FROM THE INSIDE
★ ★ ★ ★
Image by Oscar Ivan Esquivel Arteaga
By Marina Bueno
The other day on the way back to the dorm from the cafeteria a friend told me that a girl we knew got hit in the head with a lock. She said this mid stride and by the time I registered what she’d said, my friend was gone. Still I shouted after her, “Is she okay? Did she go to confinement?”
Confinement is a jail space inside the prison. In a normal dorm, like the one I share a room with my bunky, we have separate toilets. In confinement, the toilet is inside the cell, and a person can’t leave except for thrice-weekly showers. Sometimes people are housed alone and by the third week the solitude is so great they are praying for someone with whom they can share their basest functions.
That night the lock attack was on everyone’s radar. It is common to walk into the same conversation multiple times on the way to get hot water for instant coffee, who hit whom, but especially, “Why?!” “She was twacked out!” Everyone’s on drugs according to everyone else. It is fashionable to call someone a junkie or a crackhead. As if that’s the only excuse for hitting people in the head with locks. We heard, on the chatter of the radios as the officers made their rounds, about five more people going to confinement.
By breakfast rumors were circulating about the reason for the major sweep. These events started a chain reaction that reverberated through the entire compound. Security tightened; police (i.e. prison guards) started coming down hard.
I was in a dorm installing televisions, part of my job in the maintenance department, when a captain entered. It felt like she was hunting for victims. She stopped a girl near me, like a stalker hounding its prey, and started in on her.
“Do you have a receipt for your makeup? What’s in your pocket? Are you wearing panties? How many sports bras do you have?” Shooting the girl questions until she tripped up. I imagine this is what happened to Jelly when she lost her mind and assaulted her victim with the lock.
I had spoken to Jelly when I first entered the dorm earlier that day. She greeted me, all smiles and warmth. I remember because it is unusual to be treated cordially by anyone. Within minutes of the captain entering the dorm, she was cuffed.
I couldn’t see the face of the person who was cuffed so I kept asking, ” Who went to lock?” I didn’t understand when they kept saying her name, “Jelly, Jelly, Jelly.” I thought they were mistaken because I couldn’t recognize Jelly’s voice as it rang in shrill screams throughout the compound. Nor did I recognize her as she was dragged by multiple officers, one on every limb, her body wildly flailing, bouncing on the wheelchair as they tried to strap her in. I tried to get a look at who it was from between the buildings, this woman’s body spasming, her hoarse voice calling “PSYCH” while a cop trained a camera on her. It broke my heart to see her so clearly in distress, wailing and twisting in restraints.
It was disconcerting, how we’d gotten here. How different would Jelly’s day have ended had the officer not gone after her? I kept thinking about how much her smile had improved my day.
The next time I saw Jelly, she was being pulled out of a confinement cell, which she had flooded by stuffing her clothing and sheets into the toilet. They took her to the mental health observation center which she also flooded. Somewhere along the way she broke a smoke detector and the bleating fire claxons sounded off in the atmosphere of the prison.
That same night more people went to confinement. The administration used the volume of bullshit to justify a lockdown. The next day we weren’t allowed to go anywhere. Only the workers in vital areas like the kitchen and laundry were allowed to leave the dorms. There was no recreation, no canteen. We were segregated from each other; no dorms were permitted to mingle.
I can’t forget that I am incarcerated, but sometimes I misremember. The pond outside my window has a scenic royal Poinciana tree next to it. Its red flower-laden branches dip delicately into the water. Ospreys dive in, fishing, a picture straight out of the pages of National Geographic. I live as close to an approximation of regular life as possible. I go to work every day. I do domestic stuff, although a little differently: I hand-wash my laundry, prepare my go-to meal of ramen noodles.
I wish that none of what happened with Jelly or the aftermath had happened. But the cuffs and uniforms can’t be unseen, nor the inability to mount a defense.
When the finger is in your face, your response hasn’t been tapered or cured. What answers is the mounting rage and penned-up fear, a torrent of not just this time, but of every other time.
Marina Bueno is a Cuban-Russian immigrant that was raised in sunny South Florida. She’s been published in Prisoner Express, Prison Journalism Project and Scalawag. When not obsessively jotting down ideas and stressing her editor, she enjoys reading science and fantasy fiction, taking long walks on the recreation field with service dogs in training, and peer pressuring her fellow residents in prison to take Exchange for Change courses. She’s been incarcerated for 15 years and has a huge backlog of journals from which to pull material for her column From the Inside.
This column was made possible with the help of Exchange for Change, a non-profit based in Florida that teaches writing in prisons and runs letter exchanges between incarcerated students and writers studying on the outside.
Exchange for Change believes in the value of every voice, and gives their students an opportunity to express themselves without the fear of being stigmatized. Their work is based on the belief that when everyone has the ability to listen and be heard, strong and safe communities are formed, and that with a pen and paper, students can become agents of change across different communities in ways they may otherwise have never encountered.
Bravo, Marina Bueno! Thank you for these observations “From the Inside.”