Good Cop touched many lives of incarcerated women and their families

Day 240 

I had questions about the staff of DOC.

I had questions about the staff of DOC. I decided to ask my questions to two women sitting at a table in the dayroom. I chose them because they wore the clothing of seasoned felons: faded jeans and tee shirts and tennis shoes from the canteen list. I approached in my shiny blue jeans, my Nobody jeans. “May I ask a question?” One woman with wolf-blue eyes nodded to a stool, I sat. “Do you ever have real conversations with the guards?” 

Do you ever have real conversations with the guards?

“I try not to,” said the second woman called Sinful. “They don’t care about us. There’s a couple who are O.K. But never forget which side they are on. Here’s what they want: no fucking, no fighting, no paperwork. Nothing that keeps them here one minute longer. Most have given up on the idea of corrections. They’ll tell you to quit your whining, go outside and leave them alone.”

 You may have been right, but they will always be righter.” said Blue Eyes. “As an inmate no matter your stage of development or intelligence, YOU WILL OBEY. Best thing you can do is get out of those new-girl clothes,” said Blue Eyes.

“Yeah, you look like a mess,” laughed Sinful.

“Drop a written request for a clothing room call-out, said Blue Eyes. “Tell them you lost your Intake weight.”

“Thanks, I’ll do that right now,” I said. I walked over to the podium and asked the guard on duty for a form. He slid it to me and quickly retracted his hand like he didn’t want to touch me.

Karen Campbell Writes ContactThat night in my cell, I thought about what Sinful and Blue Eyes said about the DOC staff. I wondered what would it be like to work at a prison? They chose to come to a prison day after day. Who among them believes incorrections versus punishment? How many times would it take for an officer to give the inmate a chance, trust just a little bit, stick their neck out, only to get lied to or burned in some way? How many times would it take before it hardened them? What kind of person would they become if the safe career choice, day after day, was mistrust and cynicism?

Not long after, I had a call-out to the clothing room. I could hear laughter and music out in the hallway before I arrived. I walked into a large room with floor to ceiling shelves, stacked with clothing, bedding and shoes. The inmate women workers were seasoned felons, the cool girls. They had control over the shelves of clothing and the power to make or break your visual reputation

The jeans on this girl are too tight

The Sargent in charge was a blonde woman with short hair. She looked athletic but also looked like she enjoyed a scoop of ice cream once in a while. A young pear-shaped woman was standing before her for inspection.

“Smith!” she called to one of the inmate workers. “The jeans on this girl are too tight.” She started laughing. “My God, I can see her butt crack. I do not want to see her butt crack, Smith, ya got me?” The jeans rear seam split her inactive bottom into deflated pouches. She was too young for a butt like that.

“There aren’t any bigger jeans in that length,” answered Smith.

“What are you talking about? I can see some on that shelf right there.”

The clothing room inmate crew looked at each other. “But Good Cop,” said Smith. “She’s too new for faded jeans. She hasn’t earned them yet!” The whole crew laughed. “I need to save them for someone like her,” she nodded to me. Yes, I am cool enough for faded jeans! The Sargent looked at her clipboard.


“Yes ma’am.” She smirked, sat back in her chair and swiveled. “C’mon over here, Baker.” I walked to her desk that was housed in a wire cage that reached to the ceiling, the door was open. “Have a seat.” There was a simple chair next to her desk.

“Tell me something about yourself.”

“I am here for a Man II car accident.”


“Yes. I don’t remember anything about the accident.”

“Maybe that’s a good thing. What else Baker? What do you do in here?”

“I just got a job at DMV.”

“That’s a good job in here but it’s gotta be intense dealing with all those rules and frustrated callers,” her eyes were amused.

We’ve seen her around, Good Cop

“I like the carpet and the soft chair,” I said softly and she laughed.

“You know any of these girls?” she tilted her head to the crew. The crew had gathered around the cage, curious.

“We’ve seen her around, Good Cop,” said a woman with a head of massive auburn curls and a little china doll face, “She’s alright, hasn’t caused any drama.”

“You got kids?” asked Good Cop.

“I do,” my heart tightened. “Two girls, fifteen and eighteen. I really let them down.” I felt safe to continue, so I added, “I think of them all the time. I still have five plus years to go.” The woman with the china doll face snorted like my five years was nothing.

Good cop gave a dismissive nod to the crew, sending them back to work. “Baker, let me give you some advice.” She leaned forward, looking me straight in the eye. “You gotta show those girls that you’re gonna make it. Not just survive in here, but own up to your mistakes. All of them. Make it right with them. Show them you can still learn something in here. Send away for some study books, go to any call-out that helps you out. You are still their mother, Baker.” My eyes began to prick with tears. She waited until I could answer.

“I am writing. I think I am going to write a book. I didn’t have a clue what life was like in here. I even didn’t know if I would get a bra,” I looked out at the clothing room shelves, and dried my eyes.

“Yeah?” she sat up. “Why don’t you bring me some of your work and maybe I can help.”

“O.K.” I squeaked.


“C’mon over here.” said Smith, “What’s your name?”


“Let’s get you out of those ugly jeans,” she said. “We gotta save the good ones for us, don’t we?” I felt like I was asked into the tree fort of older kids. She found two pairs of faded blue jeans and a pair of thin cotton shorts. I was elated. I spun around for Good Cop, she gave me a quick once over and they were mine. I kept them until I paroled.

“I really like it in here,” I said gesturing to the stacks of clothes.

“Look, Baker, I’m doing my time too,” said Good Cop, “I got a ways to go before retirement. I would get bored being mean all the time.” She paused and looked at me seriously, “Here is how we get along, Baker: I will always do my job, it comes first. If you let me do my job, and you do your job, we’re going to get along just fine.” It felt fair, like a respectable boundary.

Good Cop was now in charge of the visiting room

Over the following months, I requested a clothing room call out when I had written something. To her credit, she plowed through those early works and encouraged me to sign up for the Write Around Portland workshop that came into the prison. She gave me hope that I was onto something, something my daughters could be proud of.

Four months later, near the holidays, my youngest daughter, Haley came for a visit. A shift change had occurred and Good Cop was now in charge of the visiting room. Both kind and steady, her presence created an environment that seemed less hostile and allowed a chance for the families to talk and heal. Haley had come for the weekend, that day was her final visit, she would fly out in the morning. We were down to the final hours. She cast aside the trendy clothes that made me think she was doing alright and stripped down to a plain gray hoodie. Her eyes were rimmed in dark circles and she slumped on the table between us. We had run out of easy stories, all that remained was raw emotion and the unspoken hurt that was inconsolable. Haley started to cry at the beginning of the visit and cried all the way through. We leaned forward as far as we could across the table, I ached to hold her and stroke her shiny brown hair. At one point she put the hood over her head and wept. 

Good Cop touched many lives of incarcerated women and their familiesGood Cop came over with her officer. She made some small talk to get acquainted but was somber and did not overstay our private time. “Sorry Baker, she can’t wear the hoodie.” She actually looked sorry for saying it. Near the end of our visit, I looked over at Good Cop. She and her attending female officer had their heads leaning together, staring at our table. Their faces were anguished, their eyes brimmed with tears. I quickly put that image aside and focused on the final seconds I had with my precious child.

I hugged Haley goodbye, she felt so frail. From my chair, I gave her a tight smile, holding back so her final sight of me would not be her mother falling apart. I watched her stand in the silence of the sally port. She pulled the hoodie back up, over her head but I could see she was crying openly. The exit door opened, she turned, and I watched the back of that crumpled gray hoodie until it was out of sight, just like the final day at the airport when she moved away.

Is your daughter coming back?

The pat-out area beyond the visiting room was quiet after a visit. I walked in silence at the end of the line women, out of the visiting building, toward the cell block. Good cop fell back to talk to me.

“Is your daughter coming back?”

“Not for a few months, she lives in California.”

“Oh. That’s hard.” She was silent for a few steps and then she started to chuckle sadly, “I don’t think I could take another visit, Baker. My God, she just cried and cried. We let her keep her hoodie on for a while, she’s not supposed to wear a hat of any kind but we felt so sorry for her, and with her hood up, we couldn’t see her cry. She killed me. We were a mess.” We both laughed a little, humor our salvation. We entered the block and went our own way. Following the rules, I kept walking toward my unit but I turned for a glimpse of her walk down the corridor in the opposite direction. Her arms hung at her sides, her shoulders slumped, she was looking at the floor and stepping slowly. She sees me. She sees my child.

Years passed, I midway to the top of the pecking order. All my clothes were faded Blues. I had tennis shoes and a canteen brassiere. One day, I saw Good Cop sitting on a bench in the corridor. Next to her was a woman wailing, tearing cheap toilet paper to shreds. Good Cop was crouched forward elbows on her knees, listening. I walked past. She knew I was there, ever vigilant, but her focus remained on the woman and her grief.

Good Cop touched many lives of incarcerated women and their families. Whenever I saw her in the hallways, I would smile, and stand tall. It only takes one of them to see you and your experience becomes a little more bearable.

Good Cop touched many lives of incarcerated women and their families

Good Cop touched many lives of incarcerated women and their families

Good Cop touched many lives of incarcerated women and their families