Maximum Compound: Girl World / Lucy

My niece said, “Grandpa! Did you get to meet Aunt Lucy’s girlfriend? Do they kiss a lot?”—Lucy Weems, Inmate #922870C

THE SUB-CULTURE

Lucy claims that officers sometimes look the other way if you and your girlfriend are caught in flagrante delicto; some just look and a good many write you up. There’s a thriving sub-culture in Maximum Compound. Love affairs and sex-fueled blood fights. You take big risks meeting your girlfriend in an area not your own. Isolation. Investigations. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) makes informed sexual consent by a prisoner impossible. Unwanted touching is a zero-tolerance offense, as is any act of sexual violence. Prisoners legally belong to the State during their incarceration and therefore have no agency. It’s against rules to be seen giving and receiving affection or using sex toys. You have so little control over your own life that as soon as two women talk to each other, they claim the other. It’s like this. Don’t leave me. Please, please, please. Love me, YaYa. Brenda. Chyna. Naty. Love me, Bitch. The Yard, the Fence, Church, Mess Hall, the Bunk, the Bathrooms. These are the geographical locations for a rendezvous. The blueprint for couples and love-talk. Meet me in the Yard. Are you going to Church?

After my mother’s abuse it took a lot of work repairing the damage but my strong Italian-American family (crazy as they are) were more than up to the task. They supported my dad in his plight as a single dad of me and my brother. My dad was so young, and knew so little about raising children, we all learned together.—Lucy Weems, Inmate #922870C

LUCY

There’s a line across the Compound you follow to Mess Hall. A single file of inmates and no talking. “Move it or lose it!” the officer snaps, and Lucy marches toward the metal detector behind the women on her unit, one at a time through the detector, and then between the officers, male and female, three on each side. The tiny hairs on her body rise like iron filings magnetized. Her eyes follow the streak of sweat across more than one officer’s cheek. Lucy’s arrival at Maximum Compound coincides with the day cigarette smoking is outlawed at EMCF. Most of the officers and many of the inmates smoke heavily and are undergoing nicotine withdrawal. Everyone seems on edge, a hair’s breadth from rage. She’s passing between the force fields of appraising faces and feels dirty with experience, weighed down by the heaviness of her own life.

*

Here comes the Italian American Lucy Weems, a 36-year-old dark-eyed beauty with fine features and thick hair to her waist. She’s buxom, even in the gray T-shirt and sweats or the regulation beige uniform. Her story she shares with few inmates other than Krystal. The contours of being married twice, the first time in the Bahamas and the second in New Jersey; Michael, the first, and Jimmy, the second, both cheaters. She pictures herself pregnant and ecstatic with Lucy Jr, not getting along with Jimmy, so she moves into a YMCA-run home for expectant mothers. Given her own room, counseling, mothering classes, and surrounded by so much love and support, she could have been strolling through a field of sunflowers. It must be the way the guards are standing like guests at a wedding when the bridal march plays that causes Lucy to imagine her teen parents on their wedding day. Two Connecticut kids in the late 1970s about to become parents. Her dark-eyed Ava Gardner look-alike mother soon gives birth to her brother, and two years later, Lucy comes along. She’s always been told she resembles her flame-seared fantasy of a mother, but she has no photographs of her. Her mother is said to be alive somewhere, somewhere she inhales and exhales.

*

On my very first day at EMCF in reception, I looked down at the bunk bed diagonal to mine and saw the first of hundreds of public sex acts. A woman was making ridiculously loud noises with her head between another woman’s legs. No one else paid a bit of attention. One day in the future I would look past it and even be a public sex act myself.—Lucy Weems, Inmate #922870C

LOU

Four years into her sentence for kidnapping her drug dealer, Lucy feels the attraction of the glance when Lunine, aka Lou, a Haitian gangbanger from Newark, strides into her work area. “Hey, beautiful. They tell me you’re smart.” Upper lip shadowed by facial hair, she projects masculinity of an off-brand sort. Lou brags she could be a chef, and then proves it. She seduces Lucy with yummy spring rolls made in a microwave with low-quality Mess Hall and Commissary ingredients. Keep calling me your spring roll, Lucy, and I’ll keep rolling over for you. Gifts exchange hands: chocolate chip cookies, Frosted Flakes, batteries, taco bowls, Hershey’s Kisses. Bite my lip, Bitch. 

*

Lucy laughs about an ex-internal auditor/ex-accountant/ex-prostitute making love to an inmate affiliated with the Bloods, a large girl of 22 with a lovely white-toothed smile. Lunine poses in her beige sweats, a black-beaded cross around her neck. Although it’s forbidden, she surprises Lucy in her room. She unfastens Lucy’s pants and slides her hands down her girlfriend’s thighs. They drape sheets over the bed and create their own cave, their own aloneness. Before Lou leaves, she kisses Lucy on the cheek. “Lou would talk to the officers on the way out with the smell of my pussy on her breath. Later, we’d laugh and laugh.” Lou chats up the Unit Supervisor, giving advice about the sautéing of shrimp. Lou loves them, even the fat blue grass shrimp, the kind used for bait. Why didn’t Mess Hall serve shrimp fried rice? Ramen shrimp doesn’t count. Pussy is the word of choice in Maximum Compound for the vagina and clitoris, the pleasure wilderness between a woman’s legs.

*

Should we experiment with a strap-on? Why not, they decide, and Lou attempts to make one. A monstrosity like a great coil of a tree root is the result, a sex toy that would puncture Lucy’s lungs. They hang Lou’s elephantine device in the bathroom as a trophy, and consult Krystal, the village toy-maker, who produces the perfect toy. Lou falls in love with the dildo, wearing it like it’s hers. You offer what you can as tokens of your affection. You’ve become part of it, like in the old days on Ferry Street when you opened doors to strangers’ cars, your hands slowly squeezing the handle, joining your date in the privacy of the driver’s seat. 

Officers who find toys hang them in public areas or tie them to a fence to embarrass us. We lost our shame at the door. The day we were arrested and told to strip in front of an officer was the last of our shame.—Lucy Weems, Inmate #922870C

*

In Maximum Compound the rumors circulate from mouth to mouth. Gossip is many-headed and its tentacles entangle every inmate; the crime, what brought you here, what else you’ve done to have been banished from the human pack. Lucy is told that Lou’s online rap sheet charges her with having had sexual relations with an underage 16-year-old. Murder’s understood, even forgiven, but crimes against children follow and hound you, giving off a foul scent. Still, the affair goes on until Lou asks for a threesome and flirts openly. Maximum Compound couples rarely seem to last. Lucy forgives her girlfriend, only for Lou to cheat again. This time after they break up, Lou marches into Lucy’s area and throws a punch at her. She charges Lucy and they swim around each other. Another jab, what would have been dead center of her nose. Lucy’s head buzzes with anger’s red flush and she starts to land her overhand punches. Her Uncle Pauli taught her how to throw boxer’s punches; legs apart, knees bent, and fists loose. Lou is reeling. Punches are flying, now everything’s allowed: kicking and biting. Neither will give up and there’s blood everywhere. Both women are in the blackout zone, unaware that officers have entered the cube and are pulling them apart. When couples break up in Maximum Compound, there’s a good chance fight blood will be shed. Inmates experience so much prison tension that fighting becomes another forbidden fruit, its own sexual release. 

About four and a half years after I was locked up, I got involved with a woman named Mecca. We looked like complete opposites. After six months of being exclusive I convinced the unit officer to allow us to move together into the same cube. Krystal was suspicious of Mecca.—Lucy Weems, Inmate #922870C

MECCA

An inmate named Mecca transfers into her unit and keeps giving Lucy looks like throwing a fist into a wall every time they pass. It seems Lou had been seeing Mecca at the same time she’d been romancing Lucy. Mecca’s dark eyes harden when they meet Lucy’s. Her eyes could be stones breaking from the earth’s socket and tumbling down. “I’m not your enemy,” Lucy finally tells her. Mecca’s face softens. Her eyes turn to smoky kerosene. There’s a real charge between the two. The flicker. Soon Lucy wants to feel her body cooled by Mecca’s breath. Her hair’s cropped close and her voice deep and musky—a Jersey City god. They make a handsome couple, a study in contrasts. Lucy’s face lifted, once again almost beatific, her waist-length hair decorated with thin ropes of braids, her dark eyes that sometimes look gray-green. Mecca, a head taller than Lucy, her thumbs-looped-in-pockets stance, broad shoulders, a prettiness in her face and closed-lip smile. Mecca Allen. Her name is music. Lucy’s in love. Her stomach somersaults at the sight of her. Mecca’s skin is smooth, except for the darker puckered places: the mouths of scars, one just below her left shoulder blade and another at the small of her back. “What happened?” When Lucy kisses the scars, a tenderness inside her.

Lucy has a great heart and I’m not going to break it. I have been thinking about marrying her.—Mecca Allen, Inmate #600301D

*

They celebrate their seven-month anniversary and Lucy remains in love with Mecca. She worries about their age difference because she’s once again the older woman in her mid-thirties and Mecca’s much younger, in her early twenties. Lucy’s underground art business of creating hand-painted greeting cards—Valentine’s Day, birthdays, Mother’s Day—explodes. So many inmates order cards and want specific messages that Lucy becomes overwhelmed. Mecca runs interference and protects Lucy from too many requests. That feels good, almost as good as the sex. Mecca wants to brand Lucy, ink her with—Mine or Die. Those thumbs hooked to her belt make Lucy thirsty for her. Being around Mecca makes the air taste buttery. Someday Lucy will take Mecca to the flower gardens. 

If you’re wondering if I have any goals when I get home, well, I do. I want to get into real estate. Lucy has me looking at the bigger picture. I really love your friend and I do want to marry and build a family with her. —Mecca Allen, Inmate #600301D

*

No lookout, but the officer has made her walk-through. Mecca is going down on Lucy and Lucy touches Mecca’s cropped hair, fingering her head. “How come you have a nicer shaped head than me?” Lucy asks playfully. Mecca’s tongue is a fluttering fish, and then she lifts her head. “Because you’re an acorn-headed dago. You knobby, pointy-headed thing.” Now Mecca’s flitting tongue is teasing her and she’s arching up on her haunches. “Whoa,” a man interrupts. 

*

Lucy blinks, sees an officer’s boot inches from her head. He might write them up. He might want them to run their fingers over his chest. Instead, he tells them to keep going. “Don’t let me bother you.” Lucy decides what the heck; we’re getting in trouble anyway… She loves Mecca’s shoulders, her confident cool emanating from Jersey City’s dark streets. Mecca forges on and Lucy orgasms, her outer layers melting away, while looking into the officer’s eyes, pools of glittery bacon grease. Getting caught by an officer who then watches is a turn-on. No write-up.

Draping a sheet from your bunk is a great way to get privacy for sex, but it also lets other inmates know that you are having sex at that time, of which you risk the chance of snitch inmates running and telling the officers—which you wouldn’t know because you’re busy in the act. That is why it’s important to have a friend looking out for you while you’re busy.—Lucy Weems, Inmate #922870C

*

Lingering rumors about her lover passing notes to an inmate in North Hall causes Lucy to go to the source. She pays in batteries and snacks for one of the notes, in which Mecca talks about missing the inmate’s face. “Hey, lady, it’s great to see your beautiful face!” When Lucy shows Mecca the letters, her lover grips Lucy by the neck and starts to choke her. Lucy kicks Mecca in her sore knee and she lets go. Then the punches start, the hooks and jabs. 

One of my friends named Apples knew I was an art aficionado and gave me a contraband wooden ruler. I seldom used this ruler for artwork and slept with it under my mattress to whip out when my girlfriend Mecca got out of line. It did the job.—Lucy Weems, Inmate #922870C

*

Mecca asks for another chance and Lucy readily agrees to give her one. They go on. Perhaps they have twin souls. When they get out they won’t be together, not at first; Mecca will be released a year before Lucy. Will Mecca wait for Lucy? Mecca had said she wanted Lucy for her lawful wedded wife. Mecca will soon be paroled to a halfway house, and is transferred to Minimum Compound. Not a note left behind. Gone.  

TAWANNA

Now only women officers are allowed to supervise any Maximum Compound unit. Love weaves through the darkness at the far end of the heart’s street, then disappears. Lucy goes through a phase of sexual heat when she becomes involved with Tawanna, an older woman with Jimi Hendrix’s exotic looks who loves oral sex. Anywhere, anytime! Tawanna’s crimes of possession with intent to sell stolen goods seem minor in comparison to the kidnappers and armed robbers. Medication keeps her mental instability muffled but sometimes it flames out. A chump change rap sheet but felonies add up and Tawanna cycles in and out of EMCF.

*

Tawanna loves to feed the birds and saves her food from Mess Hall and Commissary for the feathered beings. In the Yard, Tawanna announces, “It’s Little Bird Day.” She scatters bits of bread and seeds, and the sparrows and the pigeons descend. They know her, and the air quivers with wings. “No.” She shakes her head violently. Her face grimaces and she bites her thumb. “Go away, Big Birds. This is Little Bird Day.” Her words drown in the river of birds. The birds come from the free world. In her disordered mind, the Big Birds understand Tawanna’s sentences. They are purposely disobeying her. A song sparrow floats by like mist. Little brown birds with long tails. She screams and throws cups and dirt at the big birds. The little birds smell sweet, like scabs all the neighborhood boys picked from their knees. Krystal refuses to hang out with nutty Tawanna, who is clearing the yard with her launching projectiles; sweet Tawanna, who is drooling. 

*

Lights weave through the darkness at the far end of the heart’s street, then nose down an alley and disappear. Who gets a life sentence on the dirt planet and who gets life on a pleasure planet? Who knows. The sun goes down and it’s the hour the night shift begins. You’re the sex nurse. You’re the hearer of confession of bodily fluids. You’re the facility that has installed 93 cameras throughout the grounds to avoid blind spots. You’re the blind spot where girlfriends find privacy. You’re the sheet hanging down from a bunk to shelter lovers. You’re the delight that darts through cubes and crawl spaces. You’re the T-shirt perfumed with grape jelly and sardines, you’re the dark rings of sweat. You’re the hands that pull down my pants and the ceiling that giggles. You’re the golden currants—M&M’s sex fruit. Your fingers swallow your own beating heart. You’re the moss. The hair. The entanglement. You’re crushing me. You’re hurrying my clothes on. You’re the exquisite. The overlarge voice ringing in my ears. You’re the waking and the wondering. You’re the love.

Most real couples in prison will buy each other tons of gifts and may even have a sexy outfit sewn for them on V-Day night in the privacy of the nasty bathroom.—Lucy Weems, Inmate #922870C

About the author

Stephanie Dickinson lives in New York City with the visionary poet Rob Cook and their senior feline, Vallejo. Her novels Half Girl and Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her feminist noir Love Highway. Other books include Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg, Flashlight Girls Run, Girl Behind the Door, and her just released Big-Headed Anna Imagines Herself. At present she’s finishing a collection of essays entitled Maximum Compound based on her longtime correspondence with inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, New Jersey.

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