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Eight Days in a Texas County Jail

I have been transferred three times. The first cell (a 20 x 150 ft. cinder block) had 9 women inmates and they all slept on bottom metal bunks but kept their ‘stuff’ on the top bunk. That was their shelf. They didn’t want nobody up there. Especially a new cell mate. They told me I could put my mat anywhere on the floor. Just throw it down there. The mat was like an exercise mat and if I wanted a pillow, then I could roll the mat at one end. Nothing fancy here, moma. Not the Hilton Hotel. So wrap yourself in the blanket ( you’re lucky you got one) and you’re set for the night. This cell, I was later to find out, was a rowdy cell where the women (out of bordem or depression) slept until noon then raised hell the rest of the night. The minute the lights went out, the women started hollering about all manner of stuff to anybody that would listen. About three hours later, a woman jailer all dressed in black, came to the door and yelled, “WiILSON! GET YORE STUFF!” Everybody’s got ‘stuff’. Stuff you’re marched in with and stuff you can buy at the jail commissary. Things like shampoo and conditioner, and ragoo noodles ( no hot water to mix with it) and pencils (no sharpener, use the cement floor) and paper and stamps and envelopes and baby oil and underwear and long-johns( to ward off the bonechilling cold). The jailhouse commissary is a cart that comes around every Tuesday night–but it took me 8 days to figure that out. Then the next question becomes: How do you get money into the commissary account? (drop a money order off at the correct slot on the correct day on the correct side of the jail house wall) How do you know what’s in the commissary? (you don’t) Cardinal Rule NO. 1. Nothing is done in jail that is not done on the prescribed day. The Commissary cart only comes on Tuesday. The medcart only comes on Thursday. The mail only comes on Wednesday– and so on and so on. So it was 8 days figuring how to get shapoo, three days figuring when I had visitation, and three days figuring how the showers worked. In jail cell No.2 I found out how the showers worked. Jail cell No.2 (the “Lock Up”) held the problem prisoners and I was a problem because I was on a hungerstrike. Actually cell No.2 wasn’t that bad except that it only was big enough to hold a suspended cot and a metal toliet. So most of my time I was sleeping with my nose pressed against the ceiling like a spider. When I got bored in my little metal cell, I read the names scrawled in penciled on the wall. Rosa. Krystal, Nico, Me! Geneva. Then I read the messages: Why am I trying lying to live living to death? That was too much thinking for me so I went on to the Jesus messages—and there were always Jesus messages: Only Jesus loves me!! Jesus calls everyone of us!!! One wall was scratched with the entire life of Jesus in stages. The main selling point of Lock Up was the privacy but the weak point was lunacy. The woman next to my cell got into screaming arguments with a woman in a far cell often around 3 in the morning. These arguments would escalate into screaming fits of profanity and I learned exactly what one moma would do to another moma if she ever got ahold of her. This in turn brought out the guards (males and female) who then tried to drag the woman out of her cell to go visit “THE CHAIR” down the hall. (The chair was straight jackets and chains and an occasional zinging with an electric cattle prod) By this time, the woman was wild as a mustang horse and she was fighting the guards and running and slipping and they were hauling her ass off to the chair. And there she stayed- screaming and howling the rest of the night. But getting back to how the showers worked in cell NO. 2. By the third day I still hadn’t had a shower but then I didn’t care. I was in my little cell, minding my own business. I didn’t have a frazzling thing to read so I spent a lot of time focusing on my breathing. Counting to twenty, then starting over and counting again. That got me to noon and the lunch hour, but since i wasn’t eating, I’d sit in my cell and do exercises. Push ups and sit ups and pacing around the 5×10 cell. Occassionally a woman would go to the only curtained shower in the unit and sometimes she showered and sometimes she’d just washed out her single piece of underwear in a plastic bucket she bought from the commissary. Since laundry was only done once a week and only on the prescribed day, if a woman wanted clean anything, she’d go to the shower and stomped on her clothes on the floor or wash it in a bucket. So it was the bucket that was the cause of the biggest fight of them all. The female inmate that had quarrled with the inmate the night before went into the shower and filled up her wash bucket with cold water, Then she came out and slung the entire contents of the bucket onto the woman lying in her cell. That day two inmates were sent screaming and hollering to “THe CHAIR”. That day, too, I got transfered to Cell NO.3. The guard dressed all in black came to the cell and hollered,”WILSON, GET YORE STUFF!” I still didn’t have a lot of ‘stuff’. I hadn’t been able to order anything from the commissary so my stuff was jail stuff: l) 2 inch tooth brush 2) tiny container of toothpaste that the women in the jail used as paste to hang up sketched pictures of their children or roses 3) 4 inch plastic comb 4) 2 inch square piece of soap 5) hand towel the size of a washcloth So I took my handful of ‘stuff’ and my mat and my blanket and went into my final cell where I spent the remainder of my time. Cell NO. 3 was a quiet cell and the women were mothers and they talked and wept about their children all the time. One inmate’s husband was in the next cell over and they pounded messages on the wall to each other. Rita had been jailed many times and had even been sent to the federal pen which she had loved. It was much better than jail, she said. Much better. She prayed to God everynight that they’d send her to prison. Rita had went into the pen a size 14 and came out a size 4. She was in the county jail for lying to a cop about her name and because she couldn’t pay her $200 bond, she had been sitting in jail for 3 weeks waiting on her trial. Another of my cell mates was a much younger woman. It was her first offense and she had been in jail for two weeks for possession of marijana. Her bond was set at $350,000 and she had no idea when her trial was or how long she would be in jail. The state of Texas had tried to take her 3 children while she was in jail and that was most of her torment. Worrying about her kids. Cell NO. 3 was totally shut off. The windows were covered and the only opening was a twelve inch door slot for food trays. Needless to say, on that first day when I went up and refused my tray, the women shouted “LET ME HAVE IT!” So for the rest of my time in jail cell no. 3 and while still on the fast, the women ate the extra meal and felt that they had got one over on The System. They complained about the weight gain and laughed at how they would have to walk it off. But the food tray was pure pleasure. It was the most exciting and gratifying thing in jail. It was the only thing that broke the day.

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