Prison is like a Joshua tree in the middle of Death Valley. Standing alone, the summer heat, searing. A mangled, lonely place where you’re never quite alone. Weathered correction officers roam around husks of women, with a penchant for the obscene and untoward. New inmates seemingly on the verge of collapse, not yet acclimated to their new environment. The rowdy cluck and obscenities belted out expressing the indecency of their foul mouths, discontented by the predicament they’ve put themselves in. Ring one up for the chorus. Others sit limp in the languid melancholy of their pent-up lives.

Penury surrounds us all. Impossible not to notice, but easily chalked up to each own’s solitary existence. Notoriety trumps inclusion, a popularity contest no different than high school, while the rest scatter into the prison’s shadows amongst the pauper. Chasms crawling with beat down women whose litany dances around their plight to stay afloat. Underhandedly beckoning others’ generosity. Phone calls to family tinged with the bitter taste of deception and desperation. Living hand to mouth amongst queens encroaching on the naive and less fortunate. An error of bad judgement not registering in their psyche, or merely pushed aside. Not even during a pandemic can we become a solidified entity.

I live not as a pauper nor a queen. I live in the land of the in between where comfort lies just out of reach. I’m an introvert. Notoriously quiet and indifferent of those around me. Neutrality being a key to my survival. Let them scream and holler. I shall read the words of the book before me. “For a hundred years or more, the world, our world, has been dying. And not one man, in these last hundred years or so, has been crazy enough to put a bomb up the asshole of creation and set it off. The world is rotting away, dying piecemeal. But it needs the coup de grace, it needs to be blown to smithereens.”

I contemplate this, my eyes bespectacled freely due to prison mechanics. Dental also allows one free cleaning a year, just not during a pandemic it seems. There’s always a trade off. I must bow to the prison’s ever changing whim. Be thankful for the two meals a day, which for the moment can be packaged and brought back to our bunks to be eaten when we please, during this pandemic of our time. Allowed to wear our personals day in and day out, instead of our state issued blues. Momentary comforts that one day will undoubtedly end, throwing us all in a tizzy.

The woke and weary listen to the cadence of mumbling officers above officers in color coded uniforms of importance. Abruptly assaulting our senses with, “Shut the fuck up. Get on your racks.” Their hearts fringing in the red. Pissed that a fight occurred on their shift. Upset that they’ll have to do paperwork.

I sit on my meager mat and wait to be called to the clouds above the brick and razor wire. A peace so longed for surely won’t come easily. My sex crime too much for the living, better bring out the guillotine. Call out the genocide of once possibly battered and broken people. Their lives a living wall climbing up from the slums or suburbs of society. Falling short amongst themselves. I sit aloof, pondering what Henry Miller wrote in the “Tropic of Cancer.” “That the world needs to be blown into smithereens.” Where would that leave me? Survive the pandemic, segregation. 

No family visitation, although, in all of my five plus years as an inmate, I’ve never had a visit. Saving myself from the degrading nakedness of pre visit and post visit rituals. Isolation rocking to its core. It’s just that being prohibited from visitation at this time doesn’t sit well in my stomach. However, I’m all for the safety of the inmates and their families, and yes, for the prison staff that deal with disrespect and unruliness on a daily basis.

Judicial release being the hope of the repressed. Judges scornful. Prisoners handing in their, “Get out of jail free cards.” Addicts, thieves, practicing slam poetry before being pardoned. Inmates thinking of themselves as writers. I say, “More power to the masses.”

I read, I paint. I write. I read to immerse my whole being outside of itself. The pages turning to years inside my head. Tattered pages of Annie Proulx, Jojo Moyes, Jennifer Egan, Gilligan Flynn, hundreds of books that I’ve slurped up like a hummingbird to its nectar, never spilling a drop. I paint scenes of pleasure, neon kayaks splayed haphazardly on a sandy beach, petals of a thousand flowers. I paint gray days into magenta skies. I write mischievous tales of love and acceptance. Dogeared corners of essays never quite finished or good enough to pass on, and to whom?

My brick wall rises high in the distance of the secluded desert of my mind. The pandemic being just another rung on the ladder through prison to traverse with hopes that we’ll all come out on top. With the prerequisite Timberland boots on my feet, I climb and reach and reach. Hot air blowing from behind my cotton mask, a newness shared with all of society. Here I go, listening to Harry Styles’, “A sign of the times.” Knowing that I have another eleven years before I’m released into the ever changing chaos of the free world, thanking prison for it’s policies and procedures helping me to stay on track in all of its confined structure. Learning that we’re not that different after all.

Sarah Ladd #92224

Ohio Reformatory for Women