I sobbed uncontrollably as I walked down the fluorescent-lit corridor. The whole hallway was white and it had doors every few feet. I was dressed in a gray jumpsuit and followed a muscular corrections officer to the fifth locked door on our left. The officer, whose name tag read Kenney, pushed a red button on the side of the door, and the huge steel overhang was buzzed open for us.
“You need to clean your face,” said officer Kenney, as he motioned for me to walk through the door.
“O.K.,” I said as I wiped the tears from my eyes and took a deep breath.
“All right now, compose yourself,” said Kenney. “Welcome to the County.”
I walked into a huge room that was divided by Plexiglas walls into three sections. In the middle of the room, between two of the sections, was the control hub, where two officers sat.
“This is general pop,” said Kenney, pointing to our left, which housed the largest section of that part of the jail. It was a room with tables and stools, all attached to the floor. It was full of all types of women, all different ages, from all different backgrounds, and attached to it was a gym, which was the prisoners only exposure to fresh air.
“That’s quarantine,” said Kenney, pointing to our immediate right. “You’ll go there after your TB test comes back. For now, you’re in the med-unit.”
Quarantine was a smaller room than general population, about half the size. Only seven or eight women were in there, sitting at tables and chairs, talking and watching T.V. We walked past the officers’ hub, to the back of the room, the smallest section of the area. The door to the unit was buzzed open, and I was motioned in. The officer led me to a cell on the bottom half of the bi-level structure.
“This is you, for right now,” Kenney said. “This is solitary. I’ll be coming back in a bit to let you out to take a shower, or make call, or whatever.”
“O.K.,” I said, holding back my tears.
I walked through the door into the 4×6 cell, and then it shut, and I heard the jingle of Kenney’s keys as he locked the door. To my left was a toilet with a little sink and mirror on the side. Straight in front of me, up against the wall of brick, was a steel bed frame. No sheets, no mattress. Above the bed was a rectangular shaped window hat overlooked the courtyard. I laid on the steel-framed bed, and cried myself to sleep.
The next 48 hours were a blur. Withdrawal from the heroin had set in. If I wasn’t on the toilet, I was on the steel be frame, moaning in agony. I was in and out of consciousness. I had extreme cold sweats, and when I was awake, my thoughts raced. I was alone. All that broke the silence was the jingle of the officers’ keys as they walked past every half hour doing bed checks.
Day turned into night, and I slept. The next day I awoke to hear the jingle of officer Kenney’s keys. A nurse was with him. She came in and stood over me as she took my vitals.
“Heroin?,” asked the nurse, as she held my wrist and looked at her watch.
“Yes,” I said, with what I didn’t even recognize as my voice. “It’s awful. I have cold sweats and diarrhea….”
“Does your stomach hurt?,” she interrupted, still looking at her watch.
“O.K., I’ll bring you some Bentyl. Be back in a few.” And with that, she walked out.
“O.K.,” said officer Kenney. “You can come out. I’ll give you 10 minutes to make a phone call or take a shower.”
I got up and slowly walked out of the cell. A phone was on the wall next to my cell door. I picked up and called my mother, but no answer. Then, I called my house. My friend, “Shannon”, had been staying with me, and she picked up, much to my surprise.
“Shannon,” I said, almost relieved.
“Oh my God, Candice, how are you? Are you O.K. ?”
“I’m in solitary, and I’ve only got 10 minutes. Is anyone going to make my bail?,” I asked with anticipation.
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” she said hesitantly. “Your parents aren’t coming. They’re going to come to your court date on Thursday.”
“But, today’s Saturday,” I said, desperately.
“I know sweetie. I’m sorry.”
I hung the phone up and began to cry all over again. Officer Kenney came and escorted me back to my cell, and I heard the jingle of the keys, again, as he locked the door.
After 48 hours in solitary, I was led to the quarantine unit. As a different officer led me to my new cell, I noticed the stares of all the women. In my cell, I changed into a new jumpsuit and headed out into the open area. The withdrawal had come and went, and I was feeling much better physically. Mentally, though, I was scared beyond belief of the seven to eight women who inhabited the quarantine unit at that time. Nonetheless, I went into the room, and picked a table to sit at, close o the television mounted on the wall.
Some women were talking, others watched T.V., and others wrote in journals and on paper. An older black woman, who I would come to know as Mary, sat across the table from me. Her wiry, gray hair was pulled back tight in a bun, and her jumpsuit looked to be two sizes too big on her. She smiled at me.
“Did you come in kickin’?,” Mary asked.
“Yes,” I said. Kickin’ meant you came in addicted to drugs that would precipitate experiencing withdrawal.
“I’m Mary. I’m in here ’cause they found the heroin on me, and I had a warrant. What ’bout you?”
“My name’s Candy,” I said. “I had a warrant.”
“That sucks,” she said.
“Yeah, it does,” I said.
“Well, that shit will get you here. I’ve been tryin’ to kick that shit for a minute now. Been in and out of this place. Been in and out of a lot of places. You don’t look like the type, though. You don’t look like you belong here.”
I didn’t know whether to take that as a compliment, or not, but over the next two days, Mary and I would become confidants. We spoke of everything: past loves, family, children. I felt bad for her, and then for myself. I didn’t belong there, she was right. When my court date came that Thursday, I was released. After what ha seemed like an eternity, I was free.
I sprinted out of the Morris County Correctional Facility without looking back. I had a new outlook on life. I would struggle with heroin for four more months, and then quit, cold turkey, to the present day. I’ll never forget that week in jail, or Mary, who made it a little more bearable. From time to time, I still wonder what ever happened to her. I hope she found the happiness and sobriety I have, and the privilege of freedom.