As soon as a sentence is entered, the prisoner is taken to a county jail. The female prisoners are in a big room. They are ordered to take off their clothes and stand naked while being inspected. The prisoner is told to lift her hair, arms, feet, and then bend over and cough twice. If she is wearing a tampon, she must remove it for inspection. She is then given a white jumpsuit to wear, her ankles are shackled, and handcuffs secured by a black box. The prisoners are loaded on a van to be taken to the prison.
The van pulls into the facility at Coffee Creek and drives to the intake center. The gates shut and lock before the prisoners get out of the van. They are taken in through a door and left in a holding cell with a sack lunch. The lunch might consist of: bread, a bag of chips, a piece of fruit, lunch meat, peanut butter and jelly packets, and mayonnaise and mustard packets. All of the women are in this large room together – there is a commode in one corner with a low wall blocking the toilet, though you can see the person sitting on it. The women stay in there for hours waiting to be called.
When she is called out, she is issued her “intake clothes.” These consist of: blue scrub pants, blue scrub shirts, navy blue t-shirts, underwear, socks, and sports bras. She is also given a pair of orange flip flops for showering. Then she is taken to the showers and shown the street clothes she was wearing so she can verify that her personal belongings are there. These items are sealed, boxed up, and mailed to the prisoner’s family.
In the showers, a strip search is performed again, then she is told to take a shower and put on her scrubs. She then goes into a room for fingerprinting, a DNA sample is taken, and a picture for her prison ID. She is now taken to a different holding tank, with the other processed prisoners. A nurse takes her into a private room and takes down her medical history, notes tattoos, and scars, and then she returns again to the same holding area.
When everyone is processed, the prisoners are given manila pocket folders containing the following items: a small tube of toothpaste, a tiny toothbrush, a pocket comb, a razor, a small deodorant, a little bar of soap, a small bendy pen, five envelopes, ten sheets of newsprint paper, and any paperwork she came in with that she’s allowed to keep, and a yellow lanyard to the K-Unit (this is the unit where intake prisoners will spend their first few weeks) with her ID card. She also receives her bedroll containing: two blankets, two sheets, a pillowcase, and two towels.
Now she is taken down a “big, scary” hallway where is shown where things are and taken to her unit. She arrives in the K-Unit. It is an open unit with 108 beds – bunk-beds. She will be here for about thirty days. While she is here, she will not be allowed to participate in any activities such as religious services, salon, visiting, etc. She will have two hours every day to spend in the day room or out in the yard. The rest of her time she is to sit on her bunk. At the end of her time here, an intake counselor will meet with her to talk about her Corrections Plan. This plan will explain her custody level (medium security for prisoners with more than four years’ time), expectations, etc.
The inmate I interviewed has been serving for nearly eight years now. She does not want to remember the time she came in because, like Shannon Hickman, she was accused of causing the death of a child. She told me in vague terms about that time, but my questions seemed to bother her. She said that the other inmates were not accepting. They called her a “baby killer” and told her to just kill herself. They wouldn’t allow her to sit with them for meals. She says she was “shunned” by the women.
I remember when Shannon was born – just a few months before my niece, Miranda. I can’t help feeling badly for her. She was powerless to decide how she was raised. She was powerless in her marriage. She was powerless in saving her child. And, for the next six years, she will be completely powerless in raising her surviving children.