1970S, California, Con Games, Control, Hollywood, Incarceration, Jail, Justice, Los Angeles, Prison, Street Life, Sybil Brand Institute, Tricks, Women's Prison


© PJ Hayward, New York 2008
First Published 2008 by Hold On Publications
Revised © PJ Hayward New York 2013

So as you learned last time, I discovered that I could avoid the continual meals of gagging bread and balon-a-roni if I could prove I was diabetic or had some other qualifying illness or condition.  To do this you had to submit to a procedure that came straight out of the Island of Dr. Moreau.

My so-called medical exam entailed the following:

First, a person dressed up like a doctor shoved a small surfboard disguised as a wooden tongue depressor half way down my throat.  Next, he impaled a pointed ear light directly into my eardrum and finally listened to my heart for at least 2-3 seconds.

Next I was put into a line to get my blood drawn.

Now, the blood test line was enough to scare even Dracula.  There was a guy, hopefully a doctor, standing at the head of the line in what was once a white coat, totally splattered with blood – some still wet and red – some all brown and dry.  Next to him was a steel medical stand with 2 metal trays on it.  One tray was full of bloody syringes and little pools of blood (remember this was way back in the day – I guess disposable syringes were still new or very expensive at that time), the other tray was full of vials of the inmates blood that had just been siphoned out of them.  After this guy made Swiss cheese out of my arm looking for a vein, he jammed that needle in my arm up to my elbow, drained away half my blood supply and then shoved me out of the way to make room for the next human prey.

It worked though, making my torture semi-worthwhile.  Whatever it was they discovered from my blood test, it let me join the Good Food meal group where you got that good food I described to you before as opposed to the cardboard, floor sweepings and balon-a-roni served to the general inmate population.

Another thing I learned is that if you are doing more than a few weeks time, you don’t HAVE to work, but you can if you want to.  The incentive was to earn Good Time (time you can bank and have it deducted from your time served).  So I said I wanted to work.

The work I got was in the sweatshop they called the sewing shop, which was a very poorly ventilated room packed full of sewing machines and sweaty, smelly other inmates just like you would turn into after 5 minutes of working in there.  When I worked in there I made the tiny change purses all day long sitting in one place for hours.  Since you could keep around $5 to buy candy and stuff, everyone had these little drawstring purses to keep their money in. That is what I made in the sewing shop.

But all the time I was sewing I was listening and learning.  I didn’t spend too much time working in the sewing shop though because that particular time I was only doing a month or so.  All the listening and learning I had done paid off for me later on when I caught a little piece of time up in there.

Sybil Brand had all different levels of security, from minimum to maximum and the longest time you could do there was 2 years.  When you were doing anything more than a few weeks or a month or so, you would get transferred to these big dorms.  They were pretty cool, certainly a thousand percent better than the matchbox size cells in the cellblocks.

The dorm cells had maybe 20 inmates in them.  Each inmate got an actual bed (one of those metal beds with the steel wire holding up the 2 inch mattress) and each bed had a little stand next to it where you could keep your stuff and pictures of your baby or your man or whatever. The PA would keep the radio playing all day and evening till Lights Out and they would make announcements through the day such as meal times, med times etc.  The dorms had a big shower room with a bunch of shower stalls that actually had shreds of what once had been shower curtains – and a huge mirror.  This was a giant step up from the cell blocks because the cell blocks only allowed you to take a shower once a week and it was a whole production.

So in the dorm you would get up in the morning, straighten up your area, go to breakfast when your group was called and then go to work if you worked.  Also, there were regular medication calls throughout the day.  If you were on the methadone program or if you needed regular medication, you would have your time however many times a day to go and get your meds.

If you had a good amount of time to serve and you had already done a stretch of time in the dorms and had earned enough good time, there were other cellblocks where you could even get a little room of your own with a door.  One or two of the girls I met had these rooms, but if I ever knew how they got there or how they worked it I can’t remember now.  I do remember that one of them was back in the dorm because she had done some forbidden thing and they took away her privileges, along with whatever other punishment she got.

I know I never got to have one of those little private rooms because I was always getting into some kind of fight or scrap so I considered myself lucky to even get to stay in the dorm at all and not get sent back to a tiny cell.

When I did that last little stretch, I really lucked out in the job department. There was a group of ladies – I’m not sure if they were social workers or church ladies or what exactly their role was at Sybil Brand – but they felt it was their religious calling or something to rehabilitate all us depraved degenerates.

Instead of throwing us around or yelling at us, they really did try to help us.  I had to go see one of these ladies this one particular time and she asked me about all my skills.  When I mentioned that I had once made my living as an artist, she asked me if I would be interested in working in the art department.  Was she kidding me?????  After dying in that boiling sewing shop I would have done just about anything to get out of there.

So what happened was – out of the whole I don’t know how many acre bare, cement and iron facility – I got sent to work at the ONLY  breezy, sunlit, outside little area.  I would sit with 3 or 4 other girls and cut out little holiday decorations or make other little artsy things.  Let me tell you, if I had been working inside, I would never see the sun except for an hour every now and then for an exercise break.

The other really cool thing about working in that area was that different inmates would occasionally pass through there, going to various places nearby.  They had a beauty parlor where you could get your hair done and I forget what else they had over there, but people would be coming or going.  So you got to talk to them and see and hear people and things you would never get to see or hear anywhere else.  It was very cool being out in the sunshine and air like that – in fact it was a lifesaver.  Usually if a person did any amount of time up in there, by the time they came home they would look really pasty and unhealthy no matter what their normal skin color was.

Another thing I learned right away was that, aside from snitching, the other worst thing you can do in jail is to whine and cry all the time.  The hardest thing for me was that I missed my son so badly and I would have to hold in all these floods of tears till I was under my covers very late at night.  I couldn’t stand it and I worried that he wouldn’t know where I was or why I had left him.  Tony had taken him back to Little Rock for his mother to care for and I pined for him day and night.  For me, this was the real cruelty of being locked up.  Next to the exile from my baby, nothing else mattered at all.

Tony did come to see me regularly and often.  Any time I had a court date he would be there and he always had the best lawyer he could get to defend me.  When he came to visit he always left money on the books for me too.   Although you could only keep $5 on you, you could have more in your account and you could draw on it when you needed to.  Every day a little cart would come around where you could spend your money.  The cart had stuff like candy, toiletries and stuff like that.

So without boring you with tales of every jailhouse brawl and scuffle, I will say I did learn a very valuable lesson during my visits to Sister Sybil.

What I learned from other girls who had done time at the California Women’s prison upstate was that I never wanted to go there.  Since I had already violated my current probations several times, the next violation would get me some real time, some years.  With all the stuff Tony and me were into I didn’t really know where I might end up.

But what I did know for sure by then was, Upstate definitely was not a place I wanted to be.

More and more, people we knew were pulling hard time.   Big Harry, one of our best buddies, had always managed to stay out of jail as long as he had plenty of money for his lawyer.  Well Harry had run out of money and now he was doing 15-25 years up in San Quentin.  It might even have been longer than that.  On the other hand, many of our friends were no longer around at all.

I decided enough was enough.

More in my next post.

5 thoughts on “LOCKED UP – DO THE CRIME DO THE TIME – part B”

  1. You were so clever I am impressed with the way you worked the system. I would certainly like you on my side at any time..Beautifully written as usual..


  2. It is fascinating to hear of your time in prison. I think I would not have fared so well as you. You were resourceful and learned the system. Thank God that you eventually made it out of there and hopefully stayed out.


    1. Yes, you will see what happened in my next post..more adventures to come!!! But all good. Rose, with your sweet and beautiful personality you would have fared just fine. Only loud mouths like me get into trouble there. Hugs to you Rose.


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