The Lives Of Women Behind Bars (Pt. 9): County Jail by Felicia

In the post “From County Jail to Prison”  Jennifer (WWRC) (WI) describes what we women go through while incarcerated in a penal system built for men. Thank you Jennifer for sharing your experience and giving other women the courage to tell their own stories.

She and I share a lot of commonalities when it comes to the extended stays we had in county jail. There’s also some differences, which made me want to tell you about my personal

‘county jail’ experience here in Ohio. An experience I endured before being sent up the river to finish my 17 year sentence at the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW). ORW is one of 3 women’s facilities in Ohio.

They say the ‘work house’ in Columbus is one of the worst jails in the country. I was one of the l

ucky few to survive 482 days there. My first and only experience being in jail. I have nothing to compare or contrast my county jail experience with besides the stories I hear from others. Personally, it wasn’t as bad as people make it sound, but I also have an adaptable personality. My upbringing taught me how to survive any situation.

I was 2 months shy of turning 30 years old the day I was arrested, and I wrote about this in  “My first and Only Time Being Arrested.. I’d spend my days wearing a tan and yellow uniform with very hard tan sandals (slides) to be worn 24/7, including in the showers. You received one clean uniform a week, consisting of a shirt and pants, which you were expected to wear every day. If it was a holiday week you weren’t guaranteed you’d be able to exchange your dirty set for a clean one. I quickly learned how to hand wash the uniform.

As far as undergarments, you had a 50/50 chance of being able to keep your socks, panties and bra upon arrival so long as there were no wires, thongs or padding. No panties, socks or bras were given to you. If you had money you had the option to purchase 5 each of white t-shirts, sports bras, granny panties and socks (depending upon what was in stock) and a pair of bright orange Crocs once every 6 months. What if you had no money? You were SOL in the undergarment department. My very first purchase came to $97.

The workhouse houses, about 70% men and 30% women, separated very professionally. Only crossing paths in the hallways if you had a visit or a legal visit with your attorney, court (depending upon the number of people going that day) or going to medical. We stayed in our dorm/tanks 24 hours a day 7 days a week, unless for the reasons mentioned above or the rare opportunity to go to the gym.

Meals were brought to us three times a day (5am, 10am, 3pm) breakfast, lunch and dinner. Straight to our living areas. The quality of the food was hit and miss. Some days it was inedible, while others it was as if you were at a five star restaurant. My personal favorite was the “grilled chicken”, white rice, gravy, corn, and canned pears. Nicknamed “The Rubber Ducky”. With a little assistance from the condiments sold in commissary, you were in there like swim wear.

As for that once a month when Mother Nature calls to remind you that you are a female, the workhouse supplied a very limited supply of thin low budget pads. Don’t be asleep when the supply bag got delivered or you were shit out of luck. Depending upon your body and your cycle, you were bound to be hand washing your panties and or your pants on some days.

As time passed, some of the jailhouse regulars showed me how to make “jailhouse tampons” similar to OB tampons. Yeah, I know, TMI. But a woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do. Basically it consists of unraveling a pad and with the assistance of toilet paper, roll it up into a tampon. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

Visiting in the workhouse was more annoying than comforting. You talked on telephones through a thick sheet of bullet proof glass and there was no guarantee that they would work on either end that day. Sometimes you could hear your visitor, but more often not. This on top of having other females in the same area, each trying to outdo the other in order to be heard and to hear her visitors. Visits were often for fifteen minutes–this after our visitors having already waited 30 minutes to two hours. And that fifteen minutes? It included waiting for the staff to notify your visitor that you were in the visiting room waiting. Sometimes your visit would only last 5 or 10 minutes, depending upon which staff members were working that day.

When family asked if I wanted them to visit, I’d tell them it was up to them, but try to dissuade them against it. After being there for a while, they learned not to ask, to just come on my designated visiting days (Tuesday & Saturday) based on my last name.

After reading Jennifer’s experience, I’d like to vote against the Columbus Workhouse being one of the worst county jails. But my opinion is just one out of thousands.

After 482 days in the county jail arriving at ORW felt like heaven. To be able to have clean clothes, actual pads and tampons, walk outside, down hallways and through doors without a correctional officer at your side. Prison is like receiving your freedom back after the Hell of county jail.

Felicia (ORW) (OH)

Read more of Felicia’s and other prisoner’s writings in the new book titled ”Behind The Wall: A Prisoner’s Journal, By Christopher Monihan. Search Amazon by title and author name.

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