he spoke spanish, too

a list of things that my HCCSCD (Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department) education class instructor mentioned that were completely off-topic:

annie, little orphan
beast [sic], milwaukee’s
christ, jesus
cigars, martinis and
crick [sic], water from the
crichton, michael
denominator, the
dixie chicken, the
education programs, shoplifting
education programs, drug dealer
five children, the drowning of
highway, blood on the
holiday inn, the
infinitives, split
jablunt [sic], kareem abdul
jail food, $4 a day per person
jersey, new
kennedy, joan
kennedy, ted
kennedys, the
ladders, chutes and
man show, the
medical equipment, used
pickle, you eat a
‘roids, aggression from
technology, power point
tickets, lottery
winfrey, oprah
“you’re not paranoid; they really are out to get you.”

a professional con artist

i wake up again in the same position in which i’ve fallen asleep.  i’m on my right side, facing the doors so that i won’t have my back turned to anyone who comes up and tries to mess with me in my sleep.  my blanket is still twisted so that it covers most of me and curls around underneath my head, to keep my face from sticking to the mattress.  my hair is wadded up under my head, too, so that nobody will pull on it.  my brownie from lunch is there in its plastic bag on the mattress next to me.

only a few of us are left inside the inner cell, scrunched up on the cement bunks.  the inner cell doors are open, and everyone else has moved to the benches and tables in the outer cell.  i can see them, hear them talking.  this time it isn’t about drugs or crimes or whether or not a third offense means you’d serve time or how much weed is a felony.

“she was ugly as sin, but she could really wax that ass, you know what i’m sayin’?” one of the girls says.  she makes a spanking motion with her hand.  everyone laughs.  i cringe.  how can they all sit around talking and laughing as if we weren’t in jail?  how many times have they been here before?  is someone going to try to make me wax that ass?

i can’t sleep anymore.  maybe if i go talk to them it will pass the time.  maybe if i go talk to them they won’t want to mess with me.  i climb down off my top bunk, wrap my blanket around me, and go to the outer cell.  the girls on the benches have just seen one of the prison employees walk out with her purse and car keys, and are debating whether or not the shift change means it’s three p.m. or four.  we have not been allowed to know what time it is.

there are two new girls.  they have the same cornrowed hair and are talking to one another in low voices; i assume they’ve come in together.  like the others, they are waiting in jail as if they were in line at a grocery store or gas station, or in the waiting room at a dentists’ office.  like the others, they have not been crying.  i am the only one.

“what are you guys here for?” i venture, hoping that it’s okay to ask.

second-offense DWI, says the girl across from me.  possession, say the cornrowed girls.  “forgery,” says wax that ass.  “it’s a felony.”

wax that ass is named marie.  she’s a professional con artist, she tells us, and i wonder if we’ve gone back in time to the 1920’s.  i’ve never met a self-described professional con artist before.  marie forges things all the time, she says, but the two-thousand dollar check she wrote at circuit city for a plasma-screen television got her caught.  this is her third time in jail.  “this your first time, isn’t it?” she says to me, and i tell her yes, it is.  “yeah, she been cryin’ all day,” marie tells the room in general.

the warden comes in.  “everyone up!” she yells.  a few of the lumps stir in the inner cell.  “when i call your name, tell me the number on your wristband! didn’t i say get up!” she screams at the sleeping girls.  wrapped in tangles of hair and blankets, they rise slowly, shuffle out like mummies.  the warden has another woman with her, a small redhead who appears to be in training.  the redhead watches as the warden calls out the names and bond amounts.  marie’s bond is 20 grand.  the cornrowed girls are 20 grand each.  sara, the second-offense DWI, gets a thousand.  my name is called.

“172,” i say, without looking at my wristband.

“yours hasn’t been processed,” the warden says.  “stick around,” she says to the trainee.  “you might learn something.”  they laugh as they walk out, the doors slamming behind them.

i stop breathing.  i’m going to be in here tonight.  friday night.  when it will be so crowded someone will sleep on top of me.  i’m going to be in here the rest of my life.  i’ve always been here.  this is where i live.  i’ve always known marie, sara, alicia.  those cornrowed girls with the drugs.  maybe if i don’t breathe, i won’t cry, i decide, but it doesn’t work.

i stand up.  through the glass walls of the cell (bulletproof glass? plexiglass?), across the hall, through the glass windows of another room, on the other side of that room, through a loading dock of some kind, i can see a tiny bit of outside.  trees and sky.  if i start banging on the glass, start screaming, slam my head on the wall, maybe they’ll let me go out there.  just for a minute.  i’ll come right back.

“you not prison material, girl,” marie says.  she’s on top of one of the tables.
“no, i’m not!” i sob, sitting back down.  “how can you stay so calm in here?”
“i just pray.  i pray to jesus that he get me outta here.”

circuit city probably prayed to jesus that he would get her in here, i think, but decide not to say anything.

green like old milk

you know how they say that when people get out of jail, they go outside and are overwhelmed by the incredible amout of  s p a c e  there is?  it’s true.  as i walk out to the car with my dad, plastic bag of personal effects in hand, i begin sobbing again for what feels like the thousandth time.  the sun is just beginning to set, the sky tinged with pink behind the wavering trees.  as my dad unlocks the passenger door for me, i look at the car window and can see the reflection of my mottled face, my dirty hair, the squat green building behind me, the sky behind that, outer space.

my bail bondsman is reading john steinbeck.  i sit across the desk from him and blow my nose into a paper towel while he finds my papers.  “did you like of mice and men?” i whisper.

“it was okay,” he says.  “i’m reading cannery row right now.”

“just okay?” i say.  “i really liked it.  ‘tell me about the rabbits, george.’ ”

i fill out the papers, writing my own history in addresses and identification numbers, car license plates and personal references.  steinbeck asks me if this was my first time in jail.  “can’t you tell?” i say, trying to smile through a thick layer of mucus and tears.

on the way home in the car i stare out the window at everything.  every person building car traffic light billboard grocery store what if i have to go back what if i have to go back what if i have to my dad on his cell phone with my mom, “we’re coming home,” he says to her, “and i guess we’ll pick up something to eat on the way.”  i look at him and shake my head; i don’t want to go anywhere.  “we don’t want to pick up something to eat,” he says into the phone.  “do we have stuff for sandwiches?”

we take the freeway home.  there’s where i used to work where the old church is that hotel with the duck pond inside the place where i went to day care.

all i eat is half a grilled cheese, even though i haven’t really had a meal in over twenty-four hours.  my mother makes it in the old skillet, flipping it over with the spatula she half-melted on the stove by mistake one time.  i sit on the counter.  she offers me strawberries, an apple, maybe some of the cheesecake pudding she made today?  “i don’t know,” i say.  “thank you.”

“it just tastes like vanilla anyway,” my dad says, waving his spoon at me.

the water is cloudy with soap, shampoo, bubble bath, me, the me of a thousand other inmates.  using my parents’ bathtub was a treat when i was little.  it’s large and oval and sunken, and the edge of it is crowded with my mother’s collection of bath beads and salts, which i always liked to try out.  i am in there forever, washing everything twice, my fingers wrinkled.  my mother knocks on the door.  “just making sure you were okay,” she says.  i am, i tell her.  but what if i’d had to take a shower in there, with all those other women?  the drain tangled with blonde brunette red?  the soap harsh?  the towel threadbare?

i wake up on the sofa in the living room, my hair still wet.  my father’s snoring lightly on the other couch, my mother’s sitting on the hearth, on the telephone with my aunt.  “jim’s asleep on the couch here,” she says into the phone, carefully not mentioning that her broken daughter’s there, too, that the one with the depression and the health problems and the trouble in school has now been to prison.  has made her parents’ lives even harder.  i’m grateful she doesn’t tell her.

she takes me upstairs to my old room and turns down the bed for me.  she knows that i’m just like her, that i always get sinus headaches after crying, so she hands me two sudafed along with a sleeping pill.  i ask her to leave the door open a crack.  after she leaves, i make sure to open a book and read at least a paragraph before i fall asleep, as part of the brand-new nightmare prevention program.

when they let me out of the green walls into the waiting room at the jail, i told my father, “i wish i were dead,” and i meant it.