A Letter from Jail

Monday, November 26th, 2012
posted by admin

Squirrel is out of Jail and enjoying being home.   We didn’t get this letter in the mail until after we have already been hanging out with her, but here’s a letter from jail …

When I went before the magistrate to take my plea, he asked me the same question that I had watched him ask Ducky about two months before: whether anyone had pressured or threatened me to make a plea deal.

“No,” I said, “although I believe you mentioned to one of my friends a couple of months ago that you were ‘worried’ about what would happen to me if I didn’t plead guilty.”

“I don’t remember that.” he retorted.  I had spoken with a polite and casual tone, but the heavy implication of what I had said gradually sank in, and I watched him tense as it did.

“I hope you know,” he said, “that I am under no obligation to follow what’s laid out in this paper.”  He gestured toward the terms on the plea agreement – 20 days in jail, court costs, no fines – that the prosecutor, my attorney, and I had settled on.  It was true, he could sentence me any way he wanted after I had pleaded guilty.

“And I haven’t made my mind up yet.”  touché.  Now he took a turn at a pregnant statement.

It was obvious what he was getting at, that I’d better watch how I spoke to him, but what struck me was the apparent compulsion with which he moved to put me in my place.  I don’t really know anything about this man’s character, but he held a compassionate and fatherly tone for most of our interaction, calling me “baby” at one point and kindly correcting me when I signed in the wrong place.


I’ve enjoyed my pod a lot, but my best friend in here is someone with whom I only needed a moment on the opposite side of a locked cell door to connect with.  I’ll call her Lucy.  I had just been forced to hastily drag all of my belongings – and my roommates- out into the day-room to make room for Lucy.She was then locked in the cell amid a brewing commotion:  a few of the women were being loud about their anger and fear that someone with a contagious illness had been introduced to the pod.  I decided to give this new woman a slightly more convivial welcome and waved hello through the vertical slit of glass in the heavy metal door.  Immediately, the woman responded with a wave; alert,curious, and friendly:  She ducked forward and spoke to me in the spare inches between metal and concrete.

“So what’s going on right now?”


Lucy ended up in South Central after a police phone call from her husband, a counter-measure to her “acting up.”  I’m not naive enough to think that I can believe every woman’s story about why she’s in jail, but Lucy’s resonates with what I already know about human behavior and aligns with her personality.

During walks in tiny gyres in the rec. yard, and over dinner trays in Lucy’s private cell, she’s told me how the man she’s married to refuses her access to money, a cell phone, the car.  He has worked to sever her connections to family and friends other than his own.  And now Lucy has found that her marriage to a wealthy, socially powerful, and well-connected man has left her vastly more powerless than she was scraping by as a single mother running her own business.  Especially in here.  Among her husband’s terms for bailing her out is the demand that she enter the mental hospital of his choosing.  As her husband leverages this angle, Lucy joins a large company of “hysterics*” – women pronounced overemotional and irrational by the men who sought to control them.

Lucy knows why her husband is lashing out:  she has begun to rebel.  I imagine that in him, as perhaps in the magistrate who sentenced me, it is almost a reflex.  The situation is daunting; Lucy is finding herself set against a man who can call in favors with elevated friends, who can cry crocodile tears and who rubs shoulders with many of the judges and magistrates in Charleston.  And if he does bail her out, he will be able to send her back to jail at any time before her hearing.

She’s not sure what measures she’s willing to take to break free.


Two days ago most of the women in pod A6 were in the rec yard – which is a lot like a deep concrete box with a mesh top – in the rain.  As it sprinkled, most of the women huddled by the intercom, begging to come back into the jail.

I think that they had gotten the most sadistic C.O. on the other end, and that he was taking the opportunity to taunt them, but I’m not sure because I was busy running about in circles and blessing the droplets as they hit my forehead, my arms, my shoulders.  As the raindrops accelerated into a shower, they began to overwhelm the absorbent concrete and I started to see something I had never seen before, even though I go there everyday.  Goldish-tan lines took on a glow amid the darkening gray of the damp concrete.  At first I discovered just a few shapes and characters, but as I looked on the markings steadily scrawled themselves over every square foot of the concrete yard.  They gleamed like moonletters, casting off their enchantment with silent grace.

Then I realized that I was likely standing amid years worth of identities, passions, and expressions of people who had been just where I was.  And I marveled.


This morning, Lucy made a choice that I didn’t think she would make, and told her husband that he was not to bail her out.  A few hours later, we were separated.  When they came to take me away, Lucy wasn’t in the pod; I had just enough time to leave a hastily scribbled letter with the book I had lent her.

I guess I’ll just have to trust that, in some way, she’ll continue to fight.


hysteria (n)- 1801, coined in medical Latin as an abstract noun from hysteric (see hysterical).

hysterical (adj.) – 1610s, from L. hystericus “of the womb,” from Gk. hysterikos “of the womb, suffering in the womb,” from hystera “womb” . Originally defined as a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus. Meaning “very funny” (by 1939) is from the notion of uncontrollable fits of laughter.  Related: Hysterically.



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