Serving Prison Time

I am looking down at my body as if I’m in a dream. I am dressed in jail scrubs sitting on a hard cot in a solitary cell. “I am an inmate,” I say out loud just to see if it was true, perhaps I would wake up and the accident had never happened. I look at my hands with my mother’s blue veins, one of them is in a wrist splint from my last surgery. As a result, I am housed in solitary, not because the Department of Corrections felt sorry for me but because I was now State property and they did not want their property damaged. 

Serving Prison Time
Solitary cell confinement

I saw a single cell as a chance to collect myself and a place of safety from the women inmates whom I feared more than anything else in prison. The cell was approximately 6×10 and held a metal cot with a plastic one-inch mattress, a square of foam for a pillow, sheets, and a wool blanket. In the corner was a stainless steel sink and potty combo, overhead was a camera. The door had a passing slot and a narrow window that looked out at a blank wall.

Sitting on the hard cot, I thought of Tom, his smile, his exuberance, now extinguished. I thought of the innocent woman I had killed. I am alive and they are both gone. I dug my thumbs into my eyes and squeezed them shut, trying to remember. I read the accident report like anyone else, horrified by the details. I thought of my daughters, What were they doing and thinking at this moment, knowing that their mom was in jail and on the way to prison for six years? Who will I be when this is over, will they still want me?

Minutes or hours later I heard the sound of keys in the hallway. Then, a jarring rap on my cell door. “Shower time!” keys jangled in the lock and the door opened to a dour, formidable female guard. She led me to a cold tile room and stood by. I wondered whether I was to be naked in front of people for the next six years. I looked down at my body under the stream of tepid water and noticed that some of my scars from the accident were starting to flatten out. Seven surgeries left me looking like a railroad yard. Scars crisscrossed my legs, ribs, torso front and back. I had them on my face. I had been shattered to bits and patched back together. But the surgery to correct my back and pelvis had failed and now I was crooked. I had to wear a heel lift in order to stand straight but the deputy took it away in the strip search. I knew the fact I could stand at all was a miracle.

Serving Prison Time In the march back to the cell, I asked my captor the time, she said it was 7:20 p.m. My guess was off by six hours. My thoughts were disorganized under the 24-hour fluorescent lights. I sat or paced, four steps and turn. I lied on the cot and stared at the stains on the ceiling. I slept but woke up exhausted. I could not tell if it had been ten minutes or ten hours. I could hear the voices of women in the cells nearby. One woman was moaning rhythmically, another bursting out foul curses, many I had never heard. The voice closest to me barked out complaints, “Let me outta here, I got rights! When’s my phone call?” She wore herself out with unimaginative cursing and switched from anger to grief. She cried so hard it sounded like she was choking. She whimpered and went quiet.

Solitary did not give me solitude. I felt like I was losing my mind. Anxious to get out, I removed my brace and rolled my wrist around. I tried turning on the water, I lifted a corner of the mattress. Good enough. I practiced a fib and told the nurse I was done with the brace. The nurse didn’t raise an eyebrow, one less lunatic on her beat. She opened the door and I stepped toward my greatest fear in prison.