“They sayin’ Sandy is gonna get us locked down. Who is she?” one woman asked.
She has lived at York since she was 17.
“Oh, fuck that bitch and her bald-headed ass. I know who she is. She from East Hartford. She get high, you know, mother-fuckin’ dope fiend. What she did?” replied an older woman.
The two inmates’ misunderstanding was understandable because no one here in York Correctional Institution needed to prepare for Superstorm Sandy’s coming.
Storms barely affect us in prison. It’s one of the upsides of incarceration.
Sandy, and her cousin Irene last year, blew in and out of Connecticut, and none of us even flinched while your hair went matted for days because your water heater is electric and the power outage prevented hot showers.
We took naps while you spent precious daylight hours looking for your old school, battery-operated alarm clock. When you propped up a flashlight to read a magazine, we watched Two and a Half Men.
An electrical panel controls the locks on our cell doors. Because of that, and the fact that a dark prison is a dangerous prison, an extra-strength generator stands ready for any prison power outage. We witness the electricity go out, and within three seconds every light and electronic device springs back alive. What is a bother for you is barely a blip for us.
I remember watching news coverage of Irene’s extended black-out last year. When inmates saw people without power, they asked, “Where is that, Jersey?” and “That must be out in Colorado.” Our electricity never broke down; it was inconceivable that the people without power lived right up the road.
For meals, inmates must venture outside on a sidewalk to a dining hall. During storms like Sandy and Irene, braving the elements is perilous, so staff members wheel carts containing trays to our housing units and deliver our meals to us. Not a drop of precipitation falls upon us as we await others to prepare our food. It’s storm luxury.
The high living is short lived, however, if the storm prevents guards from getting to work and the facility is short-staffed, causing us to be locked down. Relations between two women marooned in a closet-sized cell grow stormy under these conditions.
Monday, Sandy’s first day in town, unfolded uneventfully. Like other cell pairings, my cellmate and I slept intermittently, ate our chow hall take-out and watched Gov. Malloy unveil emergency plans. Then my cellmate, who is lactose intolerant, became sick and followed her cough syrup with a milk chaser. All Monday night into Tuesday morning she alternately hacked sputum and spilled her guts of diarrhea.
Tuesday’s daylight brought the standard Tuesday lunch, chicken-based hot dogs, sauerkraut, baked beans at 9:30 a.m. It added flatulence to the mix. I wished I could have felt Sandy’s effects an easier way like ending up stranded in an airport for 36 hours or seeing a limb of a sturdy oak crash into my dining room.
And the prediction of when the guards will uncork my cell so we can get out? “Maybe Thursday morning,” one guard informed me as I looked out the window to sunshine and autumn leaves that the storm neglected to separate from their branches.
I looked down at the butcher-block counter strewn with a dirty cough syrup cap-cup overturned, bleeding red cough suppressant onto the counter’s surface. Wet washcloths, bunched and crusty, lay atop open soap dishes. Monday’s lunch of peanut butter and jelly exceeded expiration. Miscellaneous commissary order forms cluttered the windowsill.
Now I had my own little outage. Sandy’s aftermath has come inside.
Weary on Wednesday, I was summoned to my prison job despite the lockdown, because Connecticut’s prisoners need their cream of vegetable and Yankee bean soups. The hustle of industrial food preparation relieved me somewhat.
“They’ll keep you locked down until the power’s back on. However long it takes,” one of my supervisors said. “We’re still on generator.”
The Looting Starts
And then on Thursday morning, we went off generator. Because it broke.
Looting started when one of the inmate workers who hands out the delivered meals raided the styrofoam trays. She sold the food to inmates who were already legally entitled to it.
Things had become critical.
Lives were hanging by a cord to a wonky generator. So as not to reach a tipping point, the deputy warden ordered appliances in the kitchen, washers, dryers, and hot pots clicked off. No laundry, minimal cooking, exasperated staffers.
I revise my previous statement; Sandy is a bitch. I need to keep my mouth shut.
Chandra Bozelko is an inmate at York Correctional Institution in Niantic. Readers can write to her at:
York Correctional Institution
201 West Main Street
Niantic, CT 06357
Previous prison diary entries:
• A Favor Turns Into An Investigation
• Behind Bars, Colors Complicate Halloween
• Earthworm vs. Inmate Evolution
• The Power Of The Pen
• The Sandusky-Komisarjevsky Connection: Today’s Victim Is Tomorrow’s Killer
• Inmate’s Court Journey: Dump-Dumped & Probed
• Love As Contraband
• Why I Faked A Suicide Note
• This Seat’s Not Taken