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Personal Alcatraz

McKenzie Evans

Evans. That was what they called me. No one has ever referred to me as “Evans.” I didn’t play team sports where the crowd cheered me on or the announcer yelled, “Goal for Evans!” In fact, I was the cheerleader. The bouncy, enthusiastic, naturally confident cheerleader rooting for the team and energizing the crowd. I was the dancer, the honor roll student, always the authentic leader. Now I was sitting on a cold, dirty concrete bench and they were calling me Evans. I stared at the floor. I was lost in it. I followed the cracks between the stark concrete floors leading to even worse gray institutional walls. Nothing but gray, nowhere to go, no hope, no escape.

“Evans” was barked louder this time, in a more authoritative tone, as if someone was being non-compliant. My heart jumped, and I looked up. Back to reality, and it registered: it was me. I was now an inmate, and my name was Evans.

“Are you drunk, Evans, or do you not know your name?” I had heard this question a million times leading up to this exact moment, but usually in more of a statement, and my name was Kenzie. It was much more of a statement, actually, a “Kenzie, you’re drunk,” followed by a sound of exasperation with some head shaking and explicit language. Indeed, I was drunk, but not drunk enough. The sobering reality of keys clanking and the loud beeps and fuzz of walkie-talkies woke me right up as guards followed protocol to lead me through booking.

“Look into the camera.” I saw a flash—or did I? I couldn’t be too sure. My legs were still wobbly, and although reluctantly, my eyes filled with up with tears. “Turn to your right,” “Push your hair back,” “Chin up”—these were all commands. This particular woman guard’s deliberate, booming tone of voice was not to be mistaken as a request (perhaps a recurring problem). If I hadn’t noticed her tacky, long and pointy pink press-on nails as she adjusted the camera, I would have mistaken her for a man.

Yes, I was in judgment, of everyone and everything in that building. I was scared, but I couldn’t let that show. I had heard about what happens to the weak in jail, and I was damn sure not going to let it happen to me. I was in the middle of this little conversation with myself when Pink Press-On Nails rudely interrupted, telling me—or more accurately, “Evans”—to take a seat and wait to be changed out.

“Can I make a phone call?” I asked.

“Phones are on the wall,” Pink Press-On said as she nodded to the holding room.

Notably, a man, homeless-looking at best, must have given up on his phone calls, as he lay rather cozily on the steel bench, using the phonebook as a pillow. “Great,” I thought to myself what kind of crazy would fall asleep. He should be doing everything he could to get out of this place. Then it hit me, I had to walk back around the cinderblock wall and approach the guard about my bail. I can get out of here! I would have to lie. What story could I tell to get my parents to come get me? I had become quite the proficient liar (at least I believed I was) but no one really believed me. They just appeased me so I would stop talking. The drunken fog had lifted and reason was quickly entering my brain.

“Excuse me, what is the amount of my bail?” I asked. No answer. “Excuse me?”, this time the frustration of this awful event was loud and clear as I spoke. Pink Press On flipped her chair around and with a facial expression that could only be interpreted as evil plus pleasure, probably similar to what Satan would look like as he welcome you to hell, she smiled and said, “You have no bail Evans. You have a warrant. Which means you get to lodge with us until you have a scheduled court date in front of this particular judge. Get comfortable.”

Tears flooded, my face turned hot, and suddenly I was dizzy again, and not from the booze. I had grown comfortable to the spinning sensation my familiar friend alcohol provided in moments when I couldn’t control my emotions. Not now. Now I had come head on, face to face with fear and the truth was just too much to bare.

I had to sit down. I didn’t even notice the discomfort of the steel. I sat and I stared. I stared at the clock until the numbness wore off. It was freezing, the cold was piercing and uncomfortable. It felt similar to the feeling of camping, after the fire goes out and the cold sets in, dark and unfamiliar. I thought I heard some howling echoing through the building. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. After what seemed liked hours I was once again commanded to follow orders this time to shower and slip on my orange jumpsuit. Autumn pumpkin orange. It smelled like cheap laundry detergent and old body odor. I put on old used socks and sandals and stepped out into the hallway. I hung my head and followed the guard to my cell.

It was night and the rest of the block was asleep. I was issued a “mattress” it was blue and resembled a tumbling mat, the kind I had used in gymnastics. No pillow, a wool blanket and my “mattress” My cellmate was asleep so I quietly climbed into bed and cried myself to sleep.

“HEEEEAAAADDD COOOUUUUNT” “HEEEEEAAAAAD COOUUUNT LADIEEES”

My eyes were so swollen I could barely open them. Was I dreaming? I had to be. My body was stiff. I rolled to my back and opened my eyes. All I could see was orange. A sea of orange. Fluorescent lighting and orange. Dammit.

I heard my new cellmate scrambling off her top bunk she slipped on her shoes and stood by her bed. “You have to get up and stand by your bed. Make sure your shoes are on and your bed is made. Hurry!” My cellmate spoke softly as if danger was imminent. I rushed up. I heard keys and now a new guard. A red haired woman with the name Moody on her name tag. Of course her name would be Moody, I thought. She looked me over. “You came in last night Evans?” she asked with a lisp. I nodded. She looked at me disapprovingly. “Don’t give me any headaches” That was it, she walked away. Immediately, I wondered if she had heard of my drunken disorderly conduct with the police that had arrested me. Was I already on her radar? This kind of thinking was normal for me considering I was completely self-absorbed. The world had revolved around me and my delusions. I had become a mess, I was sloppy. I was a liar. All these thoughts consumed me. I wanted to crawl back in bed. Maybe I would get some peace for a few more hours. I wanted to drift back to sleep and dream of any place but this one. I heard Moody scream. “Time to clean ladies. Beds made; cells scrubbed”.

No sleep for me. I followed the directions of my cellmate. Scrubbing our sink, toilet and floor, took all of five minutes considering the room itself was 6 x 8ft. I observed the other inmates running in and out of their cells as I walked down the stairs to return the mop. It was chaos but these girls seemed happy. They were thrilled to have their cell doors open even if it was only to clean. How could they be happy? Do they know where they are? I felt so out of place, I felt panicked. “Lock up ladies” Moody sent us back to our cells. Now it was just me and my cellmate. I wanted to ask her a million things. My mind and heart were racing. She covered her head with her blanket, as if she could hear my thoughts. I was stuck. I was sick. It was a self-inflicted tragedy and I was the only one to blame. The hour until breakfast passed painfully slow. I couldn’t sleep. Shame had become adrenaline in my veins.

Breakfast was served and all inmates were to go get a tray and sit with each other to eat. I could feel them sizing me up. Asking why I was there, what could I have possibly done. I was a drunk. I used drugs. I was irresponsible and didn’t pay a fine. I had become resistant with the officers that came to my house on welfare check call.

These women responded in a language that was their own code. I heard phrases and words repeated that I had never heard before. I couldn’t eat. The oatmeal looked gray just like the cell walls. I dumped my tray and went to use the phone. I called my parents. I had to apologize. I had to let them know I would change. I was sorry. Apparently they didn’t want to hear it, as the voice on the phone asked them if they would accept a collect call from a correctional facility they hung up. It was like a dagger through my heart. My throat turned hard I choked on my tears. I couldn’t stop it. I was a disgrace to my family name. And hearing “Evans” repeated by the guards only perpetuated the pain.

I turned to go to my bunk and a woman who looked about 60 with a long, white and gray, unkempt ponytail approached me. She smiled and even though she was missing teeth it was comforting. She looked around reached into her shirt pocket and pulled out (of all things) a hard-boiled egg. She put it in my hand and said, “It will be okay. Don’t let them see you eat this, but you have to eat.” “Um, thank you”, I told her. I looked around to see if anyone had witnessed this strange exchange. The egg was cracked, it could have been weeks old but it was her way of helping me and I appreciated the gesture. I smiled through the tears and trudged back up to my cell.

Time passed and I remained in my own personal Alcatraz. I had been imprisoned long before I was ever arrested and put in jail. I had separated myself from everything that I once stood for. The energy exhausted on running from myself had caught up to me. Here I was in all of my glory. Orange jumpsuit, old hard-boiled egg, and a myriad of bad memories. Alcohol and drugs had been the solution to my problems, now they were the problem, and they were the real warden. I let the gravity of my choices set in. Reality. This would be my life if I continued going the way that I was. I had always thought I was smarter than other people, look how smart I was now. My entitled ways were shattered as I realized I was not special, I was not an exception to the rules. No one was going to save me. I had to become responsible for my own life. Stepping out of the jail was merely the beginning. Breaking free from the bonds of alcoholism gave me a new sense of peace and happiness that had once only dreamed of. The gray color of those walls are only a memory, no longer associated with loss, they gave me an invaluable understanding that true freedom lies within.