The guard led me to the main living quarters, where the other offenders were housed. I was taken to what would be my cell bedroom for three months to come. I was to share a cell with another girl, who made no attempts to befriend me.
A lady, who was one of the day workers, asked me to follow her. She had a slightly softer mannerism than the other personnel I had met so far.
She said, “I will show you what’s expected of you while you’re here. You will be issued a clean set of clothes in the morning. I will show you where you take your shower. We only allow two at a time in the shower.”
She led me into the restroom with two shower stalls and four toilets. Two girls were in the toilet stalls and I respectfully averted my eyes.
“If you need a shaver for your legs, you must shave while someone is watching, and then you give the razor to the guard in charge. The restroom stalls are only waist size and there are no doors. You have ten minutes for a shower. You must ask permission to use the toilet. In the morning, when it’s your turn, you’ll make the toast. Other times it will be your turn to iron the clothes. You’ll be shown how to iron correctly. If you don’t do it right the first time, you will be asked to redo it. You will help clear the tables and sweep the floors. You will also take turns cleaning the showers and toilets.”
Some of the girls were staring in my direction while others were whispering with heads down. I suppose they didn’t want their lips to be read. I had never seen such hard lines on such young girl’s faces. Their eyes held a look of pain, I had never seen before.
I saw the girl, Marie, standing with two of the toughest looking girls. She glanced up and smiled. I was accepted by her because I had helped her vent her swirl of frustration. I waved timidly. She said something to the other two and then walked toward me.
“Now what?” I thought. “Not in front of these other girls and the ladies supervising us. If only I had some of the shrinking stuff, Alice in Wonderland drank.”
Marie walked up and nonchalantly exclaimed. “The other girls aren’t going to hurt you. I got your back.” She sauntered off without further explanation.
Later I learned through the other girls, that all the new girls were initiated, by either being cut, or beat up. No choice on your part. I was grateful that I was being looked out for, but I was also being locked up for two more months for joining in with her. I guess one way I could look at it – at least I’m not getting beat up.
One particular girl, who I will call Anna, was so filled with rage; it oozed out of every pore. She had a pretty face but it was edged by her short dark hair. Her fierce eyes and a taut jaw, told her harsh tale.
One night she led a riot by refusing to go in her cell. She yelled for everyone to join in while she began pounding on the walls. Her wrists began to bleed and every tendon in her neck bulged. The lady guards and supervisors tried to drag her into her cell but she just stretched out her hands and feet across the doorway and leaned with face towards the floor. The other girls were following her lead, making it impossible for the guards to maintain control. They finally were able to drag Anna back into her cell and slam the door, but she continued to beat the walls, her inner-pain bleeding all over them. The next morning, I noticed Anna’s bandaged hands, but I could tell by what was leaking out through her eyes, that she didn’t have a bandaged heart.
The guards were red-faced and beads of sweat began to form on their upper lips. One of the guards had been calling for back-up over the intercom. A group of armed guards burst through the door with a loud bang, batons held high.
“Go back in your cells right now,” they ordered.
The girls realized they were out-numbered and over-powered, their leader; confined. One by one they began to slip into their cells. The guards walked down the row and turned the keys in the locks. I was already in my cell, watching through the window, silently, like the timid little uprooted prairie girl, I still was.
I lay in my cell with the scene repeating itself like a broken film. I pondered everything until the early morning. Why were these girls so hardened? Why did they have to scream to be heard? Why did they want to hurt themselves? I began to uncover much of their pained stories, over the next few months, in jagged bits and bleeding pieces. I never spoke. I just overheard.
I would try to find my rabbit hole at night as I crawled onto the cold cement floor under my bunk. The guards would come by and order me back on my cot. After they left I crawled back. The silent girl in the cot next to mine; scared me.
I learned how to iron, in steps, perfectly. I scraped many a piece of burnt toast. I scrubbed shower stalls, swabbed toilets and mopped floors. I went to “school” and learned to crochet a rug. I learned what broken meant.
One of the guards,was always snapping and growling at us. She didn’t want to be interrupted from her reading at night, so she refused to let us out to use the restroom. I learned from one of the girls, how to pee in a shoe box and set it next to the door, so it could leak out into the hall.