When I was in jail I wrote letters out asking for friends to send in letters or just a piece of paper soaked with essential oil. The stench of the officers’ cheap perfume was ghastly and I knew some healing essential oil smells would cheer me up.
I didn’t know it at the time, but one of the sergeants [the highest rank in that jail under the captain] whose job it was to read our outgoing mail was also an aromatherapy freak.
One day on my way to the dentist [I was allowed out because I was able to pay for the dentist] she came out of her office, opposite the bench where I was waiting for a jailer to collect me, and handed me a tiny plastic zippy bag. Inside was a piece of cotton wool smothered with the most divine mixture of aromas.. all natural oils and a little note saying ‘what do you think is in this?’.
Returning from the dentist, Ms Josephs, the over made up female jailer [lowest rank] who was nice one moment and nasty the next, found it as she searched me. She said ‘where did you get this?’. I said ‘someone gave it to me’. I was searched in the same place I waited for the jailer. My angel was sitting at her desk, with the office door open. She overheard and piped up ‘I gave it to her’. As she was the senior officer the jailer was reluctantly forced to gave it back to me.
Later on I had a set to with a girl who was lying on a bunk in the outer pod, out of it. She’d been brought in the night before.. I was trying to talk reasonably to Brandy, the bully, about the TV. This girl suddenly sat up and said ‘This is JAIL.. we don’t need your f*ing Cadillac ways here’. Then she sunk back into her stupor. The next day I approached her – she was still woozy but more awake. I smiled and said ‘I come in peace’. Then I told her that I was a writer and I thought her ‘Cadillac ways’ line was superb and I would use it in a story. She looked at me and smiled ‘I’m sorry she said, I was out of it’.
She then told me she was facing two years inside. I went back to my cell and gave her a little bit of the cotton wool soak.. I said ‘this will make you feel better’. From that day we became firm friends.
I started giving the oil to other girls and showed them how I’d rubbed into the pages of my bible. Soon we all had nice smelling bibles.
The bully, who hated me, got her manky cellmate and another girl, who followed her like lambs, to sign a complaint. They said the smell gave them headaches. I was called out by an officer – he didn’t search my cell which he could have done – he just asked politely ‘can you bring that out to me as we’ve had a complaint’. I brought him a tiny bit. By this time my angel had already smuggled more stuff into me.
Naturally, the cell pod still smelt of this delicious aromatherapy so Brandy complained again. A voice came over the tannoy [this is how they announce things] saying ‘bring that stuff out’. One girl piped up and said ‘I have some but it’s rubbed into my bible’. Then two or three other girls joined in ‘It’s in my bible’. What could they do. This was the Southern bible belt and the bible was sacred. It made me think of Spartacus when they all cried out ‘I am Spartacus’.
I continued to receive aromatherapy in the next jail. The women who opened the mail and who also reeked of cheap perfume said ‘what’s that ghastly smell we’re gonna throw it away if you don’t stop getting it sent in?’. I begged them and said ‘my husband sent me a letter already with stuff on it.. I promise it will be the last’. They let it through. It was soaked in cedarwood oil. I gave little bits of the envelope to people and everyone loved it. I found it the other day. It still smelt of cedarwood.. even after all this time.
I see this as a kind of rebellious triumph.
The girl who called me Cadillac Ways and whose street name was Sunshine, became my cellmate by chance and we spent many an evening in our cell laughing our socks off. As soon as they announced the ‘move’, Brandy the bully, commiserated with her on becoming my cellmate. She just smiled and said ‘actually I like her.. a lot’. Yet another triumph. I soon realized that she was a sort of top dog well respected on the outside and inside everyone wanted to be her friend. She had a heart of gold and a horrible background that you couldn’t make up. The morning I left for the next jail, she helped me pack up and we cried as we hugged goodbye.
The picture shows what I think was the back of the jail. We had windows that looked onto the street. Having a window wasn’t always such a good thing.. looking out was sometimes more painful than having no view at all.