More Thighs than Popeyes, by Nicole Turdury

“I could hear the jailer making his rounds on the other tiers. The jangle of his keys and the sharp click of his boot heels” kept me awake through the long hours of the night (Baca 6). The echo from the cinder block walls intensified the slightest noise. I could hear the seconds click away on the clock above the bunks. Minute after minute would go by as I waited for the overhead speaker to announce the 5am breakfast call. It felt as if the next few weeks would never end; it was my own personal hell. The only thing that gave me solace was the beautiful writings of my favorite authors.

The months leading up to my arrest had been a brutally cold winter. It was the kind of winter that would chill your bones, with constant advisories and warnings to stay inside. Patients were admitted to hospitals with pneumonia, frostbite, and hypothermia. Hobos’ bodies were found frozen and lifeless behind buildings and in vacant lots. Jackknifed semis lined the interstates; cars were stuck in ditches with emergency help hours away. It had been a true battle with Old Man Winter.

After such a terrible season, it was time for a celebration. I will never forget that day; my friend, Jaime, and I decide to BBQ. It was the first nice day of spring in the month of April.  That afternoon I could see the city come alive, I could breathe in the fresh air, and feel the warm sun on my face. While we cooked greasy burgers and beer boiled brats, we indulged in that same cold beer. We reminisced of previous times, caught up on current events, and made plans for a great summer. We talked of outdoor swimming pools, birthday parties and road trips to wherever the wind would take us. As the evening wrapped up, speech became slurred, and judgment became impaired; it was time to head home.

Despite the pollution in the sky you could see the stars and a beautiful yellow moon. I lived only a few blocks away, and although it was a lovely night for a walk I decided to take the short drive. After making my departure, just minutes from my destination, red and blue flashing lights lit the sky. The lights bounced off the car windows and homes. People were coming out to see the commotion. The seconds felt like minutes, and minutes felt like hours as the two police officers made their way to my car. They approached, one on each side of the vehicle, with their hands rested on their pistols, night sticks on their sides, and a golden badge on their chests; my heart sunk. It felt as if it would explode inside me.

The next few months would bring a battle with the courts, but more so a war within myself. That evening had been a true wake-up call. I needed to find happiness without the use of drugs or alcohol. I was a party girl; I knew all the promoters and hung out backstage with national and local acts. I needed to distance myself from that scene and from the people I considered to be my friends. I began my journey that would be a lifelong endeavor.

At times life would feel impossible. I had no family and now no friends to speak of. I felt alone in life but strong. Strangely enough I felt like a flourishing tree in the middle of a hot, dry desert. There were many times of loneliness, and many weekends that my only friends were the characters in whatever book I was reading that day. I could get lost in the stories; I felt a sense of freedom from my surroundings; I could abandon the universe and the people around me.

As the months went on I waited for the court to hand down its sentence. The waiting felt like it would never end. Every week it was another court date, or another meeting with the bail supervisors. I would sit in the waiting rooms, waiting to be called in the line of thirsty criminals. I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I found myself amongst thieves, robbers and rapists. At times it was downright scary. I would ignore the people around me by sticking my nose in a book. If I made eye contact the questions would come. “Wat cha here for?”, “Grrl you too good to talk?” they would ask; the best one I heard was “You got more thighs than Popeyes!” Who were these people comparing me to a bucket of chicken? I couldn’t take it anymore. I just wanted it all to end, to be sentenced, and to clean up the mess I had created.

Six long, horrendous months and the waiting was finally over. Judgment day had come and passed. I had ten days to turn myself in to the county jail. I prepared my home, my work, and myself. I wasn’t allowed to bring books into the jail; I suppose someone could sneak drugs or weapons in the bindings, lace the pages with hallucinogenic acid, or place razor blades in the book sheath. I was however allowed to order from the publisher and have the books shipped to me, so I did just that.

The day I turned myself over to the state winter was sneaking upon us again. The jail was cold, and the metal bunks felt like knives stabbing my skin when it made contact. The plastic mat they called a mattress was about an inch thick. It was so worn the blue plastic was thinning to white strings. I wouldn’t dare think of the thousands who had slept on the mat before me. The possible germs and parasites that could be living in the mattress I rested my head on made my skin crawl. I hated the incessant light above my bunk; it stayed on twenty-four hours a day.  Until I received my reading material it served no purpose to me.

When I heard the “jailer making his rounds”, “the jangle of his keys” were my cue; I would put my book down and pretend to sleep (Baca 6). Even in the dead of night there was so much noise I could not relax my mind. I would read for hours on end. I traded books with my bunkmate. I even began to look forward to lockdown. When I wasn’t reading I would think about what would happen in the story, or what book I would start next; it was the only thing that gave me solace. It was the one thing I had to look forward to. The more I read, the “more and more words would emerge, I could finally rest” (Baca 7). My mind was now at ease.


Works Cited

Baca, Jimmy Santiago. Working in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio.

            Sante Fe, New Mexico: Red Crane Books, 1992. Print.

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