I self surrendered almost a month ago to FCI Dublin federal prison. It is so much different than I expected or hoped it would be! Of course it’s hard to hope for much when you find out that you will be separated from your family for several years. My first 2 weeks here were devastating. All the girls say they felt exactly the same way I did for at least 2 weeks and in some cases months. My situation was exaggerated because I got the flu and a terrible cold when I arrived. I felt awful and couldn’t stop crying for days. My first job in the kitchen leaves much to be desired. I get up every morning at 4:30 and put on heavy steel toed boots to serve food:) Needless to say working in the kitchen has given me motivation to find a different job!
This good government job pays around 9 cents an hour. We are working full time for around 10 bucks a month. Most of the girls have to steal from the kitchen to help them pay for shampoo and other necessary items like stamps that they couldn’t otherwise afford and of course it’s a constant battle between the staff trying to prevent stealing and locking everything up while the girls are trying to figure out how to get enough to sell and make a few bucks. I have support from the outside and won’t steal but it doesn’t really matter because the staff doesn’t discriminate when it comes to treating us bad. We are all just no good thieving inmates to most officers. In life if I do a really good job with my work, if I’m honest, on time and hard working there are rewards. Not in jail. The last day I worked in the kitchen a particularly rude kitchen manager yelled at me for giving an inmate carrots. She said, ” Hey you, who told you to give out carrots? You’re serving gravy!” I said, ” The girl didn’t get carrots so I gave her some.” She screamed,” Get off the line smart mouth!” So I decided I would get a different job:)
I went to education and asked if I could put together a curriculum and teach photography classes. The education department was very receptive so I have spent my 2 days off getting lesson plans and a proposal put together. Word travels fast in prison because we are all in such small quarters. There’s even a name for the way inmates get the word out, they call it inmate.com (kind of like a calling tree but it’s just inmate to inmate) I have already had many of the women come and ask me if they can be first in line to take my class. I am also going to take over as the FCI Dublin photographer (if they will let me?) I know I can do much to improve the pictures taken of these women and their families that come to visit.
At first I was pretty angry that I am not at the camp. Many of the women here are violent offenders and this is not a low security facility. There are gang fights where inmates put a padlock in a sock and beat the crap out of each other. As time has passed I have prayed to love these women and to see the best in them. I am now praying to like the staff too:) I’m afraid loving the inmates will be the easier task. The first 2 weeks was hard for many reasons one of which was the weird way in which the women get involved with each other sexually and then break up. Many of them have a girlfriend in the unit and a compound girlfriend they hang with at the gym. Some of the women cut their hair short and dress like men. Then the women fight over the ones that look like men and call them either white daddy or black Daddy depending on their nationality. One of the other strange things I noticed is how many of these women who don’t have family support on the outside pretend they are families in here. For example, The older women are called mom or grandma. The younger ones are called baby girl. Some of the women call me mama, some call me baby girl. I prefer Portia but there are 3 Portia’s here ( I’m the only white one and the others go by Porshay:) A lot of women call me Louder and I’m cool with that too. It seems that most of the fights the women engage in are fallouts with old girlfriends. It reminds me of a dysfunctional junior high school:)
When I first got here I became buddies with a group of women. One of them is named bubbles and she is awesome! My new roommate said, Portia, you are so fun to watch, you just go sit with the black girls like it’s ok to do that.” I said, “Am I not supposed to sit with Bubbles? She’s my friend.” My roommate said, “Don’t you know we are white girls, we are the minority here and No one really likes us.” I was surprised by that because many of the women seem to like me just fine. I told her I was glad I didn’t know that in the first place because I probably wouldn’t have made so many friends:)
I think that I am the only woman here without tattoos and the only woman who doesn’t use the F word:) I had no idea how creative people can be with the F word. I decided to make a game out of it so I am on a search for one other woman on the compound that doesn’t have any tattoos. I saw a girl today that didn’t have any on her arms or face or neck, I looked at her legs and couldn’t find one there either. I got excited and thought my search is over, she even had glasses and looked pretty conservative. I asked, ” Do you have any tattoos? ” She looked at me funny so I said, ” It’s just a little game I play to pass the time.” She said, ” My whole back is covered.” The search continue’s! Next I might start writing 101 ways to use the F word:) A few of the women I spend more time with have noticed that I don’t swear and they make an effort to not swear in front of me. Today my roommate said, “Portia, I’m sorry I cuss. It’s an ugly habit! I admire you for keeping your cool.” I said, “Thank you Karin.” She told me that she was interested in my religion and that she hasn’t met anyone like me before. She said, “You don’t talk about your religion you just live it. I am attracted to it because your family seems to have something special.”
I really don’t know how I would get through this time without my faith. I have hope that through our Father in Heaven and his Son Jesus Christ I will be able to serve others and bless their lives and the lives of my children. I miss my life and my family but the peace and strength I’ve been given is undeniable! I am starting to think I can do more good here than at a camp and that gives me great comfort. These women are desperate to learn and improve themselves. I am so excited to teach them photography! I know I can build a program that will help them gain self confidence and give them a skill that will enrich their lives. It’s in our Father in Heaven’s hands and he is a God of Miracles!!! I still don’t have my garments unfortunately, I had Chad send them to the chaplain and the mail room sent them back to Chad without even talking to the chaplain. I’m starting to think they don’t like Mormons because I saw a native girl at dinner today with a full head dress on. Surely my Mormon underwear(as they call them) are legal The battle continues…