Taking a seat in the uncomfortable plastic chair, I wrapped my arms around myself in an effort to keep the frigid wind at bay. The blond who waited at my side was unnerving with her chipper attitude, as if this was the moment she had waited for all of her life. Looking back, maybe it was because it would turn out to be mine.
She looked to be a few years older than me but her face betrayed many hard years and she carried nothing but a paperback Bible. Her friendliness allowed a glimmer of hope that maybe all of the women would be this nice. At this point, my naivety had no limitations.
My mind was racing but at the same time, in complete and utter denial of what was about to happen. How had I gotten here? My adult life had been littered with drugs, liquor, men and crimes but had never been forced to be held accountable for my multitude of bad decisions. Seven and a half months stretched before me like a life sentence.
After sitting in the cold morning air for at least half an hour, the unfriendly female guard made her way to us. There were no pleasantries exchanged, we were barked at to follow her back to the drab white building that sat directly inside the gate. Perky Blondie acted eager to get this process going whereas my feet felt as if concrete had been poured into my veins.
This is it. You know what comes next. You will be fine. Don’t fucking CRY!
The ladies working in the front of the compound stopped raking leaves and watched us go. Later, I would take place in the same ritual that was now making me feel wholly uncomfortable. I knew this wasn’t a maximum security compound; I did not have to worry about being beaten or raped. But their smirks and laughter made my skin crawl nonetheless.
Upon entering the Receiving and Discharge building, I was greeted with the site of four women in orange jumpsuits, shackled in hand cuffs and leg irons. The three guards, two female and one male, were yelling at them as they lined the women up facing the wall. The fear that I had tried to push away broke through all of my defenses.
Holy shit. What in the hell did they do???
Quickly, I was ushered into the holding cell, which was already inhabited by two other women: an elderly black grandmother and a woman near my age, K, whose sense of self helped to put me at ease. Looking around the cell, there were only two long brick benches and a communal toilet.
Damn. Why do I suddenly have to pee?
Once we all began talking, my blood pressure slowly inched back down to a reasonable level. All three of the women were turning themselves in too and facing various sentences. K was the “luckiest” with only six months to do, Grandma was next with a solid year and then Perky Blondie was there for seven years.
Seven. Years. The LAST thing I need to do is cry about seven months.
An hour passed quickly as we all shared uneasy conversation, not wanting to reveal too much but trying to make some sort of human connection in such an inhumane environment. Then, the moment I had dreaded more than any other was here. My stomach started to betray me as the female guard unlocked the holding cell.
“Let’s go ladies, time for your strip search.”