Take Control of Your Money

Take Control of Your Money

Annuity.org’s objective is to deliver the most comprehensive explanation of annuities and financial literacy topics using plain, straightforward language. We dissect annuities and structured settlements so you, the reader, can understand how these products fit into your financial plan. And for readers who wish to sell their payments, we present an impartial explanation of the benefits and drawbacks of selling payments.

We at Annuity.org want our readers to have the tools needed to make educated choices about their financial future, based on well-researched, accurate and current resources.

Take Control of Your Money

Take Control of Your Money

Take Control of Your Money

Take Control of Your Money


Annuity.org’s objective is to deliver the most comprehensive explanation of annuities and financial literacy topics using plain, straightforward language. We dissect annuities and structured settlements so you, the reader, can understand how these products fit into your financial plan. And for readers who wish to sell their payments, we present an impartial explanation of the benefits and drawbacks of selling payments.

We at Annuity.org want our readers to have the tools needed to make educated choices about their financial future, based on well-researched, accurate and current resources.

Take Control of Your Money

Take Control of Your Money


Annuity.org’s objective is to deliver the most comprehensive explanation of annuities and financial literacy topics using plain, straightforward language. We dissect annuities and structured settlements so you, the reader, can understand how these products fit into your financial plan. And for readers who wish to sell their payments, we present an impartial explanation of the benefits and drawbacks of selling payments.

We at Annuity.org want our readers to have the tools needed to make educated choices about their financial future, based on well-researched, accurate and current resources.

Take Control of Your Money

Take Control of Your Money


Annuity.org’s objective is to deliver the most comprehensive explanation of annuities and financial literacy topics using plain, straightforward language. We dissect annuities and structured settlements so you, the reader, can understand how these products fit into your financial plan. And for readers who wish to sell their payments, we present an impartial explanation of the benefits and drawbacks of selling payments.

We at Annuity.org want our readers to have the tools needed to make educated choices about their financial future, based on well-researched, accurate and current resources.

Take Control of Your Money

Take Control of Your Money


Annuity.org’s objective is to deliver the most comprehensive explanation of annuities and financial literacy topics using plain, straightforward language. We dissect annuities and structured settlements so you, the reader, can understand how these products fit into your financial plan. And for readers who wish to sell their payments, we present an impartial explanation of the benefits and drawbacks of selling payments.

We at Annuity.org want our readers to have the tools needed to make educated choices about their financial future, based on well-researched, accurate and current resources.

Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle

After I moved “across the street” from the dark prison block of the medium/maximum side to the single fenced Minimum facility, I received at letter from a paroled bunkmate describing a downhill bike ride. It was the first time in years she went faster than a walk. My heart fluttered in a flash of fear. Then I saw me on the bike, out of control, picking up speed. All at once, I am in a pale blue car with large windows. It is unlike any car I have been in. I am riding in the passenger seat. We are going faster, too fast. I feel my throat close, dread. There is an impact. The car is flying through the air, twisting to my side. I am about to land. I snapped out of the vision. My knees buckled and I sat abruptly on my bunk.  Back in the Saddle

Then I realized and said out loud, “I am terrified to ride in a car. Absolutely terrified. What am I gonna do?” Then it dawned on me. I held my cheeks in both hands. I hadn’t ridden with Haley. She learned to drive in Southern California. I’ll probably freak-out on the ride out of prison. I pictured myself hanging out of the car that is literally driving me to freedom and waving my arms, hollering for help. Seven years later and no memories of the accident but every time I rode in a car or prison van, my body remembered it. 

I worked in the maintenance department in the Minimum side. Each Monday morning, we gave Big Buck, our boss, the weekend update. When it was my turn, I talked about my terror of riding in a car again. 

“Sounds like you need to get back on the horse,” said Big Buck. 

I nodded, but couldn’t imagine it. 

Back in the Saddle
photo by Annie Spratt

The next day, my work partner, Kalik, and I were landscaping at the back of the compound. We were pulling hoses and creating drainage troughs, when the female Crew Boss approached. She was about my age but looked a whole lot better. She was fit and tan. She wore her silver hair short and stylish. Kalik and I stopped working and turned toward her. As she approached we could see that her blue eyes were dancing with mischief. 

“I heard that a part of your rehabilitation might be preparing to ride in a car again.

“Who told you that?” I laughed.

“A little bird.” 

“How about a ride in one of our carts?” She poked her thumb over her shoulder at a golf cart with a shovel in the back.

“Look at that, Kalik,” I nodded to the car, “wheels and speed.” I walked over to the cart and looked at the saggy driver’s seat and the well-worn pedals. I took a step back and looked at the golf cart from the side. The beast might have been tamed but my stomach said whiplash!

“I dunno. I’m scared, Ma’am.” 

She looked at The Kalik. 

“Do you want to drive?” 

“Oh sure!” said Kalik, the cowgirl. She hitched up her jeans from the yard work, turned to me and said, “Let’s ride!” 

Crew Boss smiled, tickled with herself. I looked at her wide-eyed. 

“Go on,” she gestured with a wave of her arm. “Give it a spin.” The yard was closed and the sloping hill of grass were ours. We climbed in.

I drew a breath. Not at all sure, I grabbed the sidebar and the dash, “Okay.”  

The Kalik nodded her head, all business, and we lurched away toward the wide-open prairie. My tender bones rattled with the bumps. Kalik drove like a cowgirl. I whooped and hung on. The wind was in my face, my hair plastered back. I smiled so hard, my lips stuck to my teeth. Kalik went as fast as she could, just shy of ripping up the sparse lawn. I dared to look around at the scenery. I forgot to be afraid. 

Then she stopped. “Your turn.” 

I looked back at the Crew Boss and motioned, may I? She nodded and held up her hands, as in, that was the whole idea. 

Respectfully, I tested the brakes. I wiggled the steering wheel left and right. Inhale, exhale. I looked over at The Kalik, who was red-cheeked and pleased. 

“When all this is settled,” I told her, “one day, I’ll have to drive. I will have to get myself to work and get to my family. I don’t want people to have to drive me around. I need to do this.” I stepped on the peddle. We lurched and stalled, our necks snapped back. “Sorry, nervous, I guess.” 

Kalik wrapped her hands around the back of her neck, “Let ‘er buck!”

We turtled along, feeling every bump. Then I stepped on the gas and we moved onto a trot. The peddle was only half-way down but I felt safe and in control. 

I pulled up to the sidewalk like a driver’s ed student. “Mission accomplished.” I was smiling, not shaking. We walked over to the Crew Boss, who was smiling with laugh lines around her blue, blue eyes.

I fought back tears of gratitude. I didn’t want to embarrass her. “You and Big Buck did a grand thing today, Ma’am. Thank you so much.” I stood up and patted the hood of the cart. Their gesture was more than corrections. It was a restoration. Another piece of the release from prison puzzle was in place.

Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle

Symbols can help us and haunt us

Symbols can help us and haunt us

Symbols can help us and haunt us

Symbols come and go. Symbols can inspire us and haunt us. Maybe they have power over our memories because they live in the body as senses. 

I had been out of prison for about a year and a half. I was beginning to lose the shuck and jive of an over apologetic felon. The Ex-Con stamp on my head was fading. There were days I did not think about prison at all. But I was still adjusting to being treated with kindness and courtesy by strangers. In a simple human encounter with a waitress, she looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you.”

I stammered out a rusty “Your welcome.”

Symbols can help us and haunt us
Shower Sandals

There were many small things about reentry that awakened memories of prison purposely forgotten and buried. One day at Rite-Aid I saw the plastic sandals I wore in prison. In a flashback, I heard the echo slap in the tomb-like corridor and felt my callused pinched toes grip the slick plastic sandals. I felt Intake-sick all over again. The shame and dread are written on the body and the darkness forces you to relive the horror that it actually happened.

“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice resuscitates me in the shoe section of Rite Aid. She is smiling at me apologetically for her full moon, pregnant belly as she tries to pass.

“Oh! Sorry.” I leaned toward the shelves of miserable sandals. But life pulled me forward.

“Thank you,” she said smiling as she passed.

“You’re welcome!” I nearly shouted as I bubbled back to the present day.

Symbols can help us and haunt us

Symbols can help us and haunt us

Symbols can help us and haunt us

While We Breathe We have Hope

While We Breathe We have Hope

While We Breathe We have Hope

Three years into my six-year sentence at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon, Barak Obama was elected President of the United States. I watched the election results and the acceptance speech sitting in a packed dayroom of my unit. The crowd was a cross-section of races, ages, and backgrounds. Together we watched as a father, a husband, a trustworthy leader promised change.

While We Breathe We have Hope


“While we breathe, we have hope…We can not turn back…Yes, we can.” 

We sat out of order: Black, Latino, White, Native American. Yes, we were inmates that broke the law but we were still Americans, hoping for change. A black woman sat next to me sat with her hands over her face, tears streaming down,  

“This is a new day. Never did I think, in my time,” she held up her hand, “Here is your beacon Lord, praise you, praise you.”

I looked over at the skin-head section. They were leaning over the short wall and glaring at the celebration. My heart was so full, I blessed them. Touch them, God. 

The officer on duty was a gay woman, near my age. She stood behind us in an official at-ease position for the cameras but did not hide the tears as they streamed down her cheeks. 

Barak Obama, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Cesar Chavez point the way for the next generation of leaders to guide us forward. Yes, we can. 

While We Breathe We have Hope
President Obama Acceptance Speech 2008

While We Breathe We have Hope

While We Breathe We have Hope

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated Karen Campbell Write

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated

I am worried about the women I met in Coffee Creek Correctional Facility and how they are coping with COVID-19. My favorite cellmate, Sinful used to say, there are worse things than going to prison. You could get sick and die in prison.  The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated Karen Campbell WritesStudies in Oregon, where I served my sentence, have shown that Oregon has one of the largest senior inmate populations in the US and has higher rates of health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and cardiac conditions.

Correctional Health Care is understaffed. The prison I was housed, holds approximately 2,000 inmates. In any prison, the inmate population is serviced by a skeleton crew of health care workers. We  used to call the triage nurse a bouncer because if you want an appointment there better be blood. Now they are inundated.

Corrections staff members are constantly reading the latest updates, first thing in the morning and before they go to bed at night. Already, the toll from the virus has forced staff to work double shifts.

The NPR interview of Corrections staff  at Oakdale Correctional Facility in Louisiana by Ryan Lucas described the working conditions:

My biggest fear is catching the virus and taking it home to my wife and three teenage kids.  I do

what I can to try to prevent that. When I get home every day, I kick my boots off outside and spray them with Lysol. I strip down in the utility room and throw my clothes directly into the washing machine and then run straight into the shower. The virus doesn’t care if you’re prison staff or an inmate. That’s just the dangerous nature of what Oakdale dealing with.

Oh, I absolutely believe I have been exposed. I believe it would be safe to say that 80% of the staff out there have been exposed.


I asked a staff member of Oregon correction, who requested to remain anonymous: Is your job worth it?

I have about three more years until I retire. Will I die before I get the chance to retire? Will I ever get to take the trip I’ve been planning or spend time with my grandkids? It’s not the inmate’s fault. I chose this career. But I ask myself everyday, why am I risking my life for this job? I don’t see anyone in our driveway honking their horns and sending thank-you food boxes. We’re the lost first responders.

Human beings are hardwired to interact with others, especially during times of stress. The inmates want connection not just with other inmates but with their family or friends. They are isolated from loving emotional support. Many have tragic histories of domestic violence and abuse and do not have the coping skills to manage the stress of the Coronavirus.

We can’t distance, can’t see family, no comfort measures such as warm broth. We can not buy cough drops or cough syrup. I don’t have a life sentence. I don’t want to die in here.-Female Inmate, Oregon

What if the inmate is innocent until proven guilty?

This is a desecration of the presumption of innocence-forcing people to dwell in the certainty of infection, in the possibility of death, when viable alternatives exist. -Jackson County female jail inmate. Nick Morgan Mail Tribune.

It is in these moments that people lose hope:

I doing my best to turn my life around. There is an art to surviving prison in the best shape possible. I found that if I could be conscious of my choices and emotions, I make healthy choices for myself. But the Coronavirus makes it all seem futile.-Female inmate, Oregon

I talked to my neighbor without telling her about my history. What she said did not surprise me:

They broke the law. They deserve to be punished. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time is what I say. We don’t have the money or resources for normal people. One less mouth to feed.

This is what I believe: Holding them accountable does not mean putting them to death.

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated Karen Campbell Writes
Photos by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated

The Risk of COVID-19 While Incarcerated

Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

It is National Poetry Month. This month I would like to honor the poet Sharon Olds with her poem called The Race. I heard this poem while walking the prison yard, listening to NPR’s Prairie Home Companion Show. The poem spoke for me and my yearning to be free while my father was still alive.  Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

My father lived five hours away and did not visit often. When I first saw him in the visiting room, despite his natty attire, he looked diminished. He stood on his second attempt and I hugged gristle and bones. There was more space around the edge of his collar. He smiled with tears. Sam needed me to survive and much as I needed him to live, at least, until I was free. Please God, let him live until I am free.


Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race
Karen’s father, Sam

The Race 

by Sharon Olds

When I got to the airport I rushed up to the desk,
bought a ticket, ten minutes later
they told me the flight was cancelled, the doctors
had said my father would not live through the night
and the flight was cancelled. A young man
with a dark brown moustache told me
another airline had a nonstop
leaving in seven minutes. See that
elevator over there, well go
down to the first floor, make a right, you’ll
see a yellow bus, get off at the
second Pan Am terminal, I
ran, I who have no sense of direction
raced exactly where he’d told me, a fish
slipping upstream deftly against
the flow of the river. I jumped off that bus with those
bags I had thrown everything into
in five minutes, and ran, the bags
wagged me from side to side as if
to prove I was under the claims of the material,
I ran up to a man with a flower on his breast,
I who always go to the end of the line, I said
Help me. He looked at my ticket, he said
Make a left and then a right, go up the moving stairs and then
run. I lumbered up the moving stairs,
at the top I saw the corridor,
and then I took a deep breath, I said
goodbye to my body, goodbye to comfort,
I used my legs and heart as if I would
gladly use them up for this,
to touch him again in this life. I ran, and the
bags banged against me, wheeled and coursed
in skewed orbits, I have seen pictures of
women running, their belongings tied
in scarves grasped in their fists, I blessed my
long legs he gave me, my strong
heart I abandoned to its own purpose,
I ran to Gate 17 and they were
just lifting the thick white
lozenge of the door to fit it into
the socket of the plane. Like the one who is not
too rich, I turned sideways and
slipped through the needle’s eye, and then
I walked down the aisle toward my father. The jet
was full, and people’s hair was shining, they were
smiling, the interior of the plane was filled with a
mist of gold endorphin light,
I wept as people weep when they enter heaven,
in massive relief. We lifted up
gently from one tip of the continent
and did not stop until we set down lightly on the
other edge, I walked into his room
and watched his chest rise slowly
and sink again, all night
I watched him breathe.

Sharon Olds from The Father (Knopf,1992)

Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

Prairie Home Companion Poem The Race

Living Yoga Classes in Prison

Living Yoga Classes in Prison

Living Yoga Classes in Prison

In the ear breaking noise of a women’s full custody prison unit, I noticed that the women inmates who went regularly to the Living Yoga Classes moved through the units tall and poised. I wanted in.

Living Yoga Classes in PrisonFinally, after six months in prison, I earned clear conduct and was eligible for the class. The teachers from Living Yoga went into the darkest places to teach: prisons, rehab centers, jails, and juvenile detention centers.  They wore colorful soft clothing and moved with ease as physical examples of good living. They greeted us with a smile and looked us in the eye without fear. Within that dark place, they radiated light from the inside out. I soaked up their presence like I was standing before the sun. 

At first, it was hard to be peaceful in my poses. With the teachers’ guidance, I began to concentrate on the breath and not the chatter in my head. I imitated the teacher sitting on the mat, eyes closed, her hands resting on her knees,

“Relax your shoulders and let the quiet come into your heart. Let go of where you came from today or where you would rather be. Let quiet settle over you.” Can I really let go? Will I be O.K.? In their safety, I opened the door.

Yogathon invites folk near and far to come together in support of Living Yoga’s trauma-informed yoga programs. Every year, for the entire month of April, hundreds of people come together to raise the crucial funds that support Living Yoga’s work. You can expect daily benefit classes held at partnering yoga studios, educational events, social gatherings, and individual fundraising to promote the many physical, emotional, and psychological benefits of yoga, while working to make these benefits equitably accessible to all.

To learn more and to participate, click here or on the photo below!

Living Yoga Classes in Prison

Living Yoga Classes in Prison

Living Yoga Classes in Prison

The Prison Library

The Prison Library

The Prison Library


The Prison Library

One thing that I knew would help me get through the days and years was a book. Now that I was off Intake, I could check out a book from the prison library and read myself to sleep. As a child, I had started with A.A. Milne and Winnie the Pooh, grew up with Ponyboy from the Outsiders, diversified as a curious young adult with Anais Nin, later I fell in love with David Sedaris and Garrison Keillor.

The Prison Library
Pooh in an illustration by E. H. Shepard

Waiting for the library call-out after dinner, I thought back to the rolling cart “library” in jail. It held about thirty books and looked as though the women had chewed on the pages during drug withdrawal. In Solitary, I read that damn toothpaste tube over and over, playing memory games to keep my brain from turning to mush. The prison library just had to be better. I walked the long shiny corridor toward the library door and turned the handle.

I entered a large room with of about 1,000 worn book spines on the shelves. I was flooded with relief. It smelled like a library. The women spoke in unexpected whispers. I’m gonna make it. Romance novels took up an entire wall, floor to ceiling. The second largest category was crime novels, no surprise. There was a fiction shelf above a dusty section of classics. I bent down to investigate the titles of all the books I was suppose to read and love. Moby Dick, War and Peace. I picked up Don Quixote. I certainly had the time.

A woman shuffled past, observing my search. “I know I am supposed to read that stuff, but I am locked up and miserable enough.”

Touché. I put back Don Quixote.

I turned the corner along the chest high shelves in the center of the room and saw the non-fiction area. First reference books: craft books, Martha Stewart—our home girl, with her Holiday entertainment books. There was a long low shelf of ancient encyclopedias. There was an ample supply of self-help books. Well here ya go, Karen. AA, NA, parenting, domestic violence and depression, all a reflection of incarcerated women.

I circled the room and ended up in the mystery/crime section. Smack dab at eye level was my friend Janet Evanovitch. I read her books while awaiting trial so I could run away into a book. I liked the sexual intrigue between her hunky boyfriend Morelli and the dark and brooding Ranger. There was a woman standing next to me, looking at the same section. She was talking to herself.

“Sandra Brown, score! Here’s a new one!” She looked over at me with a wild crooked grin. Her eyes were slightly off, one drifting to the side.  The Moe hair cut of the Three Stooges was just plain overkill. One of her eyes looked at the shelves, “None of these are about bank robbin’. That’s what I did.”

The Prison Library
“Female Bank Robber”

“Wow.” I thought of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid. “Can I ask how you did it?”

“I used a note.” She was still looking at me that wild grin.

“A note!” I said. “What else? A gun? A knife?”

“No. Just a note.” She deflated.

“You just walked in with a note?” 


“Must’ve been a helluva note,” I offered.

She looked up, her roaming eyes more flat. “It just said, ‘This is a robbery. Give me your money.’” She paused a moment. “I must have really been high. I guess that’s why I’m here,”

“Well,” I said, “You’re in the right section—Crime novels. Maybe you could learn a trick or two?”

She grunted, took her book and made her way to the clerk’s table.

“Five minutes!” the library cop shouted.

I took just one of Janet Evanovitch’s books, saving the others for another day. On my way out, I looked around for Garrison Keillor or David Sedaris. No luck. I asked the inmate clerk how to get books from my family.

“Your family has to use an outside book source like Amazon,” said the inmate library clerk, Wise Owl. “They can’t send books in directly because DOC is afraid they would hide a hacksaw, drugs and cell phones in the pages.” She look at me with an expression that said, our life has come to this. What the hell happened?

I reluctantly left the library and walked as slow as I could without drawing the attention of the hallway Sargent or the over head cameras. Hacksaws indeed.

The Prison Library

Hippie Chick My First Friend

Hippie Chick My First Friend

Hippie Chick My First Friend

I was new to prison. I didn’t trust anybody. I was out for my one hour of yard time and saw the woman I sat next to in church the night before, Hippie Chick. She was the first person I met in prison that didn’t scare me. I walked over, hoping she would remember me. Hippie Chick My First Friend

Hippie Chick My First Friend
Hippie Chick

“Dude!” she smiled when she saw me. We circled and talked about the shock of arriving in prison and discovered we were just a few cells away from each other. She told me she had a few skirmishes with the law but had never been to prison. I told her about my daughters, Nikki and Haley, how they were mucking along motherless. That hit home. A gut-wrenching sob escaped her throat, tears gushed down her cheeks. Her daughter was stranded as well. I wondered how she dared to cry in prison.

“Sorry, I cry all the time.”  Then she laughed and cried again, using her squeegee hands to wipe her tears as she had in church.

“Aren’t you afraid these thugs will see you as weak?” I gestured to my twiggy arms. “I got nothin’ to defend myself.”

Hippie Chick rolled up her sweatshirt sleeves and curled her bicep.

“My God!” I said and tried out some slang. “Girrrl, I hope we can be friends, I need a bouncer up in here.” I sounded ridiculous. I could just imagine my daughters’ revulsion: “Mother. Please!” But my daughters were far away from me. Hippie Chick was pleased with my compliment and flexed her arms and laughed. She had a wide smile and held nothing back.

“Yeah, dude. I got guns!” She threw her head back and howled. She just kept laughing. She laughed too long, it was awkward and that made me laugh.

We circled the yard and stopped in front of the window that looked into the unit. It rose from ground level to about ten feet. From the inside, it was a godsend and provided a view of the sky and in that portion of the room, some natural light. From the outside, with the sun reflecting on the green glass, it was a mirror. Our only other mirror was a wavy plastic 8×10 above the sink. The window was the only way to look at your body below the neck.

“Oh my God, is that me?” I stammered. “Look what has happened from the prison food. I have never had skinnier arms and legs and a rounder middle. I look like a squeezed the toothpaste tube, from the arms and legs in. Gross.”

She laughed and bent forward slapping her legs, “Dude! That’s not O.K.”

“Why do I care?” I asked her. “I shouldn’t care, I am incarcerated.” I waved my arm around the yard, “why do these girls even bother with the cheap eye shadow and all that hair braiding?”

“For a lot of these girls, their looks are all they have,” Hippie Chick said, suddenly serious. “I’d say at least half of the women on G Unit have turned a trick, danced, or used their looks to con someone out of money. They need the money to feed their kids or get a fix. Now they’re stuck in here, young and horny, hittin’ on each other, gay for the stay, straight at the gate, yee-op.” She looked at herself in the window. She had the enviable kind of hair that comes with a mix of Native blood. She had one of those bodies that could have been honed into an Olympian. She turned side to side, “How come no one’s hittin’ on this? Huh? I’m not gay, but I’d like to be asked to the dance.”

We looked at ourselves in the green window, side by side, the athlete and the hausfrau. It felt so good to laugh, really laugh.

I turned to her. “I think my daughters would like you, and I know they’d like to know I had someone I could laugh with.”

Hippie Chick’s tears welled up again and looked at me unashamed. “I heard one of the Old Timers in the kitchen say, there are no friends in prison. But I would really like a friend.”

“I would like that too,” I said, now letting a few of my own tears leak over the brim. Then we both laughed. I felt a little stronger. “I’m countin’ on those guns.”

Hippie Chick My First Friend

Learning the Lingo

Learning the Lingo

Learning the Lingo

Slamming doors, bright lights, overhead cameras, badges, cuffs, and 900 women inmates. Nothing in life had prepared me for a harsh wilderness. Prison had its own raw language. The day I fell, I realized, I better learn the lingo quick. Learning the Lingo

Fall v. (falling, fallen) – move downward quickly and without control; become less or lower, be captured or defeated in a battle.

Falling also means the day you enter prison. It is not a forward and willing launch like Thelma and Louise; it is a backward collapse through a trapdoor. The brain goes quiet; you become a body without control. You exist breath to breath. Cuffed, you are led to transport. Trees are no longer alive, gravel is soundless. Minutes, hours are meaningless. It is your first submersion into total obedience—your opinions, your anger, your tears are futile. The self disappears.

Falling is the title of my book, expected to be published in 2020.

Karen’s Coffee Creek “Learning the Lingo” Glossary

Learning the Lingo
“Big House”

Big House: Penitentiary, The Slammer, The Joint, Full Custody Prison, not some soft-time summer camp. It means murderers, assailants, arsonists, terrorists, various and sundry thieves of things and identity, drug peddlers of quantity. In the Bird Man of Alcatraz days it was a rough bunch. With today’s tough on crime laws, three strikes you are out, and mandatory minimums, everyone is locked up. Moms  and murderers crammed together, side by side. 

Bubble: A glass outpost that is assigned to a DOC staff person that sits between housing units. It is back up security/observation to the guard on duty in the units. The most difficult part of the job would be to stay awake and watch the same women day after day, just sitting and watching TV. It is a common post for the cop with a knee replacement or the cop who is accused of flirting with a sexy twenty year old.

Learning the LingoThe Cage: A chain link dog kennel, sides and top, human size. It is used in Segregation for one hour of outdoor privileges, once a week. It is visible and shouting distance from the other yards and therefore proof the caged inmate is still alive.

Call-out: Posted list of the inmate’s daily schedule. For example:

  • Smith, Sally SID # 8888888
  • Kitchen 5:30 am
  • Kitchen 11:00 am
  • Kitchen 4:30 pm
  • Chapel  7:30 pm

If you miss a call out because you forgot to look or did not write it down, you will be written up and disciplined.

Canteen: A source for inmates to purchase items to supplement the basic issue of bedding, prison scrubs or Blues, worn out tennis shoes, baking soda toothpaste, lye soap. The primary purchases are new tennis shoes, and junk food, ramen soup and instant coffee. Basics such as tampons, shampoo, toothpaste are purchased from inmate paychecks. My first paycheck was about $30.00 for one month. The products are not top shelf, many are discontinued or no-name brands. Nevertheless, it means so much to the inmates and teaches financial planning.

Captain Sav-a Ho: An officer, usually a man, who blurs the boundaries of helpfulness between staff and an inmate. It may be genuine advice, however, guidance of this nature does not happen the the ugly girls.

Carnival Clean-up Crew: Inmates trained in clean up of blood borne pathogens. Duties include mopping up blood from a cutter or a fight, and decontaminating menstrual blood, urine and feces. As a reward, the job that pays decently (for prison wages), and requires only occasional work.

Learning the Lingo
Carney Rot: Toe fungus from the showers.

Carney Rot: Toe fungus from the showers.

Cell-in: The inmate is required to go their cell and stay there. It can be for security reasons, dayroom closure, or discipline. It is a prison “time-out”.

Cheeking: Placing medication under the tongue or tucked into the cheek. A successful outcome would mean the medication made it back to the unit for recreational use, for sale, and trade, or for storage. The medication is difficult to hide. Slitting and resewing mattresses, taping medication to the undersides of desks or bunks has all been thought of before or discussed at the yearly Mean School. Disciplinary action is swift and severe.

Chomo, Cho: Child molester or anyone with a child related crime. It can range from death and physical abuse of a child to neglect/starvation, forced prostitution and pornography. Their life is the lowest level of hell in prison. In a women’s prison, they are ostracized and ridiculed. Prison justice is carried out with a pitcher of pee flung onto their bunk during cell sanitation. In a men’s prison, their name appears in the corner of the local paper: death while incarcerated.

Con Marche: A large blue recycle bin in each unit that contains clothing that is meant to be returned to the Clothing Room. The Con Marche is a place to trade-up and improve your status. It is against the law and teaches an honest woman how to steal. As a desirable item appears, the grab ‘n go technique is implemented. Next, the inmate progresses to the grab, hide ‘n go in the chow line, grabbing extra fruit, right in front of the guard. Prison teaches all the wrong things.

Cops, Po-Po, PO-lice, Badges, Guards, Pigs, Bacon: The staff of DOC. Their preferred description is similar to the military beginning with the uniformed Officer, Corporal, Sargent, Lieutenant, Captain. The next level wears street clothes and are no longer called wardens, they are Superintendents and Administrators.

Counting Jiggs: A spotter for skullduggery. The primary post is outside the showers so that two or more women can have hasty sex. The secondary post is lookout while a fight, typically lasting no longer than two or three quick slugs.

Crop Dusting, Drive by, anonymous and planned flatulence. It is used as a passive aggressive weapon to both inmates who are stuck at their post, and deserve cruel prison justice.

Cutter: Causing self harm usually cutting with a lady shaver, or something even blunter since sharps are not allowed. As a consequence, scarring is dramatic. The woman who cuts becomes difficult to house as no one wants to come home to a bloody home, especially an 6 x 12 for two.

Dayroom: The living room of the unit. It includes TV’s tables, laundry, telephones, the Call Out Bulletin Board all under the command of the officer’s podium. It is the place to alleviate the boredom of cell life.

DOC: Department of Corrections. The Man. The power machine. Your may be right but they are always righter.

Learning the Lingo
Oregon Department of Corrections

D.R.: Disciplinary Report. Progressive discipline begins with a cell-in. A D.R is next and means that you lose your job, your honor unit and land in the hole. Any inmate can get a D.R. Oppression and obedience dulls thinking, we get careless, or perhaps we caught a cold and just want to horde and extra orange.

Exorcist: A head-spinning punch on the jaw. Women in prison don’t just bitch slap, they square off and box. The anger of confinement is fuel for the swing.

Fall: Arriving and beginning a sentence in prison. It is the day that creates a definitive line in your life and the life of your loved ones, life before prison and after prison. Your fall date is the question that is often asked by other inmates. It represents a measure of how much you know about surviving in a women’s prison.

Fishing: The game of passing items back and forth under the cell door in segregation. Much like billiards the game involved physics and mathematics,often aided with dental floss. “I grew calluses on my knees from fishing. I didn’t need anything but played just to pass the time,” said Miss Clever

Front street: 1. A location across from the podium or some other obviously visible location. 2. To be personally revealed either by your own hand or someone else’s betrayal. For example, an inmate reveals personal facts about herself that are exploitable or you receive the Judas kiss and are put in in a vulnerable position, put on front street, or “thrown under the bus”.

Flatback Ho, Top Dolla Ho, Golf Cart Ho, Snow Ho: Flat back is a Ho who actually has to lie down to get paid instead of extracting payment from scheming or providing a John the pleasure of her company. A Top Dolla Ho is an expensive call girl. A Golf Cart Ho is just that, a woman who works the seniors and can literally work the golf courses in a cart. When I lived in Minnesota,  a prostitution ring was busted for servicing the ice fishermen, Snow Ho’s rode snow mobiles from fish house to fish house on the frozen confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers.

Ho Bath/PTA: Pussy, tits and ass clean-up it the sink, or between Johns in the Shell gas station.

Hole, Hole Time: Living/doing time in segregation. It is like falling again. It is relentlessly bright and filled with noisy bitches.

Ho Stro: Whore street, the corner, the turf, the beat of a prostitute’s territory. In prison it might be a way to describe a swagger, “she be lookin’ like she walkin’ the Ho Stro, workin’ it and trolling for a cup of coffee.

In the Vest: Certifiably having a break from mental health. It is both literal and figurative. Women are placed in a restraining garment to avoid harm to self and others, mostly self. Overhead cameras cannot stop a suicide if the person is determined to swallow a spork so therefore they are required to live in a vest. According to a 2006 US Justice Department study, 50% of incarcerated women suffer from mental health issues. As a result, reaction and over-reaction in the dayroom is unpredictable. For no reason at all, a girl might swing, scream, or tear at their hair, or tear at or yours. We walk on egg shells.

Kick-down: Share a creature comfort such as a cup of coffee to get a another person over the hump. It is a calculated risk.

Kyte, Kyting: The written message system in prison. The inmate writes a message/request on a form and drops it into the proper delivery box. One kytes for a job, kytes for a move, kytes to be added to a church service. An inmate can drop a kyte on a DOC officer, tattling or telling the truth. The response and results are impotent.

Lifer: A person serving a prison sentence of twenty-five years or more, or to the end of her life. Life “without” means they will die locked up. Meeting a lifer requires particular etiquette. They do not suffer fools.

LOP: Loss Of Privileges. It is a prison misdemeanor and you are celled in. You are required to wear a lime green shirt which makes observation easier for the cops and the overhead cameras. DOC has you on the radar. The worst part of LOP status is that fact you have to wear your lime green shirt into the visiting room where your teenager, who already hates you for legitimate reasons, is waiting.

MacGyver, MacGyvering: Based on the 80’s television secret agent who could take simple items and recycle them into weapons or survival tools. Inmates are unparalleled recyclers. Twist ties are hair binders, pen-caps are chip bag clips. dental floss is the universal tool. Zip lock bags are utilized until they are a sieve. A tupperware bowl was crafted in the microwave as a dildo.

Mean School: In-service training for DOC and volunteers that teaches them how to behave around the inmates. They practice rodeo take-down and cuff drills. They learn about new surveillance equipment. Mean school teaches staff and volunteers not to get too comfortable, never trust, never turn your back. It takes weeks for them to return to humanity.

Mean Mug: A look of aggression toward another or a scowl to remind others how bad-ass you are even if it is posturing. There are all levels of Mean Mugging, from a simple “are you talkin’ to me?” to a full-on “I am going to kick your ass just as soon as you walk past the broom closet.” It requires practice in all levels of the mug in front of the mirror and saying with your eyes: “You are sittin’ in my seat, or You are on my last nerve and I’m gonna kick your ass and we’re both goin’ to The Hole. These looks are not for the Po Po, they are for the pecking order. Once released, if you are that lucky, they come in handy when someone doesn’t understand WHO YOU ARE and where you have been.

Mugshot: Photo taken for criminal records that will follow you the rest your life. Cameras are placed above your head to avoid shadows and the result is reptilian. Your lips bow up in the center, the corners are downcast. You look like the loser you are. Super model trick: place the tip of your tongue on the top of your front teeth. It lifts the corners of your mouth into something you salvageable, after all you will wear it around your neck for years.

Off the hook, Off the chain: Crazy/loco, not in a silly way but a dangerous way that raises the hackles on your neck that eventually will kill you from flight or fight neurotransmitters clogging your arteries. It could be a person or G Unit. It is the crazy shit that goes on in a prison that you should never tell you family, they will not sleep at night. The burden is yours to bear.

On the Chain: To be shackled with other women for transport/mobility. Not your finest moment. If you are lucky, there might be a decent soul to commiserate with, maybe learn some tips for survival.

Orders of Conduct: Conditions of Parole/Post Prison Supervision. These are the laws a parolee must maintain to stay out of trouble. Examples are weekly meetings with a parole officer, drug rehab, home inspections day or night. Parolees must be actively seeking employment or attending school. They must obtain written consent to travel. Failure to comply with terms can result in fines, additional probation or incarceration. Insult to injury, you have to pay for parole.

Pat down: Clothed search. The inmate stands in the star position, the cop slides gloved hands along sleeves, ribs, back and the Playtex cross your heart region then moves onto legs, socks and finishes with a sweep at the intersection of the inner thigh and genital region. One cop told me, “I never go past the middle of the thigh. I try not to picture what could be smuggled up in there, I have to save my appetite for lunch. I’d rather not have a sexual investigation, thank you very much. Unfortunately, I need this job.”

P.C’d Up: Protective Custody status. The inmate is placed in segregation or a single cell. It’s not a loving protection. An inmate is property of the State and the State wants to protect their property. The typical P.C’d inmate is a snitch or a chomo, or someone who committed a crime so foul, it repulses the most seasoned inmates, someone in the general population is going to hurt them. DOC keeps these little fish in a separate pool and hopes one day for a successful release into the units. Budget driven, protective custody requires expensive staffing and eventually the fish must sink or swim with the sharks.

Pimp Hand: From a hooker’s outside life, an all too common slap and worse from a pimp. Can be used as a threat, “don’t make me show you the pimp hand!” Worse than a single beating, it represents the threat of repeated physical abuse.

Prison friends: Temporary friendships that while sustaining on the inside, are terminated upon release, every woman for themselves. The addict is the most dangerous to avoid after release because the crazy life-robbing drugs make good people do desperate things. Meanwhile, it is possible to love and laugh outright with the other incarcerated women on you unit. We celebrated birthdays, cried over children, dreamed of avocados. I met women I am proud to know.

Punk: A legend in her own mind who will drop to her knees in cowardice to a person higher up the totem pole. The sign language is to swipe a finger across the chin indicating the residual bodily fluid after a vulgar subservient  act.

Put your foot in it: To cook food with soul, leaving an imprint. Some women just had a knack for taking crap food, sometimes expired and creating something so good the room went quiet.

Rape-o Status: Looking like such a clueless loser that you could be raped. In a women’s prison this is 99.9% more likely to be just a whopping insult.  For example, only a patsy (like me), would wear puffy, polyester red shorts, Rap-o status shorts, while the old timers wear prized thin red cotton shorts.

Recidivists: A return to prison after release. It has to be the worst that can happen to a personal, second only to the death of a child. The cards are stacked against the parolee, due to the gaping lack of support for integration back to society. For a Lifer, or a woman doing a stretch of time, it is a sickening waste of opportunity.

Roll up: To pack up your meager belongings into plastic bags and move. This can be good, such as going from max/medium to minimum, or earning the clear conduct to move to an honor unit. It can be bad, you broke the rules and must move down the ladder and live back in the jungle unit. It can be worse, you are shackled to the wall and lead away to the Seg unit for your gross misbehavior or it can be fatal, or might as well be, if you have to be housed in the prison medical unit.

Skins, Strip Search, Squat and Cough: A body search down to the skin. The inmate is asked to disrobe one piece of clothing at a time, shaking out each for the purpose of exposing hidden items in rolled cuffs, bras etc., until nude. The inmate is required to lift pendulous breasts, bellies and buttock cheeks. Squatting low, the inmate is ordered to spread her buttock cheeks and cough loudly. If unremarkable, the inmate is allowed to redress. As an new inmate it is deplorable. To the seasoned it is just a part of the drill. Occasionally, staff and inmates carry on a conversation during the event. Upon reflection I gotta say it must be worse for the cop.

Slip n Slide: A fall in the shiny corridors as the Po Po galumphs to a fight. An event that makes an inmate happy for weeks.

Snitch, A Teller: An informant to DOC in a court of law or a rival gang. A rat, nark, fink, teller of tales who’s poor choices results in an outcast status just above a Chomo. Newbies do it because they feel a greater kinship to the cops than the criminals. Telling is an early fuck up that can last for years.   The cops see a snitch as a threat and more dangerous than a violent criminal. She will tell on anyone, including them.

Stretch: A lengthy prison sentence, definitely in the eye of the beholder. A Lifer would dismiss anything less than four years since this means you serve 90% of your time in minimum. Warehoused. Put ’em to work I say, stuff political envelopes, pick strawberries. Anyone doing a stretch is a waste of inexpensive human services. If inmates feel useful and valuable, they will return as a contributing, empowered member of society.

Tank: Holding cell in a jail or prison. It is a bare room that contains a sink and toilet combo, all surfaces can be hosed down and sanitized. Capacity is often reached, especially if it is a jail tank. Full 24 hour observation employed. It is the gate to hell. In jail it is a place to come down on drugs and alcohol. An offender in jail is still holding out for hope and a good lawyer. An offender in prison is resigned and is no longer making deals with The Almighty, now it is more of a begging for survival. The holding cell in segregation is a place that reminds you that although you have fallen and had the worst day of your life, things are just about to get worse.

Tossed: Tossed is a cell search. A gloved cop choses a random cell and goes through bedding, drawers, shelves, shoes and clothing, looking for contraband. Some cops are thorough to to the point of testing shampoo bottles, some are just a quick scan, as in, “Please God, please don’t let me get some sort of disease from touching this disgusting woman’s underwear.” If a guard shows up with a plastic bags and gloves at your door, you are in trouble, you are moving downward and falling again.

Under the Wing of the Alpha