Wilson! Get yore stuff!

Diane Wilson is free again while she prepares an appeal of the decision given at last month’s loaded trial in Port Lavaca. She fasted for 8 days inside Victoria County jail, and before breaking her fast and after being released walked 5 miles homewards before being blessed with a lift. The hunger strike meant she was in threat of being constantly moved around the state jail system, with the promise of a secure mental facility if she persisted.

Victoria County jail is overseen by Sheriff Mike Ratcliff. Dow-Carbide’s Kathy Hunt (“but, Diane, $500 is plenty good for an Indian…”), just happens to sit on the board of at least two local organisations alongside Ratcliff, whose proud boast it is to have “initiated, for the first time in its history, the use of trusty-leyel(sic) inmates in the community as a cost-free work force.” Diane has written a vivid, spirited, horrifying and hilarious account of her time in Victoria County jail. You can read it exclusively here.

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Day Eight, day whatever.

I have been transferred three times. The first cell (a 20 x 15 cinder block)had 9 women inmates and they all had bottom metal bunks they slept on and kept their “stuff” on the top bunk and so didn’t want nobody up there. That was their shelf. Even a new cell mate. They tell me I can put my mat anywhere on the floor, just throw it down. The mat is like an exercise mat and if I want a pillow, then I can roll the mat at one end. Not fancy, wrap yourself in the blanket and you’re set for the night. This cell, I was later to find out, was a roudy group where the women (out of boredom or depression) slept until noon then raised hell the rest of the night. The minute the lights went out, the women started hollering about all manner of stuff to anybody that would listen. About three hours later, a woman jailer all dressed in black, came to the door and yelled,

“WILSON! GET YORE STUFF!

And everybody’s got ‘stuff’: what you’re marched in with, then ‘stuff’ you can buy if your lucky enough to have someone dropped off a money order outside to the jailers. Then you can buy stuff like shampoo and conditioner, and ragoo noodles (although there’s no hot water to mix with it) and pencils and paper and stamps and envelopes and baby oil. This is the jailhouse “commissary” and it comes around every Tuesday nite and if you have money in your prison account, you can buy whatever’s on the cart. It took me nearly 8 days to catch on to that routine. How you get the money into the acccount, how you know what’s in the commissary, how to guess what day the commissary cart is coming by….because nothing is done that is not on the prescribed day. The Cart only comes on Tuesday, on Thursday is the medcart where you can buy an aspirin, on Wednesday is when the mail comes, on Friday is laundry and so on and so on. So it was 8 days figuring out how to get shampoo and it was three days figuring out when I had visitation, and it was two days figuring out how the showers work.

In the second jail cell I found out how the showers worked. Jail cell No.2, the “Lock Up” held the problem prisoners and I was a problem because I was on a hungerstrike. Actual prison No.2 wasn’t so bad except it was only big enough to hold one cot and a toliet. So most of the time you were sleeping up near the wall like a spider and underneath you was the toliet. When I got bored in my little metal cell, I would read the messages pencilled on the wall. Rosa. Krystal, Nico, Me! Geneva. Some was philosopical: Why am I trying lying to live living to death? That was too much thinking for me so I went on to the Jesus messages…and there were plenty Jesus messages: Only Jesus loves me; Jesus calls everyone of us. On one wall was scratched the entire life of Jesus in stages.

The main selling point of Lock Up was the privacy but the weak point was lunacy. The lady next to my cell got into arguments with a woman in a far cell— often around 3 in the morning. These arguments would escalate into screaming fits of profanity and I learned exactly what one moma would do to another moma if they ever got ahold of them. That in turn brought put the guards (males and female) and that escalated the fight even more when the guards tried to drag out the womann to go visit “THE CHAIR” down the hall. (The chair was straight jackets and chains and an occasional zinging with an electric prod) By this time the woman next to me was wild as a mustang horse in a canyon and she was fighting the guards and running and slipping and they were hauling her ass off to the chair. And their she stayed, screaming and howling the rest of the night.

But getting back to how the showers worked in cell NO. 2. By the third day I still hadn’t had a bath but then I didn’t care, I was in my little cell, minding my own business, didn’t have frazzling thing to read so I spent a lot of time focusing on my breathing, counting to two then starting over and counting again. That would get me to noon and the lunch hour, but since I wasn’t eating, I’d sit in my cell and do exercises, push ups and sit ups and pacing around the 5×10 cell. Occasionally I’d see an inmate go to the single curtained shower / sometimes a woman would shower and sometimes she’d just get a bucket (bought from the commissary) and wash her single piece of underwear. Since laundry was only done once a week and only on the prescribed day, if a woman wanted clean anything, she’d go to the shower and stomped her clothes on the floor or wash it in a bucket. So it was this bucket that was the cause of the biggest fight of them all. The one female inmate that had quarried with the inmate next to me the previous morning, went into the shower and filled her bucket with cold water, then she came out and slung the entire contents onto the woman laying in her cell. So that day two inmates went screaming and hollering to “THE CHAIR”. That day I got transfered to Cell NO.3. The guard dressed all in black came to the cell and hollered,

“WILSON, GET YORE STUFF!”

Well, I still didn’t have a lot of ‘stuff’, as I hadn’t been able to order anything from the commissary so my stuff amounted to a 2 inch tooth brush, a tiny container of toothpaste the other women in the jail were using as paste, a 4 inch plastic comb, a 2 inch square hunk of soap, and a hand towel. So I took my handful of ‘stuff’ and my mat and my blanket and went into my final cell where I would spend the remainder of my time.

This was a quiet cell and the women were mothers and talked and wept about their children all the time. One inmate had her husband next door and they pounded messages on the wall. Rita had been jailed many times and even been sent to the federal pen which she had loved, it was much better than jail, she said, much better. She had went into the pen a size 14 and came out a size 4. She was in the county jail for lying to a cop about her name and because she couldn’t pay her bond, which was $200, she had been sitting in jail for 3 weeks waiting on her trial. The other woman was much younger and it was her first offense and she had been in jail for two weeks for possession of marijuana. Her bond was set at $350,000 and she had no idea when her trial was or how long she would be in jail, the state had tried to take her 3 children while she was in jail and that was most of her torment Worrying about her kids. She had yet to see a lawyer. This cell was totally shut off. The windows were covered and the only slot open was for food trays. And needless to say on that first day when I went up and refused my tray, the women shouted “LET ME HAVE IT!” so for the rest of my time in jail and while on the fast, the women ate the extra meal and felt that they had got one off on the system. They complained about the weight gain and laughed at how they would have to walk it off, but it was something pleasurable for them. The most exciting and gratifying time for an imate was the food trays. It was the only thing that broke up the day. Most of the inmates knew what I was in for. I was the protestor, the one that had climbed the Dow tower. On the first day in jail, one of the roughest women (she later ended up in THE CHAIR) wanted to know why I had climbed the tower. Her dad had worked at Union Carbide years ago so she was curious. When I talked about Bhopal and how many people had died and the tragedy that still existed there and how Carbide had never appeared in the Indian Courts, the woman shook her fist in the air.

“Tell them to hang in there, sister!” she said.

***

If you’d like to get in touch with Diane, please write to tim@bhopal.net .

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Diane was moved to Victoria County jail because of ‘the mould’ in Calhoun…

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