I must admit, when I think of prison, images from Shawshank Redemption, American History X and the DVD cover of Charlize Theron’s North Country (I never did see that movie) fill my brain. It was this limited, yet highly dramaticized, exposure to corrections facilities that pumped me full of inflated expectations on my trip to one’s of Arizona’s women’s prisons.
A Glimpse Into the Life of Wearing Orange
As we pulled up to the parking lot, a team of search men dressed in black ordered us out of the car and large, ferocious, rabid looking canines jumped in and immediately began sniffing and tearing apart our luggage. I hoped they wouldn’t pull out any embarrassing objects and cringed, remembering that in the morning rush I had stuffed my dirty underwear into the top of my bag. After determining we had left all of our AK’s and grenades at home, we got back in and drove to the front.
Once inside, we waited our turn to walk through the metal detector. I noticed what looked like family members holding freshly baked pies and could only imagine what cleverly concealed objects lay enveloped in the apple fruit filling — a mini ice pick or a nail file perhaps? We each walked through the detector and were met with another uniformed man who frisked us before we were allowed to walk into the Sallie port, a small room with doors on both ends. One door had to be completely closed before the other one could be opened.
I wanted to ask where the restroom was, but I couldn’t hear myself thinking. As soon as we walked out of the Sallie port, the noise level was amazing. All I could hear up and down the floor was the rhthmyical clanging of tin cups against bars. Were we in the middle of a riot? Yells and war calls filled the air and we were quickly ushered into another meeting space…
…So that was all what I expected. But actually, nothing quite like it really happened.
The dogs that searched the cars looked really happy and gleefully wagged their tails as they sniffed around and no one carried any pies holding hidden escape tools. I didn’t even get frisked. After we walked through the Sallie port, what greeted us was the bright, warm Arizona sunshine and lots of open space. We waited for a van to come pick us up, but there was nothing around except squat gray buildings. The van dropped us off at our meeting space and every wall was covered with scenes of bears playing or horses running, all done by the inmates.
As we sat around the table discussing business with our enthusiastic sales partners, I almost forgot I was in prison talking with prisoners. If only they weren’t all wearing the same citrus orange from head to toe, I think I really would have forgotten. Outside in the courtyard, people laughed, milled about, walked around.
I remember when I first found out that the ladies who do our sales calls were in prison, I immediately thought about which gang I would join if I ever went to prison — could I get away with joining a general Asian one or would I have to pick a specific one for Cambodians? Now when I think about being a lady working as a sales caller from prison, I think that I could benefit from being on a stricter schedule and that I might paint an underwater scene if no one objected.
Last modified: January 10, 2019