THE REALITY OF A PRISON FIGHT & THE PETTY POLTICS OF PRISON LAUNDRY Part 2

Self-surrender at a federal prison is easy. You just show up. I was late though. I spent my first night in segregation. It meant nothing to me because I knew nothing about prison except for my 8 hours in MDC when I was first indicted. My cell in the SHU was like something from a TV show. It was a small cell behind bars with a single bunk, a toilet, a sink and wearing that awful color orange. The next day I was sent up the hill wearing green.

When I got to camp I was assigned to D dorm which is where all new inmates go. It was a large room with 12 bunk beds. Some of the people I met were Lisa who self-surrendered the day before like me but wasn’t late like me. She was rail thin, blonde and in her early sixties, from two towns over in Ct, was married with two adult children, and was there for white collar crime. She was like a lot of women there who never said what they did. Lisa always brushed her crime off as a misunderstanding, GG who had self-surrendered with Lisa, was white and from New Jersey who was there for a white collar crime, a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme; Shortie Small who was a black drug dealer from Long Island who was small at 4’6; and Beulah a West Indian mortgage broker. There were other women who were from various part of the country Long Island, New Jersey, Phillie, Virginia, Vermont. We were of various races black, white and Latino. Women moved out of D dorm as beds became available in rooms. Beds became available as women were released, went to the drug program or were sent to the SHU. A few weeks into my stay at Danbury a transfer bus came bringing in women from another facility. There all were black and from the Maryland- VA area.

One of the struck me with her strange hard to place accent, her name was Princess Waleska. She did have a last name it was Turnbear. She had lived between the Virgin Islands & Puerto Rico but her crime was committed in the Washington DC area. She was black, overweight, and I think college educated. She had a much longer sentence than anyone in D dorm and was there for a white collar crime. We had a lot in common we had very little support on the outside and had lost everything. Her crime was worth more than mine monetarily so she had lost a lot more than me. How much was her crime worth? She boasted of being on the cover of the New York Times and the Washington Post when she was arrested. When I was indicted I was on page 37 of the New York Post in an article that was smaller than the size of a metro card.

Princess lived the life. She had gone to this fancy exotic place and the other fancy exotic place. She boasted of her and her co-defendants flying first class to Paris to attend the opening of an haute couture store. For the amount of money they embezzled, they could have bought a private plane or at least rented one. Everything she had was seized by the feds including her house, her car, and lot of fancy, very, very expensive this, that and the other including a real zebra skin chair which she said cost over $40,000. I commented to her when she told me about the zebra skin chair that I though zebra’s were an endangered species. She laughed saying that’s why she was here because of bad karma from the zebra skin chair.

While still in D dorm I was given a job at grounds. The salary at grounds was 12 cents an hour. There was a bus that took us from camp to the CMS area where the grounds garage. CMS was camp maintenance service. The bus would take you down, the hill, around the FCI, to the CMS garages. There was the electric garage, who changed light bulbs and helped with wiring at the camp, construction who did a lot of painting, plumbing, the mechanics, where they helped maintain vehicles used at the facility as well as maintain the transfer bus that brought in new inmates, and grounds, where we helped maintain the facility as it was on 700 acres of federal land. We’d mow, weed wick, pull weeks by hand, trim hedges, go to Route 37 to pick up trash and do snow duty in the winter. Our c.o. at grounds was Norm Cutler. He was never going to win c.o. of the year award. You got to choose what you did and if you chose to do nothing, Mr. Cutler never said anything. Some days he wouldn’t even bother to show up for work.

Princess came to work at grounds. We went to work one day and her, me and a Shirley a Trinidadian from Brooklyn spent the morning dancing to some far off music. Because Shirley said that the best way to dance was to just shake your hip.

Shirley was the orderly at grounds. Princess liked going with the women who were mowers and mowing in the hot sun. I would go with the hedge trimmer and rake the hedge trimmings.

One day we went to grounds and the garage was closed. Mr. CutIer went on a vacation and a c.o. from down the hill came to cover him. Apparently Mr. Cutler and his grounds crew had a bad reputation. The c.o. said that everyone had to find something to do. If he found you at the grounds garage, you would get a shot. I went with Princess and mowed in front of the camp.

I was moved from D dorm to room 12. Shortie Smalls was my Bunkie. I was still friends with Princess Waleska, Lisa, and Cherry. We eat breakfast together a lot and sit together outside sometimes. Princess wasn’t the person that I thought she was. She seemed very content with her long sentence. Lisa and Cherry reinforced that. I couldn’t understand being content in being in prison for a long as she would. Cherry would be going home next year as I would. Lisa would leave the year after. Princess said that she thought about doing a 2255 motion but one of the legal books in the law library said that you could get another charge for lying in your motion. Why would you lie in a motion to the court? So then you tell the truth in your motion. When I asked her how she got caught, she always said that she didn’t know.

Prison is prison. We weren’t saints. We were all there for committing crimes. But when I first met Princess I thought that she was ok. She seemed nice. She’d laugh all time and be jolly. But when I really took the time to listen I could see who she really was. She told me a story about when she was first arrested and was put in solitary confinement in a DC prison. She said that one day an ant crawled across her cell. She said how could she kill that ant? It would like what the government is doing to her to kill that tiny ant. The next day I was sitting outside with her, Cherry, Lisa, and a new inmate from Connecticut named Pat, a white collar criminal. This insect was flying around. Princess quickly clapped her hands around it and killed it. She smiled because she was proud of killing that bug.

Shortie Smalls got sent down to the dorms downstairs. I got a new Bunkie she was the devil.

My new Bunkie didn’t even try to hide it. She ganged up with the other people in my room and wrote a cop out to Ms Perkins about me. I remember being outside one day and over heard someone I didn’t know saying, “They just don’t like her and are trying to get her thrown in the SHU.” I realized that this person who I didn’t know was talking about me.

I told Cherry, Lisa, and Princess about what was going on. I don’t think I could make anyone understand what I was going through. There was no escape in prison. There were 6 people in that room and five of them didn’t like me. In the evening I would sit on the steps outside my room until count time. I didn’t have a radio so I couldn’t watch TV. And that time until count time waiting in my room was unbearable. They talk at you and make fun of you or they’d be really nice to each other to emphasize that they were nice people. In prison you can be bullied into being friends with your enemies. I wasn’t going to be. Princess commented on my situation that I wanted pity for myself.

Shirley had been the orderly at grounds. She’d clean the small bathroom in the garage; wash the work gloves next door in the washing machine in plumbing. She encouraged me to take her position when she left in a few weeks. I did. From time to time I’d ride around with Pam who was the secretary at grounds and drove the van for grounds. I would ride all over the facility with her to the camp, to the FCI, to the Warden’s house and to c.o. housing. We’d take ice water to everyone as well collect and distribute equipment such as gas, lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, weed wackers and rakes.

Me & princess had a falling out. I asked her to leave me alone. One Friday I was riding around the facility with Pam. It was lunch time and she had to gather the mowers, the hedge trimmers, and the weed whackers from all the inmates who were working with grounds. We went to get Princess, she a weed whacker & a mower. Princess got into the van dripping with sweat. Pam asked me to put the equipment in the van so I did because it was my job.

Saturday at breakfast as Princess was leaving with Lisa, Princess comes up to my table and says, “Thank you so much.” I was tired of this leave me alone means leave me alone. I went to find Princess. It was a small facility; I knew where she would be. She would be by the steps of the medical office braiding Lisa’s hair before her husband and children came to visit. Lisa had never had a black woman do that to her before or any woman for that matter. Princess did it to her every Saturday.

I saw Princess and asked, “Can I talk to you outside?”

“I can’t talk right now I’m busy”

“I’ve asked you repeatedly to leave me alone or else I’ll complain to Ms. Perkins”

“Do you like to hit? Do you like to fight?”

I turned and walked away. I knew what she meant. I was not going to fight her. I was not going to lose my camp status and spent 30 days in the SHU and spent an extra 30 days in Danbury SHU because of her. I cared that much about myself. She didn’t.

Later on after dinner I’d seen her in the hall near my room. She was with Cherry and Lisa and was angry. I asked one of my roommates what happened. She said that someone told the co that Princess had taken food out of the dining hall and he caught her in the act. Princess always took food out of the cafeteria. But she thought that I told the c.o. I didn’t. Gossip spreads like wildfire in Danbury. I knew who it was. It was one of those troublemakers from down the hill who was looking to see a fight.

I knew what Princess very well and knew what she had that that she wasn’t supposed to have. She had a razor. I don’t know where she got it but she had one. If I was spiteful, I could have copped her out to the co, she would have been shaken down, sent to the SHU and lost her camp status. But I’m not like that.

Monday back at grounds and I sat at the next to last row on the bus. Princess sat behind me. Tuesday I sat in the last row of the bus so Princess wouldn’t sit behind me. I didn’t want to work at the same prison job as Princess anymore. I wanted a different prison job. I didn’t want to go to the kitchen there was too much drama there. The plumbing shop was next to ours and I knew that one of the women was going home in October. I asked Pam if she thought that I would get that job. She said, “No” because a lot of women had asked about it. There I sat in the back row of the bus. One day someone commented that I always sat in the back row of the bus. I just said I liked sitting there. The best thing about rain is that there was no work at grounds on rainy days and no dealing with Princess.

One day in September I got good news, no more sitting at the back of the bus as I had gotten a job at the UNICOR warehouse. No more bus. No more Princess. I was sent to A dorm. My new bunkie was going to the drug program the next week. The following week I had this small space to myself.

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