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The Unstoppable Jennie Justo: Episode Nine

Episode Nine: Behind Bars ©

I’m almost asleep when the sound of a suitcase dropping to the floor startles me. Someone curses and a baby fusses. Gradually, silence descends again.

I’d slept poorly the night before, and had an early start to get through the release process and catch my train. But it is more than just a lack of sleep; I’m emotionally drained. The last six months in jail have been tough. I close my eyes and let the rocking motion of the train lull me into dreams.

* * * *

The prison had been cold. And loud. Someone was always talking or shouting. Bells seemed to constantly blare for one thing or another. Never any silence, or any privacy.

The day I arrived, there were a dozen of us in line for intake. All together in one big room, we awkwardly changed out of our street clothes and into the heavy cotton striped blouse and skirt that was the prison uniform. Goodbye silk hose and dainty strapped heels, hello coarse woolen stockings and heavy brogues. The shoes were the worst.

I folded my outside clothes into a neat pile and stroked the top. It would be a while before I saw them again. The tall redhead next to me leaned over. “So, wadda-ya in for, doll?” she asked.

“Selling illegal hooch. Running a ‘speak’. Slapping a Federal Agent in the face and telling him to buzz off,” I said, tossing my head back. Kindness and politeness be damned, I didn’t want to be here but, since I had to, I wasn’t about to let anyone get one up on me.

The redhead laughed. “Oh, I hear ya, girl. That last one will get ya every time!”

The prison matron’s stern look cut off conversation. A sour old battle-ax in a starched grey uniform that matched her steel hair, she advanced with her clipboard.

Somebody thrust a stack of bedding at me. I followed the other prisoners down the hallway toward the cells. Everything was dirty, grey. All of it: bars, cement, and tile. Hard, cold surfaces. Our steps echoed. As we got further into the prison, the stink of sweat and cabbage became stronger.

Three tiers of open barred cells rose from the central area. An armed, male prison guard stood in the center on a raised platform. He had a clear view into each cell. There were goosebumps on my goosebumps.

Our parade passed rows of cells, occasionally stopping to drop off a new inmate. We rattled up the metal stairs to the second level, the first floor visible through the grillwork. My stomach lurched; god, I hated heights. I refocussed and stared at the uniform’s stripes on the woman in front of me.

Then we were stopped in front of a windowless cell on the middle tier. Inside, there were two black iron beds, a small, porcelain, wall-hung sink, a toilet with a wooden seat, and a battered desk and chair. A chubby woman sat on one of the beds. She barely glanced up from her magazine.

A male prison guard stepped forward and took a large ring of keys from his belt. The grinding hinges protested- like fingers on a chalkboard.

“Justo!” The matron had consulted her clipboard, barked my name, and jerked her head toward the empty bed. Harsh. Her tone could have broken bricks.

With my bedding clutched to my chest, I shuddered, took a deep breath, and stepped into the small cell. When I turned to face the matron, the guard swung the barred cell door shut. Clang.

If you’ve missed an episode, you can get it here…

Episode One

Episode Two

Episode Three

Episode Four

Episode Five

Episode Six

Episode Seven

Episode Eight