|Melissa Chipman's Journal From Chemung Jail
One of the first things I noticed was a strange antiseptic perfume smell.
After they ask you all your identification info and they finger-print you; they take away all your personal belongings and clothes, replacing them with clean, used underwear and orange jumpsuit and their super bright orange tennis shoes - minus ties. (Actually, they're a combination tennis shoe/loafer.)
Next comes the handcuffs and the shackles on your feet for the transport to Chemung County Jail. When we got there we were met by one female and one male escorted us to the intake room. More questions and specifically whether we were suicidal or had depression tendencies. Next, the mug shots. and more finger-prints. After waiting in a holding cell and being allowed one phone call, it was approximately 3 A.M. We were escorted to the oldest part of the jail, metal everywhere. I was taken to a cell block labeled 7A and Sandra was in a different cell block, 7D. We were not allowed to see one another. It was somewhat annoying for the first 24 hours and then my nose got used to it.
Because of the threat of tuberculosis everyone is required to have a PPD (or TB) shot. They made us wait approximately 29 hours until the nurses were available. Sandra and I went to see the nurse with eight women had arrived from Binghamton. That jail was overfilled.
I remembered my last PPD shot was at least seven years ago and I had had a reaction to the detergent that was used in the serum. At that time, the Hospicare nurse said, "It's not a positive reaction to tuberculosis bur, an allergy.". When I told the jail nurse, she would not give me the shot and sadly said, "I'll try to see if the superior will authorize a chest x-ray." I didn't know at that time that I would be confined for my whole stay in what is called "lock/down". I was allowed to leave my cell for 20 minutes per day to take a shower and make one phone call. Fortunately, Jim had prearranged for this by paying on the phone service. You can only call phone numbers which have been put into the system under your name. My phone calls only lasted 15 minutes and I only called Jim's number.
The cell was small with its own personal stainless steel toilet and sink. One hook under the metal shelf to the left of the sink for my brown raggedy cotton towel, larger than a hand-towel but, smaller than a real path towel. There was another small metal shelf under the old-fashioned boxed light fixture on the wall, which never turned off. Across from my metal bunk was another bigger bright fluorescent light fixture which was turned down to the "night" light (still very bright) at 9:30 P.M. At 5:00 A.M. the bright lights came on. Fortunately there were slotted windows with dirty screens open to the inside courtyard. At least, we got some air from outside. One of the first mornings when I was getting acclimated to my cell, I noticed two little sparrows flirting and chirping in between the slots of the window. I felt like this was a blessed sign that I would be okay.
The walls were metal with old white paint and many chips and marks on them but, nothing else. The floor was cement with a large crack in it, painted with old gray paint. The metal walls surrounded me on three sides. The walls where the loud metal barred door was contained vertical and horizontal bars. I could communicate with the five other women in the block, but no touching!
There was a wonderful woman right next to my cell who was also in lock/down because she had asked the runner who had been delivering the food trays to all the inmates to stop spitting in their food trays. The woman refused and Cassandra got into a fish-fight with her. They were both confined to a cell for 40 days! Cassandra told me the essential things I needed to know: no one else tells you. She told me things like the times food is served, when to stand up for "count". When the guards change shifts they have to take a count to make sure all the inmates are still alive. The guards' job includes coming into the block every 30 minutes to press an old-fashioned button on the wall which would flash with a red light when pushed - like the small ones you would press when you want to cross the street.
I was told I would be issued a pillow along with my 4 pair of underwear, 4 sports bras, 4 pair of white cotton socks, 4 dirty-white T-shirts, navy blue sleeping T-shirt, , two orange jump suits, one lightweight blanket and two very thin very small sheets. Both of my sheets had large holes worn right through. I didn't get the pillow until I asked three times for one. When I finally got it, I could not believe how thin it was!
Time seemed to pass so slowly. There were no clocks anywhere. The only way we knew what time it was by the tolling of the church bells. Luckily, the bells only rang from 8:00 A.M. until 6:00 P.M., not while we were trying to sleep.
Two days after I'd been confined I started feeling the effects of withdrawal from my medication. Anxiety and the strange feeling of being in a body but, not really normal. I asked a guard for my medication. I think it must have been at least two hours until someone came with the pills. That person assured me that from now on I would get my medication starting tomorrow! The angels in my cell block, Cassandra and Alice, told me that they serve everyone who needs medicine at 4:00 A.M. If I wanted to get the medicine I had to get up (out of a dead sleep), walk down the block after the loud clanging of my cell door, with a cup of water and take my pills in front of the guard. They don't trust you to disperse your own medicines - They are so afraid that people will commit suicide.
The weekend was slightly more relaxed because Cassandra told me they never do cell searches. Also, the night guard was a very kind young woman. She dispenses my drugs at 4:00 A.M. with a smile. Hardly anyone ever smiles.
Visitors may come to see inmates on Monday, Wednesday and Friday between the hours of 2:30 P.M. and 9:00 P.M. After your visit in which you may hug once at the beginning and once at the end, the inmate has to submit to a strip search. I was told I had a visitor on Monday afternoon. I told the guard I wanted to know who it was. The guard didn't know and told me I would not have to submit to a strip search if I went downstairs to look and see who it was. The next guard, who was supposed to escort me downstairs told me"Oh, NO! if you go downstairs at all you have to submit to a strip search whether you have a visit or not!.". I refused the visit. Sorry whoever it was who came to see me...
By Tuesday (sixth day) I was getting quite claustrophobic and really felt like I needed to see the outside. I read through the Inmates' Handbook and realized it said that everyone has the right to go outside for recreation for exactly one hour per day. Even Cassandra who was in lock/down was allowed to go to recreation for one hour. I felt that I should be allowed to go outside even if it was alone, since they had not determined that I did not have tuberculosis. I filled out a grievance form and felt a little bit better.
I had read two books borrowed from Alice, the librarian. One called The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn was very appropriate. I recommend this book to everyone. It helps to explain what is happening in the United States and where we have gone wrong.
Sunday night the boys who were locked-up right below us, (the ones who were really bad and in chains and shackles) would not stop shouting and chanting loudly until after midnight. I really felt the effects of sleep deprivation after that. The fluorescent lights, the shouting, and the constant checking of the guards make it very hard to sleep. And, I wanted to make sure I had some privacy to sit on the toilet, I had to keep track of the guards coming in to push the button because then you know you have about 30 minutes until he or she comes again.
I would brush my teeth at least twice a day; I felt like my breath was very bad from the bad diet with too much sugar and white bread. We got hot dogs and buns twice a week, bologna sandwiches twice a week, salisbury steak once, and a dried out chicken paddy once. All the vegetables and some of the fruit we got was canned or frozen. I noticed there was 12% sugar added to the milk. The only other drink we received was some powdered Kool-Aid.
I tried to meditate. It was very challenging between 11:00 A.M. and 9:00 P.M. because the television was loud and blaring right in front of my cell.
Most of the successful meditations I had were after 9:00 P.M. and before4:00 A.M.
One of the bright spots of my day was at about 2:30 when I was allowed to get out of my cell and take a shower. I had twenty minutes in which to do this. While I was in the shower, all the others in my cell block had to be locked in their cells. During these valuable twenty minutes I could also make one phone call. I called Jim, my wonderful partner. Jim had set-up in advance a phone calling charge account. It costs over $5.00 per each 15 minute phone call. The machine cuts you off at exactly 15 minutes. A computerized voice announces at the beginning of the call that it is being monitored. When you pick up the phone a voice prompts you to say your name. Then after you dial the phone number you have to wait and wait until either your party answers or the phone machine voice tells you, "You cannot be connected now." Jim had to answer the call and say he would accept the phone call to the machine. Then, the machine would connect us.
Another bright spot in the day was when the runner came around with ICE! My angel friend, Cassandra, had loaned me a plastic cup and bowl. I would hand these items out to the runner and she would return them filled with ICE. She did this twice, sometimes three times per day. I was so grateful to have the cool water after the ice melted. I was really glad to have it at night. The water from our private sink was warm and didn't taste good.
By Tuesday I was getting pretty dehydrated, even though I had access to water. My lips became cracked and my skin felt dry. Tuesday night you can fill-out a computerized "bubble" sheet to order things from the "Commissary" or store. There is a limited list of items you could order. The prices are inflated. I ordered things I could give back to Cassandra to pay her back for the things she loaned me. Plus, some other things like peanut butter which I learned she liked. There is a lot of junk food and candy on the list.
What a relief to get released on Wednesday night, even if it was aftermidnight! Thanks so much to everyone who was there at the Schuyler County Jail to meet us with flowers and real home-made food! You are my wonderful, supportive community and I am very grateful!