Dorothy Maraglino, age 46, has been incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility since 2015 after being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. In her time in prison, Maraglino has written poetry, essays, letters, and articles. She is a contributing writer at the Prison Journalism Project and has said she prefers telling stories that “will touch people and hopefully bring change.” The following piece was originally published by the Justice Arts Coalition. — Sara Rain Tree
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About 4 AM, the lights slam on, obliterating the dark from my box. I curse the inventor of the megawatt lightbulb. Breakfast is placed on the food flap ledge for me to debate whether to eat or not. What’s left is picked up 30 minutes later.
About 5 AM, the light shuts off, letting the darkness once again envelop my box and it is time for me to sleep. I try to sleep all day during the loud hours so I can find peaceful silence while others sleep. I shove a wet wad of toilet paper down my ears as earplugs and place my sweatshirt to sleep around my eyes. Soon I am asleep.
BAM! The food flap flies open. I groan and grudgingly awake. This shift of officers love to let the food flap fall over so it lets out a loud BANG as the flap hits the door below the hinge. The noise announces they want me to come to the door.
There is no clock visible, so there is no real way to tell the time. The purpose of the rude awakening is morning medications. I look at my 4 pills. I get a vitamin to stall the fall out rate of my teeth and hair, an allergy pill to combat the effects of the constant dust from the vents, a Tylenol for all the aches and pains of 3 years sleeping on a camping mat, and an antacid to combat the effects of eating institutional meals. Is this worth being woken up? I wonder. Only if you wish to eat, sleep, and breathe I answer to myself.
Back to sleep.
BAM! They’re back. I groan. Morning count. I have to walk to the door and have my wristband scanned. I lay back down but know better than trying to sleep.
BAM! “LUNCH?” a voice calls out. “No, thank you,” I say aloud and mutter, “same as every day.” No need to say that out loud. They are required to ask. Policy… ya know?
Back to sleep.
This time I am woken from my slumber by a static-filled humanoid voice. It sounds like a mayday signal from a midcentury airplane re-emerging from the Bermuda Triangle.
“What was that?”, I ask. A garbled voice comes through the speaker box on the wall. I can make out three words… Do, Day, Today. I assume I am being asked if I want my hour out of cell time. My choice is the 30 x 10 rec room with a window too high to look out of or the day room which is a long hall with all the desperate faces in all the cells peering out and asking for everything from a scoop of coffee to just a conversation. I don’t have either to give and it’s pointless to leave the cell. “NO, thank you,” I yell so the box will hear and hopefully send the annoying sound away. It works.
Back to sleep.
BAM! “Were you sure about not wanting to come out? You could stretch your legs.” The officers try to get those of us who are hermits to come out. “No thank you,” I manage politely, both curing and grateful to see a staff member who cares. But I am too sleepy and so I return to it.
BAM “OH FOR THE LOVE OF PETE!”
“DINNER,” comes a way too cheerful voice, “it’s on the ledge.” Again leaving me to debate whether the heartburn is worth the food. They come get the trash and slam the food flap shut. At least I know about what time it is. It’s about 4 pm when they collect the trash. I try to get one more stretch of sleep in.
My one lonely Tylenol mocks me knowing it will barely help but it is better than nothing. It’s between 7:30 and 8:30 pm but no idea for sure.
I look at the TV mounted outside my door on the corner wall facing the mini dayroom, which is a glassed-in caged room with a TV, phone, and table. I cannot hear the sound but that might be due to the wet toilet paper in my ears and the engine sounds coming from the industrial ventilation system that has some serious design flaws. The TV has closed captions so I can see the wife hates the home renovation the HGTV show host suggested. I go find a book to re-read.
The commissary man visits a neighbor who proudly says, “awwww chocolate!” The mail comes and I get a bill for a magazine that stopped a year ago and an email from my sister saying to “hang in there”. Interesting phrasing that is filled with irony and is highly suggestive but I just laugh. My humor has gotten darker over the years.
Back to the book.
YES! Night count. All the noisy people will be going to sleep and I can enjoy my piece for a few hours.
First thing to do is to wait for the first bed check at approximately 11 pm. Now I have one hour to use the toilet, change clothes, etc. in relative privacy without it sounding like someone trying to look in the window.
Second bed check, now it is time to work out without worrying someone will see me looking silly doing my cell version of exercises. I finish in time for the next bed check. Approximately midnight.
Third bed check, it is about 1 am. I take a birdbath in the tiny sink. I use the sticky tape from a maxi pad to block the drain. I keep the pad to make my own homemade tampon since they are not made available to inmates. By the time i finish setting up the bath, I have to wait for the next bed check so I won’t be interrupted. Yes, I could wake up and use my dayroom time to use the shower, but that would violate my hermit personality, and besides… have you seen the communal shower? Hairy, smelly, trash-filled, and generally disgusting. I finish my bath and clean the flood of the excess water and use the towel to mop the room.
I am still mopping at the fourth bed check. 2 am. Time to eat something when I can afford items in the canteen. Today, I am having some granola from the healthy pack a friend sent me. I next look through what is left of the day’s newspaper. It was passed around for about 12 hours and each reader took what they wanted before passing it on. I make a cup of coffee from the hottest water I can get from the tap. The best I can manage is barely warm. Next, I decide to eat ramen soup. At $0.90 it is considered a luxury item. Yes, everyone knows they are 10 for $1 at the store. It was in today’s newspaper.
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! The 3 am bed check caught me by surprise and I got blinded by the officer’s flashlight. I wash my cup and settle in with my book. Time to escape prison in the pages of a novel. It helps me to pretend my reality is unreal and the book is the true reality. I get lost in the story but the overhead megawatt light jolts me out of the book. It’s 4 am. And a new day is starting. It will be just like the pat 1,034. Dear Lord, let this end soon.