Darcy had been in longer than anyone. In our pod. She had been sentenced to just under a year. Anything over a year put you in prison. I was just there, no date to be released. Darcy was funny and loud. She could always make people smile. She was african american and was very intelligent. She used to be a model. She taught us how to walk, runway walk like a model. She could also do our hair. We loved listening to her and she taught us stuff we never knew. She was proud of how pretty she used to be and I could see the shame in her about how she looked now after years of drug and alcohol abuse. Annie was older than all of us, somewhere in her sixties. DUI had her in there but she was sure she didn’t have a drinking problem. She was sweet and mostly sat and played cards. She told me once she was unsure why someone like me was in jail, I was joyful, enthusiastic and a leader at times. This was after my impersonation of Rudy giving an impersonation of a Notre Dame football coach-yon know, from the movie Rudy. We were getting ready to go to yard to play volleyball. If you have ever been to jail then you might know how difficult it is to get a bunch of women to go play sports. I jumped up on the table and gave them Rudy’s speech. I made up new words and it was pretty funny. I don’t think I motivated anyone to go play but we got to laugh and that was important. There was a lady, I can’t remember her name but she annoyed me. She wasn’t always very nice, she was snappy but she never hesitated to gather us all together to pray at night before we were locked in our cells. She wasn’t scared that way, she was loud and she was good at it. There was one lady who came in, she was with us for quite a bit. Her family sent pictures for her to hang up. She showed us all a picture of her birthday that she had celebrated at Red Lobster. We all passed the pictures around, meeting her family. And there I was. There I was in her picture, in my fish shirt, singing happy birthday to her at Red Lobster. What a laugh that caused. I mean what are the chances? We all got fed up and irritated at times. We paced. Back and forth, in circles, side to side. We couldn’t sit still. Our flip flops would hit the concrete with a slap every step we would take. The old ladies who never walked would always yell at us for that. There was loaf. It was a secret meal for those who would get locked down for doing something wrong, mostly passing notes to the men, or talking through the toilets to them. It was amazing how everyone figured out how to communicate. I never got the chance to eat the loaf but I heard it was edible if you covered it with kool aid first. The days would pass slowly, sometimes dreadfully. Between 1-4pm was the worst. It was like the time would stop. I tried inventing things to do. I could always find a way to have fun. Unfortunately the cops didn’t like it if we had fun. I got a group together to play hackie sack with an empty toilet paper roll. We almost died laughing. They locked us down for that, although there was no rule against it. It was the laughing that bothered them. I started the toilet paper game which involved tossing the toilet paper roll around without allowing the toilet paper to rip. It was a difficult game and a little messy but helped pass time. My cell mate for a long time was Tiffany. She was a couple years younger than me. I think she was just 18 or 19. She was beautiful and sad and a mess and funny and falling apart all at the same time. We started reading the bible together every night before dinner. I don’t think I ever cried with anyone else before her-not sober. We took turns. Took turns telling our stories little by little. We felt a little safer each time to add more parts of ourselves and our past to the stories. With each phone call to our families a new failure would surface. New issues would come out that we couldn’t handle. That we didn’t know how to handle. The first question to anyone was always, “what are you in for?” That was the easy part. For those of us who would be there longer than a few days or a week, we learned about what we were really in there for. The things that really brought us to where we were and it was never the criminal charge that was down on paper. And we all knew that. Tiffany had been homeless due to drugs, and she was arrested for squatting in a house to sleep. Normally she would have had to sell herself for what she needed. We read through the book of John together, that’s where everyone says to start. I don’t think we understood much of it but it was real. We felt it more than we had any idea of what it “meant.” We read allowed to each other. We both struggled with sounding out words, especially biblical words. We would just make it up if we couldn’t say it. We figured God didn’t care. Kathy Ray. I don’t think I can put her into words. She would sing for us, her voice was soft and sweet. She sang us songs about Jesus. She hurt so much, there was pain in her voice as she sang, and it gave us goose bumps. It gave me goose bumps, I don’t really know about anyone else. Her smile was sad, she had hope though. She talked about God more than anyone else. She held her bible, her arms looked like they had been through a meet grinder from years of heroin addiction. She was beautiful. She made sure we knew that she wasn’t always a nice person on the outs though. I mean, she had to say it. We all knew that none of us were getting things right on the outs or we wouldn’t be there. We had all screwed up and hurt people. She wasn’t okay pretending though. I don’t think she could forgive herself. I miss her singing. The cops all knew her because she had been in and out so much for years. I hope she is well these days. The day came when my childhood friend was brought in. I had already been in a month. I was healthy and past the point of being cranky without alcohol and nicotine. I probably freaked her out when she came in. The first few days are difficult for everyone. She was tough. She was like me. When I first met her I was around 12 and she was 14ish. We were going to fight each other because of stupid neighborhood disagreements. She was one of a small amount of girls I would have been scared to fight. She was always the leader in high school. So, jail was a little weird after she got there…trying to figure out roles and things like that. I think it was hard for us in such a large group, she was too tough at that point. We had all had our walls down and I think some of us had to put them back up for a bit. I was moved soon to a different pod, the trustee pod. We got to clean the jail and make food for the entire jail and stuff like that. In return we had free reign of the jail during the night. We walked around cleaning while everyone else slept. We got double portions of food and other special treatment. We also go to wear blue uniforms instead of green. We got to pick the pants we wanted because we did the laundry. This was important because some of the cops would give us too small of clothes on purpose. They thought it was funny. It wasn’t. We got to go to yard whenever we wanted. I spent hours seeing how long I could volley a soccer ball for. The cops would laugh at me for that too. I guess it’s okay to kick a soccer ball if you are on a soccer field but not if you are in jail. My childhood friend soon became a trustee. Part of me was happy to see her but part of me wasn’t. I felt like I couldn’t relax around her. I couldn’t let my guard down. Finally, it happened. Finally we had an authentic conversation. She opened up and I opened up and we cried. I think this came after a fight. We shared stories with each other and our hurts. We connected. It felt amazing, like we were both human all of the sudden. I won’t ever forget that. I got out before she did. I remember saying goodbye to her as I was reading proverbs before my court appearance. I didn’t know if they would let me out, there had been no reason for them to have kept me in for so long as it was. I had already exceeded double the maximum time they had offered in the plea bargain that I turned down. Part of me wanted out, part of me didn’t. Out to what? There was no life out there for me. The cops nick named me smiley. I could always manage to find good in everything. It was good. There was a period I was depressed, some of the other girls didn’t like that I didn’t go along with how jail was supposed to work. Or something like that, I felt like they hated me and I got depressed. Angel had been in prison a lot of her life. She was tough. She didn’t trust anyone. She didn’t like me, I was not hard enough for her I don’t think. She was beautiful. We had good moments, I was too immature for her, she had seen so much more than me at the time and I think I annoyed her. It was okay though. The head kitchen lady. I forget her name. She must have been 65 or older. Sweetest old lady I ever met. She cared about all of us, we would ask her to pray with us, we knew she prayed. We had to hide because she wasn’t supposed to. She ended up losing her job for praying with the inmates. The time I thought it would be funny to put a mop head on my head so that I looked like raggedy anne, now that was a bad choice. Instant head lice. I told the nurse, he didn’t believe me. He looked, he said he couldn’t find any. I felt them, I saw them. It didn’t matter. I had to steal mayo from the kitchen and hide in the shower with mayonnaise on my head. The smell of oil would waft in the hot steam. It never completely got rid of the lice but it kept them under control. I don’t miss that. It felt good to be somewhere that allowed for us all to be what we needed to be. We fell apart sometimes, we would help each other through it. We didn’t expect anything from one another and yet we were able to meet any expectation we could ever have. No one needed us to be anything other than what we were. We shared our dreams with each other, we shared our hurts, we shared our toilets. We understood each other more than we could ever understand anything else. It was different for some, the ones that had been struggling for years. This was there 20th time in jail, or they had been in prison. They had less hope, less dreams, but they offered so much at the same time.
Anyways. There’s other stories but I’m done writing for now. I hold comfort in these memories and I am thankful for each of the women that I got the chance to know during this time. Whether it’s right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy, I don’t care. They were all part of my life and my experience and I gained so much from them. If you ever wonder why it’s so hard for people to stay out of jail, or why it seems people don’t care about going to jail it’s because there is family there. In the mess and chaos and failures, there’s relationship and connectedness and no matter how much it sucks to be locked up, nothing sucks more than being alone and dead.