What I Did over Winter Break

February 1st, 2008 · No Comments

Ricky Fields served a week in the Story County Jail from December 14 to 21. He is a graduate of Ames High School and a student at Iowa State University. He wrote the following testimonial on the back of two sheets of paper he found in the complex. “It was dark enough that I couldn’t read what I was writing when I was writing it down, then I read it later when the lights were turned on,” he said.

Three in the goddamned morning in the Story County Jail and I can’t sleep. Partly because of Tiny’s sleep apnea, partly because they feed me my insomnia pill at 4 to 4:30 a.m., effectively knocking me out by 5:30 (jail policy: unaccounted-for sleeping pills are strictly verboten). The last few nights I’ve gotten up for two to three hours and gone back to sleep, which has at least gotten me through until 5:30 when breakfast, cold cereal, and a shitty doughnut are served, but this time I tried to just go all of the way through and couldn’t make it.

Whatever, two days and two nights to go.

What really strikes me about this place is that it’s actually more constricting than a cell with steel bars. Everything is white, like a hospital. The door is heavy and steel with computerized locks; next to it lies an intercom to talk to the supervising officer. Flourescent lights drape the whole cell in an unnaturally bright light.

The bathroom is in the back of the room with two toilets, one for each function. The number two toilet is in front with a plastic chair, newspapers propped up in front of it so nobody can see you shit. Above the sinks are polished metal mirrors; glass provides too much of a risk. The showers are button operated and the stream shoots directly from the wall.

A shower head could be used to hang oneself. Standard issue are two hand towels – a full sized towel may act as an accomplice in the hanging.

Also standard issue is a uniform straight out of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a pencil, a cup, a toothbrush that I was told fits nicely into the pencil sharpener to make a shiv, a soap dish, soap, shampoo, and a set of woolen blankets.

There are six bunk beds and two cots that lie on the ground. Two of the bunk beds lie in front of the only windows in here, artificially frosted over so you can never really see outside, with lights on the outside above them so you can never really know if it’s day or night, other than by the clock, which proudly displays its credentials as an atomic clock, as if we’re truly worried about the exact time.

No bullshit, the first person to greet me when I came in was a 6’7” dude pushing three and a quarter named Tiny. On his left forearm he had a tattoo that said “TINY,” and between the first and second knuckles on his left hand, sure enough, was tattooed “T” on the index, “I” on the middle, “N” on the ring, and “Y” on the pinky. I wish I could make this up.

There’s another guy in here who may just be the most annoying guy I’ve ever met. This guy makes me miss those annoying assholes on the outside, he’s that bad. First time I talked to him he was talking about the movie we were watching, The Quiet (or as he said it, “The Quaat”). He asked me who the actress was. I, being the all-knowing pop culture god that I am, answered, “Elisha Cuthbert,” and he immediately started talking to me, in an extremely roundabout way, about how hot she was. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me, but when someone sounds like a creepy uncle doing it that’s when I get a little squirmy.

Him: “Alissa Gilbert, oh yeah… that red dress she wore to that one premiere… The Girl Next Door, that’s it, that was a good dress.”

Me: “Uh… okay.”

“Yeah, she was a real good actress in that.”

He then started looking at the channel guide, stopping to read the names of the pornos we couldn’t buy.

Anal Sluts 9, oh man, I didn’t set my computer to record that one, sheeit!”

And, if having a creepy obsession with “Alissa Gilbert” and recording pornos during his jail time weren’t enough, he’s also that guy who doesn’t know how to watch movies with other people. A few selected quotes:

Talladega Nights, before the cougar scene: “Oh sheeit, here comes where he drives with that tiger in his car. You don’t want to piss that fucker off, he’ll bite you and sheeit.”

Same movie, cop chase scene: “Oh man, now he’s drivin’ from the cops cuz he has dem Cheerios on his car. Uh haw haw haw.”

Rush Hour: “I think I like Rush Hour 2 better.”

This guy laughed his dumbass redneck head off during two consecutive episodes of Home Improvement, then looked at me like I was crazy when I laughed at Seinfeld. Long brown hair, five o’clock shadow, rat face, glasses straight out of 1992: this guy was made to be in county jail.

There are three tables, each with four chairs surrounding them; four board games, no doubt missing pieces, that nobody ever wants to play; a rack of magazines ranking from old to semi-new, from Time to Sports Illustrated to People to Field and Stream. A phone and a television with satellite, both of which need to be turned on by the supervising officer – usually around 10 a.m. – round out the room.

I’ve spent a good portion of my time reading, some watching television, and as much as I can sleeping.

Tags: 2008 · Ames Progressive Classics · AP Issues · February 2008 · Nonfiction · Ricky Fields

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