Monday, February 26, 2007

Voices in the Night

It was after midnight, the lights had just gone out and I was sitting in my cell in the pitch black feeling sorry for myself and wondering how I had managed to get myself into this situation. It was really quiet and hot.

I looked around and wondered for a quick second how I could bust out. I knew it could be done because it’s been done before. Granted, that was in 1927, but I doubted too much had changed in the jailhouse since then. That notorious escape resulted in the last public lynching in the State of Texas, so I knew punishment would be swift and severe if I made a break for it. In short, the Eastland jail once housed one of the Santa Clause bank robbers in 1927 from a bloody bank heist in Cisco, Texas. Carvings of his name are still inside his cell. Once in jail, he took down and killed a well-liked jailer and broke out. This enraged 2000 townspeople to take matters into their own hands so the angry mob hunted him down and lynched him. You can see the monument to this story on the corner from the jail now - I've posted a picture of where the lynching supposedly took place. Yikes.

Suddenly, from out of the darkness, I heard a distant voice say, “Hey….hey girl…”

I jumped about 4 feet off my seat. What was that? Was I so dehydrated I was hallucinating? Was this a voice in my head? On top of everything else happening, was I going crazy, too? It wouldn’t have surprised me.

Voice: “Hey girl. Girrrrrl!”

I sort of looked around and got up the nerve to answer.

Me: Hello?

My thought bubble: God? Is that you? So you’re a girl! But I always thought you’d know my name…

Voice: Psst. Hey girl, what are you in for?

Me: Pardon me?

My thought bubble: WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON?

I finally pinpointed the voice. It was coming from the tiny air vent on the ceiling. Oh my gosh, the person in the next cell is talking to me!

Voice: Well? What are you in for?

Me: Uh, I don’t know.

Voice: What do you mean you don’t know?

Me. I mean, I don’t know. Um, what are you in for?

Voice: Hot checks.

Me. Oh.

This was so freaking weird.

I then started hearing kind of an “echo” of voices in the dark. Like background chatter. I could hear the mystery voice saying something, but I could tell she wasn’t talking to me. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out that she was talking to someone on the OTHER side of her. Since I was in the cell on the end of the row, I only shared a wall with one cell, but she shared a wall with two cells and must have had two air vents, one on each side.

When I focused hard, I could hear what she was saying to the person next to her, then I could hear that person saying it to the person next to them, and so on, all the way down the line! The prisoners in cell bloc E had developed a communication system of talking through the air vents and passing the information on to the next person. It was obvious that at that particular moment, I was the hot topic of conversation.

I could hear a question coming down the line. It started out really softly about five cells down, “Ask her where she’s from”, “Ask her where she’s from”, “Ask her where she’s from”, on and on getting a little bit louder each time until it got to the person in the cell next to me.

Voice: So, where you from?

Me. Austin.

Voice: She’s from Austin. And I heard that get passed down and down and down the road.

I heard another question start somewhere a few cells away that eventually made it to my buddy next door.

Voice: Why are you in Eastland?

My thought bubble: Oh man, how do I answer this in a short enough snippet that it can make it through in tact to the other side?

Me: I’m visiting my parents.

The message was sent down the line.

Voice: How long are you in for?

Me: Until tomorrow morning, I think.

Voice: I’ve been here for three weeks.

Me: Wow. Poor you.

This was so, so strange sitting in my dark, hot cell having a conversation with a ghost through the vent. And the questions kept coming and coming and coming. Since I wasn’t feeling very social, I didn’t really play along and ask any questions of my own. At one point, maybe 25 questions later – every question from what was my job to did I deal drugs to why did I think I was in jail to what color was my hair to did I have a boyfriend – I decided that I was tired of this and I wanted it to stop. So I just stopped answering. Interestingly, they never did ask me my name.

Voice: Hey! What’s going on? Are you asleep?

I heard her passing the message down Death Row that I must be asleep. I sat there for awhile and just listened to them chatter. At some point in what must have been the wee, wee hours of the still dark morning, all the echoes hushed and the floor sat in silence.

It was such a long night. I really needed to tinkle and I would have killed for some water, but I was way too big a wussy to use that toilet near my bed and I think the water coming from that rusty sink might have killed me. So I just waited it out.

KA-POP! All of a sudden the lights overhead shot on and it was eye-squinting bright for awhile. I guess that was Eastland County Jail’s way of saying everyone rise and shine! I took a deep breath, wondering what in the world was in store for me now that a new day had dawned on cell block E.

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