My First Cell Move

1036_NpAdvHoverIt’s been a crazy week in Federal Prison.

To start with, our case manager decided to move about 90 inmates from one side of the unit to the other.  I learned of this last Sunday when a nice Spanish girl came to my cell and told me that she had been assigned to my bunk.

Just like that I was out.

I had just settled in and wasn’t very excited to move, on top of that, I found out that I was moving to the other side of the unit which is very loud! (insert Louder pun here) There isn’t an officer station on E side so the inmates pretty much run wild making the noise and energy challenging to bear.

In fact, every Saturday night on E side after the midnight count even though the inmates are supposed to be in their rooms they go to the TV room and have a party. Last night they had a big Halloween party and many of the inmates were stripping and dancing naked, there is a totally different spirit that prevails on the E side of our unit.


My first move was into a cell with an older Spanish woman who has been here for 12 years. She’s been in the same bed for 10 of those 12 years. One of the issues that inmates who have been incarcerated for a long time face is called becoming institutionalized.

Meaning they become set in their ways and hard to live with and this woman was a poster child for the institutionalized.  Every day my new Bunkie would get up at 4:30 am and scrub down the cell in almost a ritualistic way.  If you didn’t follow her protocol exactly she would come unglued. She didn’t speak any English, and needless to say, it was very stressful for me to be in the cell with her so I just stayed at work or the day room unless I needed to sleep. When the case manager announced that there would be a major restructuring of the units the intensity started to simmer.

The inmates began wheeling and dealing in an effort to get the best rooms.  This is an old prison and some of the cells are in pretty bad shape. I was standing in the counselors office talking to another inmate about bunking up together and a whole group of women were outside the office almost in a riot.

The inmate that I was trying to bunk up with said, “Be careful what you say Portia, the other inmates are watching you and they can read your lips.” All of a sudden I started laughing, I thought this is insane! You would think we were involved in a top secret mission or major criminal operation.

I told Chad that getting a good cell in prison took me more energy than closing a large real estate deal in the free world. It certainly is a world of it’s own in here, it’s not always easy to describe what goes on but on this day I obtained and great bed in a great room with a great bunk and I worked hard for the opportunity.

So I was able to wheel and deal my way into a new room  in a back corner of the unit and I now have two new room mates. It was very stressful being moved 3 times in just over a week. I was on the computer this morning and a friend of mine named China was shaking so bad she couldn’t even type. She asked me to help her write a note to our unit manager explaining that she suffers with PTSD and has been unable to sleep since the move.

Experiencing Extreme Anxiety

She was experiencing extreme anxiety.

She like many of the women here have serious trauma issues and moving everyone so suddenly and such a large scale seems unwise. It’s not easy for inmates to live together in relative harmony and getting in a good room with people you are compatible with is of the utmost importance to living together peaceably. I wonder why the Unit team manager didn’t consider the stability of the inmates when she made the decision to rearrange everyone to make it more convenient?

Shortly after China asked for my help this morning she was attacked by another inmate, I opened the door to my cell and watched as an inmate tried to hit her with a lock and started punching and scratching her. She didn’t fight back but instead held the woman’s arms so that she couldn’t do more damage. After the incident, both women were taken to Segregation as punishment and we don’t know how long China will have to be there. In prison if there’s an altercation,  even if you don’t fight back the staff can chose to punish both inmates. Unfortunately, prison isn’t always fair:)

On a positive note my photography class yesterday was so amazing! Until yesterday I have been teaching without a camera.  We were able to go outside for a few minutes and shoot in natural light. We made a reflector, “prison style”, with tin foil and a cardboard box, I was able to show the girls the difference in good and bad lighting. I love teaching and feel like I can really help the women here. The teachers I work for have been very supportive and I know that I am fortunate to get this program up and running in such a short time. After class some of the women that I work with let me know how much they enjoy my class and what a difference it could make here.

Have I mentioned that It’s been a hectic week?  🙂

I am grateful I will be able to spend a few hours tonight with our little group of LDS sisters. What a blessing it is to have the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I couldn’t do prison without the Book of Mormon.

I want to thank Leslie Andrus from our Highland ward. Leslie sends me cards with a kind word or thought from time to time:) This week I got a nice birthday card and she asked me if she could share one of my blog posts with a group of sisters back home. I was honored! As I have prayed about our situation and for some reason I believe that others sharing our blog is going to be a great blessing to our family and others.(We love you Highland/Alpine) Another friend named Carolyn Hardman sent me a quote that I really liked and now hangs  in my cell, I’m going to share it with you and again want to reiterate how much we appreciate all of your love and support.

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, Former President of the United States

Thanks to our friends and supporters, your love is felt by us daily