After spending 2 days back in general population, I began to get a feel for how things worked around here…There was a schedule – and it sucked.
6:00 a.m. The lights turn on, the doors click open and we are allowed to exit our cell and line up for breakfast. Inmates from the “working pod” set up at the entrance of our pod and quickly begin to serve the food. I learned that when it was my turn, I was to say my last name and cell number to the guard and he would put a check mark by my name. This was a way for them to keep track of who was eating and who wasn’t. If you skip too many meals, they take you to medical, assuming you are trying to kill yourself by starvation.
There are technically no assigned seats, however; certain people claimed certain seats, and should an innocent new inmate ignorantly sit in one of those spots, they were verbally assaulted until they voluntarily moved to another place, (I learned that the hard way.)
6:30 a.m.- Breakfast is over, we all go back to our cells, with the exception of whichever cells turn it was to clean up after meals that week. We were locked in the cell until 7:15 a.m so that the guards could go around and count, apparently to make sure no one had hidden in a garbage can and got wheeled the hell outta there and escaped during breakfast.
7:30 a.m. -The doors click open and we are freeeee! The women usually fly out of their cells, desperate to escape the confined space. The first 2 days back I basically used this time to observe my surroundings. I noticed that jail was kind of like a weird summer camp for the outcasts of society. At one table, you had a 46 year old woman and a 19 year old girl coloring pictures of hearts and animals. In the corner of the day room, 3 women were seated with their backs to each other braiding the hair of the one in front of them. Another table would have 2 grown ass women playing patty cake and giggling like 7 year olds. It gave me the creeps.
The middle table had girls yelling and laughing while playing cards, while 2 others would be making up a dance routine at the top of the stairs. I glanced around in amazement at how these women were acting. It was as if they had forgotten where they were, or they were very good at adapting. Or, possible, they thrived off of not having any responsibility other than making their bed and exchanging their clothes on laundry day.
It was fascinating and terrifying all at once. I tried to imagine myself being that carefree and having fun here, and it seemed impossible to me. I didn’t belong here, this wasn’t my idea of “fun”. I missed hot coffee, and sunshine and Taco Bell and watching Dr. Phil, and sleeping in a comfy bed. I missed freedom – and it hadn’t even been a week.
9:00 a.m. – The fun would be interrupted by guards barging in and ordering everyone back to their cells. It was time for another lock down so they could make sure no one escaped through a toilet bowl or the shower drain. (Because literally those were the only 2 exits and it would be physically impossible to do so, the fact they had 100 counts a day started to piss me off. We were locked in the cells for another hour.
10:00 a.m. – Lunchtime! Once again the women sprung out of their cells the moment the doors clicked open. Last name, cell number, bologna sandwiches, assigned seats, 15 minutes to eat – back in cell for an hour for the after lunch count. FML.
11:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Free time. The moment the doors clicked open it was like a stampede. The women literally trampled each other to get to a phone. There were 6 phones and about 100 women who wanted to call their loved ones, so you can imagine the drama that ensued the minute the beasts were freed from their cages. This was the longest time between lockdowns, and the first time they were allowed to use phones – so this was basically the real start of our “day”. There wasn’t much to do while stuck in one giant room with nothing but time, so people had to get creative. I spent the first 2 days napping and laying in bed, as I was still detoxing – but it had gotten better.
3:30 p.m. Lockdown and another mother effing count.
4:00 p.m. – Dinner. This was the last meal of the day, and I had previously discovered that by 8 o’clock pm – I was starving again. The only way to eat outside of chow time was to purchase commissary. Your loved ones can put money on your account enabling you to buy shampoo, conditioner and snacks. My family hated me currently, so I was shit out of luck.
4:30 p.m. – You guessed it…lockdown and count.
5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Free time. This is when things usually got wild. Women would take jelly packets and instant coffee and make “whips”. You whip the jelly and coffee together until it forms this….goo….then you dab a bit on the top of your hand and….lick it off, over and over until it’s gone. I shit you not this was a real thing, and everyone was doing it. I suppose this was the jailhouse equivalent to partying and getting wild. Girls would be snorting headache medicine in their cells and flashing each other across the day room. It was a madhouse. There was an observation room with 8 giant windows on top of the dayroom, and guards were stationed there to watch our every move. Occasionally they would yell over the loud speaker for us to “calm the hell down”, but for the most part – it was a free-for-all.
8:30 p.m. Final lockdown,, we are confined to our cells for the night. They do a final count and shut the lights out and we are to be silent, if we are caught talking, the entire cell has to go to “lock” aka: solitary confinement. We are supposed to sleep, but sleeping is impossible in this place. Toilets are flushing loudly all night, my cellmates snore like bears and the lights never really go off, they stay on all night – they just dim them a bit.
That night, before “lights out”, Brandi and I were talking about our high school experience. I brought up the fact that I used to be a cheerleader and she began laughing hysterically, saying she could never imagine me doing that. I was about to stand up and show her some of my moves when she looked at me with a perplexed expression, “Tiff, if you don’t mind me asking, what did you do to get in here?”
There it was. I knew it was coming eventually and I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to tell anyone what my charges were, because my case was still pending. I had heard rumors that you have to be careful what you say in here, because people will do just about anything to get their sentences reduced, including running to the cops with inside information about your case.
But I trusted Brandi, I was very good at reading people and could tell she had a good soul. She befriended me when I needed it most, I felt as if I owed her, that it would be rude if I didn’t tell her. So I paused for a moment, took a deep breath……….. and began…