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Posts Tagged ‘isolation’

Jodi Arias is all over the news. You can’t escape her. Finally after over seven years, she has been sentenced to life without parole. Because I lived there for seven years, everyone is asking me what it’s like there. So here’s a snapshot.

She has already been driven out to Perryville Prison in Goodyear, AZ. On the trip, she was escorted by ADC officers who belly chained, handcuffed and shackled her. Scratching her nose would require a yoga pose. The white van with no markings looks normal from the outside; inside all the windows are covered with heavy black wire mesh and the front and rear seats are divided by a bullet proof plexiglass window. It’s a lonely, isolated ride. If you passed it, you’d never notice it.

Upon arrival at the prison, she will go through a process called R & A. Stands for Reception & Assessment. Sounds like a hotel, doesn’t it? It’s Not. She will be in a cell alone. She will be weighed, measured and photographed. She will see the staff doctor for medical questions and a pap smear. She will see a clinician who will ask her questions about her mental state. She might see the dentist. She will be given an AIMES test to measure her knowledge of language skills, reading comprehension, and math.  She will be issued her orange uniforms of t-shirts, pants, baseball cap, bras, and panties, all used.

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She now has prison number #281129 that will follow her for LIFE. She has an inmate data page  that you can visit on the department of corrections website. https://corrections.az.gov/public-resources/inmate-datasearch.

Here is her ADC picture that will also follow her for Life.

Her cell is 6 ft by 11 ft. The walls are cream cinderblock and the steel is battleship grey, all hard corners and angles. The mattress is thin, lumpy plastic. The pillow is big and very, very, very firm. There is no softness anywhere.

She will be locked down 23 hours a day. On days that she is allowed to shower, she will be escorted. Her recreation will be in a chain link wire cage. She will be alone.

If she behaves and follows the rules, eventually these conditions will change, very, very slowly. Progress in prison is sluggish. She has entered her own living hell, knowing she will never leave that prison.

When I entered Perryville, I knew I’d eventually get out. It gave me a spark of hope, hope that is priceless to every inmate and every human being. Jodi will have no spark. She does have family who will visit her, but the visits will be non-contact visits; no hugging allowed. No human touch.

Everyone has an opinion about her sentence. Sort of like the baby bear’s porridge: too hard, too soft, just right. As a former inmate, I think death is the easy, peaceful way out. Inmates have a saying, “The worst day of freedom is better than the best day in prison.” Jodi will never have the best and worst days of freedom; nor will Travis. Both of their lives ended seven years ago.  All the families have suffered and will continue to experience the pain of this terrible loss. Now is the time to leave them all alone. Curiosity should die here.

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Pale Pink Ribbon 2It’s October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The world of pink –  ribbons, t-shirts, give aways and things to buy. We race for the cure. We stand up to cancer. We support our loved ones battling or surviving the disease. We hear stories of women who have taken the journey, but there is one population we never mention, women with breast cancer behind bars.

Can you imagine the feel of shackles on your ankles? Hard, cold steel that does just what it’s supposed to do. It cuts into your ankles and restricts your movements to baby steps. Even when you are very careful, you wind up with blisters or ankles rubbed raw. And the weight alone drags you down.

Now imagine handcuffs. They too are designed to restrict but they can chaff and cut, especially if the guard who cuffs you is having a bad day. His bad day becomes yours, but your blisters are yours alone.

It’s two o’clock in the morning and the halls of the jail are bustling with guards dragging chains while inmates stand restlessly against the cinderblock walls. Dirty cream walls, faded black and white stripes, clanging, clashing cuffs and shackles. All that plus the commotion of fifty female inmates and ten khaki clad jail guards prepping us for the trip to court.

I’m not going to court; I’m going the the hospital to have my breast cut off. It’s time. I’ve had the poison. Now it’s the slashing. Then it’s the burning. Poison, slash, burn. That’s what they call chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation. Poison, slash, burn.

I’ve been cuffed and shackled since two AM. I’m exhausted and freezing. The old morgue where they keep us for several hours is like an ice rink. Despite the cold, there are those tiny little roaches everywhere. They add to the despair.

Finally, when everyone else has been called to court and I am alone with my fears, I hear my name, “ALLEN. MOVE IT OUT! Followed by armed guards, I shuffle out to the jail van, jangling as I shuffle. The backs of those vans are cages, not designed for safety. There is a metal bench, but no seat belts, so I lurch each time we turn a corner. I cannot balance myself because of the cuffs and shackles and sometimes I crash to the floor. I’m bruised and shaken to my core.

Finally we arrive at the hospital. I shuffle into another holding cell and wait several more hours, still alone and very afraid. I’m crushed with a feeling of shame that I’m now much less than human. Four hours later I’m escorted to the OR. There the cuffs are removed, a gown is thrown at me and eventually I’m lead to the operating table.  Still shackled, I climb upon the table and they begin the very painful search for my very small veins. At last, as I begin to go under, the shackles come off. The guards will stay in the corner to watch as my breast comes off.

Five hours later I wake up in the jail ward, bandaged and sore but alive and still alone. On this particular journey, no one touches me except the surgeons with their knives and the nurses with their needles. I ask for a pastor or a priest, someone to pray with me, but no one comes.

When I finally return to the jail, the women surround me with love. At the darkest time in my life, the drug addicts, the prostitutes and the thieves looked after me and I will NEVER FORGET THEM. It is nineteen days before the medical department sees me to clean up my incision, take out the stitches and see if I’m healing.

This is the way all women experience breast cancer in prison. There is no comfort or solace. They go alone, they suffer alone, they return to their prison alone. Some might think that they deserve it, but I don’t think anyone deserves that kind of horrific treatment. It is devastating and demeaning to all of us as human beings.

It’s a dreadful journey inside or out, but there are many ways to take it. It’s one thing for Robin Roberts, Christina Applegate, Cynthia Nixon or Sheryl Crow to face cancer. They have the very best doctors, loving family and friends to surround them, and the entire world to care. They are deemed heroes by the press.

I wonder how they would handle the isolation and the incredibly hostile indifference that inmates face.  The lack of information, attention and care. I’m lucky. I have been both a patient with cancer and an inmate with cancer. There is a world of difference. I was diagnosed before I went inside. I’d already had six sessions of chemo. I went inside with a bald head, my medical records and a high profile identity. I think that’s the reason I got treatment. Gina, my young cellmate, didn’t have that advantage and she died a painful death, not of breast cancer but of myeloid leukemia. There are many, many others who have died of cancer and medical neglect. They fought so bravely though pain, fear, neglect, hostility, exhaustion and isolation.

Ask yourself how you would handle this kind of journey? These women are mothers, wives, and daughters, many in prison for addiction or low level drug crimes.When they should be healing, they are worn out fighting for treatment, constantly reminded that nobody cares, nobody cares, nobody cares.

In 2013, 296,980 American women were diagnosed with breast cancer and nearly 40,000 died of it. Everyone who battles this disease is a hero. It is harder than you can ever imagine. I am free now and miraculously still alive, but there are thousands I’ve left behind in jails and prisons all over the world, alone and afraid with their cancer.

Everyone deserves a prayer, but please send a special one to all those invisible women who face this journey alone. No one should be alone with cancer.

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