here is a list of things they take away from me when i get to jail:1 set of keys
1 astros game ticket stub
2 elastic hair bands
1 nose ring i don’t want to take out my navel ring for fear it will close up, so i lie and tell the warden it won’t come out. “that’s okay,” she says, “one of the girls in your cell will just rip it out for you.” i take it out. later, i will lie on the floor on my back in my parents’ living room while they kneel over my stomach, my mother holding the ring in my navel, my dad trying to bend the ring shut with pliers. the ceiling will look the same as it did when i used to lay on the floor and watch tv all day in the summer. i had to move every few hours to keep away from the sun baking in through the windows. the warden makes me lean forward with my hands against the wall while she pats me down, looking for guns or knives or brass knuckles or nunchucks or whatever. not finding anything, she leads me into a holding cell. a heavyset woman in a striped t-shirt and hospital scrub pants is already in there, sitting down against the wall. i sit down too, a good distance away from her, wondering if she is the type of person who would rip out my navel ring. “are you here for tickets, too?” she asks me. “no,” i say, glad she’s not a child abuser or a bank robber or something, hoping she won’t want to talk much more. i wonder if i should try to sleep, or if i should try to pass the time amusing myself inside my own head. i start to do what i often do when i’m trying to stop thinking about something so i can fall asleep: i play the entire movie election in my head from start to finish. i get to, “executive. legislative. judicial. executive. legislative. judicial,” before the woman gets up to use the phone. the phone. there are three pay phones against the wall; they’re set up so that only collect calls can be made from them. i guess the whole one-phone-call thing is a myth. here is a list of people i know whose phones will not accept collect calls: my parents
my parents’ other line
my calling card
the old 1-800 number my parents got when i went to UT i don’t know too many phone numbers–they’re all stored away in my cell phone–and the other ones i do know belong to people i don’t ever want to call from jail. i try all the numbers again just in case, with the same results. how am i supposed to tell someone to come get me out of here if i can’t call anyone? the door slides open and the warden comes in. “come on,” she says without looking at me, and i follow her down the hall to a room with a giant computery machine where they take mugshots and fingerprints. i sit down to wait. while i’m waiting (mostly staring at the telephone on the desk across the room), a group of inmates files past me on their way out the door. one of them sneers at me, grabs her crotch, and says, “aw, baby, why you cryin?” the fingerprint man makes me stand in front of the machine while he takes my picture. it comes up big on the screen: my messy hair, red face, wrinkled shirt. then he has me roll my thumbs and index fingers across a scanner, and my fingerprints come up on the screen, too. he does my fingerprints again with black ink on paper and then gives me a paper towel to wipe off the ink, but the ink doesn’t come off clean like it does at the bank. “excuse me, sir?” i say to the fingerprint man. “can i use that phone to call my parents? i can’t reach them from the other phones.” “sure, darlin’,” he says. “just dial nine to get out.” i know he means that i can just dial nine to get out of the prison phone system, but i really wish i could just dial nine to get out of prison. to get out of calling my parents. to get out of my life. after i hang up, the warden comes back and takes me to another room. it’s a small room with a concrete waiting bench at one end and, at the other end, a glass reception window with a chair in front of it. a woman with long black hair is sitting in the chair, using a telephone receiver to talk to the man behind the glass window. he’s asking her about her arrest, her job, her family, her apartment. her voice is so quiet i can’t hear her answers. when she finishes, she gets up from the chair. as she comes over to sit down at the waiting bench, i notice she walks with a limp.