An Evening In Jail
Today's blog is an article I wrote after I spent an evening in jail. Carol Grier
On a lovely evening in July, I went to the Coffee Creek jail for women. Earlier, I
had met Marilyn Read, who has led a book club there for ten years. I had given her
copies of my memoir, "Choices," for the club to read. Later, Marilyn told me that the
members wanted me to come to the next meeting to discuss the book with them. I could
only hope they had liked it; if they hadn't, well, that's the gamble every writer takes.
On the drive there, Marilyn told me that these women were educated and some even
had college degrees. When we arrived, we walked into a reception area much like those
in any government building, except for the very high counter. We had to produce our identifications and then wait for a woman who would escort us.
When she arrived, we were taken into a long hall with doors on each side but no
windows. We continued through that impersonal hallway and out into a bleak cement
area. It was just a wide and long area of cement with a high cyclone fence at each end.
There were no green trees or bushes outside those fences to break the awful emptiness I
began to feel. We went through another building where our escort unlocked one of the
doors and we went out into another cement area like the last one. It began to give me a
creepy feeling because every door we went through had to be unlocked and locked
In the next building, there was a man sitting at a desk behind a barred window. He
needed to keep our identifications until we left the area. I am never without my driver's
license. But I gave it to him and we finally came to the building where the book cllub
meeting would be.
The room was almost grim but at least there were bookshelves with worn looking
books in them. When our escort sat at a desk in a recessed area, I realized that she was
going to be nearby through the whole session.
There were seven women in the group. Two of them brought dogs with them. I was
surprised and pleased that the jail had a program for socializing dogs. I hoped it would be
a comfort for the women who trained them.
At first, a few of the women seemed a little ill at ease, but so was I. When everyone
was settled, Marilyn asked each woman, individually, how she liked my book. Imagine
how I felt when each one said she loved it.
"It felt like you were talking directly to me...I love your writing style...I couldn't
put it down...you addressed things that we couldn't talk about years ago."
It was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. And later, when I read the
list of books they had read through those ten years, I was stunned. Authors such as:
Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Jane Smiley, Anna Quindlen,
Rebecca Wells, Amy Tan, and Frank McCourt, to name only a few. I honestly don't
fancy myself to be in their league, but I was so pleased that my writing had touched
those women. And they were the very people for whom I wrote the book; women who
had not had easy lives.
I discovered that each of those women were in jail because of a man. One of them
told me that she had killed a man who was abusing her child. Can any mother say she
might not have done the same? This particular mother has been in jail for twenty-one years.
She didn't get to raise that child. She is an American Indian. More than likely she had not
had access to a good lawyer.
Some of the other women had been in jail for twenty years. These were not old women, so they had been very young when they were incarcerated. I, personally, could not have
endured missing all the precious times they have lost. I doubt that they have much privacy.
Reading a book must help keep them alive and sane.
We talked for quite a while about the book and the things it had stirred in them. That's
when I truly understood that these rational, intelligent women had to be left behind, locked
in, in every conceivable way.
I want to give copies of my book, "Choices, a Memoir," to organizations who help women who have been abused. If anyone reading this article knows someone who is working with
one of those groups, I would appreciate any help you can give me.
Carol Grier - firstname.lastname@example.org www.wiseoldcarol.com