Q: How does one decide to go into prison work? What made you decide to do it?
A: Well, it was really monetary reasons. I started in the federal government as a GS-2. I had two children -- most of your money goes to babysitters and transportation. I was just applying for anything, really. I didn't care what it was, long as I had a job. And I sort of liked it. I wasn't really afraid then because I had worked in an institution, St. Elizabeths (mental hospital). And I had gotten accustomed to working with confined people. . . . I just had to switch over from one category to another really.
Q: But (St. Elizabeths) is not as confining.
A: Yeah. You don't have the bars. I was scared to death when I started working (at St. Elizabeths). Oh, the first day I had my knees knocking all day long. I guess people get these conceptions from TV -- you know -- all these crazy people. But they're human beings who need somebody to help them along. Some of 'em, a lot of 'em, I grew quite attached to.
Q: Now, (you) have 19 years of experience inside a prison. For eight hours a day, you're inside. Do you become a prisoner to the place? Does it really bother you?
A: Not any more. The electric gates bothered me at first. When I first started, it was open. There was no fence, we had no guns, we had no handcuffs. It really reminded me of a college campus the first day I went through the grounds. The women had six month sentences up to life sentences. But we never had the problems. Very seldom we had fights. Very seldom we had problems with drugs. Very seldom we had arguments, even. It was just a different breed. I guess I saw a change in people in the '60s. The protests. Saw a change in prison inmates too. They were more outgoing, and, I don't know whether that's the right word I want to use or not, but they were becoming harder to handle.
Q: Is there a certain air that you have to carry in dealing with prisoners?
A: You are really a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You have two personalities and it's hard sometimes for people to distinguish those two. When you come inside, if there's a reason to say "No," you have to say "No" and mean "No." You have to say it, and mean it. And then when you finish your eight hours and you're going home, you have to wind down and become that other person, that mother, who is soft and warm, and the wife who's soft and warm. And for me, I found the best way for me to unwind was to get in the car and just blast the radio for a few minutes. It sort of winds me down, and I'm okay after that. Just drive and just let it play loud for a few minutes. My kids have said that I bring the job home. I try to make myself conscious . . . to leave this here and be the other person when I get home. It's hard to do.
Q: In your experiences dealing with prisoners, have you ever conveyed some of your concerns to your children?
A: I let them know that even though I'm not scared to death to work in the jail it's a possibility that they could (wind up in jail.) It's a possibility that I could go to jail. I could leave here now and get in my car. I could hit somebody. And they could die. That's manslaughter. (And) I could come through that back door. The way that I would want somebody to treat me. . . . I try to treat them the same way I would want to be treated. Sometimes you have to just get tough. There are times when you have to protect that person from himself, protect him from somebody else. That's what you don't really like to do, but it's part of the job.
Q: Do you establish any sort of a personal relationship with any of the prisoners?
A: Not really.
Q: You're the only person that they see other than the visitors that may come in on their visiting days. And you're confined with them, and they're seeing you everyday. How do you keep from establishing personal relationships?
A: Well, we have a regulation against employes becoming overly friendly, overly personal with them and you draw that little line. I'll ask them, how's your baby? We've had pregnant women come in or women who have given birth while they were here. Usually the family takes the baby. That's a part of the conversation, how's the baby? And ask them what the name is. Look at this picture. I don't talk about my own personal life with them. They always ask you, how's your daughter. My youngest was born after I started working here. A lot of them remember when I was pregnant. They've been coming to jail that long.
Q: You say they've been coming to jail that long. Does that mean that you see the same people?
A: Some of the same ones.
Q: Have you ever run across any mothers and daughters?
A: It was like a cold chill that went over me, the first time I heard one inmate say to another, "Mama." I mean a cold chill just went through me. That was the first time I had heard it. How in the world can a mother and a daughter both be here? There was one woman I have known -- two sons and three daughters and the mother coming through. Now it's probably some of the grandchildren. We used to have -- on Mother's Day at 10-10 (Women's Detention Center) -- they could bring all their grandchildren, all their children. The person with the most children and grandchildren won a prize. She had I don't know how many kids and I don't know how many grandchildren. One time she had like 20-some grandchildren that came in on Mother's Day.
Q: (Wouldn't) seeing a relative in an environment (like this) deter them?
A: Not always. Sometimes I guess it does. But then, sometimes, that's all they know. Mama's in jail. (Here's) what Mama did to go to jail. I'm gonna do the same thing. This is their only way of life. They don't really know any other way to exist. The police have really saved some of them. You give them three months here and they've gotten taken care of medically and they've been fed three meals a day and they have a bed to sleep in. For a lot of them, this is better than home.
Q: Nationwide statistics show women represent about 4 percent of the prison population. Although they represent 4 percent, it's on an increase. The numbers are increasing. Are you noticing that?
A: Yes. When this jail first opened we only had two cell blocks for women and each cell block can house 80. Both now are overpopulated.
Q: What do you think are the reasons for the increase?
A: Well, I guess women are becoming more liberated. I've pondered it over and around in my mind and it is possible.
Q: Are they now committing what were "men's" crimes?
A: Yes. Robbery. That was a "man's" crime. You might find women with check charges, a lot of prostitution and some drugs. But now you find them doing anything.
A: It's always been murders.
A: Right. (There did not used to be) as many robberies as we have now.
Q: (Do) the courts have a get-tough attitude with women now?
A: I think they used to pamper them. "Look at that poor woman. You really can't send her to jail." Now, old lady, you're going to jail too.
Q: Are women prisoners more difficult to deal with than men?
A: Somewhat. Women are more demanding. I can go through a cell block in the morning and one of the guys can ask me if I will check so and so. He is content to wait until tomorrow morning when I come back through to give him an answer. A woman will ask you to check so and so and the same time, that morning wants an answer in an hour. They are really more anxious than men. I guess it's just a trait of women. Women are louder. I can escort a group of women and the noise level is up here (raises her arm about a yard from the floor). The men can come through and they're talking but it's very low. It's much different. I got to the point that I would tell them hey, I'm the only one that makes noise around here. You're going to be quiet, I'm going to talk.
Q: Do you have isolated incidences of rape?
A: I've only known of one. This was a very young girl and it was her first time in jail and these older inmates were trying to get her to submit to them and her mind just snapped. The next morning when we came to work, she was just out of it.
Q: When you first started, there were no handcuffs, no guns, no anything. What about now?
A: Well, we don't carry a gun inside. But anytime you're outside with a prisoner, you have to have a gun. That prisoner has to be restrained.
Q: Meaning handcuffs or something.
A: Possibly leg irons. Unless it's a pregnant woman. You can't put leg irons on her.
Q: It must be a delicate situation dealing with a pregnant woman.
A: It is a very delicate situation. Very delicate. In a delivery room, who would put handcuffs on a woman who is delivering a baby? That is a regulation. But if you go into a delivery room, all you have to do is call your supervisor and let them know that you're in the delivery room with the prisoner and you want to take the handcuffs off. That is no place for handcuffs. I mean that's inhuman. And we've had some problems with it. Some officers who really wanted to do the job, but they couldn't draw the line between being humane and calling and asking that question -- can I take those handcuffs off, if she's in the delivery room? And even in recovery and once they get back to the OB ward, we stress that one arm and one leg be handcuffed. Handcuffed to the bed.
Q: Since prisoners are here for such a short period of time, what do you do with them? Can you rehabilitate them? What do they do all day?
A: That's a word that I don't even know whether it exists.
Q: What word?
A: Rehabilitation. We don't really rehabilitate anybody. They do it themselves. We might give them the tools. We put the tools there for them. Say a person comes in, they want to get their GED (high school graduation equivalency certificate) if that's available. They'll go to school. You put the tools (out) for them. You can't make them go. They might have a reason for going. They come in and they have one-to-three years. They're going to get into all the programs they can get into so that they can be recommended (for parole) after that one year. I've heard it said, "Man I'm going to program myself out." They're going to program themselves out. And I can see them come back. They're going to program themselves out again. Somewhere along the line some of it is going to rub off. It just depends on how many times they have to come back. Some of them get tired. Some of them die. Some outgrow it. I saw two women who were at the women's reformatory. They were so glad to be out. They were saying, "I couldn't stand it in there because all those youngsters -- they were driving me crazy." They got tired of coming to jail. One was an addict. And she knows that the only way that she's going to stay out is to go to the methadone clinic every day. And I said hey, if that's what it takes for you to stay out, go to the methadone clinic every day. "But I don't want to be going." I said if that's what it takes -- go. You're tired of it now. You couldn't stand the noise. You stay out (of) here. They get tired of being confined. So they just eventually say, well this is it. I am finished with it.re dem
Q: If jail doesn't rehabilitate them, what's the purpose of jailing them anyway.
A: To keep them off the street. That's basically the only thing that I can see is being done. Because we don't have the programs here. We don't have the people here for that length of time. And for the number of people we have now, there's no way in the world that we could, really. You have to have space. You have to have so many teachers, so many of all the program people. We have basics here. We have teachers who come in. They're volunteers, not on the staff. As far as teaching them a trade, what can we teach them? How to make license plates? Who does that in the street?
Q: How do you look at these people? Scum of the earth, or . . . (what) do they need?
A: Usually women, especially addicts, need medical attention. They're sick. They come off drugs and basically what they need is medical attention. Some, they just need somebody to explain. How to get a phone call to their families. How to get their families to come and visit them. If they have children they're concerned about them. That's number one. Who's going to take care of my children? And they're usually concerned about how they left their house. They have an apartment and they might have had to go to court this morning and they got a 10-year-old daughter who's gone to school. That child comes home and Mama's not home. Mama's in court. She may think that she's going to get back home before the child gets out of school. And she doesn't. So they're worried to death when they get here. But if you let them make that phone call it eases a lot of the pressure. And, what's a phone call? They're entitled to it. There's a process they go through before they make the phone call. You're finished processing them and then you let them make a call. But if that call is going to ease a person that's hysterical, you sort of ease the pressure right there. You explain to them. I'll do it this time because this is your first time in. And normally we go through this certain procedure and when you get to point B, you make a call. But today we're going to let you make a call at point A. With repeaters, sometimes they have been out there for three months. So I say how long were you out? "I wasn't out but three months." I say, hey, but that's three months longer. Next time you get out, make it six. Just try to make it six.
Q: What kind of satisfaction do you get out of it?
A: It is frustrating at times. Very frustrating at times. I have thought about that. I wonder sometimes if being able to work with the people. . . . Maybe that one word that I say to them might help them stay out a little bit longer. If I see them on the street, you know, I'll talk to them. I don't carry on lengthy conversations or go to visit. But if I run into somebody in a store and I recognize them I talk to them. Ask them how they're doing. And that little bit might be enough to kind of give them a little incentive to try to stay out. Just tell them we're not looking for you to come back. I think maybe, maybe that's the satisfaction. I don't know. Maybe it is. I think I'm basically the type of person who helping somebody else is where I get my satisfaction.