25 Dec 08

Xmas Holidays in a Women’s Prison (by Lifer Renee)

Renee - She was only a teenager when she received a sixty-year sentence from a judge in Pima County. Fourteen years into her sentence, Renee is writing from Perryville prison in Goodyear, Arizona, providing a rare and unique insight into a women's prison.

I thought the day before Christmas Eve was going to be a regular day in prison. I was wrong.
I was sitting at work listening to chitchat, waiting for our meeting to start, when a sergeant walked in, looked at our supervisor and yelled, “Do you have a radio?”
As she turned to retrieve the radio from her desk, he told the whole call center, “Lock it down now!”
Everyone stood to leave.
“What’s going on?”
“Why are we locking down?”
“It is one-hundred-percent lockdown!” the sergeant boomed.
“Look, the cops are running to 24 Yard.”
The nosiest of the group sprinted down the sidewalk to see if they could catch a glimpse of what was going on.
Pacing by an officer, I asked, “Hey, what’s going on?”
“Someone is down.”
Then the chat behind me began. “I heard there is someone down and there is a lot of blood.”
I turned to face my coworkers.
“Really, that is not what I just heard. Do you need to start rumours already?”
Walking with Kay who is still walking with a cane, the women behind us were walking right on our heels.
“I can’t walk any faster,” Kay said.
“Hey, can you just go around us?” I asked.
“Oh, we’re not in a hurry to get back to the yard.”
“I don’t care about that!” I said. “Just get out from behind us! How about that?”
They proceeded around us.
Two seconds later came a procession of officers speed-walking down the sidewalk, screaming at us, “Get up against the fence! Don’t turn around!”
People being people, the airheads were the first to turn.
“I said face the fence!”
I caught a glimpse of a body being carried in one of those basket-type stretchers. When the officers carrying the body passed us, we were rushed to our rooms. “Let’s get a move on! Lockdown! Take it inside now!”
Still I walked with Kay no matter how much they screamed.

We returned to the yard, and turned at the corner of the control room, running right into two girls screaming at each other.
“I don’t give a fuck what you say about me, bitch! We can do this now!”
People jumped into the middle of it before they started to box.
“Now is not the time, homes.”
The officers caught wind of it, and ran toward the mob scene.
“Lock it down, now! In you rooms!”
I finally got Kay to her room and returned to my cell. One of the girls who was ready to fight was in the smoking section, smoking. “I don’t give a damn what she said about me.” On and on she went.
Of course you don’t, I thought. You will fight and go and tell. That is what you are known for doing.

Finally, we were let off lockdown later in the afternoon. I went to dump my trash, and ran into a friend of mine. “What the hell is going on?”
“Friend, she sliced her throat.”
“What! Who?”
“Crystal cut her fucking throat!”
I didn’t want to know any more, and went back inside.

On Christmas Eve, I awoke to the sound of an officer screaming in the loud speaker. “If you have not shopped, report to the store! If you have not shopped, report to the store! Whoever has the broom from the control room, return it now before I have to call in the search team.”
It was 6:30am. So much for sleeping in. I got up to start my day. The next sounds I heard as I stood at the sink with my shankproof toothbrush were a truck pulling onto the yard, the beep-beep-beep of a forklift, and the maintenance truck with the welder in tow. They were adding 30 more beds. 10 to each side room of Building 23 and 10 more to Building 23. They barely have room to walk through now. No wonder there are fights every day. There are a total of 322 women on a yard that is maybe the size of a high school football field, buildings included.

So I decided to go see how Kay was doing. I finished her Christmas card the night before, and I figured I would put all of my craft stuff away later because I still had two cards to make.
While we were talking in her cell, an officer stopped at the door. My mind raced. Cell visiting is not allowed and I thought I’d be sent to the hole.
He opened the door. “Get in compliance, and step outside. You need to line up on the fence.”
“I need to get sweats on,” Kay said.
I stepped out onto the run, waiting for Kay. I looked over to my right and saw four K-9 trucks. “Come on, Kay, we have to go get our butts sniffed.”
She got dressed, and we lined up against the fence. The whole yard was out there. They were even extracting girls from the showers.
“Line up, ladies! Up against the fence! Do not touch the fence with your ass or your hands or you will get bit! If you have a hat on, take it off, and place it in your left hand! Hands out of your sleeves! Palms facing the fence!”
There were so many women that the officers broke us up into two groups. The dogs ran by, sniffing our backsides.
“Now squat! Do not touch the fence or you will get bit!”
Kay attempted to squat. “I don’t know how long I can do this.”
“If you fall, I’ll catch you.”
The dog ran by. Negative results.
“Stand up! Turn to your left! Walk through D pod to C pod” Second group, line up against the fence!”
I live in C pod, but I walked Kay back to A pod. “Are you OK?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s just cold, and I hurt.”
“Oh crap!” I said.
“What’s wrong?”
“I left the razor blade out that I was using to cut my cards with.”
“You’d better go get it.”
“I don’t think I can get into my room. See ya later!” I took off, walking toward C pod my heart and thoughts raced. It was an A class ticket, and with yesterday’s throat slashing stupid. I decided to chance it even thought he cops were everywhere. I bolted up the stairs, ran into my room, grabbed the blade, threw it in the toilet and flushed. I opened the door, looked to my right and there was an officer and a dog entering the room four rooms down. I went in the opposite direction, down the stairs toward B pod. I ran into an officer. My heart was in my throat.
“Where do you live?”
“C pod. Why?”
“You need to get up against the fence.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that.”
I turned around and walked to the fence. I waited, watching the officers and dogs go through our rooms.
“C pod, you can return to your rooms now. B pod, remain against the fence.”
I laughed to myself as half of B pod already went in. I was thankful I dodged two tickets by the grace of something.

Christmas Day. We tried to make a day of it. We exchanged our gifts. Just store items really. Friends’ favorites: yogurt pretzels, lemonheads, rice crispy treats. We were rained out of card game and went indoors. I had to stand in the rain to get Christmas dinner. Green-tinted roast beef. Potato paste. Frozen pie.
I remember ten years ago, we smiled more. A group of us would get together, cook, eat, play softball and volleyball. These days there is more drama, more stealing, more fights, and it is only getting worse. It can only get worse with more women being incarcerated and fewer released.

I hope you all had a bright holiday season! Take care until next time.


Email comments for Renee to
writeinside@hotmail.com or post them below. To post a comment if you do not have a Google/Blogger account, just select anonymous for your identity.

Shaun P. Attwood


Anonymous said...

great descriptions, renee, you really took us there

how sad about the woman slashing her throat

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing Renee----especially the observations about people being so effected by crowded living conditions. in GA the dept of corrections has been closing facilities, cutting the meal portions, housing 3 instead of 2 in a cell and creating more "open dorms" which place anywhere from 50-250 people in one room. we've also seen increase in tension, particularly in the warmer months when some cooling device would be appreciated.

i hope your words will help in raising awareness about these issues that seem to be a problematic trend!

Anonymous said...

It seems thewomen prisoners are more relational than the men.


Anonymous said...

WOw i'm glad you missed the hole!

Anonymous said...

I just finish reading Renee's blog. Good observations.

Cat Eyes

Anonymous said...

I was an inmate at Perryville and I could TOTALLY visualize everything Renee spoke about. My thoughts are with her because I know how it feels to feel so close to insanity and the struggle to just feel "normal", sane and safe. You literally have to walk on eggshells and choose your words carefully lest you get yourself caught up in a trick bag, and now they're bringing in more inmates (3 beds)?? I know the conditions are getting worse (state wide) and I'm sure the day to day existence in there must feel unbearable sometimes. Please pass on a message to her: "Stay strong and know you're not alone".

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