a hook for a hand

i wake up on my side on the concrete floor, my blanket curled around me, my spine pressed against green cinderblock.  breakfast.  limp and i pull ourselves up and stand against the wall with everyone else, ready to recite our wristband numbers and get in line for food.  a prison employee shoves a box of sanitary napkins through the slot in the cell wall.  i wonder if jail food is as bad as everyone says.

my wristband number is twelve or thirteen digits long.  i don’t know what the numbers mean, but they’re handwritten in black sharpie.  the band itself looks like the ones you get in hospitals; white plastic that you have to cut with scissors when you get home.   the last time i was in the hospital they misspelled my name on my wristband.  i thought maybe they’d do allison headly’s surgery on me by mistake.  i’d wake up with a hook for a hand instead of a bandaged knee.

a hook for a hand would be considered a weapon in jail, i suppose.  but how could they take it away from you?  would they have to put you in solitary because of your lethal body parts?  how could you get through airport security?  what if you went to jail and you took out your glass eye, shattered it on the floor, and started cutting people with the shards?

limp and i sit down at a table to look at breakfast.  there are two hard-boiled eggs, a lump of what looks like soiled silly putty, a cube of cornbread, and a carton of orange juice.  “ooh, i don’t trust these people in jail,” someone says, tearing the lip from her orange juice carton before taking a swig.  mine’s already finished, i’m so thirsty.  i debate filling the carton with water from the sink, but decide against it.  the sink looks awfully dirty, and anyway if i drink lots of water i’ll eventually have to use the open toilet in the corner of the room.  the idea of having to publicly remove any shred of my clothing, however briefly, makes me pull my blanket tighter around me.

my blanket.  maybe limp and i can band together on this whole toilet thing.  after all, who knows how long we’ll be in here?  eventually one or both of us will have to pee.  she can hold my blanket up in front of me while i go, and i can do the same for her.  that should work, right?

no, it’d be too conspicuous.  everyone will look over and know that we are weak and scared, that we are easy targets.  i will not use the toilet.

“you should eat something,” limp says to me.  “it’ll make you feel better.”  i try to pick at the cornbread with my spork, but it’s too blurry and wet.  everything is.  i put my hand up to my face.  it’s damp and hot, swollen.

an inmate worker puts a breakfast tray through the slot in one of the nearly-empty inner cells.  through the bars i can see just one woman lying motionless on a bunk, her arm sticking out from underneath the blanket.  her wristband is red.  someone asks about her, and the warden says that she is quarantined for sickness, is also diabetic.  apparently that’s what the red band is for.  if i got sick somehow i could be alone in one of those cells, have a bunk to sleep on instead of the floor.  but i don’t know how to get sick.  and i don’t know what my white band means.

“hey!” someone yells at the warden.  “if she diabetic, she can’t have that cornbread and fake juice!  if she sick, she can’t eat them eggs!  what she gonna eat?”  the warden walks away, the door slams.

this is when i get it.  this is when i realize exactly why jail is so frightening.  it’s not the silly putty breakfast.  it’s not the fact that this blanket is the only thing i have to hold onto and it’s probably never been washed.  it’s not the sleeping on the floor or the pissing in the open.  it’s not the weirdos or the confinement or being shoved around or good god when will i get out of here it’s not even the accident or the charges because i can deal with all that.

no.  jail is scary because, until now, i’ve never been in a place where nobody cared.  nearly everywhere else i’ve been–school, work, bars, airports, homes, even sidewalks–if i am punched in the face, someone will come to my aid.  if i collapse to the floor and can’t stop shaking, someone will ask if i’m okay.  if i am sick, someone will try to take care of me.  if i am harassed, assaulted, harmed in the presence of other people, at least one of those people–even a stranger–will express concern in some way.  but if those things happen to me in jail, i am on my own.  limp will stay out of it.  the other girls will pretend not to notice.  even prison wardens won’t come to help me.

this, i figure, is why the returning inmates use the toilet.  this is why they eat all of their food.  they need the strength to fend for themselves.