If you tell an officer that you are going to hit him, it’s considered simple assault. If an officer touches you and you so much as snatch your arm away from him, it’s still simple assault. There are about twenty levels of assault, all of which will land you in lockdown. In Charleston County Detention Center, it’s called 1A, or Hell.
And I was in it.
Well, it’s true. I’ve been sent to jail. Not jail, jail. Not a holding cell to sleep it off. LOCKDOWN. If you don’t know what that means, I’ll tell you.
My legs have been shaking for days. I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept in what seems like a year and it’s only been a few days.
Drunken behavior is one of those things that is creepy and outstanding at the same time. We react emotionally, but we also react irrationally. We drive and it’s illegal. Yet, “everyone does it.” Thankfully, that wasn’t my charge that night, or for any of my drunken friends who drove that night. The charges against me were “Disorderly Conduct and Simple Assault.” Missing my old/new/old/new boyfriend who wanted me to pick him up for brunch, I had driven to his house to say “Hi. I’m drunk. I missed you today.” I knocked on his window and broke it. Damnation. And then I couldn’t find my keys.
An officer showed up to say, “You’re bleeding and you need stitches.” No recollection. I only remember the house cars being in the drive and hearing myself say, “I think I broke the window.” I had no idea who I said it to. I assumed it was myself.
It doesn’t seem quite fair to fault someone for something she doesn’t remember doing, but Charleston County sees it quite differently. The police officer was going to let me go with my friend, but I drunkenly resisted going anywhere, with anyone. Instead of letting them help me, I landed myself in the police car, and not with my friends.
Who gets that drunk anyway? Most everyone I know. Kit rolled down some stairs last year and broke her foot, bless her heart. Scott woke up one morning a few weeks ago to find his car door open, driver’s license on the ground and no recollection of any of it. Jordan was on Xanax and dropped her cell phone in a glass of water. Drunken behavior...try to remember what the hell happened. Perhaps someone, or something like a text message will remind you of the events you can’t remember.
It’s all fun and games until someone goes to jail.
Lockdown. I was escorted in my black and grey jumpsuit to my cell. The lights woke my cellmate.
She looked up at the guard and me from the bottom bunk and said, “AWW, HELLLL NAW!!”
I had been given a blanket, a sheet, a tube of toothpaste, deodorant, soap, a washcloth, a towel and a cup. The thin, green, torn mat of my bunk was no cushion at all and when I lay down that night, my hip bones sunk to the metal. I have had bruises on my thighs from four days of lying that way.
I woke the next day to buzzers, lights, locked doors being opened and closed, people shouting and toilets flushing. Everything had an echo. I had no idea where I was, or why. I knew I had broken a window by accident, but this seemed a little harsh. I asked the guard, whose face I remembered from the night before, “Why am I here?”
“You resisted a strip search.”
Oh. Yeah. I remember that. I had drunkenly thought the officer was being fresh with me. When they pointed a Taser at me, I obliged.
As I watched the guard slip the food tray through the slot in the door, I tried not to vomit or cry. I did both, and after, I ate only the bread and drank water from my cup.
Williams is my cellmate. She and I spent the day reading her papers from the disciplinary board, which had sentenced her to thirty days in jail. Not jail, but lockdown. She is unable to leave because she broke the rules of the detention center. Her release date read, “May 6, 2008.”
“That means I’m gettin’ out later. I gotta call my friend. She gettin’ out today, too. April, May, June. September. September 24th, 1978. That means it’s commissary day. When they put that bag over the window of the door, it means it’s commissary. Today is Wednesday, Im’ll get my commissary. I ordered fried oysters and shrimp. My aunt used to make this shrimp. Mmm,” she said.
Then she flushed the toilet four times for no reason.
“Holy shit, this bitch is crazy. I’m so fucked,” I thought to myself.
Jordan called me psycho recently. Funny how when you’re looking at psycho in the face, you care very little about those words coming from someone who doesn’t even know you. I didn’t know Williams, but I knew she was batshit insane.
Monday night I went to my bond hearing, which is done by video conference. Scott stepped into the video screen so that I could see him. I was very happy to see him. I was very sorry for breaking his window. I hoped he knew it was an accident. The judge read my bail amount, and in my mind I knew that for $150-$200 I could go home in as much as four hours. (Paperwork.)
The guards all knew I didn’t really belong here. They were very nice to me in spite of the fact that they didn’t have to be. They were here to escort you in shackles wherever you had to go, like to your bond hearing, booking or medical. They were here to serve your food and bring you toilet paper if they wanted. They were as sympathetic as they could be and do a few favors for me, only because they knew I had had a drunken night for which I should’ve ended up in a holding cell. Assaulting the arresting officer and resisting a strip search got me where I am.
Four hours went by after my hearing. The fifth and sixth hours passed and by hour seven, I knew I’d been left here.
Unable to sleep through the shouting through the vents by other inmates in code to one another, I tried to decipher their words. All I could make out is, “Yeeeaah.” I didn’t mind the night in there. Other than every fifteen minutes or so when Williams burst out into a fit of laughter from her sleep, which actually made me laugh the first two days, I preferred being awake at night. She didn’t stare at me at night when I had to unbutton my jumpsuit to relieve myself at our stainless steel toilet, which she kept sparkling clean. She might be crazy, but at least she was a clean freak and had a sense of humor, even if the laughter was at the thoughts in her own head and came through all hours of the night.
Finally, on Tuesday morning, I was taken to booking. I was given a PIN number to make a collect call. I called my attorney. I hoped he will bail me out. I waited the four, five, six hours. Nothing. I will spend another night. I don’t understand why I am still here. Surely one of my friends had a couple hundred dollars to help me with. Surely.
The stitched lacerations on my arm from the broken window were infected. I stripped off the bandages and hung my bleeding arm out of the food slot when they opened it to bring lunch to show the guard that I needed medical attention, which I’d been denied for the last two days. They took me there and bandaged them again, this time over antibiotic ointment. That was something.
With nothing to read, nothing to write with and no one to talk to, I sang.
“This white bitch singing cannot sing,” Williams said. I sang louder and because my thoughts were interrupted every five seconds by the slamming of cell doors, the loud buzzers that released them, the slamming of bodies in cells above me and the shouts of other inmates. It was difficult to remember song lyrics to the songs I sang and knew by heart all the time. My reality was fading. Stripped of everything I knew and with nothing of my own except the panties on my bottom, I tried to keep it together. I made up the song lyrics as I went.
I sang to an Avett Brothers tune, “Shut the fuck up, you never shut the fuck up. You ramble on about bullshit that doesn’t make any sense and stop staring at me as I pee. You’re a crazy bitch, you’re a crazy bitch. Shut the fuck up, bitch, shut the fuck up.” But she was talking nonstop the entire time I sang and had no idea what I was saying.
By Wednesday, her bursts of laughter weren’t funny anymore. They were disturbing. Everything was disturbing. I stared out of the three-by-twelve window at the construction behind the building. It was something. I watched the inmates sweep and mop the floor through the window of the cell into 1A. It was something. I ignored the male inmates who stared at me from the other side of the unit, trying to show me their penises. I tried to meditate. Forget that. I couldn’t hold a thought for five seconds. I tried to pray and couldn’t get past, “Dear God.” I covered my ears as Williams rambled incessantly, thinking incomplete thoughts that had no direction. I kept my body as clean as I could, fixed my hair in the mirror and told myself, “Not bad for three days without a shower” and brushed my teeth as best I could at least three times a day with my fingernail and toothpaste. I used the strings that were unraveling from my bed sheet to floss. When a piece broke and got stuck between my teeth, I wanted to kill myself. I had to convince myself that it wasn’t a good enough reason just yet, to hang in there.
I wondered why I was still here. I had no idea specifically what landed me here, though, because my memory from the night that brought me here was still blank. I didn’t remember assaulting anyone. The guard, out of the kindness of his heart, let me make another call even though we’re only allowed to use the phone on Sunday. I called the only landline I knew and asked my friend to call people I thought might be able to help me, people I knew well enough to care and might have two hundred dollars. I specifically asked that my family not be called. They didn’t need a call saying their daughter was in jail. I could tell them that myself later. I knew plenty of people with two hundred bucks, surely. I waited the four, five, six and seven hours. Nothing. Another night. More bruises on my hips from the metal bunk beneath me and interrupted, fucked up dreams and sleep from shouting through vents. Keep it together. Try, try, try to keep it together. I should not still be here for 200 bucks. Try to keep it together.
Thursday morning the guard says, “Barrett, you’re going to your Disciplinary Hearing. I’m gonna help you, okay? Get ready.”
Williams throws all of her belongings into her sheet: four cartons of emptied orange drink (not juice, drink) filled with the food I wouldn’t eat, two spoons, her blanket, her deodorant and toilet tissue. She ties a knot in it. She places the satchel by the door and sits on it, waiting. She thinks she is going somewhere. She eyes my every move. Today is different. She is no longer rambling or bursting into random laughter. She has a look in her eyes that I am afraid of for the first time in four days. I ignore her stares. I sit on my top bunk and meditate, hoping for the best and expecting the worst. I do not want thirty days, like Williams has.
I have a feeling, a premonition that when I get back to my cell from that meeting, that my personal items will be gone. At this point, I am starting to get jail-wise. I tie the towel around my body into a knot over my chest. The rough fabric allows it to stay in one knot. I tuck my rag over that. I put my jumpsuit back on. I stuffed my toothpaste, deodorant and what little toilet tissue I have left into the breast pocket of my suit. The only thing that I don’t have on my person is my cup, my sheet and my blanket. I fold them neatly on top of my piece-of-shit mat and hide my cup between them. I consider stuffing the cup into my underwear but it won’t stay when I try to walk.
“Thank God I don’t have a penis,” I think.
When the guard comes to get me, Williams gets up and he tells her, “Not you.” She is pissed. I’m sure something will be gone when I get back.
The guard advises me on the way to the multipurpose room that I should be apologetic and nothing else. I thank him.
I am apologetic and nothing else. They find me guilty anyway, give me thirty days in segregation, or “lockdown,” which will expire on May 6. They tell me that even if someone bails me out, I will not be able to leave. I am escorted in shackles and cuffs back across the room to my cell. I blink back the tears because at this point, it doesn’t matter. Best to be nothing but a badass from here on out, because this is gonna be home for the next twenty-five days.
When I enter my cell, Williams is in the corner glaring at me and I know something is missing. And they are. My cup and blanket are gone. I am really, really getting sick of this place and this crazy bitch.
I’m going to interrupt my own story to tell another story here. Stay with me, if you’re still reading.
When I was twenty-two, I had a boyfriend who went to jail for public drunkenness, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. He drank GHB recreationally that night and had too much, too much to know what he was doing and if you know what GHB is, it’s the date rape drug. If you drink by the capful, it will give feelings of euphoria for about two hours, maybe three. Anything more than that and you will black out, or pass out. He did both that night out with his friends. He went to jail in Horry County. Because no one posted his bail before he made it to his Disciplinary Hearing, he was sentenced to thirty days.
Two weeks into his sentence, he was riding in the work van with six other workers for community service around Myrtle Beach. The van got into a wreck, and because none of the inmates were wearing seatbelts in the back they were badly injured. My boyfriend broke L-3 and fractured L-4 in his spine. He was released from prison early, providing his family with a sizable lawsuit against Horry County.
I thought of him a lot during my time in 1A.
“If he can do it, I can. He might be a guy, but dammit, my mother is as tough as nails and I have a redneck side that I will have to get back in touch with if shit gets bad in here,” I think.
I begin to form a strategy at this point. I look at Williams and ask, knowing that she is completely crazy, “Did you take my cup and my blanket?”
She shouts through an angry face, “I didn’t fucking touch your shit, bitch!!”
I walk over to the intercom and call the guards.
“Did one of the guards come into my cell and remove my blanket and my cup?”
“No,” they say.
“Then Williams took them. I’m going to attempt to nicely ask for them back. If you hear anything, come down here.”
I pick up her thick, green mat which was MUCH thicker than my skinny one and I throw it onto my bunk. I put my skinny one onto her bunk. I stuff my belongings from my pockets into my shoes and tucked them under my new, thick mat. She glares at me. I lay my sheet over the mat, climb onto my bunk and lie down on my stomach, crossing my arms and resting my chin.
“Why did you put my mat on your bunk?” she asks.
“Why did you put my blanket and my cup in your bag?”
“I DIDN’T TOUCH YOUR STUFF, BITCH!!!!”
She walks over to the intercom. She is so stupid, she doesn’t even know she has to push the button to talk into it.
“Officer, officer. Emergency. OFFICER,” she says.
She walks toward my bunk, reaches under my mat and pulls out my shoes. She throws them onto the floor. I sit straight up with my back against the wall. She spits in my face. Then she grabs my leg and tries to pull me off the top bunk. Excellent. My plan to get her to attack me worked. If I was going to have to spend thirty days in this hell hole, it wasn’t going to be in a cell with this crazy bitch. And if she hurts me, I might be going home. I brace myself.
She grabs my arm and pulls me off the top bunk, twisting my left foot under me and over the railing of the metal, snapping something. I cry out in pain. My head hits the steel table attached to the wall, and I feel a snap in my shoulder. My face hits the floor and I feel my chin jar and my TMJ sting with pain. She grabs my hair and pulls with all her might. I scream as the guards come in and pull her off me. They tell me to walk across the room into the empty cell but when I stand to walk my left leg collapses under me. I crawl into the cell. The cell has a nice, new, thick blue mat. I lie on it and cry in pain.
I am taken by wheelchair to Medical where they X-ray my foot and examine my contusions. Thank God I have a thick head of hair because she pulled two handfuls of it out of my head by the roots. Four hours later, I am back in my new cell, all alone, but without a blanket, soap, toothpaste or deodorant.
I cry some more. I thought I’d cried all I could those first three days, but the pain is unbelievable. I am sure she would have attacked me anyway, but it was definitely what I wanted in order to get me out of that cell. My injuries wouldn’t get me released, but at least I was rid of that psycho bitch for good.
I check the clock. 4:20. Shift change will come soon and I will ask the night guards who are always very helpful for the items I need. At least a bar of soap. I need to wash my underwear. I couldn’t wash them when I was in the cell with her because if I let them dry she might steal them. They were a focal point for those four days, because they were all I had that was mine.
The guard grants my request and brings me two of everything. I thank him profusely and proceed to clean my cell. If Williams taught me anything, it was to clean the stainless steel. I clean my bunk and make up my bed. I take a whore bath at the sink with the rag and soap, brush my teeth and run my fingers through my four day old hair. It could stand up on its own at this point. I finally wash my underwear. I sling them out as much as I can so they will dry quicker. I hang them to dry on the hook under the shelf attached to the wall.
As I begin to consider what to do with my belongings, I have a thought. What if, in the middle of the night, the guards bring someone into my cell like they brought me into Williams’s cell that first night? What if she tries to take my things? My God, Ashly. You’re thinking like a fucking inmate now. Well, you are one. Protect your stuff.
So, I line my things up beside me instead of on the shelf. I place my damp underwear between my dry towel so the towel will soak up some of the water and lay it under my mat. Someone will have to kill me to get my underwear.
Wishing I had a book to read or paper to write on and dismissing the depressing thought of having neither for the gazillionth time in four days, I climb into my bunk and consider that even the smallest change of familiarity was maddening. I had memorized all of the writing on the wall in my old cell. I didn’t even read it anymore over there. In my old cell, I had a window that looked out back and between the hours of twelve and three every day I could sit on the stool that was attached to the floor and get sun on my face. That was something. In my new cell, there isn’t any sunshine. Only a wall and a small patch of shaded grass out the window. The writing on the wall is new and I don’t like that. I am uncomfortable in this cell with my new surroundings, but happy for my thick new mat and the solitude. Yet, oddly enough, even having another body in the room was comforting at times.
I ask myself, lying on my back staring at the new writing on the ceiling, what would I write if I had paper? Well, I think now is a good time to start recalling events. This would, after all, make it into the book. So I begin to talk softly, out loud, as if I had a pen in my hand and paper. I stop myself at first, because talking out loud seems crazy. Then I rationalize that it really isn’t because when I write it’s usually stream-of-conscious. Therefore, talking out loud isn’t any different. If I do it softly, that is.
And that’s what I do. I start with brunch. Recalling everything with as much detail as I can, even though it would seem I’d want to forget it, I speak it as I’d write it. I even correct myself a few times. When I finish the entire story, I get a little sad because I’ve arrived at the present and have nowhere to go.
I get out of my bunk and walk toward the door to find out the time. 8:30. Best to stay in the present from now on, I think. It will be a long twenty-five days. Don’t think about the past, don’t think about the future. Stay in the moment from now on and time will pass much easier.
I climb back into my bunk, cover and hug myself, which is the only thing that feels good and think of Scott’s face and his warm smile and how much I wished we were lying together again, smiling at each other. God, I love him. Stay in the now, Ashly. He left you here. Hug yourself and get some sleep. It’s been a long four days. My head aches with pain, my foot doesn’t work and my shoulder is numb. From this point on, take it second-to-second. Minute–to-minute. It will be alright.
My intercom comes on.
“Barrett, pack your things. You’re getting released.”
I sit straight up in bed, tears filling my eyes. Nah. I didn’t hear that correctly. Every time I’ve thought I might be released, I was only disappointed. They are probably taking me back to Medical to find out the results of my X-rays.
The guard opens my door, wheelchair in hand.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear her correctly. Am I going to Medical?” I ask.
He smiles at me the warmest smile I’ve ever seen and says, “No, Ashly. You’re going home.”
At 4:20 I started my new life in my new cell. By the time I’d finished cleaning and telling myself my own story, it was exactly four hours later, which is the exact amount of time it takes for paperwork to process once bail is posted until the point of release. Isn’t life funny? My eyes couldn’t hold the tears anymore and I thank the guard all the way down the hallway. We came upon another familiar face. She looks at me, confused about the wheelchair and she says, “Are you alright?”
“Do you remember me?” I ask.
“Of course I do.”
She was the officer who held the Taser at me during my strip search.
I look at her and cry. “I’m sorry for being so uncooperative.”
“That’s okay,” she says, smiling.
The guard tells her I was attacked by my cellmate earlier that day. I look at her and say, “Karma is something. Whoever the officer was that I assaulted, he didn’t deserve to be assaulted. Tell him I’m sorry. That bitch kicked my ass today and I deserved it.”
She laughs. “Whatever you say. Good luck, sweetie.”
I didn’t know who bailed me out. I see the signature on the paper and recognize my mother’s name right away.
“My mom is gonna kick my 31-year-old ass,” I say. The guard laughs again.
“How am I being released if Disciplinary said I’d be here for twenty-five more days?” I asked him.
“Why are you asking?” he says.
I don’t know if anyone has ever sent a thank-you note to 1A. They should be getting theirs in the mail in a few days.
As I am changing out of my jumpsuit and back into my brunch dress, I take the only thing I had of my own out of the pocket, which were my underwear and I look at them. I toss them into the bin along with the jumpsuit and laugh.
When I lay in my bunk earlier that night, I thought, “I wonder who is gonna pick me up when I get out? I wonder if anyone knows they can visit me on Sunday? Will anyone visit me? Will they bring me paper? A book? Will they know what book I want?”
Of all the people I thought might pick me up upon release, I didn’t want it to be my mother, but I am glad it is. I have the best family in the world. I speak with them the next day regarding the incident. My father, who I thought would be the most disappointed, surprises me.
“You went through a lot, and I hope you learned from your mistakes. But I have a feeling you haven’t had enough yet.”
Time would tell him that. But the illusion of time would never again be the means to an end for me. The past and future do not define me. I am not what I’ve done, or will do. The first time this realization came to me, I was alone in my cell with only one thing. That moment.