Writing in Jail

When I first went to jail in Orlando, I was freaked out and so very alone. I got to talk to my former partner Zack and my other former partner (we were in a triad at the time), but those calls were limited and I spent the majority of time bawling my head off.

I needed to write about my pain. In the worst way.

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I did not know how to get pencil and paper yet (through the commissary) and when I did, I ordered it right away. Still, it took a couple more days before I laid hands on writing utensils.

In the meantime, I came up with a creative way to “talk” to my friends and lovers.

I typed on the computer to them. Not a real computer, of course, but a keyboard hovering in the air in front of me. And I typed. A lot.

I was put in my own cell for a few days, which was heaven because I could pee and poop in a tad of privacy except for the one wall made of bulletproof glass.

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Once in a cell with other women, the peeing and pooping was entertainment for them and I did everything in my power to wait until they were gone from the room; not always possible. Being extremely fat, it remains one of the most embarrassing experiences in my life, this doing bodily functions in a room with 3 other women.

But, at first, I was still by myself. No one to talk to except the tearfully short conversations to my partners.

So, as I said, I wrote on an invisible computer.

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I poured out my fears, sadness, confusion and concern that I would never leave jail ever ever. (Which was ridiculous, but I could not be convinced I would not die an old woman in there.) I wrote to my Disney newsgroup friends, telling them how, as I tried to go to sleep, I would “ride” It’s a Small World or even the WEDWay PeopleMover, rides I knew by heart. I told them how I could hear the music, the announcers, feel the PeopleMover slowing at the right spots or flew over Captain Hook on the Peter Pan ride.

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I wrote about how I laid on the flat mattress with no sheet or pillow and only a wafer-thin blanket in this freezing place, singing songs from a myriad of Disney movies. Over and over in my head, I would pull Disney memories and walk or rode or sang them to myself. And I told my friends this as I typed the soundless clickity clack of invisible keyboard keys.

I was absorbed in my “discussions” with my friends. Sometimes in non-existent chatrooms, all of us sharing stories of what we were doing that day or where we would go on our next Disney outing.

So when I heard knocking on the window and looked up, I was rather surprised to see 5 faces watching me. I did not stop typing, my fingers mid-air, moving continuously.

“What the fuck is she doing?”

“That bitch is crazy!”

“They better not put her in with me.”

I glanced up again to see a couple rolling their eyes at me as the all turned away to do something else in the Day Room.

And I smiled that they could really have thought I was crazy… and might just leave me alone to my writing.

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Extradited to San Diego

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.

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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.

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Orange County Jail… exactly as it was when I was an inmate.

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.)

gov warrant

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tom Casson, Illustration

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.

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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.”

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The amazing Carol Burnett.

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.

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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.)

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Inmate 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.

barbed wire

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.

cell room
The space had these types of bed, but not quite that many people. About 40, but not that close together.

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.

phone

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.

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Religion in Jail

When I was in jail in 1996, I was studying to be Jewish. I’d wanted to be a Jew for many years, eventually studying and debating for 15 years before deciding an atheist has no business converting to Judaism.

But, in jail in Orlando, I was, as far as I was concerned, Jewish.

jews

Christian Bibles were everywhere in jail. Laid on tables in the great room were many different types of Bibles, all Christian, however. When I asked to have a Jewish Bible (without the new testament), I was told my Rabbi would have to bring me one. I did not have a Rabbi to do this at the time, so went without.

All the reading material in the library were Christian “novels” (Historical Fiction). They were simple books, all with a Christian theme, usually a pioneer woman struggling to keep her family together and the husband always being the strong one who saved the day. It was revolting. Couldn’t we get mainstream books? Apparently, they only allowed certain organizations to bring in books and, of course, they were Christian outreach programs.

The absolute worst, though, were the Revivals. I don’t think they called them that, but I did.

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Our cells were in a square around the great room, bulletproof glass from ceiling to knee. Sounds flowed freely under the door.

Theo Lacy Facility jail

When the Christian church was called, I am sure every inmate attended but me. First, it was a chance to get out of the cell when it wasn’t time to be in the main room as well as a great way to blow off steam.

And yes, finding Jesus was a common theme among those in jail.

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But my preferred religion was really unhappy with these meetings. They quickly became raucously loud, “Praise Jesus” repeated over and over again. Singing hymns with intense passion.

I tried not to listen. I read (the Christian books!) or tried to write, but the singing and praising permeated my space.

It annoyed me no end.

I tried to cover my head with my blanket (no pillows in jail). I tried to sleep. None of it was successful in drowning out the Revival atmosphere.

Then I was extradited to San Diego and religion took on a whole different tone there. Sure, women were Christian. They had meetings and found Jesus, but they were subdued about it. When they went to pray together, they left the compound area and, from inner knowledge, they were quiet and prayerful, not raucous and praising Jesus with raised hands and stomping feet.

What a difference!

I can only think that jails in the south must do things differently than on the west coast. The food was certainly different, why not religion?

Muslim beads
Islamic Misbaha (Arabic: مسبحة mas’baha)

Butter Pats (in Jail)

The one thing I did love about jail… and hoard… was the pat of butter for the bread we got at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

butter pat

You see, I was… am… a lip balm addict. Have been for probably 40 years. So when I went to jail, they, of course, did not allow me to take any with me. My meds, they let me take (didn’t give them to me properly, but I did get to take them), but not lip balm.

Therefore, I used butter pats. I took the pats from anyone who would give them to me, kept them in my locker in my room and used it sparingly.

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It was always a drag when we had inspection because my stock of butter pats would be tossed and I would have to start all over again.

Blessedly, I was given money on my books (in my account) by those who loved me and I could buy Chapstick brand lip balm, the one in the black wrapping. Plain. I love my Blistex Medicated Lip Balm, but I was not going to complain.

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(I just put some on. HA!)

When I was extradited to California from Florida (during my second stint in jail for the same crime), I lost my bought Chapstick and had to endure dry lips for a couple of days through the traveling. I was bereft.

When I got to California, my then partner, a Deputy Sheriff in the jail I where I was incarcerated (another story) slipped me his Chapstick to put on before going to my bed. It was not black so I couldn’t keep it, but I was careful to keep it on as long as possible. In the morning, I traded some food for Chapstick… and paper and pencils (another jail story… writing in jail).

The first thing I did when I was released 3 days later was to put my own Blistex Medicated Chapstick on. I was in heaven.

Today, sitting next to me, I have… counting… 10 sticks of Blistex. And another 6 or so in my purse. One by my bed. Clearly, I have been traumatized by being in jail and not having my lip balm. (You see I also hoard pens. I’m terribly worried about running out of something to write with. Really, really. It’s a sickness.)

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Now that is my deterrent for not doing any more crimes.

Jail Food

I was in jail for Welfare Fraud in the late 90’s.guilty

I was the only guilty person incarcerated, but I was guilty. I did pay back all I owed, I served 21 days in jail and 300 hours of community service as well as 5 years’ probation.

jail cell

But this is about the food I had to eat in jail.

It was ghastly.

And I was really fat, the fattest person in there, by far. I had to wear men’s jail uniforms because none of the women’s ones fit me.

So eating jail food as a fat chick? Extra gross.

Mornings were the best time. Frosted Flakes, powdered donuts and a banana were common breakfasts. Yes, all on one tray.

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After that, lunch and dinner were vile.

(And I know, one does not expect gourmet food in jail and I suppose it could be used as a deterrent for some people to not do the crime, but I had no clue what I was in for when I was handcuffed and taken in. And yes, I do know there are constant debates about why inmates even get free food at all, but at the time, these were not part of my reality.)

Unknown mush that was supposed to be meat (so what if I was a vegetarian… I ate it or went without; I ate it), unknown mush vegetables…

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…(I remember green beans with bacon, but the green beans were so overcooked as to nearly be baby food) and milk or fruit punch. I think a piece of fresh fruit, but my mind is stuck on the grossness of the other items on the plate.

The absolute worst was the morning we got an egg. It was purple!

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I had not one clue why, but when I took a bite, I spit it right back out into my napkin, the girls on each side of me were pissed I was wasting good food. It was one of the grossest tasting foods ever. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned it had been pickled. Pickled eggs. Like pickled pig’s feet. Disgusting.

As I researched this, I see that jails around the world have issues with jail food and in some places have rioted to get better rations.

I am not even sure how to finish this. Perhaps with another picture from a jail that looked similar to what I was fed.

Incredibly appetizing, right?

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