A day in the life of a TDCJ female inmate Part 1 My name is Rhonda Ermis, inmate #694307 in the Texas Prison system. To the system I’m only a number and a statistic. I am doing a 20-year sentence for forgery and have been here almost five years. My days are filled with work and my nights are long and lonely. Here is a typical day in Prison. 4:00 a.m. I lie in my bed as the officer goes by to count the women here. It’s a ritual every three or four hours in here. Then the overhead lights come on over me. Thoughts of “I’m still here” enter my brain as I face another day inside and another day closer to freedom. 4:30 a.m. Count is clear so as I get ready for the day, I shower trying to beat 107 women to an open shower. Every day I feel like a herd of cattle to do anything here. There’s a line for chow, pill line, commissary, to turn out to work. I get so frustrated cause I have no choice to do what I would choose to do. We dress alike (all white clothes, black steel toe boots). We eat the same food. Speaking of food, it’s now breakfast. 5:00 a.m. Breakfast – to wait in another line. We’re told where to sit, we can’t talk table to table, you’re only allowed to talk to the person in front of you or in back of you while in line. We get twenty minutes to eat. Officers stand over us to make sure we don’t pass food or take any back to the dorm. I get so mad at myself on a daily basis cause I’ve brought myself here. I know life is full of rules but in here everything is laid out for you to follow. 5:30 a.m. Go back to the dorm in a single file line walking on the right side of the yellow line. We are not allowed to walk on the left side cause it’s for officers and free world people. We get into the dorm and have to be pat searched to see if we brought food back with us. I feel so degraded cause trust isn’t an issue here. It’s like having to prove yourself over and over again. 6:00 a.m. Time to turn out to work. I walk down the yellow line to a building to be stripped searched along with 107 women. They take 20 at a time and we strip naked in front of everyone. We have to cough and squat, spread our butt cheeks, undo our hair. It’s also a daily ritual. I feel so degraded and disgusted. From afar I see about 300 women turning out to the fields in duces (twos) trotting side by side at a slow pace. They have aggies (20 pound hoes with pipes for handles) over their shoulders and officers on horses with guns on their shoulders riding by their sides. All of a sudden one girl takes off running. The officer fires three shots and the inmate falls to the ground in fear of dying. She now faces 15 more years for trying to escape. 6:30 a.m. I get to work and have to go on the slop wagon to pick up all the old, spoiled food from all the kitchens. I smell rotten food, and maggots crawling all over it. The sight of it makes me sick at my stomach. 7:00 a.m. We then have to go to the hog farm and empty it there for the hogs to eat. The smell of hogs in the air will never leave my memory. Thoughts of never coming back here are often running across my mind. The smell on me lingers as the day goes on. 11:00 a.m. After all that is done, I then go back to the unit to go to chow. Imagine having to go eat food after smelling it all day. Also your clothes stained by it and the smell never leaves them, even if they are washed. 12:00 p.m. I’ve eaten and now I’m told by an officer I have to go aggie a field so they can plant food. My hands and fingers are full of blisters and ache as I swing the aggie up and down. It’s 105 degrees in the air and sweat runs down my face, back. 3:00 p.m. I’ve worked till now and it’s time to go in. I’m so broke down and hot and tired. Every day is a chore to face. 4:00 p.m. After being searched, I go to a shower, again standing in line. I can’t wait to be out of here. 5:00 p.m. Chow time again, same ritual every day, same rules. I dread it cause everything is a chore, I feel as if I’ve been belittled, beat down and worthless. I’ve been broken and I feel I have learned to become a better person by it. All I want is my freedom. 6:00 p.m. I go back to the dorm and watch the world from my window, it passes me by as if I’ve never existed. At times I feel this is all a dream and I would give anything to wake up. 7:00 p.m. I rest my head on my pillow as I hear the keys jingle from the hips of an officer as she goes down the run to count us again. I curl up in a ball hoping for all of this to be over. 8:00 p.m. I drift off to sleep, dreaming of the world as last I left it and remember it. Things have changed so much since I’ve been here. At times, I fear what is in store for me upon my release. I feel like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly and freedom is my only hope…. Rhonda Ermis after her release from Five years in Texas prison for women. Part 2 3:30 a.m. I awaken to the sound of keys as an officer passes by on the run to count the farm. Thoughts of “I’m still in prison” run through my mind. 3:50 a.m. Count clears as the overhead lights beam into my eyes giving me a whole new meaning to “bright.” I crawl out of my bunk knowing I have another day to face the punishment of my crime. 4:00 a.m. I shower and as I walk back to my bunk I see a woman crying, curled up in a ball on her bunk. I ask someone and they tell me she’s lost her daughter due to a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting. I see so many people lose loved ones while we’re here and the thought of not being able to have spent time with them while they were alive hurts deep in our hearts. 4:45 a.m. I continue to get ready for work making sure I have my house (cell) in order. We have so many rules in here to abide by, if we have more than one book out, or clothing we get written up (it’s called a case) and then we receive extra work or lose our trusty status and good time if we get more than one case. I hold sadness in my heart with thoughts of the girl crying. 5:30 a.m. Go to chow and on the way down the sidewalk, walking along the yellow line, I see two girls fighting. One holds a razor blade (shank) in her hand and cuts the other girl’s jugular vein. I get out of the way as officers, in their goon vests and helmets, bring the girl down on her face on the cement and they get the blade out of her hand and handcuff and shackle her. The nurses take the other girl to medical for treatment. She is passed out from loss of blood and the nurses are telling the officers she might not make it. 6:00 a.m. I lost my appetite by now and have went back to the dorm. I hear inmates talk that it stemmed from bulldagging (fighting over a woman lover). I then go back to my cubicle and wonder, “When will this nightmare be over?” 6:30 a.m. I turn out to work and have to be stripped searched. Butt naked, cough squat, spread your butt cheeks to see if I’ve had any contraband (stamps, tobacco, etc.) up my vagina, butt hole. I feel so degraded as 20-30 women watch me daily to do this. Soon all female bodies look alike to me. Dignity goes out the window as we are treated like a herd of cattle. 7:00 a.m. I arrive at my job and I’m told by my boss that I’m on a crew of women to go clean the main water drain that a trap catches everything that is flushed down the toilets. Great, I get to dig for Kotexes, tampons, and God only knows what else. “When will this all end?” 10:30 a.m. Time to go to chow. As you can tell the things I see and have to do affects my hunger. I only go eat out of habit. Bosses (officers) stand around screaming to inmates to not talk table to table, to not get up from the table once you are seated. If you forget your fork, oh well you eat with your hands. You have twenty minutes to eat. 11:00 a.m. Return to work (have to be stripped again). And a woman (inmate) hides a cigarette lighter under her breast and is caught with it. She’s escorted to segregation to go to UCC (unit classification committee) to be served her punishment. She’ll lose one year good time and have to be placed on the hoe squad. 11:30 a.m. I get to work and we find pieces of a shank, ID cards, Tampax (used), Kotexes (used) as we sift through the debris. 4:30 p.m. I return to the farm and have to be stripped again and I go to my cell for some solitude. Privacy is so hard to get, you use the bathroom and shower in front of everyone. Disgrace sets in my mind. 5:30 p.m. Everyone goes to chow as I stay in my cell (a few of us stay in the dorm) and I eat something (tuna and crackers) I have bought off of commissary. 6:30 p.m. I go to the bathroom and as I clean up the dishes I see blood on the floor coming from the showers. I go back there and a woman (the girl who was crying) has slit her wrist. I run to the officer and get her. I show her and go back to my bunk. I feel so much pain in my heart for her. She’s dead and no one really cares. They take her body away as I watch them. No emotion in their faces as they carry her away. She’s took the easy way out and I feel she wanted to join her daughter. 8:00 p.m. I lay down on my bunk and try to sleep. Thoughts of the day run through my mind. So much bloodshed, so much pain and no one cares. Why is this world so cold to let our lives have no meaning or value. To the system we are only a statistic and a number. One, maybe two (if the girl died earlier) lives taken in vain. I fear for my life on a daily basis cause each day is a chore to survive. I’ve made it one more day and I thank the Lord above. I’m one more day closer to going home. 4:00 a.m. Sounds of keys rattling as the officer passes by my cell to count the whole dorm of women. Bright lights come on over my head as I greet another day in this god-forsaken place…. When will this nightmare end? I share a cell with another woman and she is a psychiatric patient. My cell is about 12×15 feet and there is a toilet, two bunks, and a table with a iron chair bolted to the floor. 4:30 a.m. I’m up getting dressed as I watch my cellmate babble (not making sense) and have sudden bouts of crying. I try to talk to her but she doesn’t hear me. I wait till the officer in the picket pops the door lock and I go to chow. As I leave I see her get up from her bunk and I assume she is getting up for breakfast. I walk down the right side of the yellow line on the sidewalk to chow. I stand in a single file line to get my food and sit down to have the officers stand over me timing my twenty minutes to eat. 5:00 a.m. I go back to my cell, wait for the officer to pop the door to get in and my cellmate is awake, dressed and asked me to use a razor. I tell her I don’t have one (I lied) cause she isn’t allowed anything sharp cause she might try to hurt herself. She then starts to cry, I can’t touch her cause we are not allowed to touch one another. They will write me up for a sex case and I could lose my good time for it. I tell her to be strong and tell her if she ever needs to talk I’m here. 5:30 a.m. I then wait for the door to open and I’m off to work. I enter the command building to be stripped (I go through this several times a day) and when I have to take my clothes off in front of 20-30 women I feel so degraded. Somewhere my modesty has lost its meaning. 6:30 a.m. I’m told by my boss I have to shovel compost from one hole to another to turn the dirt. It’s a mixture of horse manure, pig manure and mud. I do this for four hours with one 15-minute water break. It’s 105 degrees outside and I’m right in the direct sunlight. 10:30 a.m. I then go to lunch. It’s hot links and fresh green beans. I get stripped out before I come in and wait in line for my food. We have no a/c nowhere and it’s hot. I get my tray and sit down. I start to eat and I see a grasshopper in my green beans that has been cooked. I lose my appetite and leave the chow hall. 11:30 a.m. I get stripped out again and return to work. I work for five more hours. I’ve only gotten one 15-minute break for water, my hands have blisters and I’m so hot and sore all over. 5:00 p.m. I come in from work, get stripped again…. Same ole same ole naked bodies all over the room. 6:00 p.m. I return to the dorm and I’m told I have to go to chow with my dirty filthy clothes on, smelling of manure. 6:30 p.m. I go to the chow hall and eat hot links and beans. We eat this all the time. We drink water or juice. There’s no ice cause the ice machine stays broke. 7:00 p.m. I return to the dorm and it’s count time so I can’t shower till after it clears. I have the officer pop my cell door and as I walk inside I see my cell mate lying in her bunk with her sheet over her covered in blood. She’s cut her wrist. I tell the officer and medical comes to take her away. I wait in the day room, I feel so much pain in my heart cause she was asking me for help this morning and I couldn’t be there for her. To the system she is a statistic and a number. 9:00 p.m. I finally get in my cell to help clean up the blood. They give me a spill kit (to clean up any body fluid) and I then throw all her sheets in the trash. This time I’m wearing plastic gloves. 10:00 p.m. I shower and get in my bunk. I still feel her presence and I say a prayer for her as tears come down my cheeks. I only wished I could of been there for her, she didn’t have to die alone, I’m told she got a razor from another girl who sold it to her for two stamps. What a cheap way out….