Ladies in white

Andrews, Bill

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William Andrews Ladies ln White After receiving an emergency radical surgery (the removal of my sternoclavicular joint) to help stop the production of infection that had nested in a fractured bone, I required wound care that would last for several months. So the facility I was sent to was more like a hospital than a prison, yet it was secure and had prison staff ever present. Prior to my illness I had never heard of the Carole Young Medical Facility, in Texas City, which is about twenty miles from Galveston, TX. It's actually a female medical unit that houses about three hundred fifty women with most of them needing medical attention, but there are also healthy inmates who are the workers and keep things running. There are men there as well, nearly a hundred and fifty or so that are housed separately of course. They are either very ill, have chronic conditions, require dialysis or other extreme treatments or are dying. The laundry, kitchen and maintenance crew are all composed of female inmates. Though male and female inmates usually never make contact or are allowed to be in close proximity of one another, there are still brief moments of visual contact. While most of the men there are old and sickly there are still some whose illness does not yet define them, and their radar would ping when a female inmate was near, including mine. There were times while in a hallway that I'd pass by an open door of an office or waiting room that had female inmates within, and catch them peering out as eagerly as I was trying to peer in. Usually I would try to make my presence known by saying something loudly to the guard escorting me, thus giving the ladies a heads up that I was about to pass by. Whether they were even interested in me or not mattered not to me. I was intrigued merely knowing there were ladies of my caste near by. There were always guards along side of me when I was escorted to the ...occupational therapy appointments I received while there. But just ahead of the door to my appointment was the door to the dentist office waiting room which was always open and almost always had a handful of ladies waiting to be seen. We are not allowed to speak to each other without the likelihood of being "written up" for disobedience, and made to pay some kind of retribution such as commissary restriction or the like. So it was all about getting a good, long look and absorbing the moment for what it was worth, which is quite subjective I suppose. After many years of being apart from female peers it is alluring to even have visual contact. Though there are staff in the prison system who are female it is not the same. They are considered for the most part off limits and I view them in a different manner. But female inmates who we encounter on rare occasion are of my ilk and seem somehow more compatible having shared many of the same circumstances. There was a time well over a decade ago when male and female inmates who were locked up simultaneously were allowed to correspond through the mail even if you were not married, as is the rule today. But those days are over. My first sight of the women in white (all Texas inmates wear white prison garb) at the C.Y.M.F. was from the window of my room which I shared with two other sick prisoners. Once I was able to get out of bed and move about some I was drawn to the window not so much knowing what was to be seen, but to see anything besides the view inside my room. I was surprised when I did look outside and seen women working. They were kitchen workers and my view was of the rear loading dock, along with the large container type freezers that sat in the lot next to the building which held the deep frozen foodstuffs for the unit. It was entered all through the day by both inmate and staff supervising the inmates movements. They also had an area for cleaning waste barrels up on the dock in the shade of the alcove on the dock. The duties they would perform was familiar to me since I had worked in the ...kitchen on other units doing some of the same chores they were assigned. It made the matter of gender moot as I watched them go through the same motions as the men would, work being simply work. Except I noticed a grace and efficiency that I had rarely seen among their male counterparts. Though I couldn't hear a word they were saying, their body language and hand gestures were sometimes readable, but most times I was lost about what drama they were conversing about. The summer heat and humidity near the Texas coast seemed to demand they keep their hair pulled up in a bun, exposing their necks to stay cool. While at work most of them would wear sleeveless white jumpers that were loose and cooler than the usual heavy shirt and pants we all are made to wear. But while considered a patient at the medical facility all the men were made to wear hospital type gowns, two at a time worn opposed to each other so nothing front or rear was exposed. So the men were dressed in gowns, which some of the female medical staff would jokingly call our "dresses", but I prefered to refer to it as my toga, for masculinity sake. The women were actually the ones who were really "wearing the pants" in this situation, ..go figure. Anyway, I would watch the ladies work. Sometimes they worked alone, sometimes in unison when they had to load or unload either a truck or a freezer. Their skin would glisten in the sun as they would form a human chain to get a loading job done. There was co-operation and integrity when they would wash out the waste barrels while at the same time having an animated conversation. This is unlike some of their male counterparts who work in the kitchen on other units. I have experienced the exact opposite among co-workers during my time working in the kitchen. Most are out to only benefit themselves or their select "homeboys". If they could pass off a duty they were assigned to do on to someone else and get away with it, they would. That would allow them to concentrate on their "hustle", which is usually the theft of whatever ...they manage to steal and sell. So the group of men who do not try to sell the kitchen would be left doing their duties alone with their toil and sweat. I'd consider myself one of those men. Maybe it was because I was able to see only that small portion of the picture playing outside below the window that I think so highly of these women, combined with the longing and admiration for the opposite sex, but it was enough to form a realistic appreciation for their contributions to the sealed environment which we were all a part of at that place and time. Sick and healthy, weak and strong, old and young, male and female.....all prisoners doing time in Texas.

Author: Andrews, Bill

Author Location: Texas

Date: October 1, 2018

Genre: Essay

Extent: 4 pages

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