As I lay in bed, a crisp chill is around the windowsill and I’m looking at the snow falling in large beautiful flakes. Each flake has its own design, and I’m thinking that like everything else in creation, so do fingerprints.
Because the bed I’m lying on is not my own. It is my bunk, in a large dorm of about 40 other women. And I somehow feel lucky, even locked up, that I have a bed right next to the window, where as the seasons change I get a certain show of beauty from mother nature.
I try to close my eyes so as not to remember where I actually am. Knowing that later on in late evening when I get off of work (my prison job) I will be allowed to shower in a relatively clean stall in privacy.
Privacy is kind of important. In jail there are no shower curtains and when you use the restroom there is no bathroom door. Everyone sees everything. So to be able to shower and use the bathroom in private can be a luxury. Not everyone in jail has that option. I had no other recourse. I had been victimized again.
I say privacy because in my mind I must tell myself it is. It’s not!
You see, I have been groomed by a certain prison guard since the day I got booked in. The day I got to jail, I did not know that a family member (first cousin) would be one of the hall staff members responsible for strip searching and making sure that the new arrivals got showers, itchy blankets, uniforms, and used tennis shoes. My cousin gracefully but firmly declined the job of strip-searching me.
As children, we grew up together and I hadn’t seen her in a while. So in that moment I felt embarrassed. Our lives had taken totally different paths. Like a fork in the road, which had brought us to this moment in time. Different paths had reunited us in a certain solidarity. My feelings had been transformed into survival.
The next officer who stepped up did not have a problem with it. I came to realize that a few of them actually enjoyed the embarrassment and the demeaning way you already felt. I came to find out that one particular guard had actually singled me out for exploitation. I really did not notice anything for quite some time, then the extra perks started coming my way. At first it was very subtle. Then one night after my “job” I was very tired and just wanted to take a quiet shower and go to my bunk. It was during my shower that I had noticed officer X standing in the shadows with an insidious smile on her face. She had been watching me.
I tried to tell myself that it was my imagination or that I was overreacting. I was not.
Painting by Gwynne Duncan