It took several seconds for Marie’s eyes to adjust to the relative darkness of the corridor, after being in the sterile brightness of the intake room. What confronted her was another line of women, like her all attached by their left ankles to a metal bar running low along the wall. At the end of the corridor was a shuttered door, and she could see this opening and shutting every 10-15 seconds. Gradually she shuffled forwards with the other women, and got close to the shutters more quickly than she had imagined she would. She soon realized that the shuttered door separated the corridor from an elevator, which only had room for one woman. The women about to enter the elevator had their wristband scanned, and were then almost pushed in by the guard, who clearly wanted them to move quicker.
Earlier in the evening, Marie would have been shocked at these women – at herself – being treated like items on a production line, but she was getting used to the mechanical process she was being pushed through. When she arrived at the front, her wristband was scanned, and shortly afterwards the shutter door opened. As she was being forced into the elevator, she saw that a bolt had shot out from the metal bar in the corridor to a metal bar in the elevator, making the transfer of her ankle cuff seamless. As soon as she was fully in the elevator, the bolt shot back, the shutters closed, and the container and its cargo shot up five levels.
Arriving at the 6th floor with an abrupt jolt, the shutters opened, the bolt shot through from the metal bar in the corridor outside to the one in the elevator, and she was quickly pulled out by a guard, before the doors once again clanked shut and returned to pick up another inmate. She had not had much time in the elevator to notice much else, except that it was pitch black, and stank of sweat and other odors she didn’t care to try and identify. “You could wash that sometime you know,” she remarked to the guard, regretting the words as soon as they left her mouth. But there was no response from the guard; she’d got to B from A, and his job was just to get her from B to C, no more.
Joining a coffle of twelve women, Marie was marched down this next corridor, and towards a hexagonal room. Once the women reached the threshold of the room, the metal bar was blocked. Individually, women were released from their ankle cuffs, and taken by designated guards. At each side of the room was an automatic metal door which seemed to open by itself, as the guards approaching them didn’t use a key or a code. Women disappeared behind those doors into what appeared to be yet another corridor. “How does anyone know where they are in this place?” she asked herself, before realizing that this was probably the point. Treated like products on a conveyor belt, they had their freedom and ability to make choices not just physically taken away, but psychologically as well. The disorientation just added to the sense of powerlessness.
Soon Marie’s left ankle was liberated from the cuff. Instantaneously, however, her right arm was sharply grabbed by a guard in a swift movement, and she was then walked briskly towards the door to the left. The door slid open, and she was marched into the corridor, harshly lit with strip lights along its length. She guessed that it must have been over a hundred yards long, and on either side were more impassable metal doors. She had a vague idea of what lay the other side of the doors, but her already palpitating heart began to beat even faster as the guard brought her to a halt in front of one of them. The door slid open to reveal a slightly dimmer room, which she was rapidly pushed into.
To the right of her as she entered was a bare shower head, with metal rings on the floor and in the wall by it. At the far end of the room were two adjacent cells, separated from each other by a wall but from the rest of the room by bars, allowing Marie to observe that they were only just large enough to contain a bed – well, just a narrow raised surface really – and a toilet. There was no room for anything else, and certainly nothing in there for inmates to entertain themselves. Worse, Marie thought, “everyone’s going to see me pee.” She knew that she would only spend part of her time in a cell though. She would spend most of her weekend in one of the pods in the center of the room.
They stood there in the middle, the six perspex pods, scratched but clean, reflective enough to shine back some of the dim light arriving at the surfaces from the corner-mounted strip lights. The pods, each of which was about 6ft high and between 2 and 3ft wide (they varied), were arranged in two rows of three, three facing the cells, three facing the door. There were two women already in pods facing Marie as she entered. Like her, they were wearing white gowns and were handcuffed behind their backs. One was young – Marie figured she must be in her early 20s – thin and tall, with short brown hair. The other was a fake blonde about Marie’s age, but she looked like she had been on drugs. Maybe she still was. Marie was glad that she wouldn’t have to share a cell with her.
With little to occupy them in their cramped pods, the two women paid a lot of attention to Marie, which she found unnerving, though she gave them a nervous smile. The younger women said something, but Marie couldn’t hear her, reasoning that the perspex must be thick enough to block sound. Marie was walked round to the other side, to the other row of three, which so far only contained one woman, a short, chubby blonde who seemed to be in her late teens. She looked bored and pissed, impatiently fiddling with her cuffs, to no effect. She was on the far end. The guard opened the pod next to her, in the middle of the three, turned Marie round to face him, and then pushed her in the stomach to force her into the pod. As soon as she had stepped backwards into the pod, the guard closed the door, locked it, and then left.
Marie now had a chance to check out the pod more closely. The inside surface of the perspex was dry, but was spotted with marks that betrayed the drips of water that must have come from when the pod was cleaned, and imperfectly dried. Marie thought that this reflected low standards, but then she realized that they must have a lot of pods to clean. More than that, she was in a prison, not a hotel! “I’m definitely going to give this place a bad review,” she joked to herself, before her eyes once again roamed around, and outside of, the pod. At the foot of the pod the floor was tiled, but with a small drain in the corner. She had been in the pod for less than a minute before she exhausted all possible observations of it. She looked to the left, at the struggling blonde, cussing at the resistance of her cuffs, and the pod door, which the young woman began to kick at in frustration. Awkwardly, as Marie was gazing at this silent entertainment, the girl looked around. Marie met her with a friendly smile, but all she received in return was a scowl.
It was going to be a long weekend for Marie and the other women she was sharing the pod block with. The mother-of-two knew that she would be spending most of it in the pod, with short breaks to sleep in one of the cells. She knew she would be standing for long periods, looking at nothing interesting, but she hadn’t realized that the perspex sides to the pods would be soundproof. She thought she might at least be able to spend the long tiring hours in the pod speaking to her neighbors. “I’m not sure they’d be great to speak to anyway,” Marie ruefully reflected.
The 31-year old did have an alternative way to while away her sentence. She had learned a series of poems, and now attempted to recite them in her head. It wasn’t much entertainment, but it was preferable to observing her rowdy neighbor, or staring into space. Marie surprised herself at how well she was able to recall the poems, even with the regular distractions from the pod to the left. She couldn’t hear exactly what was going on, but felt the bumps as the powerful and angry inmate bashed at all four sides of her pod. Although irritated at her own handcuffs being kept on, and her hands restrained behind her back, Marie was pleased that the overweight girl didn’t have her hands free to cause even more of a disturbance.
25 minutes after being placed in the pod, and still going through the poems in her head, a more interesting interruption took place, as she saw another woman being brought to the pod to the right of her. The newcomer was a redhead, and even with her hair still damp and flat from the intake shower, it was obvious to Marie how thick and lustrous her red locks were. The new inmate was a striking contrast to the blonde fireball next-door. She was dignified, or at least as dignified as you can be while handcuffed, wearing a white gown, and pushed around by a guard on minimum wage. She acknowledged Marie’s welcoming smile with a slight nod of her head.
Once the guard had secured her in the pod and left, Marie motioned at the striking inmate, lifted up her handcuffed hands and rolled her eyes. To Marie’s relief, the redhead understood her, and mouthed what Marie understood to be “I know, right?!” Despite the difficulties of not being able to hear each other, and having their hands cuffed behind their backs, they were able to start some kind of conversation. The two women soon learned to mimic the other to say to themselves what they saw the other woman mouthing. It took about 15 minutes to exchange basic personal details, but it kept them busy, and it’s not as if they had somewhere else to be.
Before they could move on to more complicated topics of conversation, the redhead was removed from the pod by a guard, and placed in one of the cells. Despite being the last one in, she was one of the first pair of inmates to get to lie down behind bars rather than being stuck standing behind perspex. Joining her in the adjacent cell was the woman Marie suspected to be on drugs. As the door to the cell was shut, the redhead mimed towards Marie, sarcastically indicating how wonderful and spacious she thought the cell to be. To Marie’s disappointment, her new friend soon stopped trying to communicate, and settled down on the bed to get some sleep. Marie understood though, as she knew that everyone only got 4 hours at a time in the cell, and so needed to make the most of it.
The next 4 hours hardly flew past, but Marie was able to deal with the lack of stimulation. She observed the druggie with grim fascination, as she just sat cross-legged on her bed, and occasionally got up and walked to the bars, as if to check that they were still locked, before returning to the bed. The redhead was fast asleep. The blonde to her left had stopped acting out, and was now just leaning against the back of the pod, pouting. Marie fell bored a few times, but had an active enough mind to snap out of it soon enough. She thought up little rhymes, tried to create tunes for them, and wished she had a free hand – and some pen and paper – to write them down. She tried to remember the poems again, but did worse this time, probably because she was now bored of them.
As well as that, she was simply getting tired. She was mentally tired from the day, one of the most stressful of her life. It’s nerve-wracking being the new girl at college, or at a new job, but that’s magnified when you’re entering a correctional facility as a prisoner for the first time. Marie was also physically tired, from the day and from the hours she was spending standing up. She had been more concerned about being bored than getting physically weary. After all, as a mother she had spent hours before on her feet, never able to sit down for ages. But this was different. She was stood in one place. She had tried leaning, but found that it actually started to hurt after a bit. So she remained upright, but this caused muscles first in her legs, and then her feet and back, to become stiff and then ache. Worried about having to face this physical ordeal for multiple weekends, she consoled herself that her body would get used to it. But she hadn’t entirely convinced herself, just as she hadn’t completely convinced herself that she would not be embarrassed when she sees friends, family and colleagues again, with both her and them knowing that she had spent the weekend in prison.
Marie snapped out of these private thoughts when a guard appeared in the corner of her eye. Her new friend was roused from her sleep, and looked exhausted and not at all ready to spend hours on end standing in a perspex pod. Marie flashed her a sympathetic look as she wearily stepped into the pod, though she couldn’t hide her relief as she was now brought out for a rest. Although there were small air holes in the pod, the air had become stale, so even the unappealing smell in the room outside it seemed sweet and refreshing. After standing in the same place for hours, Marie found it tricky to walk, but at least didn’t have far to travel to enter the barred cell.
She felt guilty at not trying to communicate with the redhead, but she was still waking up and re-orienting herself in the pod. Marie let out an audible sigh as she sat on the bed in the cell, which was hard but felt almost comfortable after being on her feet for so long. After a few moments, she realized that she should probably use the toilet, even though she didn’t need to go at that point. She hoped that her redhead friend did not regret not going during her time in the cell. She spent a minute or two trying to simultaneously lift her dress with her cuffed hands to allow herself to urinate while keeping the front side down far enough to prevent the two women in the cell-facing pods from seeing her pussy, but in the end she just gave up. This time, she got away with it. Her new friend was still dozy, and the blonde was angry about the guard ignoring her; instead, the tall brunette was allowed out and into the barred cell next door. So Marie was able to pee without exposing her private parts to witnesses, but she was still intensely embarrassed at peeing with such a complete lack of privacy. If anything, it was the audible tinkling sound it made was more mortifying for Marie than doing it so publicly.
Although Marie had made such an effort to try to converse with the redhead in the pod next to hers, now she was in a position to speak to the woman in the cell next to hers, she didn’t. She realized this, and wondered if it was because she knew the other woman had heard her pee. “I hope she doesn’t think I’m rude,” Marie worried, before lying down on the bed, a seemingly simple task made tricky by the restraints binding her hands behind her back. Only once she had lain down did she feel the hardness of the surface, but she didn’t care. The lights from the block were dim in the cell, but bright enough to make Marie shut her tired eyes. Her closed eyelids were enough to block out the light, as the weekend prisoner drifted off to sleep, for a few hours at least.