‘Awakenings never cease’

Cathy Webster is organizer of the “1,000 Grandmothers” campaign for the annual School of Americas Watch protest and vigil serving a two-month sentence in Sacramento County Jail for trespassing on a military base

Many have no idea what it’s like to be in jail. I didn’t. I am almost through a 60-day sentence for trespassing at Fort Benning, Ga., during the protest to close the School of the Americas/WHINSEC on November 19.

My home for now is “The Branch” of the Sacramento County Jail, located in Elk Grove. Some prisoners come here from the regular jail downtown, some come from other counties, and some come directly—as I did. I had posted bond after trial, which allowed me to “self report” on March 21.

From other inmates, I hear that being here is like a vacation compared to “downtown.” After a four-day stint in the maximum lockup unit, I am “in-stalled” in one of four dormitory-style units.

I don’t know why I am the guest of the Sacramento County Sheriff. This year, a few of us were assigned by the Bureau of Prisons to county or municipal jails instead of federal prisons. The incarceration system is rumbling a bit. If you haven’t heard of the prison-industrial complex, it’s time to start paying attention.

My dormitory of 66 women is called the “working dorm.” Inmates are assigned their choice of select jobs: kitchen crew, laundry, range crew (filling holes in the targets used at the shooting range nearby), engraving. Engravers work five hours a day. They don’t make license plates but they do make road signs, banners and other things. The women are not paid wages—the men get the paid jobs—but this is work experience that comes with a job reference for an inmate upon her release.

It is noisy in the dormitory with 66 women together in one room, excluding four hours of school programs or the few hours that most sleep. The television in the room is on at varying decibels, not 24-seven but approximately 19-seven. Meals are true junk food, calibrated to provide a set amount of calories to fatten up wasted street folk, and prepared in a manner that reminds one that this is not the Ritz.

I am lucky. My imprisonment is not a trauma for me. The guards here are not abusive as far as I can detect. I know I am a privileged prisoner of conscience. I have support. I have family and friends who love me and are proud of me. I have a cause to promote. I am healthy. I grew up aware of a world beyond my own neighborhood survival.

Most of my fellow inmates have a different story to tell. I believe this experience is worth it all for me if only to hear their stories. Awakenings never cease, if you are open to them.