Weekly dispatch from prison

Twitchy the Squirrel

Sorry for the protracted absence. I’ve been in a full-court press to finish the book proposal I’m working on. I feel kind of frantic and twitchy when I don’t post something here every few days, all blurry at the edges.


When we were in prison this past Monday night for our weekly greeting-card-making gig, there were a couple of conversational threads that feel worth sharing outside The Big House, mostly for their clarity.

Two of the women at my table started talking about a fight that had happened in their unit. Apparently it was a doozy of a brawl between two other women, one of whom was old enough to be the other’s mother. Some background information: any inmate who gets in a fight gets sent to “the hole” (solitary confinement); any inmate who tries to break up a fight also gets sent to “the hole.” For brevity and clarity, I’ll refer to the two women who were having the conversation as A and B.

A: What were you doing during that fight? I wanted to stop it but I didn’t want to go to the hole, so I was mostly screaming and crying.

B: That was one bad fight, man. I stayed out the way.

A: Can you imagine? Some girl young enough to be your daughter, whuppin’ your ass, right there in front of everybody? Over a woman…

B: …who don’t want either ONE of ’em!

A: Now they both in the hole. No fighting AND no love!

B: You got that right.

A: People think they gonna come to jail and find a relationship. In jail! Like they think any relationship IN JAIL gonna last on the outside. The whole reason they in jail in the first place is from bad relationships! When you come to jail…

B. …you just gotta do your time and get the hell OUT!


Some nights I leave prison with really clear ideas about why those women are in there and I’m not: the luck of where and to whom I was born; a blessed lack of exposure to physical, sexual, and/or substance abuse; life-long access to high quality education, food, and health (and mental health) care. This past Monday night, I left thinking that the razor thin line between the woman I’m calling A, and me, has mostly to do with impulse control.

A: My judge told me they ain’t no way someone stealin’ as much as I did ain’t supportin’ a habit.

B: Oh, you got a habit all right!

A: I said, I don’t do no drugs or alcohol. Flat out.

B: No, but shoppin’ too much is a habit, and you got it!

[This next part that A said sounded so much like a poem, I’m writing it out that way, and I’ll just let it stand on its own.]

I always thought if I gave
my children everything
they want
then they’d be happy
and I’d be a good mama.
I had to come to jail
to find out that
the only thing my children need
is me.

8 responses to “Weekly dispatch from prison

  1. You may get to feeling all blurry around the edges, but your hearing–and your writing–could not be crisper or clearer. Thanks, as always, from a fellow twitcher….

  2. B: No, but shoppin’ too much is a habit, and you got it!
    No wonder I got the shoppin’ habit. Right after 9/11/2001, the chief executive officer of our nation told all of us, “Get out there and shop.” Frankly, I get twitchy whenever I shop, terrorist threat or not.
    I celebrate the discipline and compassion which send you and PW to prison every Monday night to engender hope where there is so little hope. As they say in Australia, “Good on ya!” And good on ya for your Crooked Line gifts!

  3. Wow. That poem/speech broke my heart a little bit.

  4. We all know Johnny Cash served petty time in prison, for petty (misdemeanor) crimes, but marketed it extremely well. I wonder how many people he really talked to, to endear himself so well to Folsom and San Quentin. You actually talk and listen to “these” women, endear yourself to them. That is so cool! More, please, more!

  5. Joy, your eloquence has stunned me, again. The poem at the end would be good for posting on family refrigerators.

  6. Yes to all of the above comments. But, it was your putting the finger on “impulse control” that caught my attention. I am often a bit terrified when I consider the many outlandish and awful things that flash through my involuntary thoughts. To imagine the appalling consequences of actually acting on these makes me all too aware of the razor thin line. The brain is one scary bag of chemicals. I’m ok.

  7. moving. thought-provoking. made me say “thanks” for all the things that have kept me out of trouble. one of the things i love so about your writing is that you always make me think. and i already thought i was a thinker. but you make me think more deeply. thanks for that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s