Book Excerpts

Three Hots and a Cot  –  The Transport

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January 5, 1989, approximately 200 female inmates were transported twelve hours across state in handcuffs, chains, and leg irons; void of creature comforts: coats, caps, and boots; enduring catcalls, obscene language, and indecent exposure from accompanying male inmate travelers.  They left Elizabeth Denton Correctional Center, a medium/maximum-security facility for women, bound for June Moss Correctional Center, a minimum-security facility for women. Both were located in Oklahoma. After picking up and dropping off males at several facilities, the caravan finally arrived at June Moss. The shackled women like prisoners of war shuffled through ankle-deep snow in unknown territory to the gymnasium that served as the reception station for unshackling, bunk assignment, distribution of bedding, towels, personal property (institutional clothing: one gray coat, one pair of canvas shoes, three gray shirts, three pairs of gray pants, three pairs of white socks, three pairs of panties, three bras, and one gray stocking cap) a hygiene packet, and an orientation pamphlet. The women were lined up alongside several connecting tables: Charlotte Epps, wrists red, swollen and throbbing, a reaction to gripping handcuffs, prayed for relief; Sophie Harjo, wet from an over-burdened bladder, fumed about officers demand that she waited for scheduled stops; Mag Hopkins, a victim of excruciating migraines who had suffered five months before finally receiving medication, worried if it had accompanied her; Minnie Oldcrow, wet from over-flowed menses, vacillated between humiliation and rage for being unable to attend her feminine hygiene, the seat of her pants branded crimson. Some women were over-heated by viral-induced fever or hormonal fluctuations; some were numbed by the single digit temperature; some craved nicotine and cut mean stares at officers who callously filled their nostrils with smoke; some were unsettled by an officer who shoved bedding and property at them, tolerating no complaints and prodding them through the line like cattle; all were anxiety ridden about something—much that was unknown.  That alone was enough to worry about, even for the hell-raisers, the fighters, and the whatever-ers. So, they waited anxiously and impatiently.

Minnie and John were sitting at their breakfast nook under dark clouds gathering momentum, threatening a storm.

“You know what? I’ve had it.  I can’t do this.” John slammed a corner of toast to the table, violently scooted his chair back, then sprang up and began pacing.

Why does it always end up like this? Why are we constantly fighting? Minnie questioned herself, blinking back threatening tears.  “But, John, I love you.  I want us to be a family, you know, with children and being there for them, like your mother and father were for y’all.”

“I want a family too, but, I don’t see how that’s gonna happen. As a matter of fact, you claim you want a family…”

Oh, but I do, John.

“…but I don’t really think you know what you want.  I know it certainly isn’t me.”

Yes, it’s you and your children, our children.

“You just keep throwing your damn money in my face every chance you get, one way or the other.”

“What?” That shut down Minnie’s tear threat.

What’s wrong with him?

“Oh, so I’m throwing it in your face by helping family and friends. How’s that John? And anyway, I noticed you had nothing to say when I helped Mama to start her sewing business and very little to say when I helped Betty Lynn with her tuition, and you could have had your own auto-repair shop up and running.’

“Hell! I can get the shop my damn self.” He became louder. “I don’t need your damn money–and about my family, don’t you think I’d loved to have done that for my own mom and sister?  How do you think I feel, huh, Minnie?” John said, glaring at her.

“I don’t know,” Minnie said, glaring right back. “It certainly isn’t gratitude,” she retorted, enjoying the shot of sarcasm.

“Hell no! It ain’t gratitude! It’s humiliated! It’s fucking humiliation! That’s what it is! I’m supposed to be the man of the house and ever since we’ve been married, I’ve watched you wear the pants.”

Oh, my God! How can he even think that?

“I feel like a damn gigolo.”

A damn gigolo?

“I can’t go on like this.  You know, like I know, Sophie could have waited until she saved enough money for her damn store.”

“But John, she’s working two jobs, you know she’s only making minimum wage at both places. It takes both incomes for her and the girls to survive, even with the girls’ part-time jobs.  There’s no money left to save.  She needs help.”

John stopped pacing and glared at Minnie.  It took several seconds before his response showed up.  “Oh, so it wasn’t enough to set her up in an apartment. It wasn’t enough to buy her a car.  So now you have to set her up in a business.  You know what? I’m sick of this shit.  Minnie, at what point do you allow her to help herself?  When are you gonna draw a damn line?”

“Draw a damn line, there’s no need to draw a damn line.  We’re talking about helping family and friends who’ve helped me.  It’s like saying thank you for everything they’ve done for me.  Why can’t you understand that? Mama Charlotte, Ms. Sophie helped me to get through my time.  You don’t know what it’s like doing a lot of damn time.  You only did a year.  I did nine years,” she lamented, her voice cracking.  She struggled to swallow a lump. “Nine long years with them, and you don’t know how good it made me feel to have those mother-figures there–”

“You’re goddamn right! I don’t !” John bellowed, mumbled a string of obscenities, then charged out the door, slamming it so hard the frame vibrated.  He screeched through all three gears by mid block.