Parker Lake Jail


Parker Lake is beautiful. The pine trees glisten in the sun, snow gleaming against the dark green of the boughs. One could become very serene here, I think, as I park in the lot by the front door of the low concrete building that is the Women’s Correctional Facility. I am here to be corrected for my crime of trespassing on the property of the Honeywell Corporation fifteen months ago. Many of us sat down outside the gates, waiting for the opportunity to talk with the corporate heads of Honeywell about our deep concern over the making of cluster bombs and MX missiles; about our children and our wish that they might have a whole life to live and our belief that they won’t if places like Honeywell continue the course they are on.

A matron asks lots of questions and gives us forms to fill out. I put down “Sufi” under religion because I brought a book about the Sufis with me, and don’t fill out the race question – small rebellions against authority. She takes my coat and scarf and car keys. I have no money, no contraband, no nail files, no belts, no brooches, no potential weapons. She cares as much about divesting me of weapons in here as I cared about divesting Honeywell of weapons out there. I am led through the heavy iron gate into a small room and told to strip, bend over, spread legs, toes, fingers, ears, and sent to the shower to de-louse. My clothes are searched while I shower. I am asked if there’s anything I want before I am locked up. Toothpaste, I say. She says okay, but promptly forgets. I am led to a small concrete cell; the door clangs shut behind me.

Small box, antiseptic, cold, concrete. I make my bed, cover the lumpy blue plastic mattress with a sheet, a thin white spread, feel drowsy, lie down. I read the names of those who were here before me, written on the door’s portal:

Sheryl S and Mina,

Wenona for 10 days in May,

Lee Lyn Baker,

Valerie Kingbird who loves Teddy Bigbear,

and Joyce Knox for 2 days

and Sharon who loves Jerry

and Ellen Dick

and Bunny

and David Deegan’s sweetie,

and Kaz

and Kris.

Every fifteen minutes the guard comes by and looks through the tiny window on my door with its thin metal flap hanging down (hanging down on the outside so that she can clap it against the light and the sounds of the hallway at her discretion, not mine). She checks out my activities and writes them on a paper taped to the wall outside my cell: “Reading, resting, sitting at desk, exercising.” I read, yes. I doze. I’m reading about the Sufis, who believe that the material world and the metaphysical world are inextricably linked. We become what we grasp on to, like the moth becomes the flame it inevitably flies into.

We are what we eat. They feed us hot dogs and sugared baked beans, white bread and sweet pickles. And coffee. I get a shot of energy from the sugar and the caffeine, and then become fiercely drowsy. I feel drugged as the long day drags on and wonder if they have piped gas through the small vent over the toilet at the foot of my bed. It would not surprise me.

The young Hispanic woman at my lunch table is a waitress, DWI. “At least I’ll get a good night’s sleep,” she says. “The first in a long time.” She’d been here before. “For a flat year,” she says. I don’t have the courage to ask her why. The answer is in her face – scars and pockmarks and the slow sleepy look around her eyes and the shaking hands as she lights her cigarette. And the K-Mart clothes. And the poverty. Only the poor are here.

Sheryl S and Mina,

Wenona for 10 days in May,

Lee Lyn Baker,

Valerie Kingbird who loves Teddy Bigbear,

and Joyce Knox for 2 days

and Sharon who loves Jerry

and Ellen Dick

and Bunny

and David Deegan’s sweetie,

and Kaz

and Kris.

They lock you up in a small, square box, where the air is stale and stuffy and your body feels too cold but seems too hot and they smile as they take away your nail file and your opened cigarette packs and as they ask you to strip, bend over, shake your hair, fold in your ears – a hands-off strip search because they are humane in this institution; and they feed you lots of sugar and you sleep and you walk up and down around the edges of your cell and you lie on your side on the blue plastic mattress because it’s too lumpy to lie on your back; and you listen to the voices droning in your head, droning in the hallway, and the constant sound of metal against metal, doors opening and closing, gates shutting, keys that hang from the leather belts of the guards’ waists hitting each other, and the echo of calls and low cries, unrecognizable in the ringing, metallic air; and you sleep a kind of death-sleep, dream of being awake perhaps, and you don’t let it bother you because you are cool about it all; and you have your pride and hold on to your name because they can’t strip away your name and you write it on the wall around the cell door for anyone else to see who sits here inside this concrete block, to remember, to hold inside their memories so that you will not be forgotten, abandoned forever inside this “correctional facility” where they take away your experience and your cigarettes and your clothes and your age, for you are an unruly child to them, and your kinship, for you are an enemy to them, but they cannot take away your name:

Sheryl S and Mina,

Wenona for 10 days in May,

Lee Lyn Baker,

Valerie Kingbird who loves Teddy Bigbear,

and Joyce Knox for 2 days

and Sharon who loves Jerry

and Ellen Dick

and Bunny

and David Deegan’s sweetie,

and Kaz

and Kris

and Martha.

 

Martha Boesing has written over 40 produced plays, led workshops, and directed plays for theaters throughout the country. She was the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of At the Foot of the Mountain theater in Minneapolis, the longest running professional women's theater in the country, and has won several national awards including an NEA, a Bush fellowship, and the Kennedy Center's Fund for New American playwrights. She now lives in Oakland with her partner Sandy Boucher, close to her four grandchildren, and creates theater pieces for (among others) The Faithful Fools, a street ministry in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Website: www.marthaboesing.com

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7 thoughts on “Parker Lake Jail

  1. jean gochros

    Martha–I’ve just now found your story, and it’s Feb.2217, so I don’t know if you’ll get this. And I can’t give the beautiful responses I’ve seen so far. But I just want to thank you–it’s a moving, angering, beautifully written piece that will stay with me for a long long time. Especially in this age of Trumpism, with all that that implies. I surely hope that your time in jail was not spent in vain, but want you to know that your courage and conviction is inspiring.
    Jean.

  2. kris welch

    YAY!!! thank you Martha—for a wonderful, and wonderfully evocative, piece. Yum. By the third clump of prose, I was feeling the anxiousness, the stress, the fear, of powerlessness, and was so grateful for your fruitful search for power–your name, your being. Thank you again!

  3. Ellen

    Martha, thank-you for this story,. clear concise to the point. it reminds me of times spent in a hospital but not as bad.
    thanks for writing it and sharing it. i like the repetition of names also.

  4. Jacquelyn Marie

    Martha, A powerful story. The names repetition perfect and reminds me of all the times we recited names for the AIDS quilt, for the forgotten, the women murdered in Guatemala, Argentina, El Salvador, etc etc (Presente)

    Good to know more about you and your life and work.

  5. Lois Roelofs

    Your story reminds me of a friend of mine who was “corrected” for an overnight for her sit-in at a mental health facility that was being closed for shortage of funds. She spent the night with other persons jammed into one cell who were being corrected also. I admire her and you for your courage. Thanks for your story. I agree, the repetition of names is powerful.

  6. Sarah W. Bartlett

    Martha, I want to know what happened – how long you were in – and so much more! For four years now I have held weekly writing circles inside Vermont’s sole women’s prison – needless to say, I love the stories!! I hope you will add to yours, if not here then elsewhere. Thanks so much for sharing – the use of repeated names, adding yours at the end, is very moving to me.

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