Saturday, October 11, 2014

Orange is the New Black: Alice's story, part two

Before Orange is the New Black  was published, author Piper Kerman asked me if I would give her permission to use my real name in her memoir. I said yes, it was OK. She wanted to tell the story of my unfortunate experience while working as a tutor in the education program at the Federal Prison Camp in Danbury, Connecticut. This unfortunate experience resulted in my being sent to the segregation unit in the main prison (the Federal Correctional Institution). In the book, once I am taken away to segregation (called the "Special Housing Unit," the SHU, or "seg"), I am never mentioned again, almost as if I have fallen off the face of the earth. But, alas, nothing quite that dramatic occurred to me, so here is my story.

Synopsis of yesterday's episode:  I was in the SHU after having been delivered there by a reluctant lieutenant.  It was a brand new experience of claustrophobia and overstimulation for a person who lives with hyperacute hearing, auditory processing disorder, and sensory disorder (namely, me). The story continues to unfold...

I was lost in the chaos and confusion of the prison world.
I was working as a tutor in the education department, as was my roommate. I will call her Merry Lee, but that's not actually her name. She had a long sentence for some sort of drug-related charge. The government called her the "kingpin." She said that the person who really was the kingpin was so stupid that the government refused to accept the idea that he could have masterminded any sort of crime whatsoever. And he wasn't the only stupid person. Apparently, the staff instructor in the prison's GED program wasn't too smart. One day, Merry Lee asked me, "What is nine to the second power?" Math isn't my best skill and I was hopelessly bored in school with a never-ending supply of arithmetic worksheets. Despite my weak mathematical background, I did not hesitate in saying, "eighty-one." She told me that the instructor said that the answer was eighteen. 
Eighteen? Really???
I felt like a math whiz.
Unfortunately, that feeling lasted for about two seconds.
Every day, Merry Lee begged me to submit a "cop out" (inmate request to staff) for the open tutor job. I was not sure that I really wanted that sort of job. Eventually, I agreed to apply for the position so that I could help out Merry Lee and, maybe, teach a little creative writing to the students, especially since math seemed to be beyond me.
Before long, I discovered that I was in the Job from Hell. The students shouted their conversations in the classroom and the teacher showed up sporadically. There were only a few textbooks in the room because, apparently, a few months earlier, the textbooks had somehow gotten moldy and were discarded. I'm not sure how that happened and I wasn't sure of why the textbooks had yet to be replaced.
Every day, I left the classroom with pain in my ears. I went back to my room and crocheted. Or I went outside and walked the track. I brought my little overpriced radio and listened to classical music through headphones. I wanted out of that nightmarish job but, when I asked the counselor, he said no, that I had to stay in the job for 90 days before I could get a job change. As time went on, the teacher's behavior escalated. He showed up to class more frequently so that he could teach his favorite subject, essay writing. He tried to get the students to write about how wonderful George W. Bush was as a president but they expressed confusion about the topic. He attempted to teach grammar but his grammar was incorrect. I pointed that out. Later, he said that, if I wanted to correct him, I had to do it in private and not in front of the students. My other alternative was to write him a note.
OK, I said.
One day, he ordered a shy student to read out loud. She said that she felt uncomfortable about doing that. I understood her feelings. I had been very shy as a child and, in fact, continued to be shy. No one knew because I covered up my shyness with a lot of chatter. The teacher told her that he was giving her a direct order to read and, if she continued to refuse, he would have her sent to the SHU for violating a direct order. I proceeded to write him a note: "Threatening students is generally not considered to be an effective teaching technique." Then I handed it to him, trying hard not to burst into a self-satisfied smirk. 
He looked at the note and turned bright red. Uh oh, I thought. I am headed to the SHU right now! That is the end of me! I am toast. Not just toast, but toasted toast... burnt toast... inedible burnt toast.
The teacher ripped the paper into itty bitty pieces. Whew, I thought. He just destroyed the evidence of what he might have termed my insubordination. What a relief! I was not on a one-way trip to the SHU after all.
Afterward, he let me know that I had to choose my side. Either I was with him or I was with them. He was going to make sure that as many as three students were placed in the SHU for ninety days. They would be hot and miserable and he was going on vacation, where he would relax and enjoy his wonderful life.
I didn’t say anything about this side-choosing. That didn’t sit well with him.
“YOU ARE AN INMATE!” he roared abruptly. I thought about flipping over at this sudden outburst, much like Charlie Brown did when someone suddenly yelled. But, alas, I couldn’t violate the laws of gravity quite as easily as I could violate laws prohibiting trespass on a military base. So I just looked at him. He continued, “YOU ARE IN JAIL!”
Um. Oh, now he tells me. Well, that would explain that really atrocious fashion statement that I was sporting.
Betsy, my fence-crossing companion, was also tutor but the teacher never visited the classroom in which she was teaching because she was teaching in Spanish and he did not speak Spanish.
One day...
(to be continued)


Laurel Regan said...

Very interesting story - thank you for sharing!

Jeanne Melanson said...

Ooh! I love this story. Keep it coming! :)

Alyce Eccentrick said...

Thank you, will do so.