Monotony & Sugarless Kool-Aid: The Jail Time Forgot

Benton County Corrections Facility. BCCF, a place where time can only be measured by when you are fed. Coffee cake and a carton of milk like they used to give you in elementary school means it is breakfast. Bologna or beans or a hot dog tells you it is roughly noon. Yin-yang turkey or a heap of mashed potatoes or some processed meat-like substance assures you that it five o’clock. For the first seventy-two hours (at least), you are in a lone cell in the hallway. You eat all of your meals in there. You read torn and tattered novels or the Bible. You draw and write letters with a golf pencil. You shadow-box, do push-ups, masturbate, talk to other prisoners through the vents, stand at the door where that cool rush of air reminds you that you will not have to smell your own farts forever, sleep, masturbate, read, pace. If you are lucky, your cell has a window which allows you to view a pathetic garden. All I ever stared at was the cattleskull sitting in the mud. Across the hallway, the cells only have angled skylights, which are only good enough to tell you when the sun has disappeared for the day. You listen to the C.O.’s jingling their keys up and down the narrow, pristine corridors. You listen to game shows and television theme songs echoing from the cellblocks and the screams and foaming threats from the booking room. At night, you wake each time a C.O. shines their flashlight on your face during hourly inmate counts. It is always cold. Your blankets are never warm enough. Sometimes they don’t give you a sweatshirt or a pillow. You are let out into the dayroom one hour per day, usually right after breakfast, and you peruse the terribly understocked library and watch morning television or walk laps in the incredibly tiny yard. Then you find out the only other inmate you have for company likes to molest children and you return to your cell. It is better to be locked down than to associate with cho-mos. Finally, a cell is freed up in one of the cell-blocks and you are moved into general population. Pod 1-4 is minimum security, and they are given the least restrictions and the most yard time. Block 5-7 and 8-10 are medium security, but still not a bad deal. Maximum security means you remain in the hallway. The pod door opens and it is like some bizarre family reunion. You recognize almost everyone instantly. There is a shower at your disposal, as well as a pay phone and a television with basic cable. If you get the bottom bunk, you try to sleep with your head at the cell bars (which you never do in prison, but that is another story) so that your celly isn’t pissing right next to your head in the middle of the night. You play casino and spades and rummy and tonk and poker and checkers and chess and dominos. You watch sitcoms and football games and cartoons and videos on MTV (I think I just dated this piece). You do pull-ups on the shower bar. You call girlfriends and friends collect. There is a thirty minute limit on all phone calls. You write letters and mail them in pre-stamped envelopes. Every Tuesday is canteen day, and the money on your books yields candy bars and envelopes and decks of playing cards and coffee packets. You gamble most of your candy away, but keep the Corn Nuts for late night snacks. At night, you listen to snoring and farting and whispering and sometimes weeping men. You dream of a better tomorrow. You begin to plan what you will do from the very moment you are released. First, you will smoke a cigarette. Then you will get a double cheeseburger and then a beer and then maybe a little baggie of dope after you visit your probation officer. Deep in your heart you know you will return, but you vow it will not happen. You trace words on the cold, white bricks of your cell. Guards bring a cleaning cart once a day. You scrub your house. You keep your babies off the walls when you shower; it is the only real privacy you have left. You play cards. Holidays come and go with little notice. You know it is Christmas because you have made your own calendar. Guards toss your cell, throwing your meager possessions on the floor, taking away contraband like paper clips, pens, personal photographs, and fruit smuggled from the chow lines. You strip naked and bend over for eager guards as they search the blocks, get dressed, and wait to return to your cell so you can re-make your bunk and collect your belongings. You pace, read, write letters, call people collect. You play handball on the yard or lay shirtless against the wall and tan on rare sunny afternoons. You walk or jog around the yard, and the whole time all you can smell is Burger King from across the street. Fights break out in the dayroom. Someone gets beaten. Giant brown pitchers filled with sugarless Kool-Aid rest on banquet tables. Inmates spit in them so no one really wants to drink from them anyway. You attend AA and NA meetings and chapel just to get out of the cellblock. You sing along to the hymns and listen to obese white men talk of overcoming sin and liquor, and look at them today! Queers try to take you under their wings, but you tell them they’ll have an extra hole in their neck if they don’t step off. Guards laugh at you. Someone smuggles in some dope and you spend two days wired, grinding your teeth and playing a never-ending hand of casino. People visit. Your pastor prays with you. Your lawyer tells you the D.A. is considering time served or reduced sentencing or an upward departure. You mouth off to a guard and are locked down in the hallway. As this happens, your anger boils over and you tell the C.O. that he is a cocksucker. You find yourself in the hall, with paper covering the door’s window. You can no longer see what is happening in the hallway. Your dayroom time is revoked. You do push-ups, masturbate, read, write letters, trace the cold brick with your fingers, shadow-box, pray, masturbate, sleep. Sixty days passes. Four months passes. No time passes because clocks don’t exist in your house and without clocks is there truly time? You wake to a glaring flashlight in your face at night. You listen to shouts and drunken dialogue from the booking room. Inmates in holding cells scream all night long because they are coming off heroin or have the delirium tremens. Then you are instructed to roll it up and be at Gate Three over the intercom. You gather your things, rolling up blankets and mattress. Your door pops open magically and you proceed to Gate Three. A deputy meets you and you are taken to the booking room. You are given back the clothes you wore when they processed you a hundred years ago. You sign paperwork. A guard tells you he will see you again next week and even though he is probably right, you shake your head defiantly. You are outside, breathing in fresh air and smelling Burger King and hearing the sounds of traffic and you squint in the early morning sunlight. You light a cigarette. It is stale, but you smoke it regardless. It tastes like heaven’s heroin. You take a step away from the jail, but decide your probation officer can wait. A quick hit is what you need right now. A drink, an injection, a bowl to smoke. You have taken your first step back towards the place you just left.

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One thought on “Monotony & Sugarless Kool-Aid: The Jail Time Forgot

  1. I feel like I have run out of words to describe how moving your writing is. I feel like a broken record. But again, what a vividly expressed piece. As always, awe-provoking, vulnerable, and honest.

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