So, I recently took a trip to Sedona, Arizona with the family. It was a wonderful trip full of Hiking, shopping, psychic reading and lots of wonderful food. I was on the go from morning to night and started thinking about my sleeping patterns. I can grab a few zzzzzzz’s anywhere . I can lay down on a rock halfway through a hike for a quick slumber to sitting upright in a chair to rest the ole eyelids. I do not suffer from narcolepsy or other sleep disorders. I have only had this ability since my stay in prison.
I was first introduced to incarceration sleeping when I took my plea in May of 2004. I was taken to the “horseshoe”, the Maricopa County Jail Intake center in downtown Phoenix. The beds in this place are made of a metal sheet about 5′ x 2′ attached to a brick wall about a foot off the ground. I stood for about twenty four hours instead of fighting for a place to sit or sharing this bed with women whom smelled of anything from body odor to feces.
I was then taken to the “Towers” at Estrella Jail. The towers held the high risk inmates such as child crimes, murder or inmates awaiting sentencing to prison. I was being held for thirty days awaiting sentencing. I was taken to a room that had two stories of about 20 cells. Each cell contained an upper and lower bunk. These were the same metal beds from jail but also had a 3″ mattress. This mattress was filled with a foam and upholstered in a hard, light green plastic. There was a matching pillow if you were lucky. We were assigned one white sheet, one white pillowcase and one charcoal colored wool blanket to make our bed.
The towers were extremely overcrowded so I was guided to a cell that was occupied by two inmates already. It was around 2 A.M. in the morning so I was a little nervous about waking up my new roommates. I was handed a mattress to drag into the cell and told I was to sleep on the floor. My cell was now a 3 inmate cell. I made my bed up as quickly as possible, said hello to my groggy roommates and laid awake until the doors popped open at 6 A.M.
I did not sleep very well the first few days. The cells came alive at night with inmates singing, talking, yelling from cell to cell, smoking and the occasional crazy rant of my next door neighbor. She would talk as if Satan was visiting her every night. The worst night of my stay was when a realized the rustling sound in my cell was the pitter patter of mice. I would sleep with my brown grocery bag full of commissary snacks at the head of my bed. I heard something crawl over it and then a mouse scurried across my face. I jumped up screaming and scared my roommates out of their beds. I had just been to the E.R for a bowel obstruction (another story) so I immediately bent over in pain.
My roommates actually felt sorry for me and helped me stuff the two open holes in our cell doors. We also laid an extra hand towel my roommate had scored under the gap in the door. This helped with keeping the mice out. My roommates and I actually stayed up talking that night and they showed me how to make earplugs out of Kotex pads. A skill I used for the rest of my stay. I began to take cat naps throughout the day and night and just gave up the concept of a regular nights sleep.
I was transferred to Perryville prison 30 days later. I was taken to a cell on Lumley on the R&A unit. The R&A Unit is where an inmate is classified and processed into the prison. I was assigned to a two person cell and given a proper upper bunk. The prison had the exact same mattress and sheets as the jail except we had two flat sheets now instead of one. My roommate was a middle aged gray haired women with large protruding eyes. She would stare at me and it seemed nothing was going on beyond that gaze. She did not speak and would pace back and forth all day long. I slept with one eye-open and felt I was going crazy myself from lack of sleep. She finally spoke to me in an lethargic manner. She told me they had her on so much psychotropic medication that she couldn’t write a letter to her family. I began to write letters for her and also to sleep soundly.
I had many roommates over the next five years and my sleep differed with every one of them. I have slept through snoring, coughing, crazy laughter, talking, screaming, farting, pacing and ranting. I would deal with most of these issues with earplugs or headphones. Sometimes I would console and sometimes I would have to threaten. I also learned to block the sound by sleeping with one ear in the pillow and my arm laid across my other ear. This is a habit I still have today. I was also woken up 2 times a night by guards for headcount. They would have to shine a light in my face and I would have to make a movement before they would move along to the next cell.
I think a misconception is that inmates sleep all day and have it made. I did not have one uninterrupted night of sleep in five years. When I came home, my daughters quickly learned to stand back several feet when they came in my room to wake me up. I would swing first and ask questions later. That has finally disappeared but I do hear every noise in the house at night. I no longer sleep with one eye open and with time my ears may close as well.