Cruel and Unusual, An Interview With Connie Williams, An Inmate At Marysville Reformatory For Women.
[The interview subject’s name has been changed at her request in order to protect her identity. The interview took place in December 2000.]
Q: So, what are you in for sounds like a bad pickup line, but what are you in for?
Williams: I’m an addict and I got caught writing phony prescriptions for painkillers.
Q: How many times?
Williams: How many times did I get fake scrips or how many times did I get caught?
Q: Uhh, how many times did you get caught?
Williams: How many counts or how many arrests?
Q: Both, I guess.
Williams: (Deep sigh) I was arrested five different times. I had a total of seventy-four counts against me but my lawyer got the counts down to three.
Q: Impressive lawyer!
Williams: If you think that’s impressive, think about this for a second. It took them five years before they caught on that I was doing the shit. Think about that, dude!
Q: So you’re pretty crafty.
Q: When will you be getting out?
Williams: My release date is June 29, 2002.
Q: How long have you been in?
Williams: The better question is how long have I been out. In the past two years I’ve been out for a total of six weeks. My sobriety never lasted too long. I was using two days after my release last time.
Q: What pisses you off about being in here?
Williams: They put the dildo maker in the hole for supposedly making weapons. They were dildos, man! And they won’t let us have magazines or newspapers in here. The TV is always on some stupid rerun so I have no idea what’s going on in the world.
Q: So you like to keep abreast of current events?
Williams: Used to, being here is making me lose IQ points by the day.
Q: Too little stimulation?
Williams: Yeah, especially now that the dildo maker’s in the hole.
Q: Can you give me an idea of what a typical day is like for you here in Marysville?
Williams: When you first get here you got to be careful.
Q: How so?
Williams: Well, there’s so many stupid rules and if you break them you can end up in the hole.
Q: Can you explain what the hole is and give me an example?
Williams: The hole is solitary confinement. When I first got here a girl was thrown in the hole for fourteen days for tapping a guard on the shoulder to get his attention. Also, you can’t call the guards guards. You can get in trouble for that. They make you call them C.O.’s, short for corrections officers. Plus things you may have brought in from the county are considered contraband and you can get in trouble for having it. I had an ink pen that I bought while I was in the county waiting to be transferred here. I could have been thrown in the hole for having it. I could be thrown in the hole because my hair is too long and because I have my bellybutton pierced.
Q: You’re not allowed to have ink pens?
Williams: Oh sure, but they have to be purchased from this commissary.
Q: So they’re running a racket?
Williams: Basically, and it sucks for people without money. They may have bought a bunch of shit in the county, but they aren’t allowed to use any of it. Do you know how many people use kitchen grease for their hair? I had to for the first week I was in here because I didn’t get to go to the commissary until the next week.
Q: Why would you put kitchen grease in your hair?
Williams: Because when you have curly dry hair you have to use something or it will break and you can’t brush it.
Q: So, what are your days like?
Williams: We get up real early and we have about fifty counts a day. Basically, they do head counts to make sure nobody escaped. When we have counts we have to be on our bunks. I go outside for cigarettes and I sit on my bunk. Some days I get to go to the commissary and buy things like snacks, hair supplies, a tape player with headphones, that sort of thing. I had a job here cooking and that was good, but I got sick of it. One thing that pisses me off is how they’ll just lock up the bathroom for however long and if you tell them you have to pee they don’t give a shit. The other day this girl ended up pissing herself because the bathroom was locked for so long.
Q: Why do they lock up the bathroom?
Williams: They just do every day for sometimes short times and sometimes long times. I think they keep it locked when an inmate says she’s got to pee just to fuck with her.
Q: Withholding bathroom privileges should be on the list of cruel and unusual punishments.
Williams: Prison is cruel and unusual. I should be in rehab. In county I bunked next to a woman that murdered her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. All I did was drug myself into numbness and ruin my life. I don’t belong with half these people. A lot of the people in here are addicts and didn’t hurt anyone. Some of them stole shit to afford their habit but that’s the extent of it.
Q: Why do they call it a reformatory?
Williams: Good question, because nothing’s getting reformed in here. We’re just waiting to get out, wasting our days away.
Q: What do you plan on doing when you get out?
Williams: I’d like to see my daughter and get to know her again. She’s three and I’ve spent most of her life in lock up. I’d like to be the mom she deserves. I’d also like to have a girls’ night out and go dancing. I’d like to have a nice dinner and a glass of wine. And I’d like to go shopping in New York City. I’ve never been to New York City.
Q: Any long-range goals?
Williams: I can’t afford to have any long-range goals.
Q: Why not?
Williams: Because I don’t want to be disappointed when I fail.
Q: You don’t have any hope?
Williams: I have hope but I don’t count on much, I never have. A lot of the stuff I’d like to do that would give me hope is out of the question for now because I’m a felon.
Q: Like what?
Williams: I’d like to go to college. I know I’m smart. There’s no way a stupid person could get away with stuff I did for so long. But they have a new law, and if you’ve had a drug conviction you can’t get a student loan. So, now I have to wait at least three years before I can go to school. Pretty stupid if you ask me. Going to school could help me stay sober. I mean, I know being sober has to do with me, but I always liked learning. Those times when I can’t stand to be with myself, I could crack open my books and study. It could be one of the things to motivate me and help me through the rough patches. But now, I’m this big criminal and I don’t deserve school. Make it so I can’t use my brain because I hated myself and did drugs. Sure, that’s going to help society and help me stay sober.
Q: Do you still hate yourself?
Williams: I hate myself and want to cut my face and fat body, but then a C.O. treats me like I’m not even a human, and it makes me want to say, “Fuck you, I’m better than you think.” Then I just think that there’s a reason I’m in here. And I think someday I’ll have a story to tell, even if it’s a story I only share with myself.
Q: Will it have a happy ending?
Williams: In my fantasy it does. But I don’t really know, I may die before I get sober.
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