Do you know anyone in prison?  I mean, do you actually KNOW anyone in prison?  Up until the time my daughter went to prison I did not know anyone in prison.  Never had a face to put on the mental image I had of an inmate on the very rare occasion I did give thought to someone being in prison.  I never gave much thought to the people in prison.

Furthermore, I never gave much thought to what prison was actually like, although I was certain it wasn’t TOO horrible.  I had in my mind the idea that there was constant supervision, that the environment would be monitored throughly and controlled.  Perhaps I even believed some of the ignorant emails that float around and tout prisoners getting three free meals a day, being able to hang out and watch TV, spend their time getting a college degree and working out at the prison gym.  Much like the majority of the political emails I get, whoever wrote them doesn’t have a clue about the reality.  It has been my experience that you may think you feel one way about a situation, but when that situation becomes personal and effects you or someone you love, your opinion is likely to change.  Suddenly, you develop an understanding that you couldn’t have had without the experience.  You grow.

When my daughter was first sent to prison she went to a maximum security facility.  Not because she had done something so horrible as to deserve that, but simply because that is the only facility this state uses as the intake center for women.  It is a very scary place.  When you drive up you see the facility across a field.  Big.  Cold.  Surrounded by layers of fencing topped with rows and rows of razor wire.  There is razor wire in the fields should anyone possibly make it over the fences or through the doors.

When a woman arrives at the prison, the first sixty days are spent on what they call “Hoe Squad.”  You get up early and walk out into the fields and do exactly as the name implies; you hoe.  Or you chop with a sickle.  The armed guards on horseback watch over you.  If you happen upon a field rat or snake you had better not run.  They warn you before you ever go out that it will be determined that you are trying to escape and you will be shot.  Rain or shine, out into the fields you go.  The only exception being very severe weather.  It’s not easy.  Then again, it’s not meant to be.

There is no privacy in prison.  You use the toilet and shower with other women.  They search you thoroughly in places I prefer to keep private.  My daughter tells me you grow used to it.  This would be a stretch for me.  Then again, if you have no choice, I guess you get used to a lot of things that are outside of your comfort zone.  After visitation the searches are especially invasive.  Unfortunately, many times this is when inmates receive contraband.  It is unbelievable to me but I understand that many times easier to to get drugs on the inside than on the street.

For the most part, the day is pretty structured.  Inmates have jobs in prison.  Depending on their classification (behavior/danger level) they are assigned to various areas.  Kitchen, laundry, legal library, field work, maintenance to name a few.  They are not paid.  If they have classes, they are in the classroom half the day and work the other half.  Classes can be focused on personal behavioral issues such as anger management, or parenting skills.  Or they can focus on helping the inmate learn a skill which will allow them to be released back into society with knowledge that will help them be employable.  For some of the women this is cosmetology or culinary skills.

Mail is precious when you’re in prison.  That connection to friends, family and the outside “free” world is often one of the few things to help stave off depression.  Prison is a scary place.  Even to visit.  Some of the women here are very dangerous.  Thinking about this is enough to make me cry.  My daughter is 5’4″ tall and weighs about 125 lbs.  There have been many instances that have caused us to fear for her safety.  As a mother, there is no way to not worry.  It is difficult to think of my baby girl inside those razor wire fences, in a cement block building.

Every Sunday I talk to my daughter.  Every Sunday a little piece of me grieves.  Every Sunday has a little crying time.  I wish you knew my daughter.  She is smart and funny.  She has a big heart and is always trying to help people.  Now that part of her is forever overshadowed by terrible decisions made while under the influence of legally obtained prescription medications.  It is heartbreaking.  It has been two years since she went away.  It is still so surreal.  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  Is she going to be okay?  Why is she in jail over others who have done much, much worse?  These are questions I wrestle with constantly.  She has two more years to serve on her sentence.  Two more years of limited contact.  Prepaid phone calls.  Two more years of visiting under the watch of armed guards.  We drive down to see her when we can.  Two more years of praying night and day for her safety.  And more than anything, we pray for her healing.

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Comments
  1. Bruce Paul says:

    Buffy,

    I used to work as a social worker in Ohio’s maximum security prison for men. I wish I could offer some solace.

    Best wishes,
    Bruce Paul

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