[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1936365502″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41sdSInRUwL._SL160_.jpg” width=”102″]Page 2: Inside this Place, Not of It [Excerpt] Irma Rodriquez’s Story
Excerpted from Inside this Place, Not of It edited by Ayelet Waldman and Robin Levi. Published by Voice of Witness Books.
It’s Like the Cycle was Never Broken
I was locked up at the age of twelve for truancy, being a runaway and a delinquent, and for using PCP. My grandparents were devastated. They just couldn’t understand how it had gone wrong. But they were loyal, and when I was in juvenile hall my grandmother would not miss a visit. That lady was the first one there and the last one to leave. I remember the counselors there would give her lists of things I was allowed to have, half of which I didn’t even need, and she would bring every single thing on the list. My grandma even started bringing things for the other girls, too. It was like she was the grandma of the whole unit. All the girls knew that when she was coming, everybody was getting something.
I was in for three months, and then they let me out. But I was only out for a couple months and then it began all over again. It was like a cycle. I would be out for a little while, and the probation would come and pick me up again, out of nowhere
I wrecked my teenage life. To me, life was hanging out and going to parties and going to the drive-in with the guys.
Once, when I was fifteen, I was sent to a juvenile probation camp instead of juvenile hall. When they began letting me go out on passes to go home for the weekend, I just left. That’s when I got pregnant. By then I was drinking alcohol and smoking PCP on a daily basis. When my baby daughter was born she was taken into custody and I was sent back to juvenile hall. My grandparents were too old to take care of the baby. By that time, though, my mom had gotten off the methadone and was able to get custody of her.
I was so glad my little daughter didn’t end up in foster care. I hear a lot of stories about sexual abuse here in prison. I’ve seen women crying on the phone because they’ve just heard that somebody had touched their little girl in the wrong areas; I don’t think I could endure hearing that about my baby. And it breaks my heart to hear these girls talking about having sex with their fathers, of being abused. I might have had a harsh childhood, but not like the stories that I’ve heard from the women in here. There are some really hurt individuals in here, and I’m not talking just mentally, but physically—scarred and damaged so they can’t have kids. So it makes me so grateful that my mom was able to rebound and care for my daughter. At least she avoided being abused in foster care. But of course, in the end, she had a baby at fifteen too. It’s like the cycle was never broken. My mom wasn’t married and had me young. I wasn’t married, and I had my daughter young. I only hope my granddaughter will be able to break the cycle.
You Can Get Accustomed to the Loss of Dignity
The first time I was sent to prison, I was eighteen. I was convicted of possession, transportation, and sale of PCP. I had large quantities, apple juice bottles of that stuff. My first trip to prison was for six years, and I’ve pretty much been in and out since then. Now I’m in my mid-forties. In the first institution I was taken under the wing of lifers who knew I was a baby and couldn’t take care of myself. A lot of them played mom and a lot of them played sister, and they taught me the morals and principles of how to carry yourself, and the dos and the don’ts of surviving in prison. I learned that you have to carry yourself right, carry yourself with respect.
It’s hard to explain how degrading prison is to someone who’s never experienced it. You are told when to wake up, when you can bathe, when you can brush your teeth. You stand for twenty minutes waiting for a door to open just so you can walk in a line and go eat. You’re given three minutes to shovel down your food and then you’re right back in that line, waiting for the door to open up again so you can go put your stuff away. Through all this you have constant yelling over an intercom.
There’s a lot of heartache, a lot of crime, and a lot of violence and chaos. Crammed into a building with 200 women you’ve got 200 different kinds of cultural backgrounds, ethics, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions. You’ve got 200 different ways of processing emotions. There are some women who can’t read, some who weren’t even taught how to shower. They come in here and they are stripped of their dignity. They can’t even go to the bathroom without male staff watching. You can get so accustomed to the loss of dignity that your standards just disappear.
But some women come in who have never even taken off their clothes in front of their own husbands. They get so upset and so embarrassed, they cry. What makes me the saddest is that I find myself hardening up, saying things to them like, “What are you crying about?” I have to remind myself to have compassion. Just because I’m used to it doesn’t mean someone else is. It’s so sad to see women coming here who really don’t know how to deal with prison. They’ve never been out of their homes. They’re in here for ridiculous stuff: making bad decisions, helping someone out. They were just so naïve and gullible that another person was able to reel them in. And they’re incarcerated with people who’ve committed murder. It’s like one pit. Everyone’s thrown in one pit.
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