Female Offenders, Women in Prison

Women in Prison: In Front and Behind the Cell Bars #2

Disclaimer: No real names used. These stories are from one employee’s perspective during 1980-2008 with the California Youth Authority (CYA).Training, classifications, and agency have significantly changed in the last 10-15 years. There is no longer a CYA, it merged under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Last week I gave some of the back story to my introduction into the Criminal Justice field. Much of the training I received to do my job at the Correctional Facility was OJT: 
                                                                   On the job training

I began working before I went to the academy in Northern California, because of a backlog. On my first day I sat in the foyer with two other nervous employees-both were men a couple of years older than me. We didn’t have uniforms in those days because we were ‘counselors,’ not correctional officers like the others. We were told to wear pants (no jeans), tennis shoes, and a collared shirt. Purses could be placed in our lockers. I’m sure we looked like any other college aged kids…except to the old time employees. They passed by us, some shook their heads, one told the reception officer, 

                                                       “Uh, let me guess, new boots, huh?” 

Our first stop was the administration building, a maze of hallways with glossy linoleum floors. Our escort stopped short at a door, tapped on the chrome face plate that said WARDEN, then turned to look at us like we were supposed to cast our eyes to the floor. A secretary stepped out and ushered us into a large carpeted room with the US and California flags in each corner of the wall behind an expansive mahogany desk. It think it was faux wood.

The Warden seemed genial enough but didn’t invite us to sit down. He stood up, welcomed us, and came around to the front of the desk where he walked back and forth speaking about the mission of the Department and the seriousness nature of the job. He ended by looking straight at me,

                                           “These offender’s ain’t here for singing too loud in the choir.” 

I thought that was quite funny but I kept on my poker face. One of the other new boots laughed, “good one, sir.” The Warden didn’t smile. Our escort looked pissed off and later told him not to be a wise ass.

After we visited the personnel office, clerical services and two more offices in between, our escort walked us up to what he called a “Com Center,” short for communications center. At the end of the building on the left was an enclosed glass area, which looked like an air traffic control center. We walked up a few steps and heard a loud buzzer. Our escort pulled open the door and ushered us inside to meet the Com Center Sergeant who I’m sure was a Marine Drill Sergeant in another life.

The entire facility lay out, left to right, in front of the glass like the top half of a wagon wheel. Several one story brick buildings dotted the greenbelt that was crisscrossed with cement walkways and a perimeter of black asphalt and steel grey fences. 

                                               “This is your workplace, be careful, be alert.” 

The Sarg said this as he looked left to right and then fiddled with the black control panel in front of him. It was covered with white lights which occasionally lit up to green or red. Bracketed to a wall near a small side window were rows of wooden slots filled with small boxlike items. 

The Sarg pulled one out and thrust it toward me, “Wear it at all times.” I didn’t know what ‘it’ was or where it went until he pulled out two more and gave them to the others. The transistor radio looking item was encased in a leather covering with a round opening in the front. A red number was printed on the top of the case. “It’s your ‘Panic Button,’ loop it through your belt.” I wasn’t wearing a belt. 

                        “Always wear a belt, where do you think your keys hang, in your purse?” 

Wise Ass smirked. The escort shook his head. The Sarg looked at me up and down. I took a deep breath. “No sir.” 

“Okay,” Sarg said while he took some papers from our escort. “You’re assigned to Golondrina,” he said to one of the guys and then pointed to a brick building on the left side of the facility. “You go to Gaviota,” he said to Wise Ass and pointed towards the center of the area. “And you, kiddo, you get to go to Mariposa.” He pointed to the right, where there were two identical brick buildings. Sarg distributed keys to each of us. “Keys are marked with the call numbers of your unit.”

                                                         “DO NOT LOSE YOUR KEYS.”

Our escort led us down the steps and pointed out the buildings to each of us again. Then pushed us on our way. There was a huge expanse of grass, the length of a football field, between one set of buildings in the center and the one I had been assigned to on the right side of the facility. I walked across the asphalt roadway and made a beeline across the grass towards the unit.

                                                             “Get off the grass, new boot.”

Sarg’s voice boomed through the speaker and bounced off my ears. I turned around to see him standing at the glass window, his arms across his chest, shaking his head. A loud “Hah,” sounded on my left, it was Wise Ass, using the sidewalk. I jogged to the sidewalk and walked as fast as I could, to my new assignment, my first day of my twenty-eight year career working for the California Youth Authority. 

4 thoughts on “Women in Prison: In Front and Behind the Cell Bars #2”

  1. I feel like I'm reading a memoir about your experiences. I'd usually be turned off by the having to wait until next week for the next installment but I don't feel that way at all here. I am completely fascinated by your experience and look forward to hearing more about the interactions between you and staff, superiors and prisoners. Will your prison posts be weekly?


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