Jail Part 3: EBRPP
If the essence of complete hopelessness could be captured architecturally, it would probably be called the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. It is just that bad. If you’ve ever called it home, even if just for a night, then you know that to call the place hell is no exaggeration at all. With charges that range from minor traffic infractions all the way to up aggravated rape and murder, its inhabitants are impossible to label. For more than 4 months in 2014 I was one of them. After being extradited on a decade old bench warrant, I found myself amongst the strange collection of women clad in green at EBRPP. Orange is the new black? More like green is the new suck.
Weary from the almost month-long extradition trip, (see https://www.sandisaysstuff.com/jail-part-2-the-extradition-odyssey/) I stared at the holding cell wall trying to solve the mystery of what exactly I was looking at. It could have been vomit or mashed potatoes, but it was stuck up on the wall at least 6 feet up so that didn’t make any sense. Who would do such a thing? Inmates. That’s who. I figured out the mystery a few weeks later when I went to central booking to wait to be transported to court. It was oatmeal and yes, it was still there. It was also there when I was released more than 4 months later.
My experiences there could fill a book, an autobiographical cautionary tale or even a love story, but right now I want to tell a story about friendships in jail. I am by no means an expert when it comes to female friendships, never have been, but I made life-changing connections with a handful a women there that I’ll likely never forget.
The first friend I made there was a girl we’ll call Britney. Britney was sweet and kind, tall with a swath of pink hair that fell across her eyes because it was too short to fit in her blonde ponytail. She couldn’t have been older than 19 or 20 and she had just died. Literally, she had died and been revived by paramedics just hours earlier following a heroin overdose. She woke in up in jail. Talk about a buzzkill.
But seriously, she was upset, missing her girlfriend, heartbroken over disappointing her mom and obviously in serious withdrawal. Not a rare combination when discussing women in jail, but there was something so vulnerable and sweet about her and I wanted to help her. After the month I’d just had, I was an old pro at this whole jail thing and she was a hot mess of anxiety. I helped her as much as I could, having a friend of mine from home call her girlfriend and a bail agent on her behalf. Unfortunately, before my help could pay off for her she got shipped off to some jail up north before I could even say goodbye.
“Shipped” is what happens to newer inmates about once or twice a week due to overcrowding in East Baton Rouge Parish. They quite literally run out of beds every other day and they ship women off to other parishes to sleep on busted up cots lined up on the floor. For some reason, it’s okay to pay other parishes to do this, but unacceptable for EBRPP to do to inmates in-house.
Two weeks later I got shipped to a facility in Concordia whose claim to fame was that you could smoke on yard time. Grand if you’re a smoker! I am not. Although, I will admit to smoking a few out of boredom just because (yipee!) I could. The food was just piles of plain white rice and almost nothing else. We were crammed wall to wall cots on the floor and never left the room, except for that once a day yard time. That time was used to walk around the concrete basketball court, smoking and sometimes throwing notes to the male inmates over the fence. I won’t get into the logistics of how they did that, as that might be considered snitching, but it got done on the daily.
After less than 2 weeks there, I was shipped back to EBR for a court date and never went back. Thank god. Jail is jail, but some are worse than others and in that one the 3 toilets are in the center of the room with no privacy wall. It’s just gross. Privacy is worth even more than freedom as far as I’m concerned.
When I walked back into “the parish” as we called it, guess who was already there in the day room watching TV and playing cards? Yep, it was Britney. She had bailed out and gotten rearrested on new charges, as is the norm for so many drug addicts in Baton Rouge. And everywhere else for that matter.
“Deal you in?” she asked as I walked to the back of the dorm with my itchy wool blanket filled with holes and my state issue roll of single-ply toilet paper.
“No thanks,” I smiled and shook my head as I walked to the back of the dorm looking for an available bottom bunk. I was exhausted from the early court call out. She looked like death again and her pink strip had faded away, but at least she didn’t look scared anymore. She was bailed out and transported to rehab the next morning and I never saw her again. I hope she’s doing well, but I’ve learned to keep my expectations low where the disease of addiction is concerned. I found a bottom bunk in the middle of the dorm and unpacked my meager belongings from a clear plastic bag as the lights dimmed. Another day in paradise…