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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend some nights incarcerated without your methadone?  You don't have to wonder any longer.  Cynthia tells it just the way it is.  Thanks Cynthia for allowing us permission to use your writings.

 by Cynthia Lee Ozimek


When you are incarcerated in the King County Correctional Facility, your cell is referred to as a “house”; I don’t know why. At six by eight feet, it is not exactly a grave, but neither does it resemble any house that I have ever lived in. When you leave your individual cell, you are not exiting your “house”;  - - - -rather, you are “racking forward.” Conversely, when you return to your cell, you are not being locked in — you are—”racking back.” All this talk of racking in and racking out reminds me of some bizarre sadomasochistic sidewalk sale, - held every year at Halloween on the sidewalk outside the “Bon Marc-Che.

Tonight, in cell block B on the ninth floor of the King County Jail, - no one can sleep. - This is because an addict in Four House is withdrawing from methadone.     I don’t know if it is really true, - - but I am told that methadone is one of the most debilitating narcotics to withdraw from without the benefit of medical intervention. Over time, methadone eats away at the user’s bone marrow.  -Thus, in addition to the constant retching, diarrhea, and muscular cramping, - - the methadone addict experiences, she also — quite literally aches in the innermost core of what seems to be her soul.

In addition to the vomiting and incessant flushing of the stainless steel jailhouse - toilet, the addict in question is kicking at her cell door and begging for someone, anyone,to help her. In jail, we refer to the answer of an unmedicated addict’s pleas for help as“divine intervention.”  It happens no more than the" second coming of
Chirst."

Finally, at 3 a.m., three decidedly unsympathetic guards arrive at the cell door of four house with mace, handcuffs, and baby-blue latex gloves.  - - The addict with-drawing from methadone has threatened to hang herself;  - -the three correctional officers place her in restraints and escort her to the seventh floor.

I have only been incarcerated on the seventh floor one time, for about three days, but I can still vividly recall my feelings of dissolution: confined to my cell for 23 hours each day with nothing to read, to write, without being able to communicate with anyone. 

Every now and then, a King County public health psychiatric nurse would appear in the small paint-chipped hole in my door, asking me, If was hearing any voices.   I replied that no, thank you, I was not hearing voices, - -but after being in isolation for seventy-two hours I would have welcomed a voice of any kind — even if it was a voice I could hear only in my mind.

As if conditions on the seventh floor could get worse, female psychiatric inmates are now often “housed” outside of their cells on synthetically wrapped mats, with-out blankets, in full view of the correctional officers. This is to ensure they are not harming themselves or anybody else.


Consequently, female psychiatric inmates are also now in full view of their male psychiatric counterparts confined in the adjoining tank. Elaine, an inmate at the jail who is diagnosed with both drug addiction and bipolar disorder, told me that, in the context of being treated for her mental illness on the seventh floor, she had never seen nor been flashed by so many penises in all of her adult life.

»»»»»  On a more personal note, I am currently incarcerated in the county jail for possession of $40 worth of crack cocaine in the Belltown section of Seattle. While Seattle’s West Precinct undercover vice officers gave chase to the individual who had sold me my narcotics, I slipped serenely unaware around the corner of Lenora and First Avenue.  I would have gotten away, if I hadn’t stopped to pet a very cute puppy in front of Tully’s.  - - -You want to talk about feeling like one of America’s dumbest criminals.

Like Elaine, I am dually diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and drug addiction.- To this end, my public’”pretender” (indigent counsel) and the state’s prosecutor are involved in a legal argument over whether I am a criminally disposed addict - or simply attempting to medicate the symptoms of my mental illness. - This reminds me of the age-old discussion over which came first, the chicken or the egg.  - - In   any case, the end result is the same.   I have again been incarcerated on a charge of Violation of the Uniform Controlled  Substance Act, - - and I must again write to my editor at Real Change and advise him that my next article will not be submitted in a timely manner.

On the subject of narcotics, I have never met an addict who, through the usage of drugs, was attempting to better get in touch with herself.  - - -  In this sense, in my attempt to escape the ramifications of my poverty, my mental illness,and my home -lessness, I am no different than any other addict incarcerated in the King County Jail. Despite the often positive outcome, I hate 12-step groups. I think their sayings are stupid (“easy does it,” or “one day at a time”), and I do not trust their dogmatic emphasis upon a male Christian God.  - - - - -  I don’t want to pray to “Our Father.”  Exactly whose father is “our Father” anyway?  He’s not my father. 

My father, in the last years of his alcoholic life, was not a very nice man. - - I don’t want to pray to him. And, finally, when those individual 12-steppers gush on and on about how much they love me, I don’t believe them. For most of my childhood years social workers, foster parents and court-appointed advocates ,- told me how much they loved me and then used the trust inherent to that love to annihilate me.

- - - - Having acknowledged my aversion to recovery groups, however, I must also acknowledge that there are “things” in life I hate far more than 12-steppers. -  For instance, I hate the metallic clicking sound a pair of handcuffs makes as they are placed firmly around my wrists by various members of the Seattle Police.  - And I detest the dirty, disowning glances I am given by the average Seattle citizens who have seen me with those handcuffs upon my wrists.  - - -  - And I really despise the carrion-like fragrance a jail holding tank takes on, upon holding hostage the lives of 20 or 30 unwashed, un-deodorized male inmates. This said, upon my release, I will go to whatever “12 step” or “rational recovery group”  or “voodoo narcotic’s withdrawal fest” the State of Washington deems necessary to my rehabilitation.

It is dinnertime at the K.C.C.F.  According to the correctional institution, exactly 63 cents is spent per day to feed each inmate.   - -This fact is evident in this evening’s meal, which is commonly referred to by the county’s prisoners as “bicycle parts." We call it bicycle parts because it tastes like rubber and looks likes metal bolts. 

This evening’s bicycle parts are accompanied by seven sodden green beans, two pear pieces canned sometime prior to the First World War, and three slices of fake “enriched” wheat bread designed to fill the belly and psych out the stomach into believing it has eaten something it can actually identify.

I am called outside the northern ninth floor wing of the jail for medical “triage,” a process that typically involves an overburdened, ill-tempered public health nurse, a closet-like examination room, and an abundance of Maalox or Metamucil.  The same nurse who is now ready to see me has just treated a case of suspected lice, taken a blood pressure reading, and changed the dressing of an infected abscess with the same unwashed and ungloved hands.

I decline to be treated and the guard who oversees the safety of the nurse threatens to “infract” me (write me up), a gesture which may or may not send me to the hole for punishment.


Finally, it is 9:45 p.m. and we are racked back for the night. Despite the fact that it is about 70 degrees outside, in the King County Jail the air conditioner seems to be permanently on overdrive.  We deal with the arctic climate in three essential ways. One, we wear both sets of our prison-issued clothes. Two, we poke holes in the feet of our extra sweat socks and turn them into REI-like detachable sleeves. Three, we stealthily collect extra blankets from departing prisoners.

Feeling fortunate to be in possession of all three of these things, I quickly snuggle under my linens and settle down for the remaining night. It is usually about then that the dreaded “vent people” come out to play.

The  vent  people make themselves known during the  periods  we are confined to our individual houses. They are male and female inmates who speak to each other by way of the institution’s ventilation ducts.  For inmates returning from various prisons across Washington State, the ventilation ducts are most often utilized to ascertain who is or who is not also incarcerated in the King County Jail.

Typically, it begins like this: I, an inmate with a life, am trying, despite the cold, to go to sleep.   - All of a sudden, as if on a loudspeaker, an anonymous male voice shouts out:HeyÉpick up the phone!” What this actually means is for you to climb out of your bunk, step up upon the rim of your seatless toilet, lean into the air duct and yell back: “This is (insert your name here), I  just got two days in the hole for telling (insert guard’s name here) to go fuck himself. But it’s a’ight, you can’t keep a good (insert man/woman/bitch/bro/sister/native) down.” 

I really would like to tell you that the conversations get more creative than this,but typically, they do not. - - - Usually at some point in the conversation an inmate like myself will scream at her fellow inmates to be quiet, or it is the guards, on each of several floors, who will intervene and simply “disconnect” the “party line.”

About this time, you, the citizenry of Seattle, - who are reading these words, are probably saying to yourself, “Why should I give a damn what happens to a junkie or a criminal dimwit in the King County Jail?   - What does it matter to me if they spend the rest of their lives locked out of my civilization?”

Well, foremost, you should care about the addicts and the mentally ill imprisoned  because it is far more cost-effective and less burdensome to the county’s and the state’s judicial systems to rehabilitate addicts, and to provide the mentally ill with proper psychiatric treatment, than to continually jail them for minimal offenses.

Also, Decriminalization of Narcotics Possession,  in The State of Washington and Alternative Sentencing Programs, - - that emphasize Recovery and Proper Mental Health would free up Judicial Resources.  This would allow the Judiciary to focus their attention on more violent offenders:  - those individuals accused of rape, or Robbery, or Theft of an Individual’s Identity.

On a more personal note, what do we, the Women of the Ninth floor, Cell Block B, Minimum-Security unit of the King County Jail want you to know about us?  - -We want you to know that, beyond anything else, - - We take care of our own while in jail. - - When a junkie imprisoned in our tank is sick from narcotic withdrawal, it is we who will minister to her most basic needs, who will help her to shower, - - -who will talk to her when she screams, - who will stealthily supply her with medications prescribed to us for sleep or for pain or for nausea.

And when an unmedicated schizophrenic is sent into our midst, it is we who will act as her quasi-social worker or nurse or emergency medical paramedic.

We, The Women of Cellblock B, want you to know,  that we are innovative, in our problem solving.  - - Two plastic spoons, when inserted into an air vent, become a clothesline upon which to hang our underclothes. The plastic dispenser of a tam-pon when inserted atop a 4-inch jail house pencil extends its life two fold.  - And for those women in the county jail who must have their feminine side addressed, cherry Kool Aid becomes both lipstick and blush upon visiting day.

But as innovative as the women of the KCCF are, we cannot simply create Tricyclic Antidepressants or Mood Stabilizers, - - - nor can we access Treatment Centers and Mental Health Facilities that do not already exist.

The women housed upon the Ninth floor of the King County Jail want you to know that we feel deeply the disdain heaped upon us by King County Police, Citizens of Seattle, and Society at Large, and we are drowning in the wells of absolution by which society wipes its collective hands of us. 

But, - - until the Issues of Drug Addiction, Mental Illness, and Dual Diagnosis are addressed by the Judiciary of King County, until the State of Washington revises its criminal laws to emphasize Teatment of the Addict and the Mentally Impaired, until Jail Cells are replaced with Treatment Beds and Comprehensive Care for the Mentally Ill, you Citizens of Seattle will continue to lose and your Tax Dollars, like Crack Cocaine, will continue to go up in a useless cloud of smoke. 

Thank you, once again.  We may not agree on every point but she gives you a vividly true representation of just what it is like being incarcerated.  I wanted to give you all the best representation of what it is like .....how did I do... and anyone have anything to say about what was written?  Please let me hear from you -- share with us in the Addiction Forum? We would love to hear from you.       The Director

Updated:  September 23, 2005    Created and Compiled By:  Deborah Shrira

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