Last night, while browsing Facebook, I came across an article that reminded me of my jail experience from last summer. The article had something to do with some prison in the states requiring women to prove they were menstruating. Many read this article and think it's heinous that a woman should have to prove something like that just to receive the basic provisions she needs. When I was in jail, due to overcrowding and lack of funds, the jail ran out of pads completely. Unlike many jails and prisons, they didn't allow you to purchase tampons or any other alternatives through commissary, so this meant everyone, including me, was out of luck.
When I got into the women's section of the jail I resided in for 2 weeks last summer, I was stuck by how overcrowded it was. I was forced to sleep on what's called a boat, a temporary plastic bed with a thin mat on top out on the main floor. According to policy in that jail, anyone there for more than 24 hours is required to be assigned a cell. I wasn't the only other person on that floor, at that time there were 5 others as well. It took 3 days for me to get a cell, something that was a fiasco as well as another story in itself. The entire time I was there there were women on the main floor in those boats. It was so overcrowded that the head sherriff of the county was walking investors around the place trying to get an investment to expand their overly stuffed women's quarters. I actually spoke to him while he was there, a conversation I'll share another day.
Something women know, but not everyone does, is that when they move in with other women their menstrual cycles generally try to align, sometimes regardless of birth control. Generally if one woman is on birth control and the others aren't, the other's cycle will change to match the woman on birth control. When you get arrested, everyone gets off birth control (obviously, they wouldn't even let an old woman I was in jail with bring her inhailer, as it wasn't on their list. She spent the whole time she was in there coughing) and most start their period immediately as a result. The ones that don't soon get their period even if they don't need it as their cycle is being influenced by another. I bring this up to point out that if you incarcerate women together, there's going to be a high use of pads. This is something that jails and prisons should plan for, when they order supplies, if they plan on continuing to incarcerate people. Instead, it seemed my jail prioritized other things more.
I was there for about 6 or 7 days before my period came, as I had just had one not long before going to jail. When I went to ask for a pad, I was told that the jail had run out, to just use toilet paper. When I asked for the disposable panties to do them with, they cited they were out of those too. Not only was I incarcerated for a victimless crime, I was being forced to go without provisions that they're legally supposed to provide.
I asked all day, every day for a pad for 3 days. Every time the correctional officer told me no, that they didn't know when the shipment was supposed to come. I couldn't believe what I was dealing with, and what many others in the jail were dealing with. Some women had a few pads in their rooms on the first days, which they gave out to the poor girls going without. After that though, there was nothing, or so they told us. Needless to say, a lot of laundry was to be washed in the women's jail at that time.
It was early in the morning on the fourth day, and I went and asked the correctional officers, one of the nice ones honestly, for a pad. She leaned forward and asked, "Are you really on your period?" I responded that I wouldn't keep asking if I didn't. While she may not have asked to see proof, she may as well have by asking the question at all. When someone asks you for something for days, something you know is a product used a lot in those conditions, it should be obvious who actually needs them and who doesn't. She pulled out a pad from under the desk and told me to hide it in the waste band of my pants, not to let the others see me with it. She said they only had a few more, but they weren't completely out.
"So we're not actually out?" I asked, dumbfounded as I had just been refused for days at that point. She disclosed that they were running low but not out. She explained that sometimes some of the women use the pads to clean like sponges, as they aren't given good enough provisions to do so adequately when they're forced to clean their cells. Since they're so low, they were told to just refuse everyone so they don't actually run out before the next shipment, which was seemingly far off.
The next day, the same correctional officer came in with bags from walmart, containing store bought pads she herself had doled out the money for. She gave all the women who needed them pads, and apologized for the shortage. By the time I had left, the shipment still hadn't come and they were once again almost out of pads, and just as crowded as ever, if not more so.
Overall, my experience was terrible in that jail system. The healthcare was notoriously bad, known for doing things like ignoring a guy who had been severely tazed by police, when he says he has chest pains, leaving him to die of a heart attack in his cell. I'll share soon about what I caught while I was in jail there, only to be ignored by the staff. They didn't provide enough food and what they did provide was damn near unedible. According to John, they had better food conditions there than at the prison and jails he spent time at prior, again for victimless crimes. He felt bad for me and what I was going to, but told me he really wasn't surprised that was a problem.
The point is it doesn't matter if it's jail or prison, women's or men's department, these places are not concerned with providing the things the inmates need to get by, and often aren't even concerned with providing food. Not many get up in arms about this, often touting that these people shouldn't be having a good or comfortable experience as they are criminals who deserve what's coming to them. What people fail to consider is not only are many people in jail innocent, a lot of them are in there for victimless crimes. I know this held true with my experience and John has said the same. Even if they are criminals, they should have access to basic hygenic supplies if they are not able to provide them themselves, as they are incarcerated and under the forced care of whoever it is that is imprisioning them.