ENG 162 Fall 2013

ENG 162 at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor ME, taught by John A. (Don't ever, ever ask!) Goldfine johngoldfine@gmail.com

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Piece of the week (so far): Place

I don’t remember the first place I saw, or the places that were deathly important to me at the time I was there. I don’t want to remember some places though. I don’t want to remember the 40 days of hell I spent in Belknap County Jail.

I drove myself to that awful building. It went against every instinct in my soul to do that. Drive myself to jail. Seriously? Did I just do that? I was a wreck, and completely unprepared for the terror on the inside of this place. Not a terror from fear, but from solitude, and isolation from everyone I knew and loved, and even hated. They were at least known to me.

I walked in and my roommate pulled away in my car, to return again on March 1st. It’s January 22nd, 2008. That’s such a long wait. The low brick building sent a shiver up my spine. It looked creepy, like it was reaching for me. I didn’t want to go, but my choices were limited and the repercussions of taking off would have earned me more than my well deserved 40 days. I push the button in the middle of the square metal box next to the cream colored steel door. A voice erupts loudly from the speaker and startles me. “What can I help you with?” she yells. “I’m here to check in.” I whisper. There is no one around but I’m still embarrassed. Perhaps the shrubs on each side of the door, or the snow under my feet or the barren and cold parking lot behind me might judge me. The outside walls of this jail won’t judge me though, they are going to treat me like everyone else to pass into them. I’ll be treated like the violent offenders and the drug addicts and the people who are awaiting trials for murder by these walls. They will hold me in. I resent the look of the cream washed large concrete bricks before I’m even behind them.

He walks me in through a 1 bay garage, a large man with a gun. The Belknap County Sheriff’s car begs me to run a key along its side, just to spite the fact that it is allowed to leave and I am not. The thought of turning and running for it crosses my mind again as we get to door number two, but it passes quickly. I’d never make it, and if this guy tackles me, I’m sure to get a hernia of some sort, he must weigh twice as much as me. Head down, here I go, through the door to a hell I’d never known existed until now. I wish I would’ve keyed the cruiser. They walk me into a small room with 3 smaller cell type rooms off of it. They escort me to one of these little rooms, and lock me in. I’m still in my clothes, I still have all of my things, and I am trapped in a room that is about 4 feet by 5 feet with a hard wooden bench and a large window in the wall and the door looking in and not out. These, I assume, are the observation rooms. I sit, and then, lay down. I feel like a homeless person in a park, all squished and uncomfortable trying to sleep away the misery on a bench. They leave me in there for hours. I can see them in their raised glass room that is the center of their world in here, where they have a view of every corridor and the observation cells. They look proud to be there. I think they look pompous and stupid in their shit colored uniforms. I hate their perceived arrogance already.

The next time that anyone pays any notice to me is when they come to put me into my “Jail gear”. A woman guard comes to me and takes all of my jewelry and my boots and everything in my pockets. She catalogues it all and puts it in a paper bag. I feel like my whole life has come down to the contents of a paper bag, and that it’s going to be taken from me. I’m depressed. Then she takes me into another side room, where they keep all of the inmate clothing on these metal racks. All stacked by color and size. It’s a dark room with only one 4 foot florescent light fixture that burns at a quarter of the brightness that you would expect. I’m forced to take off all of my clothes and give them to her in this room that gives me the creeps. She says a phrase that I will not repeat but will haunt me for the rest of my life. I’m not wearing any socks. “Shit I don’t know who’s walked on this floor, I’m going to get a foot disease!” My thoughts are a little off, but that is what worries me about this dirty concrete brown floor.

Once dressed in my blues (I’m sentenced so I get to wear blue pants and shirts, while the people awaiting their sentencing wear green, and the violent people get to wear orange) they put me back into this god forsaken room. I’m fed lunch there. They tell me that once they determine my class they’ll decide where they are going to put me. By class they mean my security level. For now I stare at the writing on the walls, the graffiti from the previous tenants of this room. Names and dates, lewd pictures roughly drawn by the hands of those with no artistic bones in their bodies are all there. Some are disgusting, while many are amusing, but I cannot laugh in this place. The walls keep your joy out too, I’ve noticed.

I get moved to another room after they feed me my meal. It’s larger and it has 3 bunk beds. The usual thought of a bunk bed is of a nice wooden one from childhood, these are not those. These are hard, metal, and unforgiving. There aren’t any mattresses on them, just a slab of metal on metal posts with an identical one above it. There is a small table in here with a few chairs, and a television, but it’s so small you can barely make out the images on the screen. I’m not a fan of daytime television anyway. I sit here and I wait some more.

Right before dinner I am finally sent to my pod. I used to think of delicious snow pea pods when I heard that word. Now I think of something totally different. The pod I am assigned to is low-medium security, whatever that means. I walk into the rooms that I will spend 23-24 hours a day in for the next 6 weeks. There is a pay phone immediately inside the door on the right. They don’t tell you this but it’s a $5.00 fee to accept a phone call from this phone. Then there is a small microwave stand next to it with a microwave on the second shelf and a television on the top shelf. It’s not as small as the last one, but still only about 19 inches. Across from the entrance door that has a glazed out window is another door to a small cell. I look left and there are two more doors in line with that one. Three cells means there might at least be a little bit of privacy, but not much. Each cell off of the pod is identical. A window at the back, a bunk bed to the right and two gray totes where we can keep our things, one per inmate. Also in the main room is a metal table with the stools built in that can swing out for use or be tucked away when no one is using them. There are plastic molded chairs around it because the stools sag so bad that they are unusable. If you take a step into the pod and turn around you’ll see another door next to it, I thank whatever Gods there might be, it’s a bathroom with a door! That was one of my biggest worries. In all honesty, who wants to have a BM in front of people, let alone people that you don’t know? I’m shown to my bunk, and they bring in a tote for my things. I don’t have anything to put in it yet except my spare set of clothes, a bar of soap, a tooth brush, toothpaste, and nothing else but I guess that’s all I need in here for now. I don’t realize how badly I’m going to need to have some kind of entertainment to keep me from going mental yet.

I get a mattress that is about as thick as my four fingers are high, approximately 3 to 4 inches. It’s a hideous green plastic thing that squeaks and protests every time you move. I’m put on the top bunk that I am too short to get up on. I really have to jump and pull and squirm because there is no ladder-type contraption at all. The first week is miserable because they don’t give me an extra chair to use to climb up onto my bunk until they see that I’m not going to hit someone with it. I end up in that first week with vicious bruises from my knees all the way up my thighs from the 2 inch lip around the edge of the bed that holds the mattress on. Those are not the only bruises that I suffer from in this place. The mattress is so thin that I get bruises on my hips from sleeping basically on a metal bed. I cry myself to sleep in depression and pain almost every night.

The bathroom is just about the only peace you get in this place. You can shut and not lock the door, but at least it’s shut. I get in the habit of showering at least twice a day just to escape the madness. It is a tile bathroom made entirely of about one and a half in tiles that are a dark beige color. The shower stall is about 4 feet by 4 feet. It’s a welcome escape, I find. The small plain white sink is where we do most of our laundry because if you turn in clothes that fit you, you won’t get anything else that fits for 2 weeks. The mirror is almost mounted too high for me to see myself in, I can just see my face. We never have enough toilet paper.

Outside of our pod door is what they call a library. it’s a few shelves on each wall loaded with nothing that anyone would really like to read. I only get one book from there because there was only one worth reading. My Mom sends me a few books directly from Amazon.com. They aren’t really anything I want to read either, but she’s my Mom, she picks what she likes. I read them gladly.

I end up after a week with a wall covered in drawings and a count down calendar. I rip down a small sheet of paper off every morning, one day closer to freedom. I draw intricate pictures of my children’s names, and strange things that come to mind. Towards the end a friend gets a bunch of pictures of my children and sends them to me so that I can look upon their faces and be sad, and joyful, and hopeful.

We have a skinny window in each cell. It doesn’t close all the way. It’s the dead of winter. We are cold. We hang up a towel in front of it and use it as a refrigerator. It keeps some of the cold out and keeps out drinks cold enough so that we don’t have to let them spoil if we don’t drink them right away. The window is about 5 feet tall and about 6 inches wide with 6 inch tall sections that open outward from the bottom and stay stationary on top. I can see the main road from this window. I stare out of it and freeze just to remember that the world outside does exist. It’s easy to forget that in here. I also stare out of it on the 2 occasions that someone is supposed to bring my youngest son to see me. They don’t show up, and I miss my baby even more. I cry looking out of this window wishing that they would come.

Eventually I trade up to a bunk that is at the warmest part of the pod. It’s better because It’s across from the pod door and I’m on the top bunk and I can see out of the top 4 inches of the window on that door isn’t frosted. I can see other inmates and C.O.’s walking up and down the corridor. It’s entertaining. It keeps me busy. I have a crush on one of the C.O.’s and I count how many times I see him pass. I yell his last name, “BEAN!!” everytime he passes. He blushes. It’s satisfying on some level.

I make a friend in this place. Her name is Brittney. She’s young. She’s a good girl with a bad habit. She helps me through this place. She babies me a little bit. I sit on her bunk and she reads to me and talks to me and lets me be sad and doesn’t judge me for what I did. I don’t judge her either, because I think she’s going to be fine once she gets out. We have something in common, we have the same release date. That’s important to us. We hold on to that and we can’t wait for it.

We are allowed to go to the gym everyday if we are good. It’s a small gym with chairs lining the walls and half of a basketball court and a ping pong table. I’m terrible at ping pong. We usually just walk laps or play basketball games. Brittney calls out an exercise to do if we miss a shot. It’s like drills for a real team. I love it. Working out is about all I can do that is physical, it’s a joy.

I get used to the whitewashed walls by halfway through my sentence. It’s not an institutionalized feeling, just a routine that I can fall into and count on, something that is consistent. I can focus on me a little, which I haven’t been able to do since I was 16. I can’t focus on anyone else on the outside because writing letters only takes so long. If I think about them too much I get sad and I get a little madness in me. I shower and primp and take care of me. It’s kind of like a vacation after a while, in a sick way. I am working out so much that I’ve lost quite a bit of weight, my face is free from blemishes, I’m all toned and wiry, I feel good about the physical me. These walls keep me in and make me miserable but also open my eyes to many things, like how badly I neglect myself when I’m working 15 hours a day and being a mommy. I get the thought process that I’m going to try to use this time as an advantage to my physical being and try to get my emotional and mental self prepared for my release, and how I’m going to survive and pay bills.

Brittney and I get to leave together. It’s a comfort to me to have someone there with me. I’m scared, and it’s going to be cold. We wake up and it’s snowing. I am taken with my things and Brittney back to the observation rooms. She is in one and I am in the one on the other end, we can’t talk yet. I again have a view of the room where the C.O.’s spend their time. Our pod was recessed so I couldn’t see it while I was in there. I don’t hate them like I did at first. This is just their job. They aren’t bad people. I have to go back into the room with all of the clothes and change back into the clothes that I came with. It’s a relief. They still smell like home. Then I get to go back into the little observation room and wait for the appropriate time to be released. I’m actually amused by the graffiti this time. I laugh. I can’t get my earrings back in because they’ve closed up and I wasn’t wearing a piercing stud that I can re-pierce them with right now. That will have to wait. It’s time to leave. I have a friend by my side and I’m not afraid walking out, like I was walking in. The door to the garage is welcoming me to freedom. Brittney is holding my hand, it’s reassuring. There is no Sheriff’s car in the garage this time. We get to the door to the outside and out escort looks at us and smiles. He opens the door and we are free to go. I’m crying a little. A light blanket of snow is on the walk way. About an inch. I walk past those shrubs and step off of the walkway to the parking lot. I’m really outside, for the first time in 40 days. I’m really looking at an unimpeded view of the road that I can run to if I’d like. Neither of our rides are there yet, but we don’t care. The cold and snow doesn’t matter, we hug and jump up and down, we’re going home.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Robin Brayson

1 Comments:

Blogger Emily Wright said...

what a great piece. Thanks for sharing.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012 6:09:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Free Java Chat from Bravenet.com Free Java Chat from Bravenet.com
Free Message Forum from Bravenet.com Free Message Forums from Bravenet.com