Jail Tales – 5 – Pod Power and how it works

The Pod is the collective word for the room containing a day room and cells.  In each Pod there is a power system which is based on some very simple algorithms.  He/She who can provide the most needed service, from translation to food…rules.

Maria – Bilingual, 50ish, Hispanic Seasoned jail time – Lulu – 38 – from the Congo, lesbian, acknowledged pod ruler been in there a year – Christiani, nearly a year fighting to stay in US on violence to women clause, German/Scottish, 40, Lulu’s obbo.  Lulu and Christiani were on food delivery.  

Aged  50ish, originally from Honduras, Maria had been in the US for 25 years. She’d made her first foray at age 20 or so, been caught and deported after only a few weeks in the country. She crossed again and this time stayed for 25 years during which she’d married, built up a cleaning business, bought a house of which half was paid off, paid her taxes and birthed two children who were now grown up and citizens.

If you come back after being deported once, that is a federal crime, a felony and you get sent straight to jail.   Maria had been visiting North Carolina from California, driving with no licence when she was caught.  She served 18 months in a county jail in North Carolina and as she was to discover, Maria had landed in one of the few great county jails in the South.

The Sheriff, an elected official who is top dog in the jail, had decided that education and activity should be part of jail life.  In general activities and education are normal in prison [where you go when convicted] but not in jail [where you go whilst awaiting trial or to serve out your missed probation payments or, in this case, to await deportation]. In those 18 months, Maria had spent every morning and afternoon out of her cell at classes, gotten her GSD and learned to speak fluent English.

Her arrival at Irwin Detention Centre as a guest of the Department of Homeland Swastika, ICE, division, meant that the Hispanic girls had another champion.   Prior to Maria’s arrival, that role had been filled by Magdalene, a long term Mexican undocumented worker who’d been caught selling fake social security numbers to fellow Mexicans so they could gain employment.

Maria soon gathered a clan of girls around her.   They tended to be young and fairly devout in their Catholicism as Maria appeared to be. Maria’s little baskets woven from paper were a delight.  She had her girls cut up paper and ran a paper basket weaving group in her cell, where she held court every night and ran bible classes.  And she gave those baskets away to everyone including the jailers. In those 18 months Maria had also learned how to do jail well. She was an ‘old pro’.

As a bilingual inmate Maria had considerable power and she allied herself to Lulu. She was a clever woman.  She was not unkind at all.  She dispensed extra food amongst those sitting at her table as she ate mostly food bought with money on her books.  But not everyone liked Maria. Some refused to be part of her group and ran their own prayers and kept their own counsel.

But Maria played the game.. and I didn’t. She tried to remain neutral whilst appearing to be in agreement with whoever she thought had the most power.

Maria used to lead a couple of girls around the pod at around 6pm on an exercise walk. There are a lot of Maria stories to tell… but that’s for another tale..

Our cells surrounded a ‘day room’. The room had a skylight of natural light, but the two stories echoed every sound.  There was a microwave and a TV and a number of sturdy stainless steel tables with long benches, firmly concreted into the floor which seated about 8 people..on two benches.  At lunch, most people picked their spot and that was their spot.  I moved around.  I sat on Maria’s table for a while and with the other Spanish girls.

When Lulu wanted someone out of the pod, she’d martial everyone, the two Chinese Girls were automatically with her.. as one of them helped serve food and the other did what her friend told her to.  She’d poll  the Spanish via Maria and do what was called ‘writing someone out’  +If enough people signed one of the official request forms stating they wnted her out..quite often the person was moved.  The authorities want to avoid any form of trouble.

Threatening to ‘write someone out’ was one of the ways Lulu used her power.  I even signed a ‘write out’ because I knew if I wanted to survive, I had to play this game, until I was ready. I only signed one ‘write out’ and when she engineered the next one against Rosemary, a Nigerian girl  I was the only who gave sanctuary to Rosemary and refused to sign.  . Rosemary moved to another pod, where I’d been before and soon settled in before being let out. I remember Rosemary fondly because we’d gotten together a rap dance.. and I’d learned the words of this song that we used to do together.  It wasn’t all misery and depression. and Rosemary’s ‘write out’ occurred as my powerbase was increasing and Lulu’s power over me was declining.

I fell out with Christiani before I fell out with Lulu.  Christiani had gotten me into share a cell with her but had since banished me  because I dared to go use the law library computer with Rosemary knowing that Christiani used it every day.  In this kind of world, logic, fairness, justice, sharing do not apply in the normal way.  She who holds the most power wins.

Christiani had been using this computer for a year, to research her case and if someone got in her way, they were wrong.  No argument. Like most people there her only goal was to survive and thrive as much as possible while she worked on getting herself an amnesty to stay in the US under the abused wive’s loophole.

So when Rosemary asked me to go to the law library computer with her to do some research, I went along. It was an excuse to get out of the cell even if it were housed in a dingy storeroom in which 1/3 of the room was divided by a huge gate behind which were kept mattresses and cleaning equipment.  The law library was a computer at a table with two chairs, where we could access all aspects of Immigration Law and nothing else.

Christiani and I had some good times despite our eventual fall out   As with Sunshine one of my favourite cellmates in the Fannin County Jail, I’d laughed and laughed sometimes till I felt sick.  But when I committed the sin of using the computer when she wanted it, I was ‘thrown out’ of her cell.  As it happens this was great because I got myself put into a cell right at the end that had been vacated the night before. Miss Mitchell had recommended that I be in a cell on my own.

My new ‘home’ was the last cell on the ground floor and was, IMO, in the best position, ground floor which meant I was close to the microwave and the TV, private because the room tapered to a short width at the end  and people did not pass by or hang out at that end. There were no tables. I could also could stand in front of my door during inspection knowing all my ‘contraband’ was hidden behind the door. They never once thought to look there..  It was a blessing and my time with Christiani had given me enough ammunition to challenge Lulu.

And I did.. in front of everyone…

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