I was in jail twice.
I went to jail for Welfare Fraud, accepting Food Stamps and AFDC while also working at Planned Parenthood in San Diego.
I justified it at the time saying I could buy food and pay rent in the same month for the first time in what seemed to be forever.
But it was wrong and I got caught, forgetting that I even had done something illegal. My former husband turned me in after finding me on a website saying there was a warrant for my arrest.
But, as I said, I was guilty so it was time to pay up.
The first time I was in jail was in Orlando, for 6 days.
After I posted bail, I hired a lawyer in Orlando and one in San Diego. Then I waited to see what I needed to do next. It was decided for me when neither lawyer realized I had to appear in San Diego’s courtroom on a certain date that I missed and the police came and arrested me again on a Governor’s warrant. At the time, I had no idea that meant extradition, but yes, indeed it did. (My lawyers sucked at giving me information. The inmates had better legal advice than the guys I hired to do so.)
This second time, I was in for 12 days before being taken to San Diego’s jail where I stayed 3 days before being released.
The second time I was in the Orlando jail, I had the system down pretty well. I bartered for paper and pencil on day 1. I also bartered for a Chapstick, albeit used, promising candy when the commissary food was delivered. Thank goodness those who loved me put money on my books so the moment they took the commissary order, I was able to do so to pay women back for their kindness and generosity.
In jail, I had no idea how long I was going to be in there and what was going to happen until I was awakened one morning at 3am and taken down, strip searched, allowed to put on my clothes, shackled by my ankles with a chain around my waist and handcuffs on my wrists that kept my arms in front of me at all times. A female and male US Marshal had flown from San Diego to Orlando to pick me up and escort me back to San Diego.
At Orlando International Airport, I walked… hobbled… chains rattling, people staring wide-eyed at this fat lady in cuffs until we got to our gate where I sat with a Marshal on either side of me. Guns in their holsters at the ready; I reassured them I was not going anywhere.
I was put on the plane first and we sat in the last row of the plane, one of them on either side of me. I know I’ve said I was fat, but I mean really fat… spilling over the seats in the airplane fat. They both had to keep the arms of their seats up to fit me in with them. When I had to pee mid-flight, the female Marshall came and stood outside the door waiting for me. You’ve not had fun until you are a very fat person, in shackles, using an airplane bathroom. It was a treat for sure.
When we got to San Diego, I was the last to get off the plane, still having to walk by all the people waiting to get on the plane we just left. Chains clanking on the floor, my wrists still in front of me, I am sure I was a pretty sight. I cried the whole trip so know my face had to have been red and my eyes puffy. I was so filled with shame.
Here’s the retrospective caveat: I deserved every second of shame. I know that. I know I asked for it. I know it was right for me to feel the shame, embarrassment and humiliation. I know. In the moment, which is how this is being written, memories of a certain time, my deserving it was far from my awareness.
Outside, the Marshalls gave San Diego Police custody of me, their signing off on Chain of Custody before wishing me well and turning to go. I was put in the squad car and we drove off, going east to Las Colinas jail.
My then-partner, Zack, who was presenting as female at the time, not having come out trans yet, worked at Las Colinas as a Deputy Sheriff. (I will use male pronouns as is appropriate, but it can be confusing at times, just remember I knew him as a woman and he presented as a woman, not coming out until many years later.) He knew ahead of time I was destined for arrival any day and had prepared me, telling me he would be there to watch over me when I got there. We’d devised a signal, tugging on the ear (like Carol Burnett) to say “I love you.”
After intake, I was put in a room with windows all around and could see Zack walking around, tugging on his ear.
I was in a triad relationship with my Sheriff partner and another woman living in the DC area. The DC lover helped get me out of jail in Orlando; I was now in Zack’s jurisdiction.
The door opened and woman after woman was called out and never came back. Then it was my turn and who was there to escort me, but Zack. I was flooded with shame about being there and his having to see me. He was very kind, but brusque as he needed to be. If they’d known we knew each other, they would have sent me 50 miles away to another jail. This way, he could really make sure I was being taken care of.
He took me to a large room and told me to strip. Fuck, he was going to do my strip search. I was humiliated. Over the years, as I have told this story, people think, “Oh, how sexy! Every woman’s dream to be in jail with a lover who is a Sheriff” or, the more common one, “Aren’t you glad it was him and not someone else?” No. I would have given anything for it to be someone else. Bending over, spreading one’s fat ass cheeks, then squatting and coughing are not remotely sexy, I promise.
I learned later that he was assigned to one of the back barracks of women, but they were short-handed and was randomly assigned me to take care of. He could not have asked to take me, they would have known there was something amiss, but the universe took care of it and assigned me to Zack for that night.
After I was in a uniform (a man’s large again), I was given my toothpaste, toothbrush and other things I do not remember… soap I think. (Looking for pics, I see it is called an Admission Kit.)
Then I was led by my love through the halls and then outside, surrounded by tall fences with barbed wire, to a barracks-like building.
It was the middle of the night and the 40 or so women inside were sleeping. My partner took me into his office on the side and this is where he flicked me his Chapstick, which I put on copiously, feeling very loved in that moment.
Then we went into the room with the sleeping women and he woke one who was on a bottom bunk and told her to get on the top one, giving me the bottom bunk closest to his office door that was always open.
I am sure there are cameras everywhere now, there have to be. Back then, no cameras… crazy, right?
I fell asleep quickly and that was the last time I saw Zack during my time at Las Colinas. Later, he told me he was watching out for me, making sure I was safe and not being abused.
I spent the rest of my 3 days in there crying and trying to sleep. I got to use the phone more often, though it was surely terribly expensive, my calling collect and at inmate rates. I didn’t think of such things, though. I thought about having comfort given.
In San Diego, they took my diabetes seriously, checking my blood glucose 3 times a day and making sure I had snacks inbetween meals. The fat girl welcomed more frequent eating. Before bed, I was given milk and graham crackers. I was happy.
The day I was released… well, the night, actually, my sister-in-law picked me up, handing me a Blistex Medicated lip balm as I got in the car. I asked her to roll all the windows down and let the cool night air whoosh over my body.
I was free.