In Truth Be Told’s Talk To Me – Circle class, one of the assignments for each of the participants is writing a description of a day in her life in prison. Lori, who graduated from our Talk To Me and Discovery classes, shared her experience of being imprisoned.
I wake up listening for the sound of keys, because 6:30 a.m. isn’t just when my day begins, it is count time and I need to know which officer is working my floor. This is probably the best predictor of how my day will go. The roving officer manually counts us in our cells and the sound of keys gives her away. She will set the tone for the bulk of my day.
There’s one, for instance, who is loved by us all. When she works, I can be assured of a couple of things: things will happen on her time and her terms and I’ll be late for work because of it. The payoff with her is she’s much more laid back, much nicer, and much more permissive than the rest.
Worst case scenario is an officer many offenders detest, and I used to be one of them. She comes in the dorm yelling and if we aren’t ready at the door, she’s liable to slam it on us or worse, come in our ‘house’ looking for compliance violations. It’s best to shut the door, which also locks it, before she gets there.
We know these officers better than they know themselves. Ask any offender and she will tell you that life in prison is about maneuvering. It’s almost a game. Being able to get from point A to point B without being stopped by the law—eyes down, head down, and moving with purpose—that’s most of the battle. We’re trying to get somewhere legitimately—supply, the library, the mailbox—and the law is trying to stop us.
To get anywhere of substance (for me that is getting to work), we get stopped, questioned, and patted down thoroughly and invasively. I worked hard for my job in the print shop, and I knew the right offender who put in a good word for me at the right time. You know, kind of like in the free world. Competition for jobs here is fierce, and the more demanding the work or the fewer women you are employed with, the higher the status, though the pay is still the same: nothing.
I work in the print shop, which isn’t really a print shop. It’s the copy and file room. When I started, there were three of us, but we do fine with just two. We make copies, print booklets, and file for the education department. It’s easy and I like it. I work Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. We get stripped naked, complete with a squat and cough going in. Depending on who else is around, it could be me alone or a group of us. Prison is no place for modesty or dignity. I left all that behind. Now it’s all about speed.
Back to the dorm for lunch where I sit with the same three women every day. We get together and trade stories and gossip but not in a mean-spirited way. We thrive on information in prison and treat it as valuable. Who moved in? Who moved out? Raids. Shakedowns. What they have at commissary. What they’re out of. Who got put in segregation? Who got a case? Who got a girlfriend? We tell it all!
We are counted about every four hours day and night, and it is serious business! If we’re in the dorm, we must ‘rack up’ which means being locked in our cells. If we’re out of the dorm, we’re counted where we are and have to stay there until ‘count clears’. Every offender on this unit must be accounted for, and we don’t move until they are. Trying to maneuver around count takes strategy and precision and even then we might miscalculate. Every choice we make we weigh against whether it could get us caught in count because most times that means we stand and wait silently in the hallway. That will invariably be the time it takes them two hours to clear count.
Once work is done, I’m in, showered, and waiting on the evening meal. That’s about it for me. I head to my cell after counts, listen to the radio, and do bible study or homework from the seminary program I’m part of here. We have teachers who come in on Tuesdays and Fridays, and in between the members of my dorm have homework and studying in addition to our individual daily obligations.
Once we are all in for the night, the noise level rises exponentially. That’s my cue to go to bed. I created a schedule that works for me. Most of us do. I guess it provides a bit of comfort here.
At the end of the writing assignment to describe a day in our lives, there were questions. These are my answers:
What has been the hardest thing about living in this environment?
I’m an intensely private person and there is no privacy in prison. And I’m not just talking about officers either. Whatever you do, someone is watching you.
What have I gotten used to that I never thought I’d survive?
Stripping naked in large groups and being yelled at all the time.
What has this experience given me in a positive way?
My life. I’d be dead were I not imprisoned.
How do I make friends?
Slowly. Carefully. Rarely. In the free world, I trust until given a reason not to. I have to dampen my optimism here. It makes me sad.
How do I avoid enemies?
By doing my best not to create enemies. I try to live with integrity…even here. People generally don’t mess with me, probably because I don’t mess with them.
What is the most unexpected consequence of being in prison?
First, I have little fear. I am surprised by that. Second, I’m mostly comfortable here and that is weird. I have food to eat, friends who write, a mom who loves me, and a clear head. I’m blessed.
What keeps me going every day?
I honestly didn’t know I had a choice.