The daily trials and tribulations of living as an inmate.
By Kory Darty
After sleeping on the floor for several hours in the holding tank, I was sent to the ?hole,? as isolation is commonly known. I listened to a guy going crazy as he tried to get his ?hot meds,? or psychotropic medication. The guy was saying that he hadn?t been able to go without them since they?d given them to him his first time in jail.
I was put in a cell with someone already in it, but he was going home just as I was arriving. By myself, I could hear the guy next door talking.I thought he was talking to me through the ventiliation system. I found out later that he was talking to women through the toilet on the upper floor.
I settled in and got some apples, peaches and sugar and made jailhouse wine by straining the fermented fruit through clean socks. I stored wine in milk cartons. It was surprisingly easy to make. Clearly, I would do almost anything to maintain my sanity in jail.
I soon became a monster at improvisation. I made dominoes out of white soap and used the stickers off the apples to hold my pictures on the wall. I worked out and did laundry every day. We were only given one set of clothes. So washed them and put them right back on. I dried myself myself off with a T-shirt and let it dry overnight.
I eventually had my first fight. It was during laundry exchange where we would turn in one set of clothes for another. A trustee, or inmate worker, demanded I turn in my underwear. I told him I?d already turned them in and reached for a clean pair. He objected to that and we started fighting. It must have been a hilarious sight as I was naked, except for plastic shower shoes.
I experienced my first real run-in with guards when they did a major search. They ransacked my cell, stepped on my Bible, and poured tea and coffee on my family pictures and my legal papers. It was a terrible experience that I never wish to re-live.
After two years of cooking instant soup in a cup because they didn?t sell bowls, saving fruit to eat during the night, and twenty-three-hour lockdowns with no sunshine, stuck in a pod and loud talk all day, I finally went to the Big House.
Prison in California is different than other places. Here, almost everyone is affiliated with a gang or neighborhood. These hardened gang members would ask where I was from. I would say in a proud, serious voice that I was from Mississippi. But here, when someone asks you that question, it usually means which gang do you belong to. They quickly understood that I was not a California native.
When I hit the yard, I saw races I didn?t recognize. I didn?t know a soul. I found myself hanging out with guys covered with tattoos, including tattoos of teardrops on their cheeks near their eyes. We watched and laughed as two protective custody inmates fought over a homosexual. This was what my life had been reduced to.
Back in my cell, someone knocked on the wall and said a message was being sent to me. Minutes later, the ?kite,? a string with a note attached to it, slid underneath my door. The message was ominous: we were at war with another race so be ready when the doors opened.
I didn?t sleep all night. In the morning, the doors opened and it went down. I got sprayed with mace in the violent chaos and threw up for almost an hour. I later discovered that someone got killed in the melee. The guards handcuffed and escorted everyone out of their cells and searched them. They were ruthless with our property, scattering belongings all over the place. My stuff ended up in other cells, even on the next tier. After that, we were on lockdown, which meant we were restricted from all basic activities: no showers, no mail, no phone calls. We were fed in our cells. I didn?t talk to my family for over a year.
I was working on my appeal and had to go to the law library in handcuffs to work on my case. I had to sit and wait for hours until everyone finished their work to be escorted back to my cell. No bathroom breaks, even.
Your identity becomes reduced to digits and your name turns into a number. Guards ask ? what?s the last two numbers of your CDCR number?? instead of ?what?s your name??
Everyone had homeboys look out for them. I didn?t. I had to save my lunch and food because I was solo. I had to learn by listening and watching. I didn?t trust anyone and no one trusted me. I learned to be quick to listen and slow to speak. When I urinated, I had to watch my back so I wouldn?t be attacked.
Most groups communicated through hands signs to avoid being overheard by guards and rival groups. I had to stay alert and vigilant to learn what the signs meant.
One time, my family flew all the way from Mississippi to visit me but they were unable to get into because of the prison rules regarding unnotified visitors.
You lose your identity. My name has become a number. Guards ask ?what?s the last two numbers of your CDCR number?? instead of ?what?s your name??
It?s the small stuff that make life in prison so tortuous. One morning, guards cut off water to the toilets before they came to search the cells so we couldn?t flush any contraband away. We had no working toilets for thirteen hours, fro five in the morning to six in the evening. My cellmate and I tried to flush the toilet manually by pouring water in it but it didn?t work.
The food is unfit for human consumption, everything they sell to us in canteen is expensive, they enslave us with wages of just cents per hour and then take it back because of restitution, they are disrespectful of religious beliefs, even making jokes about Jesus as I enter chapel.
Amid all this, I have become a follower of Christ. Holding the hand of God is the only way I have found to cope with this situation and with His help, these days of hell on earth will be turned into eternity in heaven with Christ.
About the Author
Kory Darty is a certified mentor and has earned several other certificates in self-help and spiritual classes. He is currently completing his AA degree at Channel Islands Bible College. Although he has consistently claimed his innocence of the charges that led to his sentence, he takes full responsibility for contaminating his community with drugs and understands that if you break just one law, then you are guilty of breaking them all. His main goal is to continue to bridge the gap between hope and despair in communities from all walks of life and, as a faithful servant and follower of Lord Jesus Christ, to embody a symbol of hope in a world full of pain.