Friday, August 31, 2012

The Aftermath of Absurdity

By Christi Buchanan

It’s Friday and we just came off lock.  I’ve had a flaming headache all week.  Monday after work my roommate, Sharon turned on the little fans to block out the noise from the dayroom and I was in bed before dinner.  Somewhere around eleven an officer woke me up yelling about getting dressed.  I sleep in sweats and a T-Shirt so I was royally confused, but I climbed down off the top bunk with Sharon’s help and slid my feet into my slippers.  Then we just waited.  Eventually the officer came back, took one look at us and hollered, “Didn’t I tell you to get dressed?”  She punctuated this by slamming the door.  So I struggled into my tennis shoes and continued waiting for further instructions.  On her third trip to our cell I heard the officer ask Sharon, “What the hell is wrong with her?”  In response I cracked an eyelid at her.  She yelled at us to get our hats and coats but didn’t slam the door.

It was nearly midnight when she returned for a fourth and final time.  She pulled us out of our cells, cuffed us behind our backs, and lined us up along the wall with the other eight women from the lower left.  We were single file at the wing door…in coats and hats…at midnight.  What the hell?

Everybody was looking at each other with constipated expressions.  I was clinging to the vertical by my fingernails.  Out of nowhere, Lt. Mann popped up, pacing back and forth in front of us with this bizarre, rectangular, sharky grin on her pinched little face.  In a low, gravelly voice she addressed the line

“Ladies, you are on lockdown.”


“You will be escorted outside and stripped.”

Shot? Did she say shot?

“At that time my officers will be tossing your cells. Do you understand?

What?! No – Wait!

After dismissing us with a flap of her shark fin, she did an about-face right into a bathroom stall.  Of course, I laughed.  My head hurt and this was just absurd.  Thankfully, my laughter helped the lieutenant realize my cuffs weren’t secured properly because she came over and graciously tightened them up.

Looking across the dayroom I could see concerned faces in the cell-door windows.  We could only shrug in response to their questions.  They were waving frantically at us and I was struck again by how absurd all this was.  Normally our shakedowns last five days start to finish.  At some point a mob of popo come in, tear up everything in sight and leave as quickly as they arrived.  We don’t come out of our cells for anything but said destruction.  Nor do we get stripped (or shot) outside.

At this point I was still relatively calm though.  I couldn’t see very well because of the migraine and some part of me believed this to be a pain-induced weird dream.  Then the cold December’s midnight air hits me slam in the face and I couldn’t close my eyes no matter how hard I tried.

We exited the building lined up between two rookies who actually argued over where to take us.  People started questioning the legality of this.

“You can’t strip us outside in the yard!”

“I am not getting butterball naked outside!”

“I’m calling my lawyer.”

“I’m calling Nancy Grace!”

The banter seemed to alarm the corrections officers, who then banded together and dragged us off into the night.  I said, in what I thought was a stage whisper, “They’re taking us out back to shoot us!”  Thinking I was deliberately yelling, Erin laughed – a nervous sound that skittered through the darkness like a verbal tumbleweed.

As we traipsed along I kept telling myself these were decent people who were just doing their jobs and who wouldn’t plant drugs in my drawers.  I had to repeat it like a mantra though, because this had, in fact, actually happened to me at the commencement of my sentence.  True story.  Another time. Maybe.

We got to the gym, of all places, and were dumped in a big ugly, drafty room full of you guessed it – more rookies.  We each fell into a sectioned off area and got to strippin’.  Lt. Mann showed up and started layin’ out the rookies because she “did not approve the configuration of this room!”  Everything came to a screeching halt because of all the screaming.  That woman is mean.

War waged on between all those uniforms for a good five minutes (which felt like an hour because I was nude and in serious need of a couple Excedrin).  Finally the lieutenant stormed out taking all the air in the room with her.  The rookies consoled each other while I struggled back in my clothes, stopping periodically to take deep breaths because the nausea from my headache was so bad.

The walk back was tense as hell but uneventful.  We were all wondering what we were going to find in our cells.  A swarm of five – oh had been running amok in there.  I could see faces in the windows overlooking the yard, fingers wagging ‘welcome back’!  We just jiggled our jewelry at them and entered the building.  I was fourth in a line of ten.  As the people in front of me strolled into the wing I heard an officer say everyone could go in except 102.  Shit!  I knew it.  They planted something in my stuff and now I was gonna pay.

“Why not 102”, I gurgled through the nausea.

“Where’s your roommate?” He asked.

I didn’t see her anywhere, and unsure of what she was up to I did not want to answer the man.  He growled the question at me again so I said the dumbest thing I could think of.

“Around here somewhere.”

He grabbed my handcuffs and roughly steered me to my door where he promptly smashed them down even tighter.  He checked and rechecked every pocket of his multi-pocketed uniform for the cuff key.

“Thanks,” I grimaced brightly when he finally took them off.

Then I turned and faced the national disaster area formerly known as my room.  The door literally hit me in the butt when he shut it.  I was stunned by what I saw in front of me.  I couldn’t move.  Sharon was sitting on her bunk (the metal shelf that holds the “mattress”) staring at it, too.  Everything we owned, everything, was in a Mount Trashmore sort of pile in the middle of the room.  The mattresses were folded on the beds, the trunks were emptied and upended, and the desks were void of their contents as well.

I have never, in all my years, seen anything like it.  Most corrections officers will plow through your stuff trying to get it over with.  They don’t want the hassle any more than we do.  But at least they would leave stuff where it was (or close to it) even if it is tore up.  Typically, you’ll find your clothes on the bed and books stacked haphazardly.  But this…this was a crime scene.

Sharon made my bunk for me so I could comfortably pass out.

When I got up hours later, everything was back where it belonged as if nothing happened.  The effect was so startling I suffered a moment or two of complete disorientation.  Sharon and I are both lifers and we have a lot of stuff.  But she had put it all up.  I cried again, of course.  She told me it was Tuesday evening.  Day 2 of the lockdown.  We’re the honor wing so they usually hit us last because they never find anything good.  But according to “,” Lt. Mann was drunk with self-imposed power.  She made some bizarre decisions because of it, too.  I was glad she decided to lead off with our wing.  It was over and I intended to sleep off the headache and the reminder of lockdown.

Christi Buchanan 1003054
Fluvanna Correctional Center 1A
Box 1000
Troy, VA 22974

1 comment:

feministe said...

Christi, I just wanted to know that I've been appreciating your entries, even though I forgot to comment on the last one. They are a worthy addition to the site. It's especially welcome to hear a female prisoner's perspective (I suppose that is a predictable comment from someone with screenname "feministe" :), because I think so often our society pictures prisons and prisoners as exclusively male. With that said, what stood out to me about your story today is how similar it is to stories I've read from male prisoners about how officers have conducted cell searches without regard for inmates' property or basic human consideration (like not tightening cuffs too tightly). It's a reminder that whatever outdated notions society may still harbor about the "gentler sex," female guards supervising female prisoners can act identically to their male counterparts.