Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dancing Inside

Julie and Isa walked up to the glass and metal door at the far end of the lobby.  Visiting hours were over at the Santa Cruz county jail and the rows of chairs in the waiting area were empty. The large female officer behind a Plexiglas window at the receptionist counter had directed them to the metal doors in the far corner just past the metal detector. Isa reached out and pressed the cold silver button on the right side of the door.
“Yes?’ asked a deep and husky voice that rode the edge between displeasure and curiosity.
“Hi!”  Julie said with exaggerated enthusiasm that seemed to drip with false friendliness, “we’re here to teach the ‘exercising your power’ class. It starts at six." 
There was a momentary pause as they waited for his response and Isa imagined him shuffling through papers and looking at the list of scheduled visitors.
“We’ll send a guard to escort you in. It’ll be a little while.”
“OK! Thanks!” Julie said into the metal speaker embedded in the wall.
Isa turned to Julie, “Why are you so friendly with them? I hate the people working here, I hate cops.”
Julie shrugged, “They’ll do what we want if we’re nice to them.”
Somewhere inside Isa understood that to be true, but she was too angry to let it resonate and inform her behavior. She held the people there responsible for her own unhappiness, thinking each one of them had somehow contributed to Ray’s felony conviction, sentence and continuing drug and legal problems.
They waited in front of the thick reinforced doors for a while, it was one of the few portals to the cells behind the cinderblock walls where the humans in orange jumpsuits were kept locked away from sunlight.
Isa felt a loathing for every one of the people in dark blue uniforms. She thought they personally benefited from the containment and detention of people and could not contain her dislike when confronted by one of them. 
When a large male guard showed up and opened the door for them Julie once again used her most enthusiastic voice, it was high pitched and seemed to clash with the cold metal and whitish-gray walls of the interior.
“Hi!  How are you?”  she asked.
“Fine,” the man responded quickly, “follow me.”
To Isa, it seemed like he had been sent from a casting agency, fitting every cop stereotype she had ever seen on tv: round stomach, pale face, cropped hair, cold manner. Isa responded in kind, she stood there with a straight face as well, not a glimmer of warmth or friendliness towards the man. 
They followed him through the sterile hallway, the architecture screaming, “INSTITUTION.”  The space was all hard edges, angles, Plexiglas, metal, cold walls, thick doors, light paint that felt devoid of human emotion and compassion. It was the opposite of home, the opposite of love and warmth and rehabilitation.
The halls were well-lit with overheard florescent bulbs, the floors were shiny. On each side of the hallway were rooms with Plexiglas windows. They were unused at the moment and the lights were off, looking to Isa like dark portals.
They passed an inmate in an orange jumpsuit. He was holding a mop, a large trashcan on wheels was close beside him. He stared at them as they passed. Isa smiled faintly.
Julie spoke, “This is our first time here, we’ll need to tell the women what the class is about.”
“OK, I’ll bring you to the women’s dorm first.” 
They turned a corner and entered a darker space which was a very large central room. There were no lights on. Along the edges of the room were the various ‘dorms’ divided by sex. It was like looking into many fishbowls, they could look in and see the inmates. 
In the center of the main room was an unmanned desk. On the left was the room where the men were kept.  It was crowded with triple bunk beds. The room was teeming, men sat on bunks on the floor, men were walking and standing close to the window.
Some men took notice of Isa and Julie as they were led past the room to the women’s cell. Just a few more feet down, past the view of the men’s window was the women’s dorms.  They wore the same style of jumpsuit only in a dark maroon color.
The guard led them into the room and yelled out, “Listen up!  These girls want to tell you about a new class.”
The dorm housed one hundred women and all eyes turned to Isa and Julie. It was the first time Isa had smiled since entering the doors from the parking lot. She smiled, somewhat embarrassed to be the focus of such attention. 
“Hi,” she said a little shyly, “I’m Isa and this is Julie and we’re starting a class tonight called ‘exercising your power.’ It will be a combination of dance, exercise, journaling, writing and music.  If you want to check it out, we’ll be starting in about 10 minutes.”
Isa and Julie left and were escorted to the recreation room.  Isa plugged in the boom box she had brought and Julie lay out the journals and old magazines and glue sticks. The guards had confiscated the scissors. 
Then the women arrived. Isa watched them enter through the door, all of them shuffling in their county issued white socks and plastic sandals.
The single file group of women continued and seem to never end. Isa looked at Julie with amazement. When the last one had entered the room was crowded, there were at least forty women in front of her, almost all of them older than her. They looked to Isa and Julie, waiting for instruction.
Julie started, “So this is going to be a really loosely structured class. We brought music for the women that want to dance, we brought journals and art supplies for those of you who want to write. We want for this to be a creative space, so tell us what you’re into and what we can do more of.” 
Isa turned on the music, a cassette of disco/techno music she had gotten in Italy years before. She and Julie led the women in a free dance, exercise session. Many of the women suggested different moves and Isa looked around at one point and saw that everyone was smiling. 
Together, she thought, they could make it seem like home for a moment, maybe an hour.

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