
[The women laugh.]
CH: I think it’s hilarious. I think it’s really funny.
AT: You never heard of that [before]?
IP: And you got guys that fight for the women, too.
AT: They be fighting.
CH: You mean fight to talk to them?
GB:, IP: Yeah!
AT: Girls come, girls come — .
CH: Wait till I, wait till I. …
IP: Mmhm. OK.
AT: Girls come and be like, “You talkin’ to my man on the bowl?” I be like, “Girl, that ain’t your man!”
AT: “Next time I hear you talkin’ to my man it’s gonna be a problem.”
GB: I seen them.
CH: Oh, you mean like other, other — .
IP: Get jealous. Yeah.
AT, GB: Yeah.
CH: Other prisoners will say, “You can’t talk to my man”?
AT, GB, IP: Yeah.
CH: Oh man, this is great.
Todd Clayton: This is amazing.
CH: This is amazing.
TC: It’s amazing.
CH: OK. So you got the tape going?
TC: Yep. It’s good.
CH: OK, all right. I’m going to ask you like the basic questions, and, um, let’s see I just gotta, ’cause you can all talk but I’ve gotta keep track of it. OK. What is the bowl phone?
IP: The bowl phone, the bowl phone is like basically what females or males do to pass the time in Union County Correction.
[Clayton and Hedges laugh.]
IP: Basically it’s, uh, like a telephone. You page, you page — .
CH: Wait, wait, wait. How does it work?
CH: How does the bowl phone work?
IP: You have to plunge the phone, you can either use — .
[Clayton and Hedges laugh.]
AT: That’s it.
CH: How do you plunge it?
GB: You plunge, you take, you take a piece of cloth, and you, you, you take the water out, you keep pumpin’ the water out until it get lower, then you take the little cup or somethin’ — .
CH: Are you talking about, you talking about the toilet?
GB, AT: The toilet.
GB: The toilet.
IP: That’s the phone.
GB: You pump the water out. You take a little sock or a little cloth or somethin — .
AT: Talk slow, Gloria.
IP: Yeah, ’cause they — .
AT: Too fast.
GB: I got it. I got it.
GB: Yeah, you pump, you take the, you take the cloth and you pump it, you pump the, um, you pump it out with the cloth, the water out — .
CH: How do you, how do you like, like — .
GB: Take a little cloth.
CH: Like, you use it like a sponge?
GB: Yeah. Like a little sponge?
CH: So you dip the cloth — .
GB: No, you don’t squeeze it —
AT: Like a rag.
GB: You do like this. You know how you do the plunger like that?
CH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
GB: You take with the glove. I mean with the cloth. And as you’re doin’ that it’s the water’s going out. It’s goin’, it’s goin’.
CH: Oh, so you’re like pushing the water down — .
CH: Down the toilet.
GB: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
GB: In fact I could do that right now in there.
CH: How long does it take?
GB: It don’t take but like about a minute.
IP: But like three seconds.
GB: Yeah, it don’t take that long.
CH: OK — .
IP: Like really it — .
CH: So then you got no water in the toilet.
GB: But you have a tiny bit of water.
IP: Yeah, you gotta scoop the rest of the water out.
GB: You scoop the rest of the water.
CH: OK, so you scoop the rest — .
IP: So once — .
CH: But how do you keep the water from coming back in?
GB: It can’t — if nobody — .
IP: No, you’re not supposed to flush.
GB: You’re not supposed to flush.
IP: If you flush it, it’s gonna fill — .
IP, GB: Back up.
IP: Then you gotta do it all over.
GB: Some people can’t even use their bathrooms because —
IP: Yeah, they gotta hold it — .
GB: They’re on the phone.
IP: They go to another girl’s — .
IP: They’ll sneak into another girl’s — .
IP: Room — .
GB: And use their bathroom.
IP: And they’ll use their bathroom ’cause their toilet bowl’s not plunged. Now, you be like, “Oh, um, go to,” you know, once the toilet bowl’s plunged then you do the knock, or — .
CH: OK, no, no. OK, so the toilet bowl’s plunged, then what do you do?
GB: You do the knock.
IP: You do the knock.
[IP knocks on the table.]
GB: At first they do it with the sink.
IP: Everybody has a different page. It’s called a pager. Like, it’s, the knock is the page, so everybody — .
CH: But how do you, no, no, no, wait — .
GB: But don’t you — you supposed to do it with the water thing first, when they be makin’, they be pumpin’ with the water — .
IP: Everybody’s different. I tap on, like, say for an example the toilet bowl, I knock on the toilet bowl, ’cause it’s metal.
IP: And it’s a certain knock.
IP: And you’re dealin’, if you’re dealin’ with somebody — .
CH: Yeah, but how do you, how do you know whose knock? How does that get established? How do you — .
GB: It’s like a code — .
IP: Because they let, everybody lets everybody know.
GB: They got different codes. Like she got her own different message, code, with her friend — .
CH: What’s your code?
IP: [Knocks on the table.] That’s it.
CH: OK, so, and they know it’s you?
IP: And — .
CH: And they know your name?
CH: OK, so how, let’s say Todd goes to jail. It’s his first day in jail.
GB, IP: Uh-huh.
CH: He wants to talk on the bowl phone.
IP: They’ll, the girls will let me know.
AT: The boys got to know. Yo’ we got a, a — .
IP: Like I, wait, wait, wait — he gets in the building, right?
CH: Right, right.
IP: He’s in the building, they be like, “Fresh meat in the building.”
GB: Yeah, uh-huh.
AT: Mmhm. They be like, “Fresh meat coming.”
IP: “Fresh meat in the building.”
CH: Is that what they say?
AT: Yeah, they be like, “We got a new male. Fresh.”
IP: Now they be like, “We got a such and such guy. He looks — ” you know what I mean? You know, guys try to get a description.
GB: Uh-huh. Tell, “Open up.” You tell him to open up, right?
IP: So you’ll be like, “OK, uh, hold on, we got a girl in such and such room that’s lookin’ for a guy.”
IP: So they’ll axe questions, the girls will axe questions, like — .
CH: No, no, no, wait, let’s go back. How do you communicate? How, how, how are you asking these questions? How are you going back and forth like this?
GB: We talk. Right through the bowl. It’s like we talkin’ like this that’s how clear it is.
CH: So let’s go back, let’s go back to the communication. You empty the bowl — .
IP, GB: Uh-huh.
CH: And then what do you do? You said you take toilet paper, toilet paper rolls?
GB: The things for the toilet paper — .
IP: With the rolls, you make a mic.
AT: You make a microphone with the — .
GB: After you finish the toilet tissue — .
IP: You know, the brown — .
GB: The brown part, the gray part — .
GB: You put ’em together, you have about this much of it — .
GB: You make a little, you make a long tube.
AT: Or you get a book, you make a microphone. They give you a book, as soon as you hit Union County they give you a book about the rules and stuff — .
GB: Whatever you can use.
AT: It’s a book and you fold it and you make a microphone. Tighten it up.
CH: And you put the microphone into — .
AT: Right in the toilet.
IP: Into the toilet bowl and be like — .
AT, IP: “Heyyy, baby!”
AT: I be like, “Papi, you there?” “Yeah, baby, I’m there, baby.”
AT: “Hi, baby.” I go, “Hi, papi, I miss you.” “ Oh, baby, I miss you, too.”
CH: Oh my — .
AT: We be talkin’ like that all night.
AT: So then when I see it’s daylight, “Baby, I’m going to bed.” “Me, too, baby. I’ll see you in the morning.”
CH: Now, how, okay, how’d the system — so you talk into the toilet — .
CH: How does it work that you’re connected to a particular person?
IP: No, because everybody, even if it was different people, like say — .
GB: Here go get the other person.
IP: It’s two persons per cell, so it could be two women per cell, and two men per cell — .
IP: But everybody ends up hookin’ up, like you can go tell your friend — .
GB: Yeah, or you can tell the person to go get the other person, you can tell him to go get him.
CH: But, but I’m saying, but I’m saying how do you manage to open up an airway to a particular cell?
IP: You could just be like, “Ey, um” — .
CH: ’Cause isn’t it just going to go to all the cells?
GB: No, no, no, she’s telling you. Listen.IP: “Tell such and such to come to mic, tell, tell, tell such and such to come to, to the Mic 4.” And they’ll know what toilet bowl to come to.
CH: Oh, because each of the bowls — .
IP: Because every cell has a number.
AT: Each room.
IP: On each cell.
GB: Yeah, so he be like go get that person, like my room right here — .
GB: I go get the person to go for this, to, to my room.
CH: So, if you’re in cell No. 2 two in the female [section] — .
CH: And you’re in cell No. 2 in the male.
AT: They be like go get such and such — .
CH: You’re gonna have the same and — .
IP, GB: Yeah!
GB: Same line, same line. Yeah.
CH: But you can only talk to the person on the same line.
IP: No, it doesn’t have to be like that. You can — .
TC: But that’s when, that’s when you like go and get someone — .
IP: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
GB: There you go.
CH: But I’m saying — .
IP: But eventually a woman literally sticks to the person that she’s dealin’ with — .
GB: She’s dealin’ with.
IP: On that cell.
IP: You understand me?
GB: That’s where the complications come from.
IP: It, it, it, that’s where the complic — yeah exactly.
GB: ’Cause you fall in love with that person.
IP: Say for example, I’m talkin’ to Todd — .
CH: You fall in love?
GB: Yeah, they fall in love! Oh my God!
IP: Say I’m talkin’ to Todd, right?
AT: I did it over there. I met my boyfriend through the toilet bowl.
CH: OK — .
IP: I’m dealin’ with Todd, I’m, yeah. I’m datin’ Todd. We’re on the, we’re on the mic, I’m like, “Hey, baby, whatchu doin’,” you know what I mean? “How was your day?” Whatever. And then, without knowing, Todd gets released.
GB: Mmhm. [Gasps.]
IP: Yeah, that’s — .
GB: That hurts. That can [be] heartbreaking.
CH: And Todd’s never going to see you again.
TC: That hurts.
IP: It does.
GB: That hurts, that hurts.
AT: That hurts, that hurts. ’Cause your friend leavin’ — .
GB: I seen a girl cry, she’s waitin’ for, I seen a girl cry when he like, she like, “I know he goin’ come to the window.” When he got out, she say, ‘He got released,” ’cause she just talkin’ to him, my roommate just talkin’ to him. They used to pray on the bowl and everything, pray through the thing — .
CH: They prayed?
GB: Yeah, through the thing ’cause he’s real spiritual. Like he knew the Word real good, he pray. And they used to pray and stuff before they go to sleep. And he, all of a sudden he got released. So she was at the window waiting for him to come by the window and say hi or whatever. She say, “I know my baby comin’ to the window.” I know she came to the window looking for him, she be cryin’. I said, “You ain’t think that man really goin’ come to the window? He goin’ home.”
IP: Ah, he goin’ get him some pussy. ’Scuse my language, but it’s the truth. He goin’ go get him some pootang.
GB: He went out, he was gone, you know what I’m sayin’. Yeah, but, yeah, yeah she was cryin’ her heart, her heart breaking, people get hurt. People fight.
CH: So, so, so what do most, mostly what do people talk about?
CH: OK, give me — .
GB: Sex, life, whatever you want to talk about, whatever you feelin’.
CH: Give me an example of the typical conversation.
IP: Or their cases, you understand me?
CH: OK, well, let’s start with the sex. You got two people on the end of the phone. What are they saying to each other?
IP: Now, mind you, if it’s my aunt and her dude talkin’ on the bowl, you’ve got to let the other female know, like — .
GB: Yeah, respect. Yeah.
IP: Your roomate, look. Courtesy — I’m with my dude. We about to get — .
AT: I need some privacy.
IP: Yeah, we need some privacy.
CH: Oh, so it’s only you in the room.
IP: So it’s you and your dude on his bowl, and he’s tellin’ his roommate, “Yo, you gotta go.”
IP: You feel me? So you have to give that person courtesy. And, you get it in — .
AT: He be like, “Baby, how big is your boobs?” Such and such. “How big is your butt?” “32.” “Wow, baby. Keep telling, keep talkin’.”
GB: But sometime there be somebody behind, it’d be another, another, um, floor. Yeah.
IP: But there is — .
CH: Basically it’s phone sex.
GB: Yeah, that’s what it is.
GB: You can talk, you can talk, it be clear, you can clear like I’m talkin’, we talkin’.
IP: How wet you are?
AT: And they be like, “Baby,” they be like, “Open up, baby, talk nasty to me.” “Baby, what do you want me to say?”
IP: I’ve never done that, though.
AT: “Anything, baby, say anything, to — .” “OK, baby, come here, baby. Let’s do this.”
IP: “Imagine me lickin’ on your — .”
AT: He be like, “Oh, baby, I’m startin’ feelin’ hot already down here, baby.”
IP: Yo, that’s crazy.
AT: [Laughs.] We be trippin’ right.
GB: I never did, but I was right there around it.
TC: This is amazing.
CH: OK, I’m going to ask you what they wanna hear, and just tell me the kinds of things they want to hear. Typical — .
IP: Like, “Oh,” they’ll tell you, “Play wit’ your — .”
GB: Mmhm. Private.
IP: You know what I mean? [Laughs.] It’s funny to say it ’cause — .
IP: Even though we’re all adults here — .
IP: It’s just the fact that you know, it’s weird because it’s different when you’re there. You’re doing it.
TC: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
CH: Right, right, right.
IP: You understand me? ’Cause you’re in the moment.
IP: But to sit here and conversate — .
GB: About it, lookin’ right here in the face — .
IP: It’s hard, it’s not easy — .
IP: You know what I mean, I’m beet-red.
GB: I know, I’m lookin’ at you turnin’ — .
IP: I swear to God I thought I was — [loses words]. Look, look — .
GB: Open up a can of worms.
IP: I’ve never done it.
GB: Me neither, I never — .
IP: But I have my homegirls, like, I got friends — .
AT: Me too.
IP: They be like, “Hold up, I’m about to bust a nut off-a this fool.”
IP: And don’t, just, block it out. It’s hard to block shit out.
GB: I hear you.
IP: I be on my bed readin’ a book — .
GB: Me too! I be laughin’ — .
IP: And I’ll be like, “Yo, this bitch is crazy.” She’s like, “Baby, yeah, stroke it harder, stroke it harder.”
GB: Yeah, uh-huh.
CH: Oh my God.
IP: And I be like, “What the fuck?”
TC: And you’re trying to read.
IP: Yeah. And he’s like, “Baby, I’m about to bust. I’m about to come.” [Mimics orgasm moans.] And I be like, “Ah, shit.”
GB: Yeah, they be like, “Oh, boy.”
IP: And then we’ll bust out laughin’. “Oh, you’re two minute. Uhhh.” She be like, “Leave my baby alone. Leave my boo alone.”
CH: OK, so if you have — .
GB: [Laughs.] Could be some mass-murdered, King Kong — .
CH: How do you, how do you know like what they look like?
GB: You don’t.
IP: You don’t.
AT: Because when they one day, they be like, “I’m going to fill a slip to go to medical.”
IP: I could fantasize! I could fantasize and say Todd is Brad Pitt and I be like, “Goddamn.” As long as his voice — .
GB: Sounds good.
IP: Sounds great — .
GB: You don’t care about the rest.
AT: He could be some guy, the guy got no hair — .
GB: He look like a big, like a monster.
AT: He’s all messed up. Tored up. And they be like, “I want to see you.” “Well, I’m going to fill a slip to go to medical. We’ll see you down there in medical.” That’s what they do.
GB: And you be like — .
AT: Go downstairs to medical — .
GB: And you be seeing that mo — .
AT: You can’t be talking to the guys. The guys will be in next door.
GB: And then that’s when they be doing the signals.
AT: The officers be like, “Don’t be talkin’ to the guys.” We be like — .
GB: The signals, you gotta give the signals.
CH: But see, do you — if you have a relationship, can you have a, do you usually at some point get to see who it is, or not?
GB: Yeah! Through medical. You go through medical.
IP: Yeah, through, through, through medical. You put in slips. You tell him exact day you’re puttin’ in your slip he gotta put in his slip. Then they’ll call y’all down.
IP: Y’all be lucky if they call y’all down — .
CH: But you can’t talk to them?
GB: No. Not like that. You can do that signal though.
IP: In Essex County [jail], like in Essex County — .
AT: You can talk to the guys.
IP: The girls sneak into the bathroom wit’ the guy.
GB: Yeah, yeah.
IP: And they get it in.
AT: Yup. In Essex County.
IP: My homegirl had sex wit’ one of the guys.AT: They have sex.
GB: I know someone, too.
IP: But this is my thing. I be like, “How the hell do you that knowing that you don’t even know where this guy had his dick at?” You understand me?
GB: This guy told me …
AT: No protection.
GB: … he had used his, you know he used a plastic bag, he used a plastic bag and the guy was like, ‘Let me get some, too.’ He said, “Man, get the eff out of the way,” you know what I’m saying’?
IP: Yeah, as a condom. Or a glove. One of them gloves.
GB: He’s. … Yeah.
IP: They use …
GB, IP: … gloves, plastic bags.
GB: Or gloves. Anything that can cover up.
AT: Oh no.
IP: But that’s still, that’s still, I’m a woman.
IP: You understand me? I’ve ran the streets — .
IP: But everything that glitter ain’t gold.
IP: You understand me? I’m not about to stick no plastic — [makes gagging noise]. I could wait. I’ll wait.
CH: OK, so what else, what else do people talk about?
IP: You understand me?
AT: In my addiction, I did some things.
IP: There’s — .
GB: Life. Just things.
CH: OK, but is, let me ask first. Would you say, if you had to do percentages, well, first of all, when people get on the bowl phone, what’s the average length of time they talk?
IP: No, you could talk forever.
CH: I mean, this is for like hours?
GB: Yeah, but sometimes they have a, um, there be somebody that’s under them that wanna communicate with their people, so you going to have to sometimes have to get up off this so other people can communicate.
IP: Sometimes you get tired, though.
CH: So people talk a long time, though?
IP, GB: Yeah.
CH: Usually is it at night?
GB: Day, night.
IP: Hah. That’s when, that’s when the freaks come out.
AT: When it’s locked in, that’s when it’s usually.
GB: That’s how when they lock in.
IP: That’s when the freaks come out.
AT: That’s when the freakies start comin’ out. At night. You hear them at night.
CH: OK, what’s a freak?
IP: A freak is when they’re talkin’ on the bowl like, “Oh I can’t wait to suck your …” [makes clicking noise]. You know?
AT: Talkin’ on the bowl, doing it — .
GB: Talkin’ on the sex bowl. Whatever goes.
AT: Havin’ sex bowl.
GB: It’s freaky. It’s freaky, whatever go. Bowl sex.
IP: Bowl sex. Toilet bowl sex.
CH: OK, but most of the bowl sex is at night?
AT: At night.
IP: Yeah. At night. At night.
CH: OK, so not during the day?
IP: No. At night.
AT: Only at night.
CH: OK, so that’s — .
IP: Only a freakin’ nasty chick …
GB: Sometimes — .
IP: … would do some slick shit like that.
GB: Yeah. Well damn, you might as well say they be nasty ’cause they do it.
IP: Now you, see, like this is the thing: Women got to show themselves some kind of respect. But you got some doofy-ass girls.
GB: They do it in the daytime, too. They put that, that, that cover up by the window. And had a watchout [against the jailers].
IP: Yeah, them cops will come and rip that towel down. You’re not allowed to have that towel or nothing in the window.
GB: Yeah, you ain’t allowed to, but there’s some of ’em be — .
AT: You know how many girls got busted they were lickin’ each other? A lot. A lot.
GB: Yeah, yeah.
IP: Busted. Yea — busted. Yeah.
AT: A lot.
GB: It’s crazy.
IP: Like that’s not the only thing that goes on.
GB: A lotta stuff.
IP: A girl could be sittin’ there talkin’ to a guy through the toilet bowl but still gettin’ her coochie licked by another girl.
IP: You understand me?
CH: That’s America.
IP: Yeah, tell me about it.
TC: Does that happen a lot?
AT: A lot.
IP: A lot.
GB: To pass the time, to pass the time. I never did it.
IP: But like I was said, everything that glitters ain’t gold.
AT: Like I was saying, like I said that officer in Union County with the thing happen.
IP: That’s how I look at it.
CH: All right. So we’ve done the sex. What else do they talk about?
GB: Life. Court cases.
IP: Everything. Court cases.
GB: Family things.
IP: Family issues. Yeah.
GB: Just like we conversating. General conversation. I mean like — .
AT: “Why you locked up for — .”
GB: General conversation.
CH: Now, you said people fall in love?
AT: That’s how I met my boyfriend. Through the toilet.
AT: Toilet bowl, right?
GB: Toilet bowl love, yup.
CH: And, and, and how — and so, when you both got out — .
IP: And yeah.
AT: When we both got out, yup.
GB: They got together.
CH: What happened?
IP: They been together ever since.
GB: I know someone got married like that.
AT: We been together nine year.
CH: Is that right?
TC: No shit.
GB: Which is my cousin. My first cousin.
CH: Is that right?
CH: You met him through the toilet bowl and you’ve been together nine years.
AT: Nine years.
TC: That is amazing.
CH: That is incredible.
AT: That’s how I met.
GB: Then she got that big name on the back of her. …” [Laughs.]
AT: Yup. I got his name on my back, too.
CH: What’s his name?
AT: Furqan, they call him, Furqan. But his name is James Baker.
AT: That’s her cousin.
CH: And what — Furqan, how do you spell that?
TC: That’s amazing.
AT: F-u-r-q-a-n. Furqan.
CH: What does that stand for?
IP: That just like a Muslim — .
AT: It’s like a middle name. Muslim.
IP: Like a Musl — like a Musli — like a Muslim name.
GB: It’s a Muslim.
CH: Oh. And you met through the — .
AT: Toilet bowl.
CH: And you fell in love with him — .
CH: Through the toilet bowl.
GB: They fell in love.
CH: What is it about him that made you fall in love? ’Cause you couldn’t — .
IP: His voi — his voice. The way he talk. His conversation.
GB: Good people.
AT: His voice. The way he was talkin’, you know.
GB: And then when you see him he’s gorgeous. I’m not sayin’ that ’cause he’s my cousin.
TC: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
CH: What’s that?
AT: Yeah, the way he was talkin’ to me. You know — well. …
GB: I’m not sayin’ that ’cause he’s my cousin. But he’s like tall and built, nice built, nice, nice face, nice feature, nice everything.
AT: I said, “I have to see a picture.” He sent me a picture, I said, “Oh Goddamn,” ’scuse my language. I said, “Lord Jesus, I’m talkin’ to somebody sexy. What?”
IP: Yeah, that’s another way you conversate. That’s another way. Look that’s another way that you conversate with men. As well. You get your letters, you write your letters. Now — .
GB: And some of them that got somethin’, you know that got money, so they’ll send you money through your account. They have their family send you stuff to your account.
AT: He was sending money in my account and everything.
GB: Good people.
CH: That’s amazing.
AT: Yup. He was takin’ good care of me.
GB: You meet — you meet good people, you know what I’m sayin’? Everybody’s not bad.
CH: Now what, what happens if you get caught?
AT: What, on the bowl?
IP: You’ll get like an hour of punishment. Whoopidee-freakin’-doo.
GB: A few hours. Not that — .
AT: You could get like an hour and you’re punished. That’s it.
IP: You’re already locked down 23 [hours] and one so what the fuck? Like, like– escuse my language, but — .
TC: Oh no, whatever.
IP: At the end of the day, you already locked down.
IP: You can’t do shit.
CH: What, what do they do? I mean — .
IP: So that’s the only excitement you get.
CH: How do they punish you, though?
AT: They lock your door, you can’t come out, you just come get your tray, and go back in.
IP: You can’t come out for your rec [recreation period].
GB: Just lock your door.
CH: They lock your door — but you’re already locked down.
GB: Yeah, but that’s what they do though. That’s the punishment.
AT: That’s the punishment.
CH: Like you don’t get your hour free, is that what it is?
IP: Yeah, that’s it. Yeah.
GB: Yeah, oh well.
CH: Instead of like 23 you’ve got 24.
AT: But that’s what I tell them, I say — .
IP: Yeah, and you still be in the bowl, “Bahhhhh.”
GB: You been on the bowl before, be like, “Thanks for lockin’ me in the bowl!” I tell ’em to lock me in.
AT: You know what, you know what I tell them? I tell — you know what I do, I tell them, “Oh well, you punish me for how long?” “Two hours.” “I’ll go on the bowl.”
IP: Girls, now back to the bowl. I’ve seen like the guy tell the girl, “Oh, baby, climb on top of the bowl and smack your coochie.” Like — .
IP: Literally sit there and be smackin’ they — so the guy can hear it.
GB: So they can hear that stuff.
AT: So they can hear it, yup.
GB: I seen this guy told this guy to go — .
GB: This guy told this girl to go fight this other girl ’cause she got smart wit’ ’im.
GB: He told her go in the others and go fight her. She went to go look for the girl to fight her — .
CH: Tell — .
GB: ’Cause she got smart.
CH: Tell me about jealousy over the bowl.
IP: What. Ohhhhh.
AT: Ohhhh my God. Lord Jesus. You don’t wanna hear that.
GB: Bad. That’s bad. It’s bad.
IP: I’ve got into — .
AT: Lord.IP: I’ve got into one confrontation because when I first got to Union County I didn’t know shit about no bowl.
IP: And because, as you can see, I’m a very pretty girl — .
IP: I keep myself well dressed — .
GB: Mmhm. Always.
IP: And, I have a mouthpiece that’s outta this world.
GB: Never lie, right?
IP: So — .
IP: So, one — .
AT: That’s my girl.
IP: Literally got all upset because — .
GB: She good people.
IP: Her dude went to go call some other girl that was in my cell …
GB: That’s not her body.
IP: … was in my cell, and the toilet bowl was already plunged. I didn’t even know about that shit –.
IP: And I hear this guy talkin’ and I’m like, “What? What the fuck where this voice comin’ from?” He’s like, “Yo’ mamay,” and I’m like, “Oh my God.”
GB: Then you hear ’im.
IP: I’m like, “Who you lookin’ for?” He’s like, “Damn, you sound sexy.” So we start talkin’.
GB: And it was on from there.
IP: And then the guy was like, she came she was like, “Oh yeah I heard you was talkin’ to my man.” I’m lookin’ at her like, “Huh? Oh that’s your dude? For real? Y’all got kids? Y’all married?”
IP: They be like, “No, I met him through the bowl.”
GB: A lot of these met up through the bowl.
IP: And I be like, “OK. And?” And then that shit’ll start escalating from there.
CH: What did you talk about the first time you talked to him?
IP: What he look like — .
IP: You know, uh, do he have kids, do he have a girl on the outside?
GB: General conversations. General conversations.
TC: Would you ever hang up on each other by flushing? Like …
TC: … if you were pissed?
GB: Yeah, yeah!
IP: Be like, “Yo’, I ain’t fuckin’ talkin’ to you no more. Fuck you!”
GB: The flush, that’s the thing, that’s the flush.
[Pabey makes flushing noise.]
AT: And they be stressin’, bangin’ the wall.
GB: Yeah, that’s the flush, that’s it.
IP: They be bangin’ [knocks on table]. They’ll send, they’ll send another guy to another bowl — .
IP: And be like, “Yo, tell my fuckin’ girl that she better get on the phone!” [Bangs on table.]
AT: “I want her right now.”
AT: And then you be in the bowl, “What, baby? Baby, I didn’t mean to hurt you, baby.”
IP: Ah yeah.
IP: [Laughs.] Crazy.
AT: “I’m sorry, baby.”
TC: Oh my God.
AT: He said, “We talk later after dinner, baby.”
GB: Gotta go eat, yup.
AT: I be like, “I came in here a few times. This is me.” [Mimics banging noise.] “Oh, OK, baby. I got you.”
GB: That’s just some insane stuff.
CH: OK, now what about like religious, do people like pray over — .
GB: Yeah, pray, yeah. I just said it. Pray over the bowl.
AT: Yeah, they pray in the bowl.
GB: Pray on the bowl.
IP: Yeah, you got some guys that are like real, like really respectful even though that they’re in the predicament that they’re in.
GB: Yeah. But they just — .
IP: They’re not disrespectful, they’re very — .
GB: Read the Word [of God] over the bowl. They pray to they — .
IP: They be like, “Oh, uh,” you know you get up in the morning and they be like, “Oh, you ready to say your prayer for the day?”
GB: Yeah. Yup.
IP: And you’ll sit there and you’ll talk and be like, “Yeah,” and y’all say y’all prayers together. And be like, “Well, we gotta go to get our breakfast trays, so I’ll talk to you after at such and such time.” You feel me?
GB: That’s why that girl believed that he was goin’ come see her and everything, ’cause he, his mother is a preacher and he know about, well, I know the whole family ’cause it’s my boyfriend’s, um, cousin, and they know more about Word, about the Word. And he got her, and he got a lot of gift for gab, and he was talking teaching, talking to her about the prayer, and praying and all the Word and stuff. So when it draw to at the end, she was in love.
GB: And I came in there in the room and she said she talkin’ to somebody on the bowl, her baby and stuff. When I came in there and heard his voice, I said, “Tell him,” I said, “Tell him Gloria say hi, his cousin.” Said, “Gloria, you know Gloria?” She sai¬¬¬¬d, “Hi.” He said, “Hey, Gloria.” I said, “Watch he shut it down.” He shut it down. I said, “He ain’t goin’ talk too much after that.” So it’s, she was like, wondered why he started, like, gettin’ funny, you know what I’m sayin’? But after that, a couple days later he left, but they used to talk and stuff like that. He said, “Tell my cousin I say hi.” But I said, after that, he said he was goin’ be there with her. When he left, when she came back after lunch, when they came back to open up she said, “He goin’ home, he went home.” So she’s waitin’ at the window, she’s like, “I know my baby goin’ come see me. He said when he get out he goin’ come see me. I know he goin’ come to the window.” She was waitin’ by the window, I said, I said, “I know ’im.” I said, “This boy goin’ straight home to — ahh. He ain’t sayin’ goodbye.”
GB: “It’s over.” That was just somethin’, that was just for the stay.
CH: What, what — .
GB: She was cryin’ so bad, I felt so bad for her.
CH: Do you think that like if you’re in the jail, is the most important part of your life the bowl phone?
IP: Yeah, that, that, I mean that, not for everybody.
GB: Not for me.
AT: Y’all never did it.
IP: I like my books. I had my husband, would order my books, and they’ll send them to the prison or whatever. Like, crossword puzzles, and you know what I mean? You’re only allowed certain amount of things. Like, you used to get the Walkmans on commissary — .
IP: Now they don’t even give you that no more.
IP: No, no, they stopped the Walkmans.
AT: They stopped.
CH: You were saying before that there’s nothing else to do in there.
IP: Only Walkmans, your books.
CH: But you can’t do Walkmans now, right?
IP: Nope, that was it.
CH: They don’t have any classes, right.
AT: Nope. No class. Nothin’.
GB: They done stopped the life skills and all that stuff, too?
IP: Life skills, it’s only for like a freakin’ good, like, it would — .
AT: Yeah they still got it, pero it’s only for the — what, three, four months is it?
IP: What is it — .
GB: I’m just sayin’ but still they, oh my God.
IP: And it’s only for like good 15, 20 minutes.
AT: Yeah, that’s it.
IP: A group.
IP: That’s it.
CH: For what, for what?
GB: See, I haven’t been — .
AT: For group.
IP: For life, like, uh, like life skills — .
AT: Life skills.
GB: I ain’t been in like a few years. I been out.
IP: You know what I mean.
AT: And them meetings is only like, what, an hour, that’s it?
IP: Yeah, that’s it.
GB: Get out, I ain’t been in three years.
IP: That’s it.
GB: I’m trying to stay clear.
IP: But my thing is, in order for people to progress and better themselves, why don’t you allow schooling? Why don’t you help — .
TC: Yeah, absolutely.
IP: And, and, and get wanna make help people better themselves?
AT: With this stuff — .
IP: What the, what the hell does a person have to look for work — .
AT: This is the one worse thing what I’ll tell you right now.
IP: If they don’t have no, you gotta come, nowadays you need a high school diploma to clean toilets. I’m sorry.
CH: What were you going to say?
IP: You know what I mean?
AT: I’m sayin’ to myself, you know when you get locked, when you locked up, when’s people’s in the street, nobody goes to church.
IP: Yeah. When they get locked up they start goin’ to church.
AT: You see those people — excuse my language — crackhead, dope fiend, crackhead fiend, all over, when they get locked up: “Who wants to go to church?” “Oh oh me!”
GB: Everybody wanna go to church.
AT: Everybody want to go to church.
GB: I know I know I be one of ’em.
AT: Everybody. They be in the streets runnin’ but they don’t look for, they don’t go to church.
GB: I go sit there, every Sunday. I know I be ready to go to church.
IP: Yeah, but that’s just basically to get out of the cell.
GB: You don’t want to be in the cell, but I, I like to read the Word anyway.
IP: You are, mind you, in this small-ass enclosure as big as this table.
GB: I like to go, I like to go to church.
IP: As big as this table. That’s, that’s how big your room is.
IP: You understand me? Who wouldn’t.
GB: I always read the Word. I always did. Anyway.
IP: They would tell me to go to church, I would go to.
CH: What happens, do you, do you, is there, is there like sometimes like somebody who’s so good on the bowl phone they’re like stringin’ along three, four different women?
GB: Yeah, yeah. That’s how the fights come.
IP: That’s how everything starts.
GB: That’s how the conflict.
AT: ’Cause a guy be talkin’ to different womans, they finds out.GB: He talkin’ to different women, he be all over the place. Different rooms, you know the guy — the guys, men is like cool with each other. They go ahead, and have different girls.
IP: I had, I had I had a girl, I had a girl also sneak me behind he said she said shit on the bowl. And the girl hit me with a tray.
CH: What, what, what did she say exactly?
IP: She hit me with one of the breakfast trays.
CH: What did, what did, what exactly — .
IP: When she hit me, and I spit out my teeth — .
GB: Oh God.
IP: I said, “Bitch, you’re gonna die.” So I hit her. [Punches her palm.] When I hit her she dropped.
AT: Yo they do, they fight.
IP: And I dragged her all the way to the phone — .
GB: Or the bathroom.
IP: And I just started beatin’ her face in with the phone. I went to lock [lockup] behind it. But it was because of the guard I didn’t stay too long in lock because he said the girl hit me first.
CH: But what, what, what — .
GB: It knocked your teeth? I didn’t — .
CH: What did she say, exactly?
IP: I broke her whole — .
GB: I know you did.
IP: All of this shit was fractured.
GB: I know you did.
CH: But what was exactly, when this happened, what did they say?
IP: It was, um, mind you the girl thought I was talkin’ to one of her guys …
GB: Bowl ho.
IP: … and turns out the guy who I was talkin’ to was my cousin. I wasn’t even talkin’ to — .
CH: Oh. So basically — .
IP: She thought that I was, that that wasn’t my cousin that somehow that we were lying.
CH: So if you establish a relationship — .
IP: I said, “You stupid as hell. That’s my uncle’s son.” Like, you know what I mean? I got some handsome-ass cousins, too.
CH: Right. But if you’ve got a relation–if you’ve got a relationship on the bowl phone, like somebody you talk to every day — .
IP: I don’t get serious wit’ nobody, like ’cause that, that. I have a husband at home, you understand me?
CH: Right, right.
IP: You can conversate wit’ people. I tell ’em from the real, “Look, I’m not here to be fallin’ in love,”
IP: “I’m not here, I’m looking for somebody I can just have conversations with. Period.” You let them know from the door. It’s just like regular hookin’ up.
CH: Right, but, but if you have like regular relationships with somebody within the jail is it considered improper once, like let’s say you’re talking to somebody every night — .
IP, GB: Mmhm.
CH: So is it considered improper for another woman to — .
GB: To disrespect, that’s disrespectful.
IP: Yeah, that’s how they consider disrespectful.
CH: It’s improper.
IP: Yes, like — .
GB: Yeah, ’cause that’s like a couple.
IP: If I’m dealin’ with Todd — .
IP: And then like it’s always different for men. Men can do what the hell they want.
IP: But as soon as the woman, say, I’m dealin’ with Todd, and then I was like, “I don’t wanna talk to Todd no more. Imma go talk to you.
GB: It’s a problem.
IP: It’s a problem.
IP: You understand me?
CH: Why is that a problem?
IP: It’s a problem because now you want to go fight Todd — .
IP: ’Cause, or Todd wanna go fight you — .
GB: Yeah. ’Cause you’re talkin’ to her, yeah.
IP: ’Cause you’re talkin’ to me now, and — .
GB: Just like the street.
IP: Not only that — .
GB: Just like the street.
IP: Not only that, but whoever you was dealin’ with is feelin’ some type of way, so now she wanna get at me.
IP: You understand me? It’s, it’s, it’s — .
CH: Would you say — .
GB: It’s deep. That bowl is so deep and serious.
CH: Would you say, would you say most of the conflicts in the jail occur over the bowl phone?
IP: Yes. Yes, yes. And because of bein’ locked in.
GB: You’re already frustrated anyway.
IP: If they had, if they had more things for people to do — .
GB: I never been on the bowl, but I seen it, and people’s on that stuff.
IP: I don’t think women would be on the bowl.
CH: Right, right, right.
TC: Oh, yeah, totally.
IP: You understand me? If we had more activities, more things to do, it’d be totally different.
CH: So, let’s say you’re on the bowl at night. What’s the average length of time somebody talks on the bowl at night?
IP: They could talk till the crack of dawn.
CH: All night long?
GB: If you got a good, um staff on, you know what I’m sayin’ — .
GB: You don’t be too loud, don’t be so loud — .
IP: Yeah, ‘cause.
GB: This one girl used to be loud, but I done used to let her talk for a long time. She was a bowl ho ’cause she stayed up on all — I mean day and night — and be, “Hey, blah blah blah.”
CH: And they call ’em a bowl ho?
GB: Yeah, ’cause you be on, yeah you be talkin’ to different people you a whore. You a ho, on the bowl.
IP: I’ve, I’ve got into a confrontation ’cause, mind you, I’ve been sleepin’ like, say you go to sleep — .
IP: And you know you gotta be considerate of others — .
GB: Other people.
IP: So I’m always considerate of others, but there was this one girl — .
GB: She wasn’t.
IP: She wasn’t.
GB: She wasn’t. She make me sick.
IP: And she thought she could beat the world. And I used to tell her, like, “Yo, you pissin’ me the fuck off.”
IP: Now I’m like, I’m no snitch, I don’t go talk to officers …
IP: … ’cause that’s something that everybody lives by, even in the streets.
GB: Yeah, code on the streets. It’s code.
IP: You don’t drop to police, whatever.
IP: So I’m like, “Damn, how do I get through to this girl without havin’ to put my motha-fuckin’ hands on her?”
IP: So I, you go and you tell her nicely, like, “Look, when I’m sleepin — .”
IP: “Be considerate. Let me sleep. Once I get up you can go do what the fuck you want on that bowl.”
IP: “I don’t care.” Y’all understand me? So the girl was like, “Shh. Whatever.” And I’m lookin’ at her like, “Bitch I was here in this cell before you even got here.”
IP: “So I’ll be damned if you’re fuckin’ disrespect me.”
IP: So, I let her know from the rip. You, you disrespect me, you got one more time to disrespect me with that fuckin’ bowl, and we goin’ lock in the room. That’s how it is. Lock in, lock ass. That’s it. You go in. I don’t do no scenes in front of guards.
IP: We’ll go straight in my bedroom and I’ll slam that mothafuckin’ door right behind me and pop her ass right in that motha-fuckin’ room.
GB: Lock and load.
AT: The officer don’t care. There’s a girl teasin’ you or somethin’ — .
AT: “I’m going to fuck her up!” They go like this.
AT: They sit back and be like — .
IP: Especially if you cool with some officers, because some officers be like — .
AT: He said, “Put the curtain, put the towel.”
IP, GB: Mmhm.
CH: Are the officers women or men?
IP, GB: They’re men.
AT: Mans. They be like, “Put the towel, nobody ain’t goin’ to see.”
GB: Men and women, right? Officers’ men and women.
CH: How many times do you find officers trying to hook up with prisoners?
AT: Ohh. Number one!
IP: That’s another story. That’s another story.
AT: That’s another story.
IP: You got always some CO’s [correction officers] — .
AT: I was messing wit’ one there in county.
IP: You got some CO’s that you could make them fall in love, too, and they be puttin’ money on your commissary.
AT: I was messin’ with one for like almost like 18 months.
IP: They, they, they come, they can’t come and visit you but they write letters.
AT: It came out the news and everything. All that.
IP: And they’ll use a different name.
CH: They what?
AT: He was messin’, he was messin’ with, um, at least like 13, 14 inmates.
GB: Yeah, ’cause one of my, one of my roommates — .
AT: I was the first one, he used to come to my room, he said, “Let me see your tits. I’ll put money in your account.” Hell yeah, you motha-fucking right.
IP: I’ll tell him put my money in the account first — .
IP: And then I’ll show you some titties.
AT: I like to see my money first in the account.
IP: That, that’s what I’m sayin’. Like, yeah.
GB: Yeah. You got to understand that one.
IP: Fuck that. Let me see my money slip — .
IP: And then we can talk.
CH: So — how they can’t mess with you in the cell, how are they going to mess with you?
IP: And that’s not on mine to show you a nipple.
AT: Because he used to be workin’ with his other partner, um –[name deleted].
GB: … I knew you was talkin’ about [name deleted].
AT: I’m not a flirt. I said, I’m not a flirt.
IP: I’m-a go smoke a cigarette.
TC: Go, go, go.
GB: I knew you was talkin’ about [name deleted]. It’s nice up in here.
AT: He used to come to the, he used to come in the morning. This the days I used to know he to work, and I say, “[Name deleted], what days you work?” “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, uh, Wednesdays and Fridays. Thursday I’m out.” I said, “OK.” He said, “I be back.” In the morning, I used to hear him. He used to pop my door go [makes tapping noise] I already know.
AT: He be like, “Come here.” I go there, he say, “That’s for you.” I say, “Oh, OK.” He said, “Take it.”
CH: What, what was he giving you?
AT: Uh, cigarette.
CH: Oh, oh.
GB: You know you ain’t supposed to smoke in there.
AT: You can’t smoke in there.
GB: But he give it to you.
AT: You cannot smoke in there.
CH: But where, so where would you smoke it?
AT: In the bathroom, go and take a shower. Used to smoke it.
CH: Oh. So he’d bring you out of the cell and give you a cigarette.
CH: How — .
AT: And then every time I finish, he go back up. The girl who used to be in the room with me, she say, “Look who’s there.” I say, “I know. [Name deleted].” She say, “He’s coming.” He used to go in the room and he used to tell her to leave. She used to go out the room. He used to open the other door, ’cause she had another girlfriend, he used to go to the door, he opened the door, close both of them in the room, and then he used to come in the room.
CH: In your room?
AT: And I used to be kissin’ with him. Yup.
CH: Just kissin’, or … ?
GB: Mmm. Mmm.
AT: Kissin’, touchin’, feelin’, whatever he wanna do. You better believe it. I wasn’t wastin’ my time, I was 18 months there. Hello.
CH: And uh — .
AT: You know?
CH: Like, could you have sex in the cell?
AT: No, you can’t …
AT: … have sex like that.
AT: But he was kissin’ me. And I’m bein’ honest — straight up, as a woman, ’cause I don’t deny, ’cause Gloria knows how I am — .
AT: He was lickin’ my breasts and everything, you know, feelin’ me and stuff and then he leaves. Like that. Then next thing in the morning he does the same thing in the morning. Every day, used to come up till somebody came and talk. Everybody shut down.
CH: Did he get caught?
CH: Did he get fired?
AT: Yes. Came out the news and everything.
GB: ’Cause I know when I was in straight and narrow, one of my roommates, they kept coming to get her, ’cause they was investigating. They wanted her to tell about it. But she would never tell. They always come and get her — .
GB: Always come and get her, come and get her, come and get her from straight and narrow — .
GB: But she never wanna tell. She said, “I’m not tellin’ on him,” ’cause he was treatin’ her too good. So she would never throw him under the bus.
GB: Never told.
CH: Now what — .
AT: He was puttin’ money in my account and everything.
GB: Oh yeah.
CH: He came — they would came and get her– .
GB: From the straight and narrow. I was on the straight and narrow program — .
GB: There was, she was one of the girls, too, they was investigating. They wanted her to tell on him, but they wouldn’t tell on him ’cause he was good. You know what I’m sayin? Good people. That’s like, it’s like me and you dealin’, and they want me to tell on you. You is good, I’m not going to tell.
AT: I was the first one they shipped out. The first one. They took me out quick.
CH: Was he the only one or were there other guards?
AT: It was a couple guards, couple guards.
GB: I don’t fess. I ain’t tellin’ nothin’.
AT: Couple of them.
GB: That’s up to you. I ain’t never tell. I’m not sayin’ nothin’. It’s over.
AT: Yup. Couple officers.
GB: Especially with good people, no, no, no. I ain’t goin’–they say, “Well, you goin’ have to sit in there six months.” I said, “Okay, let me just go sit six months.” I’m not goin’ tell on them.
AT: Yeah, yeah.
GB: You know what I’m sayin’? ’Cause it your career, that’s your life, you got a wife, you got a family. I’m not going to sit there and, like, I mean like, I’m not goin’ do it. I’m not goin’ do it.
GB: I’m not goin’ do it. End of discussion.
AT: And I was messin’ with him for almost 18 months. For 18 months.
CH: Todd, we’ve got to type that bowl stuff up.Wait, before you go…
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