Lock-up - the place that an inmate fears most and with good reason. I was unfortunate enough to have two stints in lock-up while I was incarcerated. Let me tell you a little about it.....
I was at the women's minimum security institution for about 3 months here in South Carolina. I left the institution each day to work at the Department of Juvenile Justice. I worked in the kitchen. It was hard work, long days, but it was better than some of the other jobs I had while I was in prison. I have a heart condition and one day I started not feeling well at work. I actually passed out. I was transported to the hospital. I was in the hospital for a few days. I had been in atrial fibrilation and they were monitoring me. I was also suffering from exhaustion and was dehydrated. I was not well. The minimum security institution that I had worked so hard to get transferred to does not have medical facilities on site. So I was told that I had to be transferred to the maximum security prison where they house inmates with medical problems. The institution had a full medical staff 24 hours per day and an infirmary. They transferred me several days after my release.
When I arrived at the institution I was told I was going to lock-up. I didnt understand why. No one would tell me anything. They took my green bag that contained my personal belongings and allowed me to only take my Bible, my nightclothes, underwear, socks, one pencil, paper, toothbrush, toothpaste and my shoes with me. I couldnt have my radio. I couldnt take my mail with me or anything else.
I was shackled up, leg irons, belly chain and cuffs and dressed out in the standard yellow jumpsuit and escorted to the lock-up building. This was the same building I had been in when I first arrived at prison - just a different side of the building. The building was decrepit - in fact it had been condemned and they were in the process of breaking ground for the new R&E building at that time. The paint was peeling from the walls, the smell was horrible, it was cold and just nasty. I was strip searched and then taken to a cell. I was alone in the cell, no roommate. That is part of the deal in lock-up - you are alone.
I stuck my hands through the slot on the door for them to remove the cuffs They had already removed the other shackles. There was a metal bed with a 2" thick lumpy plastic mattress on it, a toilet and sink and a small mirror - that was it. The small slit of a window, well you could see a small patch of sky and a small section of the rec yard and that was it. There was metal mesh over the window on the door so you couldnt really see out much into the building. It was isolation. It was around 2pm in the afternoon and deathly quiet. I sat on the bed and cried. I did not understand why they were doing this to me. Lock-up is supposed to be where the troublemakers go - people who had broken the rules - I had not done that at all. Were they punishing me for getting sick? I was so upset I didnt know what to do.
They brought supper and handed it to me through the slot on the door. Things were a little louder now - it seemed the inmates had been asleep most of the day and now they were getting up. I ate as much as I could of the boiled liver before I thought it would make me sick, I was so hungry. I needed my medicine. I had not had it all day. They had taken it from me when I came in. I kept trying to get the attention of the guards but they seemed oblivious.
I washed up in the sink, God how I wanted to take a shower. I wondered when they let the lock-up people shower. I sat down on the bed, nothing to do but think. Think and cry. It was so loud that night, it was nerve racking. Inmates were yelling across the building to each other. They were yelling at the guards. They were singing or stomping around on the floor above me, it was just horrible. I knew I wouldnt be getting much sleep that night.
I stood at my door and wondered what time it was. It was dark outside. I heard keys and knew that a guard must be close by. When she got to my door I asked if she could please talk to me and she said yes. I asked her why I was there and she said she didnt know - she asked me what I had done and I told her nothing. She laughed and said yeah thats what they all say. I told her I was serious and then I told her about being in the hospital. She said she would check it out and let me know. I thanked her and went and sat back on my bed. I dont know how much time passed, an hour, maybe two but she did come back and called me to the door.
She opened up the flap and I could see her. She told me that I was in lock-up because I had been transferrred there and they did not have any open beds. She said since I was being housed in lock-up that I had to be treated as a lock-up even though I had not done anything. She said it sucked and she was sorry, but that was all she knew. I asked about my medicine and she said she would call Medical and make sure a nurse stopped by my room in the morning rounds. I asked her if I could use the phone and to my suprise she said yes. The phone was on a rolling thingy and she rolled it to the door. I was so happy to be using the phone, I immediately called my family. I was crying and upset, but I managed to explain to them what was happeneing and they promised to get on the phones the following day with headquarters to try and get something done. The call ended and I thanked the guard. She just smiled and told me no problem. By this time other inmates were yelling that they wanted to use the phone. I knew I had probably started some crap but I didnt really care at that moment.
I went back and tried to sleep. It was no use. It was just too loud. I decided to get up and do some excercises - bends, sit ups, etc. I was so bored. When morning came it quieted down and I finally slept. I didnt even wake up to get my lunch.
This cylce went on for several days - sleep during the day and stay up all night. They only let us shower every 3-4 days which was really gross. That is when they brought us clean jumpsuits to change in to. We were shackled to and from the shower and a guard stood right outside the shower - we only had 7 minutes to clean ourselves and get out. The water felt so good and it was so warm. Those were the fastest 7 minutes.
When you are in lock-up you think so much that you feel like you are going crazy. There is no one to talk to except yourself. The guards treat you like you are some cockroach or something or like Hannibal Lecter, like they are afraid of you. That was funny. I was probably the least violent person in the place. The lonliness is horrible. The isolation. It messes with your head. I was in there for 2 weeks but it seemed liked 2 months.
I learned some of the names of the people down there with me - Mya, Means, Blanche, Big Dot. They were down there on various offenses including fighting, having sex, disrespect, you name it. The loudness at night is also bad on your nerves. They never shut up. It is endless. Always the yelling. I would stand at the door sometimes and just hold my hands over my ears wanting to block it all out. The coldness is another thing. I dont know why they keep it so cold, maybe to try and keep them in the bed so they will be quiet, I dont know. But it is cold.
Lock-up is not a good place to have to spend your time. You are already in prison and that is bad enough.
More to come on my second time in lock-up......