Solitary Confinement

by Cindy L. Marvin

Courtesy of Allen Forrest

Art credit: Allen Forrest

 

I was lying on a green, plastic covered mattress that made crunchy noises when I moved around. Tan polyester netting was exposed in many areas. When I moved around, flakes of green plastic stuck to my sweaty body and wounds. It smelled like mildew, Jheri Curl hair products, and sweat. I had tried putting my orange jumpsuit down on the mattress and lying on it, but the uniform’s material was stiff and scratchy. It irritated my skin worse than the plastic bed.

To occupy myself, I repeatedly touched an area behind my right ear. It felt wet. A section of my hair was missing. The bald area was no bigger than a quarter and was not bleeding. When I looked at my finger, I saw clear fluid. There was no mirror in my cell, so there was no way for me to look at the injury. I could not look at the wounds on my face either, but I could feel that my eyes, lips, nose, and cheeks were swollen.

Because there was no one to talk to, I lay on my bed and examined my injuries. I counted twenty-seven bruises and three cuts on my arms, legs, and torso. My white body was a canvas of red, black, and purple splatter. I had an interesting bruise on my hipbone that resembled a child’s purple crayon drawing of a butterfly. I searched for other shapes like children look for animals in cloud puffs. With the exception of the butterfly, all my contusions looked like blobs and sponges. I twisted my sore body around on the brittle mattress attempting to find a comfortable position. I closed my eyes. Immediately, the memory of fists, feet, concrete floor, billy clubs, and mace flashed bright and sharp. My eyes sprang open. I flipped over my thin plastic pillow and lay back, eyes open. Eventually, I fell asleep.

I woke up when I heard keys jangling. The sound was exaggerated by the long empty corridor. I tried to speak to the guard who slid my dinner tray under the door. She popped gum and ignored me. I wanted to know what time it was. My meals all arrived cold, so they could be feeding me at any time. The food, served on tan compartmentalized trays, was distinctly breakfast, lunch, or dinner. That was my clock. After dinner, I put an “X” on my homemade calendar to mark off a day.

The lights in solitary were on all the time. I was always locked in my cell except once daily when I was taken out to shower and sometimes exercise in a small outdoor pen. Officers became impatient if I showered too long or stood outside in the cage more than ten minutes. The only thing I had to read was a Bible. It was smaller than my hand, white, and the binding broke, loosening several pages, the first time I opened it. The only other inmate in solitary was in the cell directly across the hall from me. She was an insane woman who screamed and moaned incessantly. Often, it sounded like someone was torturing her. I complained to the guards that she should be in a mental ward.

The second week in solitary confinement, the hours between meals and my shower existed on a clock with a run-down battery. Off and on, I picked up the Bible and tried to read it. Everything I read was scary, confusing. I regularly checked the wound on my head. It was drying up. I only wore panties because of the heat. I spent a great deal of time staring at my limbs and torso. My bruises were fading. The butterfly was dying a putrid greenish yellow death. Many times, I sat staring at my yellow legal pad. I would draw pages full of two dimensional boxes. Most often, I simply lay on my bed, sweating on plastic, staring at nothing.

The walls were made of cinder block that had been repainted so often the bricks’ texture was almost smooth. Previous residents wrote their names, cuss word, and drew pictures on the wall. An inmate wrote, “Burn TPW (Tennessee Prison for Women)” then drew a smiley faced sunshine above her words. Another prisoner wrote “gards is hos.” I scanned the room for misspellings. I read, “dam, hellow, wite, pusy.” To counterbalance, someone wrote, “Culpability,” in beautiful cursive. The letters were two inch high and drawn in thick and dark.

The end of the second week, I watched them take the crazy lady away. I stood at my door and stared out the little window. She was a surprisingly small woman in her late thirties. Her hair was dark and matted, but her features were striking. She had what I called gypsy eyes, light color with dark lashes and brows. Her lips were red, and I knew she was not wearing any make-up. They shackled her, running chain around her waist. Her wrists and ankles looked miniaturized confined in steel. She spit in one of the guard’s faces then started yelling some crazy gibberish, or possibly it was a language totally unfamiliar to me. Four female guards pushed her face down on the concrete hallway floor. Two of them sat on her. I walked away from the window. The crazy lady yelled as they dragged her down the hallway. When I heard the entrance gate to solitary confinement close, I looked out my window. There was red blood on the grey concrete floor where they had slammed her head down. The blood formed a perfect moon shape.

Without the crazy lady screaming and moaning, the only sound was a strange popping and gurgling of the plumbing pipes.

My third week in isolation, I crossed off my nineteenth birthday on my homemade calendar. In spite of extreme exhaustion, I could not sleep. Many dinner trays had come and gone since I had slept. I paced constantly even though I was sweating from heat and humidity. It was July, hot and humid. There was no air-conditioning, no fan. The sink water tasted like iron and smelled like sulfur. I could not drink it. I used it to wet down my body and my hair. Often, I wet my towel and put it around my neck.

For lunch, an officer slid a tray with a fingerprinted bologna sandwich oozing clear mayonnaise out the side, runny applesauce, corn chips, and a carton of what I knew was warm milk under my door. I pushed the tray back into the hall untouched and sat on my bed with my head and shoulders slunk forward. At some point, I looked at the wall to my left. I stared at my shadow on the beige cinderblock. Eventually, I leaned back. My shadow did not follow me. I jerked up and whipped around facing the floor. My breaths came rapid and shallow. I put my head between my legs. I saw my shadow on the concrete floor. It transformed from gray to purple. I squeezed my eyes shut then opened them. The shadow changed. It came to life like an oversized amoeba. I jumped to a standing position on the bed. I heard radio static.

“Is a guard coming down the corridor with a radio? I don’t hear any keys.” I listened intently. I heard arguing voices intermixed with the static. I put my hands over my face and rubbed.

“I’m losing my mind,” I thought.

The noises and moving shadows continued for hours. I leaped from my bed to the floor to standing on the rim of the toilet. When a guard brought my dinner tray, I told her I thought I was going crazy. She asked me if I wanted to kill myself. I said no, but… She left me alone. When I looked at the graffiti on the cinderblock all around me the lines loosened from the walls and danced. When I closed my eyes, I saw red headed beasts with white eyes. I prayed to my grandmother’s God to please help me.

That night, two guards took me out of my cell for a shower. I saw thick dark facial hair on both women. I feared to ask them for help. At the shower, I refused to step into the metal stall. When they attempted to lock me back in my cell, I starting screaming hysterically flailing my arms. At the same time, their walkie-talkies went off, and a prison alarm sounded. They forced me into the cell, locked me in, and quickly headed out of solitary. I kicked at the door and even banged my head on it. Then I crumpled to the floor crying.

Sometime later, I heard screaming, cussing, and keys coming closer and closer. I stood on my bed. I heard the cell next to me being opened and then locked. Then I heard the clang of solitary’s entrance gate.

Several minutes later, someone said, “Blondie. What cell are you in? I saw them bring you back here.”

I jumped off my bed and put my face to the three inch opening at the bottom of the door.

“I’m here, next door.”

My neighbor told me her name was Hawk.

“I heard you got a code red at minimum security. What the hell did you do?”

“I pushed a guard. She was hurting Jolene.”

“Fuck the guards!” yelled Hawk. She banged on her door repeatedly.

When she stopped, I was quiet for a moment then I said, “I was losing my mind back here.”

Hawk slid a stack of magazines over to me. The titles all read Easyriders. I saw sexy, barely dressed women and motorcycles on every cover.

“How did you get these back here?”

Hawk didn’t answer. She laughed loudly.

When Hawk was asleep, I stayed up reading every Easyriders cover to cover. I sat on my bed and read every article and every advertisement. I was mesmerized reading about Harley’s new Softtail, the latest bike alarm systems, a guide to motors, and how to build a chopper.

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The next day, Hawk and I lay on the floor talking through the crack. We only got up to go to bathroom. We stayed on our stomachs, backs, or sides with our faces near the tray slot. We even ate our meals lying on the floor. Hawk did most of the talking because she was twenty-eight, a biker chick, and she had many more stories than I did.

The following days, through the three inch space, Hawk filled my ears. She transported me around the United States on the back of a black 1984 Harley Davidson FXSB Lowrider Shovelhead. Hawk took me to dive bars with mean drunks that had knife fights. Then we went to bike rallies. She described Road Kings, Electra Glides, Dyna Glides, Softtails, Deuces, Fat Boys, and Sportsters. She took me to biker clubhouses. She told me endless stories that kept me wide eyed.

When Hawk wasn’t talking, she sang. Her voice was loud, and it filled all the empty spaces in solitary. She only sang Led Zeppelin songs. It seemed she knew them all.

My last day in isolation, they took both of us to the showers at the same time. It was the first time I’d actually seen Hawk. She stepped into the hallway naked with her towel over her arm. She had a strip of white cotton torn from a t-shirt wrapped around her head. It was tied on the left with a tail hanging down. She smiled at me.

“Come on, Suzy Q,” she said.

When she turned around, I saw a three foot high hawk tattooed across her back.

The author's parole paperwork, 1985

The author’s parole paperwork, 1985

About the author
Cindy L. Marvin was released from prison nearly thirty years ago. After her release, she went on to earn her teaching degree and become an English teacher. She is the mother of three boys. 
 About the illustrator
The artist

The artist

Born in Canada and bred in the U.S., Allen Forrest works in many mediums: oil painting, computer graphics, theater, digital music, film, and video. Allen studied acting at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles, digital media in art and design at Bellevue College, receiving degrees in Web Multimedia Authoring and Digital Video Production.

Forrest has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications: New Plains Review, Pilgrimage Press, The MacGuffin, Blotterature, Gargoyle Magazine, his paintings have been commissioned and are on display in the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection. Forrest’s expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh creating emotion on canvas.

 

 

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