If Melanie Daniels had learned anything in her one month stay at the El Paso County Jail and its court system, it was you didn’t have to have sex to know that you’d been screwed. She sat handcuffed and shackled, the lone passenger in a white transport van, trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. . .waiting.
Everywhere she looked she saw guard towers, 18-foot-chain link fences and razor wire. Not exactly her choice of décor for the place she would now call home.
What was it the public defender had said when the judge gave her five years? It could have been worse?
Shaking with rage, Mel was too pissed to cry. Five goddamn years. When she stepped out of this facility again, she’d be twenty-three years old.
The deputy returned carrying a clipboard. With him, a female prison guard, matching him in girth and in height, took the paperwork and signed the release. Of no more importance than a used piece of furniture, Mel knew better than to smile or to try to talk to these people.
Not that she wanted to make friends with these scrubs or these dykes. God knew she’d met more than enough cops to last her a lifetime. Particularly one son of a bitch she would never forget.
They ordered her to remove her orange jumpsuit, and a strip search later, the guard deloused her with a type of body powder, then took her to another section of Intake.
“This will be your last private shower for a while,” the woman said, but not unkindly. “Five minutes.”
Humiliated at such animal treatment, Mel was grateful she was at least allowed to go inside alone. Hair wet, she emerged from the tepid water, dressed in coarse green khaki pants and a gold rod T-shirt, then faced her jailer.
The guard grasped her arm and said, “Time to go.”
The two-story structure had a hospital smell about it, and as she glanced around, Mel could have sworn that her escort shuddered. Mel swallowed painfully. If the guard was afraid, what would happen to her? “The women in this place,” Mel asked. “What did they do?”
“This is a Medium-Multiple Custody Facility,” the guard said. “The women here have been convicted of everything from drug distribution to prostitution to chopping up their significant others.”
It was Mel’s turn to cringe. Her entrance to the ward was met as though someone had put out a call to Western Union. Cell windows slid open. Faces peered out. Many of the convicts boldly came out of their units. Even the guards walking around the first floor and two-story walkways seemed to take interest in her.
Lifting her chin, she challenged each one of them with a return stare. They wouldnot get to her.
“Well, lookie here,” one woman in desperate need of a dentist cackled from her cell. “If that’s not the purdiest little baby girl. What’d you do to get in here, baby girl?”
“Knock it off, Rita,” one of the guards said.
“Don’t mean no harm. She is purdy. Don’t you think she’s purdy, Lorraine?”
Whoever Lorraine was shouted out, “They’re all purdy…for a while.”
A black woman from the second floor blew her a kiss and said, “See you later, sweet cheeks,” before a guard promptly ordered her back inside her cell.
“They’re such bitches,” Mel said through clenched teeth and started to pull away.
Manacle-like fingers bit into her arm. “Do not engage.”
They reached the end of the corridor and Mel said, “I’m not afraid of them, you know.”
Her keeper unlocked her cell and the metal door clanged open. Glaring at Mel as though at any second she would rip her head off, her jailer’s voice turned threateningly low. “You’d better be afraid. Look at me. Right now. I don’t ordinarily give advice, but I’ve read your report. It says your mom is gone, and maybe it’s because I’ve got a daughter your age that I’m even talking to you.
“So listen up, because I won’t waste further words on the likes of you. Do notengage. You cannot win. You are pretty, and the convicts in here will make it a game to take that from you.”
The guard extended an arm, leaving Mel no choice but to step inside.
Another shiver seemed to pass through the older woman’s body. “Fight them, you’ll end up in solitary or a body bag. Keep your head down, you just might survive this place.”
She moved to shut the steel door, then shook her head sadly. “Frankly, I don’t see that happening.”