Who did I trust in prison?

Trusting people was never an issue for me.  I trusted most everyone and quite easily.  I was described as, too trusting.   I also learned, I trusted bad people, not knowing they were bad at the time.   Prison cured me of trusting everyone.


Prison, was scary at first and I wanted a friend, anyone, someone.  I wanted to find a person I could get to know, became close to, someone whom I could share stories.  I found a handful of women I felt comfortable around, typical white collar, educated, mature, and did I say opinionated?

Although in prison, you can be whoever you want to be.  For the uneducated, you could claim to be a professor, the drug lord could be a pharmacist, and the unloved could be a family therapist.  Sometimes, I was the future ex-wife of Donald Trump and my friend was a princess.

Time has a way of revealing the character of people.   In a way, that is a great thing, but in prison, time is not something one is hoping for more of.   However, similar to the outside world, at some point, you meet someone and a friendship is developed.

In prison I spent hours, days, weeks, and months sitting on picnic tables, (if only picnic tables could talk).  My friends and I would turn pages of old newspapers or flip through mindless magazines together, crochet together, cry together, laugh at stupid things together, compare family drama, stand next to each other in slow moving lines, sit together during meals and eat fish that wasn’t for human consumption together, and we would make “appointments” to meet one another in places such as the library or chapel.  It was the life and how friendships are formed in prison.

I would find myself looking for that person when I went outside on the compound and experienced a feeling of relief and happiness when I found them.  After a period of time, we found ourselves comfortable sitting together, without words, because we understood the unspoken language of silence, patience, hope, faith and pain.   You are there for one another.

It’s not uncommon for ladies to part while in prison over different beliefs, rumors, behaviors, change of character, or maybe an increase of awareness and wisdom.   It all happens in prison, it happened to me.  Suddenly a friend turned on me, for reasons I don’t know, I may never know.  I learned to just accept and keep moving.  Inevitably and sadly friends are always separated.   One gets released and one is left behind, then it starts over again.

Who did I trust in prison? Even though I met ladies, of whom I considered friends, I chose to hold a perfect tension of knowing them and not knowing them.  Personally, I couldn’t be 100% sure of any inmate.

Could it be a staff member?  There was a definite line between the staff and an inmate.  An inmate is someone confined to an institution, hospital or prison.  Does that sound trustworthy? I suppose the staff did not find an inmate as someone who was trusting.  My personal experience confirmed that.

Pills were distributed by a nurse, so I had to line up outside in what was referred to as “pill line”.  I had to be in pill line twice a day, and it was drilled into us to be on time, or staff could refuse to give you medicine.  (I didn’t want to be sick, especially in prison)

One afternoon, I couldn’t get to the pill line on time, due to the fact I had hair color all over my head!  Prison had a cosmetology school, and I gratefully and with much enthusiasm had my “sparkles” (gray hair) covered whenever I could get an appointment.  The cosmetology school was offered to inmates who qualified, not everyone qualified. (Is that discrimination?) I believe, you had to have been sentenced a minimum of 5 years and thankfully, I did not qualify.

It was a snowy, icy, rainy day, and already dark at 2pm in the afternoon, and it was time for pill line.  Yikes! I didn’t know what to do.  I’m in a West Virginia cosmetology school in a Federal Prison, with the slowest student, slopping wet hair color all over me, which made me feel chilly and now shivering.  Imagining a warm cappuccino or a glass of merlot like at the salons I went to in Charlotte, NC, now only depressed me.  On the upside, it was free and tipping was not permitted, it was a bargain, after all.  I told the staff person lady guard teacher person, I needed to go to pill line, but she said she would call and let them know my situation.  I was told to go to HSU, (health services) (I don’t know what the U, stands for) after my hair was completed.   So I did.

Once I got to HSU, they refused to administer my medicine. Say whuuut? Now here comes the sticky-icky part.  When trying to explain what happened to the HSU staff, they did not believe me.   They said nobody called them to tell them about my extended time at the spa.  I told them the lady at cosmetology told me she called to let you know I was delayed.  (hmmm, somebody is not being truthful) Would you believe the inmate? They did not believe me.   I was also warned upon my arrival, never to challenge the staff.  Whoever holds the “keys”, holds the power.  I was mortified, shocked and outraged.  To think about our tax dollars getting this kind of service!

Sadly, I eliminated staff members as someone I could trust, which included guards, nurses, doctor and counselors.  (anyone with keys)

“Who did I trust in prison”?  Is trust based on reliability, support, assistance… is it based on having someone who believes in me?  Is it the person who sends me mail, puts money on “my books”, so I can purchase toothpaste?  Is it the people who visit me, regularly?  Is it the people who say they love me?  Is it family?

My family did all those things, but were there times, we had tension, conflicting attitudes, or disagreements? Truthfully, yes.  At times, I felt as if I were living on the edge of trust, when I got parts of a story, different stories, or maybe half truths.  But the underlying trust was always there.  I trusted my family.  We battled through prison together, one step, one day, one letter at a time.

Cube 44 became more than a place I slept.  It became my “inner room”.   It was a place I could hide, especially at 5am while everyone else was asleep.  Propping myself up on my cozy, lumpy bed and leaning against the cold pink cinderblock wall.   My pillow was as thin as a piece of paper, so I would roll up my partially made crochet blanket and mush it nicely behind me against the concrete wall.  Ah, prison style coziness! The darkness was my peace and my book light was my most special necessity, I would get lost in my reading.

My favorite book was the Bible and anything having to do with spiritual learning, intuition, understanding the true self, acknowledging the false self, wisdom, see as the mystics see, Hindu, Buddhism, Jewish studies, Kabbalah for beginners (Kabbalah is not what I thought, nor am I ready for that) and contemplative prayer.  I devoured pages after pages, over and over, with my mind, imagination, memory, personal tears, even happy tears, my highlighter was always nearby along with my pen and spiral notebook.   Reading and journaling for 90 minutes every morning in prison, it was my personal escape.

I found my best friend in Cube 44.  My friend was always awake when I wanted to talk, never a voicemail or “come back later when I have time.”   My friend allowed me to pour my heart out, even at times I couldn’t find the right words, my friend would say, “don’t be afraid, it’s okay”.  Sometimes, I would get mad at my friend, but I always knew my friend wouldn’t abandon me, because my friend was patient, strong and understanding. Even though I couldn’t understand my friend all the time, I knew it was for my own good.   This friend had a way of knowing my sadness too, always giving me assurance it was a part of the journey while goodness would be revealed.  My friend only asked me to have faith.  My friend made me feel so comfortable, safe and loved.  I would wake up every morning and say “What’s happening daddy”?  I think my friend would laugh. We giggled quietly together.  I was completely in love with my friend.

My friend helped me to lay down my anger, bitterness and cynical thoughts about our government and justice system.  Living in my past only increased my pain while decreasing my focus and elevating my blood pressure!  My friend encouraged me to surrender all of it.  I think my friend knew it would take me time, strangely time was on my side.  My friend said if I was willing to stop holding on to it, it could be lifted off me.

The more time I spent with my friend, I found a true joy dwelling inside of me, in spite of my circumstances, in spite of prison.  Even though I felt broken inside, lost and hanging in a gap, I had a sense of peace and a thirst to have more of my friend.

I started to see things differently, my lens became a different color, it broadened and expanded, it felt right. My friend has this unique read on me and once I started reaching for my friend, I think my friend began lifting me the rest of the way out of my own personal prison.  I wanted whatever my friend wanted for me. I knew it would be better than anything I could imagine.

Even though I may never understand my friend’s ways, I have come to accept my friends’ strange ways without question.  I think my friend is a pretty cool dude, I respect my friend and I love my friend.

Prison was a place of revealing and awakening.  My friend is the one I came to rely and trust, my friend was always there, I was never truly alone.  I don’t want to go back to prison (as an inmate), but when I look back, I’m grateful for the trip.

For me, my friend was with me when I arrived in prison, (timing is important to my friend) we lived together in cube 44, we sat, we talked and walked daily, together we tried to eat fish that wasn’t even for human consumption!  My friend taught me about enduring trials, of which nobody goes untouched.  When it was time for my release, my friend said, “c’mon, Holly we’re out of here, let’s go together” …

In God, I trust, Holly



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