Remember, as far as anyone knows, we are a nice, normal family.
As you all know, I have become a humongaloid (that is a new word I just made up. You like?) fan of Netflix’s Emmy-nominated series “Orange is the New Black”. I have become one of those annoying people that constantly asks people “Have you seen Orange is the New Black?!” and then talks about it at great length, sometimes spoiling it for people like a proper douchebag. At first, when I began watching it, the first few episodes made me feel extremely “icky”, what with having gone through that experience before. It was an extremely guilty pleasure, though, so like most guilty pleasures, it’s not long before you end up giving in to it.
So how close is “Orange is the New Black” to how prison life really is, you might ask? Pretty darn close. There are a few discrepancies and questions I have. First, the girls in OitNB are in a Federal prison, and the common conception amongst us lil’ ol’ State prisoners was that Federal prisoners were “treated better” because the prisons are funded by the Federal government, not the state. I don’t know this for sure, but if the series accurately portrays what Federal prisons look like and how the prisoners are treated, I can honestly say that I saw little difference. The conditions were horrid (like ours), the guards were mean (like ours), and medical was a joke. I twice suffered gall bladder attacks during my stay.
The first time I suffered an attack, I was at a prison near Galveston where I was sent after I was sentenced so that my housing could be determined and so I could be tested for every possible disease you can think of. While I was waiting with about twenty other girls to have some medical tests ran, my stomach suddenly began cramping so painfully, I became viciously nauseated to the point that I could no longer sit. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Another inmate offered me a puff of her inhaler. I started walking around, and the guard in charge of monitoring us came inside the room we were all in and ordered me to sit down. I told her what was wrong, but she didn’t care. She again ordered me to sit down. Once I was called to get my weight checked, I waited my turn, barely able to stand. Finally, when it came my turn, the nurse asked (annoyed) what was wrong with me and I told her. She had me lie down on a stretcher until I was called into another office to see a doctor. The nurse checked my vitals and could see that my blood pressure was a bit high, but that nothing else was wrong. The doctor quickly looked at the results and told me that it was most likely indigestion, sending me away. I was made to sit in another room, separate from the other new inmates that were getting tested, for HOURS with a little bed pan just in case I vomited. All of the other girls got tested except for me, so I was left wondering if my stay at that horrible prison would be prolonged because I had missed some of my tests. My stomach cramped for most of the day after that, and I had no idea what was going on. The second time it happened, I was in one of my “classes” in my dorm that I had been assigned to at Dawson State Jail in Dallas. Again, my stomach suddenly started cramping so violently that I felt faint and severely nauseated. I excused myself from my group and went to the restroom. Nothing happened, other than my breaking into a cold sweat and turning almost completely white. My friends came to check on me, and told the guard to call Medical. By the time the Medical staff had gotten up to our dorm, I had to be helped out of the dorm, and while waiting for the elevator, I sunk to the ground in pain because I could no longer stand. I saw a doctor through a little TV screen who recommended I see another doctor during the week (this happened on a Sunday) and prescribed me something like Pepto Bismol. I was sent back to the dorm. Later that night, I vomited, and due to my friends’ overwhelming concern over how I looked, raised alarm to the guard once again to contact Medical. I was then seen by a doctor who was incredibly annoyed with the fact that I had been brought to him; he even accused me of “faking” my symptoms. He diagnosed me with a stomach virus and sent me back to my dorm. Thanks to my friends, I got through a hellish week of pain, diarreah, and vomiting…along with no appetite and not being able to get out of my bunk. I learned about my extremely infected gall bladder and the fact that I had a gallstone stuck in my bile duct four months after I was released from prison. Dawson was shut down in August 2013. So many hellish stories came out of that place – one being that a woman actually gave birth in a toilet after the guards’ refusal to acknowledge that she was in labor. See story here: Baby Born in Toilet at Dawson State Jail
So, anyway…a lot of the things you see depicted in OitNB are very realistic. One thing that bothers me about Piper is that she seems to accept the fact that she has turned into an even worse person than she was before she went to prison…like she’s a better person for having become a selfish, narcissistic user. When you’re in jail, a lot of girls are proud of the fact that they have been “down” (been to prison) before, and like knowing that they “know the system” and what to expect so they have an advantage over those that don’t. They also like to think that they have special relationships with the guards. It always boggled my mind. “Why would you be proud of this…?” I would wonder to myself. It made me sad for them…like if that was the only thing that they could truly be proud of accomplishing, they must have had some really serious issues. I also learned that women in prison have a difficult time trusting and actually having relationships with other women. Most of these women came from backgrounds in which the only women they knew in their personal lives had stabbed them in the back at some point…so why even try? I tried to help some girls understand that NOT all women are like that. I was quickly pegged as the intelligent girl, and a lot of girls came to me for help with legal matters (much like in Piper’s case). They would need help writing their judges to ask for time off of their sentences…and I was glad to oblige. No one inmate ever treated me with hate or contempt like in Piper’s case. They either ignored me completely, or slowly began talking to me and became an acquaintance or a friend. My friends were worried that if I ever did get into an instance in which I would have to defend myself physically that I wouldn’t be able to, so one day, they decided to “teach” me how to fight. My bunkie, a 5″9, very strong Mexican girl named Melissa who I came to love dearly decided to be the antagonist. She tried showing me what would happen if a girl would try to fight me, and asked me to try and fight her back. Of course, being the privileged little white girl that I am, I looked like a complete idiot. They all had a good laugh at my expense (in a loving way, of course), and then, my friend, Vanessa told Melissa to actually get behind me and basically show me her moves through my arms. Once I felt like I got it, she got back in position. When it was go-time, I launched a full-on attack of all of my strength and aggression on her, taking her completely by surprise, then jumped on her like a spider monkey and brought her down to the ground. My friends laughed so hard that they almost fell off of their bunks and onto the floor.
“THAT is what I’m talking about!” Melissa told me, once we got up. Then she shoved me and said, “But you punched my boob!!!” They all realized that day that even though I was small and mousy, I did have some fight in me. Of course, I never used it (never had to), but it does make for a funny story. 😝
Later that night after lights out, I drew Vanessa a comic of what had happened and I heard her laugh all the way across the dorm.
My husband and sister would get angry when they would call me and hear me joking with my friends or telling funny stories about what would happen in the dorm. They thought I wasn’t taking my time seriously, that I should be suffering miserably all day, every day (well, that was more my sister than my husband). I just couldn’t do my time that way. I learned to separate the outside world from the tiny bubble of a world that I was forced to become accustomed to in jail. I did have fun with my friends. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t taking my time seriously. I mean, my sister refuses to even read this blog. She doesn’t think I should be sharing this story with people. I will make it perfectly clear once again – I will NEVER break the law again and I will NEVER go to prison again. I am a very social person, however, and it was impossible for me not to make friends – even in that environment. I made friends with people that I never would have made friends with or otherwise talked to on the outside. I never would have had the chance to get to know some really great people had I wallowed in a depressing funk the entire eight months that I was in that hellhole. Hell, my absolute best friend that I will forever be connected to is a girl with a tattoo on her face. I learned that it’s not about what’s on the outside – it’s what’s on the inside that counts (everyone in unison: “Awwwww”). Kelsey was concerned about me remaining friends with some of the girls that I met there. He’s worried that they might fall back into a bad life again and take me with them. However, he’s got to realize that I’m stronger than that. Yes, I’ll admit that some girls I befriended have already gone back to their old lives and even gone back to jail…but that doesn’t mean that I’ll fall back into that life. Thanks to him and the amazing support system I have, I realize what an amazing life I have and how freedom is severely underrated until it’s taken from you.
My desire to start this blog was not meant to inspire, but if it happens, that’s great! While talking to one of my friends today, she told me that I was “not a terrible person and that I can now serve as an example for everyone else”. I thanked her. She replied (hilariously and honestly, the way I like it), “Oh, I didn’t mean it in a nice way at all. 😀 I meant it as a “fuck, Lisa went to prison for something stupid – guess that means I should be more careful when I do stupid shit” type of example. Kinda like the kid with the broken arm serves as an example to the rest of the kids that jumping off the top of the monkey bars is a bad idea.”
Well said, friend. Well said.
Remember, as far as anyone knows, we are a nice, normal family.
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