A year and a half ago, I had been working as a teacher’s assistant for a really awesome program. The professor was a volunteer and she and her associate had saved me. Literally. When the judge gave me 30 years, I was certain I would just take my own life.
I didn’t think I could do it, I could not wrap my brain around it. Then I found this circle, this group of people that were smart and real and cared about me and lifted me up when I struggled to walk on my own. As the years went by, I grew stronger and I used my energy to advance the program and assist the professors.
One day, we were doing our like 6th graduation ceremony, the dean of the university was there, the warden and all of the graduating students. One of the professors introduced me by saying that IF she could have a friend in prison, I would be her best friend. Two days later, I was escorted to the administrator’s office and interrogated as to the nature of our relationship and it was insinuated that I had a boundaries issue. We had never, not one time, been alone. I was placed in the SHU, segregation.
This is the point that is hard to write, the part that is the most important to read, yet the hardest to convey, so brace yourself for this is graphic.
I was placed in the SHU and down at the very end of the very long, loud and damp hallway, in a cell that was filled with rust and moist air.
Fun fact, I am allergic to rust.
I had no way of knowing how things would work. I just waited, listened to the sounds. I was sure that they would not really keep me there for long, I had done nothing wrong. I was in RDAP, a graduate, a mentor. I had never been in any trouble.
The other women yelled. They seemed to all know one another. The only thing I could see outside of my little door window was the cell across the hall. The woman in there was someone who had a reputation of being assaultive, crazy. She had been kicked out of RDAP. She screamed constantly. For this reason, guards seemed to avoid this end of the hall.
Three times a day, a slot in my door opened, food appeared. The guards seemed to have a weekly system of when they brought a small packet of liquid soap and a little pouch of tooth powder. Another day they brought 6 sanitary napkins and 2 rolls of toilet paper.
On the 3rd day, my toilet stopped working. I had pooped in the toilet. I tried to talk to the guard but I was ignored. For another few days, in this small cell, as I was expected to eat each meal and occupy this cell, there was poop in the toilet.
There is no lid, you see, just a stainless steel toilet with a sink combo. Finally, a guard came and I was able to persuade him to open the pipe chase and flush the toilet. He said they knew it didn’t work, it had been broken for some time but that they were only required to flush it every 3 days.
Right about that time, I got a Bunkie. She was young and had been in a fight. I had read in the program statement that people in the SHU for disciplinary reasons were not to be housed or treated exactly the same as those there for Administrative reasons, but that seemed to not be an issue.
And that’s when It happened. I started my menstrual cycle. There was no trash can, no trash bag, nothing. And no way to flush the toilet. For 7 days, the dirty pads piled up on the floor as we ate each meal in that cell, the toilet overflowing with yuck. When I asked the guard for a trash bag or access to throw them out, he told me to put them on the outgoing, plastic food tray. The administrator came down the hall one day, I was literally bawling, pleading with her to please just give me a trash bag. A few days later, a plumber came and fixed the toilet.
Four months passed and finally I was able to leave. I was transferred to another prison. But now, when I listen to stories on NPR about the conditions in the immigration holdovers, I have to remind myself that I committed a crime and they did not.
But I cannot help to wonder if anyone cares about my Club Fed life? — Celeste B.