Three weeks in the county jail. 1997,
and I am waiting
for a bed to open up at rehab. At night
I try to cry so quiet but Glory Dean
can always hear it. “Who’s that cryin’?
Stop it now, girl. Don’t you cry,” she always says,
just the way she always says the public phone
is The Devil’s Box. She knows
how it is and how it has to be
in here; Glory Dean
is an old customer, not like me
and Leslie. We’re new, but jail
is Glory’s haunt.
The rest of us are all in here
for the same thing: some man. Either suckin
the wrong one or stabbin the right one
or stabbin some poor woman over the right one, it’s always a damn man.
Only thing Glory loves is a needle,
and that’s what she’s in here for, again: stealin
for her need. I sucked for mine, but Glory won’t.
Says men are a curse
worse than heroin ever was
and she’ll be damned
if she ever comes to jail for one.
Leslie shows me her tattoo; “Ramon” in blue
flowing script down the curve
of her spine, for the daddy
of the baby taken, the daddy
who beat her, sold her, stole
the erstwhile baby’s formula to cut cocaine.
She says he loved her though,
like no one else ever did, brought her
ice and towels
when she got beat into the Genesee Street T-Bois.
Always fixed her up first, fought off the boys
behind Ceasaro’s when they tried
to fuck her. He was loyal. So
when that bitch started dancin
at Caesaro’s, started grindin
all up on him she didn’t blame him for lookin, no,
for laughin or for lettin her—no,
she blamed that bitch, cuz a man
is just a man. And she didn’t stab Ramon.
She’s 18 now. This is her first time in real jail,
not juvie. Her lawyer says
she might get 3 in here
instead of 5 to 10 downstate, if he can
knock the charge down
to assault from attempted.
The bitch lived, after all.
I’m lily-white and stupid.
Glory Dean mother-hens me as best she can.
“Stay OFF That Devil’s Box!” she hollers
whenever I hang up
with my man or my kids or whatever
shamed and angry family I just have to call
from jail. Compulsion. We need love
and friendly voices, and get neither.
Still we call. What else is there to do in here?
We are always either bored
or terrified. There is no in-between
and I would rather press that phone
tight tight tight
against my ear and listen
to my husband rant,
my children whimper than hear
one more scream
or shriek of crazy laughter
from inside this place
even if I sob all day afterwards.
But Glory Dean can’t stand it. “Stay OFF it!
That line goes straight to hell!” she yells.
Glory Dean is caramel-colored with gray,
wavy hair and brown eyes soft behind
thick glasses. She might have been
beautiful once, but now
she is swollen like overripe fruit
and her body weeps and seeps. Her arms are covered,
carpeted in round scars
that look like cigarette burns
but are too big. Somebody smoked fat cigars,
I think, and liked
to hear her scream. It looks like maybe
it took a long time for her to stop.
Glory Dean has names for all the guards in here.
“Pretty Girl” and “Blondie” and “Hatchet Face.”
Pretty Girl is nicest,
but every one of them is “Mean Bitch,” too,
and you don’t know
from day to day
which one you’ll get. 18 days in,
I’m sitting on my bunk at night, wet face pressed
against my knees while Glory mutters in her sleep
two cells down and Pretty Girl
walks up to my bars and stares at me.
I don’t look up. No warning, she unlocks the door,
walks in, sits down
at the other end of the skinny mattress that is giving me scabies, waits
until I lift my head. Looks me dead
in the eye and says, “don’t come to jail
anymore. You can’t do this. You’re not Glory,”
and she rises, walks out,
locks me back in.
3 days later
I’m sitting on a mattress just a little bit thicker
in rehab. Still crying.
Now with relief.
A year goes by. I get sober
by getting pregnant. Doesn’t work
for everyone, and I don’t recommend it.
I am leaving a doctor appointment, walking
down a hospital corridor when I see her,
shackled, limping towards me.
“Glory Dean!” I gasp, and rush to her
and throw my arms around her and realize
I have never touched her before.
Inmates not allowed to kiss or hug,
and so I did not know, until this moment
that I loved her.
“Don’t touch the prisoner!”
the deputies shrill and Glory nods her head,
agreeing, “Don’t, baby. I’m sick,” but I hold her
just a second more because
I love her and
I’m touching her skin
for the first time ever I feel
her caramel skin her scarred
brown skin and it
is so bizarrely, jarringly
Soft, like sugar, cream and butter
melting in a pan
my own chapped palms
scrape over it and I
am so surprised by it I laugh. Glory smiles.
I guess she knows about her skin.
In her cuffs
she can’t hug back so she offers her cheek,
presses it against my own. “You be good, girl,”
she tells me, and then she is gone, pulled off down the hallway
into another life
and I am standing, staring at three uniformed, retreating backs,
upturned hands full
of the sudden memory
of her skin.
Once while playing cards I asked her
where she got her name. “Named after my daddy,
that bastard,” she told me, and took the trick.
There is a time
our skin is still so smooth
before the world discovers
how soft it is