Friday, March 6, 2009

The Woman's World

Although there are several hundred women at Rikers, I don't usually work with them. However there was one woman I do remember vividly. Bernice was a pleasant woman about forty-two years old. She looked like every third woman you see on the bus. She had brown hair, just starting to get gray. I thought that she would probably get a red color rinse to hide the gray when she got out. It is possible to dye your hair in jail, to bleach it, and to get any other cosmetic product. Most of it is illegal contraband but if you are really well connected you can get anything including drugs. Anyway, she usually wore a nylon sweat suit with sneakers. She always looked very clean and eager to please. Attractive, a little overweight and very pleasant. This was her first incarceration and she had never been in trouble before. She said that she was in jail for writing bad checks on her employer's account. "I was a bookkeeper for a small linen supply company and my husband was a machine shop foreman. My husband and I worked hard for everything. We bought a nice house; we had two cars and even managed a vacation once in a while. Everything was great until my husband got laid off. Then the bills started to pile up. I tried to pay everyone some of what I owed. I figured that before long Mike would go back to work and we would catch up. Then Mike hurt his back. My insurance didn't cover all the doctor's bills and I didn't think that Mike could do his old job even if they did call him back. Then I had some woman trouble and needed an operation. Even then there were problems because I don't think the doctors did the right thing for my condition. You know, when you are down, nothing seems to come except more trouble. The bill collectors were hounding us. We borrowed all the money we could but it still wasn't enough. We lost our house and I just didn't know what to do so I started writing some checks out of my office's accounts. Finally my boss caught on. He said that he was sorry but he called the police and I got arrested. " I guess that there are millions of people with the same stories. I really felt sorry for her. She didn't use drugs. She was so middle class and that is very unusual in the jail population. Even the Correction Officers felt sorry for her. The captain gave her a job in his office and told her that she could apply for a job as a civilian when she served her time. I saw her for the last time just before she went downstate for her prison assignment. Downstate is the processing facility. Sentenced inmates go to Downstate, from there they are sent to various prisons though out the state. She gave me a fond good-bye and thanked me for listening to her these past several weeks. "By the way, "she said, "you know, I just spoke to my husband and he said that the lawyer called and said that I would get a check for 11 million dollars for the surgery that the doctor's botched up." She was gone before I could ask any questions. I will never know.