COVID, Federal Prison Camp & Quarantine

I self surrendered on April 13, 2020 to a Women’s Federal Prison Camp. I only remember the last 20 minutes of our ride there and an waving goodbye to my guy as he drove away.

In the lobby I was escorted to a conference room and asked several questions by an officer. One of the hardest things through this entire process is having to relive childhood and adult trauma to men. Men seem to have very little compassion, the ones I have encountered anyway, for women who have experienced trauma. In those moments the man who asked me questions didn’t even act like I was human, as I would learn in the next year, he treated everyone like that.

From there I was led to R & D, where a woman had me fill out some paperwork and gave me government issued clothing. I was fingerprinted and had my photo taken for my id that I would carry for the next year. Some women’s id’s reminded me of elementary school pictures, smiling and happy. I always wondered what was going through their heads in those moments. I was given two bags and a camp cot and then taken by my Case Manager to the Chapel where I would be quarantined until May 7th when I was released to the compound to my housing unit I would spend the rest of my time in.

When I got to the Chapel, there were two other women there. One in her 40’s and another in her 30’s. I have to back track, in the lobby a women close to my age had just returned after being gone for a few months for medical issues. She would later come into the Chapel with us and a day later another woman from Texas would come in. We would spend the spend the next 21 days together in the Chapel, reading, writing, watching movies and getting to know each other.

I later realized how lucky I was to be in quarantine with those women. Instead of being thrown onto the compound without knowing anyone, I had 4 women I knew. N* questioned and watched me, I didn’t know until she told me later that she was watching me to make sure I was who I said I was. Meaning my words and actions matched. N* and I talked a lot and shared our stories with each other. Common thread….Trauma. She would share food and toiletries with me without hesitation and without asking for or wanting anything in return. She helped me with my first commissary sheet and after that I would always buy things to share or things she liked so that I could return her kindness. We would spend the months leading up to her move in July together, granted we made other friends, but we always found our way back together.

The youngest woman, J*, I got to know about a week after she got there, she was coming down and was sleeping it off. She and I would stick together after our move as well. You could always find 4 out of 5 of us not too far from each other. J would come to me when she was really homesick for her Mama, just to sit or for a hug.

The lady who came in with me had already been there and had her own group she went back too. While we were in the Chapel many women, and several of her friends, would bring us food, clothing, shoes or other items we couldn’t get because our spends were low when we first came in.

Then came V, she is the same age as me. We would talk a lot about life experiences and she would share some funny stories of her wild days with me.

We could only shower every third day and we had to wait for a unit to clear out and be escorted by a guard. We had laundry once a week, they would come get our bags in the morning and they would be returned in the afternoon. Everything was washed and dried in a mesh bag. We would hand wash our under garments in the bathroom sink and hang them to dry on the back of chairs in the room we shared. J and I also took to shaving our legs in the sink so that we would save time in the regular shower.

I am still more than grateful for the women I shared time and space with during quarantine, I know that there will be three of them that someday when all of this is over I will see again.

So this is with who and how I spent my first 21 days in.

Peace

My Day

This is what my weekdays at the camp looked liked, they varied very little. When I first got there we were not allowed out on Friday’s, eventually they did give us rec time for two hours. It was referred to as Rest Based Fitness. We were only allowed in the recreation area and on the track if they weren’t practicing at the gun range behind the camp.

Sometimes we would walk the track if it wasn’t too hot out. Sometimes we shower early and nap. Another quiet time in the unit. Our unit at maximum occupancy housed 74 women. The lines for the showers were sometimes long, there were often arguments at the phones because of lack of respect and people using the phone on both am and pm rec. Outside workers were scheduled for afternoon rec and others were in the morning while we were gone. Some women were just rude and it seemed like they thought they were the only ones in a room with 5 others trying to talk on the phone.

So here is what my weekdays looked like. I was fortunate enough to get a job 3 days after I hit the compound as the clerk for the garage which maintained the facilities equipment and vehicles. Working camps took care of the outside detail for the Men’s Federal Prison as well. I have to say I worked with some BADASS hard working, smart women.

5:10 am: My alarm goes off, I make my bed and climb down from my bunk. I check to see if the 5 am count has already been done, we are supposed to be in our cubicle at all counts. I head towards the bathroom and start getting ready. We take a breakfast of oatmeal or protein bars we buy on commissary for breakfast.

6:45 am: I meet my co-workers out front to walk the half mile to the garage where we work. We did have a little truck for a while but it was surveyed due to age and miles. I was the clerk in the garage for the time I was in Phoenix.

9:50 am: My co-workers and I went back to the camp for lunch. We get one hour to eat, typically we went back early. Being at work helped time pass quickly, we had a purpose and things to do.

10:45 am: We would make sure all of our duties were completed and sometimes we would find things to do, clean, help with other projects.

1:00 pm: Back to camp to wait until 1:30 pm for our rec time.

1:30 pm: We had rec time, this included phones, emails, video visits, laundry and working out. While I was in we were still on a semi lockdown where we only had two hours to get these things done. We had a phone and laundry list that we went by.

3:30 to 3:45 pm: Our unit was called for Chow (dinner). It would always depend on what we were having if we were going to the Chow Hall or not.

4:00 pm: We had standing count. We had to be in our cubicle with our ID’s in hand until the count was completed in our unit. If you weren’t ready you could cost the unit rec time, receive a shot or do extra duty. Extra duty depended on the what the office chose for you.

4:00 pm on… We made dinner if we didn’t eat in the Chow Hall, and hung out with our friends in our unit. Some would go to the TV room. I would throw up my towel over the stall, who ever gets there first goes first. When new people started coming in they would throw their towels over other peoples towels so I started using post-it notes with my name and who I was after.

The rest of the evening I would hang with my Bunkie if she wasnt watching TV, we would read or I would crochet. Sometimes I would go visit my friends down the hall or they would come hang out with us.

9:00 pm: This was our second and last standing count of the day, unless there was an emergency count. A majority of us would go to bed. This was the quietest time of the day. There were two more counts in the night, we had to have a body part exposed or could not cover our heads. This was so that the counting officers could see that we were physically in our own bunk.

I will write more about things that I experienced and I am always open to questions, especially if they help someone.

Peace

Just tired…..

I have been apprehensive about coming here, about emptying the clutter I have collected in my head and heart over the last several months. I know my inner critic is at its very best as of late…but what the hell!!

Why should I fear what someone will think?

So I was working on this piece about being 50 and all the bits and pieces that brought me to that point in time. Birthdays haven’t always been good, not that they have been horrible…but some of them were just another day. Ruined by alcohol, as a lot of things in this life have been.

So I sit in the middle of our huge bed and reflect on a lot…a lot of good and bad in the last 50 years…and I will be okay, because I always am, somehow, I always am. Just when I think I cant take any more I summon the strength to handle the next thing.

I am tired, really fucking tired.

I thank my Creator for routine, it helps me make it through. I am thankful for the people who see me, really see me, and are still here. I have an amazing community of kind and loving people who surround me daily, from the moment I wake up, until my head hits the pillow at night. Those who know my character and who I am, who haven’t wavered, who are steadfast and true.

Life shifts and changes. Trust is given and broken. People…well, some people just aren’t good. I have survived a lot of shit in this life and I am still here, how? I have no idea, but I am.

So write hard about the things that hurt….

My best childhood friend who I have know for 37 years is losing her Mom as I put these words down. My heart breaks for her. Cancer is a vicious bitch. I cant even hold her….I can only be here for her.

My sister…my poor, sweet sister. She lost her Mom in February and her husband a week ago. Her heart is broken and she is alone….so far from me.

And being afraid to write because I may hurt someone…..what about me? I hold it in and I destroy myself because this is how I HEAL….I write and write and write and at some point it makes sense.

The truth is I am hurt and reaching a breaking point. I cry when I am alone, a lot more than I will ever admit.

And I am angry, so fucking angry. You never know what people will do to you. And I am tired of being guarded because people are just shitty sometimes.

I am just really tired….its enough already.

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