An afternoon at the Washington Corrections Center for Women: Part 4

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Click here for Part 2

Click here for Part 3

From what Sergeant B can remember, there have been four escape attempts from the WCCFW. Three were from work crews (programs that allow offenders to work outside the prison, usually doing maintenance and cleaning), and the fourth was an attempt to escape from the prison itself.

Attempt #1 – Work Crew:
The offender walked away from her crew and made it all the way into the woods. Then she realized she was lost – she hadn't thought it through, and didn't know where she was going, or even how to get back to her crew. So she sat down on the grass, figuring she might as well relax for awhile. Thirty minutes later, she was picked up and hauled back to prison, where she spent time in the Hole, lost all her privileges, and got two years added to her sentence.

Attempt #2 – Work Crew:
The offender successfully walked away from her work crew. But when officials checked into her visitors records, she'd only ever had one person come to visit her in the two years she'd been in prison – her boyfriend. The next day, the cops showed up at his house. Guess who was there, watching movies with him on the sofa? They hauled her back to prison, where she spent time in the Hole, lost all her privileges, and got two years added to her sentence.

Attempt #3 – Work Crew:
The offender successfully walked away from her work crew. Three months later, her face was spotted on a security camera at a local casino. The cops picked her up and hauled her back to prison, where she spent time in the Hole, lost all her privileges, and got two years added to her sentence.

Attempt #4 – Prison:
The offender came into WCCFW a heavy woman. Over the next year, she aggressively made an effort to lose weight, but she disguised the weight loss by dressing in several layers of clothing. Nobody noticed she was getting thin. She bolted one afternoon, climbing over the barbed wired fences, using her multiple layers of clothing to shield her from scratches and cuts. With each fence, she shed a layer of clothing. She made it all the way to the freeway, where she hitchhiked a ride from a passing car. She told the driver she was running away from her abusive boyfriend. But the driver wasn't fooled. He took a good look at her prison issue clothes, knew that WCCFW was nearby, and at the next gas station, he called the cops. She was hauled back to prison, where she spent time in the Hole, lost all her privileges, and got five years added to her sentence.

Do you see the pattern here?

I think the moral of the story should be: Don't try to escape from prison if you're stupid. Just sayin'.

In case I didn't mention this at the beginning of the series, the purpose of my visit to the Washington Corrections Center for Women was to research the book I'm currently revising. I have multiple scenes that take place in a women's prison, and I didn't want them to come across as clich̩. The visit was well worth it. I learned more in my three hours there than I could have from reading ten books (not that I could find ten decent books about women's prisons Рand trust me, I looked).

What was I hoping to learn? Really, it was about the little things. The sounds, the smells, the general mood, the attitudes of the COs, the camaraderie between the offenders, what they looked like, how they spent their days. I'm not a journalist, I'm a novelist, and so my impressions are just that – impressions. Whether everybody there was on their best behavior for me, I don't know. Whether they went above and beyond to paint the prison as a positive place that focuses on rehabilitation because they knew I'd write about it, I don't know. I wasn't there to investigate, I was there to observe.

Ultimately, I got what I needed for my book, and I'm very grateful to WCCFW for the access they allowed me. I know it will make a difference when I revise those prison scenes in my novel.

On a final note, I don't think I'd make it in prison. HELL, NO. The strip search alone would be horribly humiliating. The tiny cells, the unwavering routine, the face tattoos – I'm pretty sure that by the end of my first week, I'd be somebody's bitch. And I would definitely miss my Starbucks.

Thanks for reading! Back to business as usual next week... meaning, no more super long posts!

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