dying; anticipating another near-overdose, another offense, another strike on her record, another trip to the joint. We sigh into the phone, reciting the events of the past two and a half months to each other, again and again, as if, this time around, we’ll “solve” them. We don’t post bail.
“Only Her First Bid”
I’ve got the prison thing down pat. I can get by in here. I’m not ready to die out there.
— Kayla, spring of 2013
Eventually, some friends of Kayla’s do put up the $500 to get her out, and we return to a stasis of daily unpredictability. I check my phone compulsively, always anticipating word of a new arrest. The winter wears on, and I offer Kayla limp, token gestures of concern. I ask around about jobs at local restaurants, pick up some papers for her at the methadone clinic, say, “You can do it!” As I say this, I’m not exactly sure what “it” means.
We meet for lunch in late March, three months since she was last in jail, five months until the birth of her baby. Kayla moves and speaks—when she speaks—with an undercurrent of hopeless nausea. When I ask how things are going, she says “horrible.” I toss out a feeble comment about how the pizza place down the street has tacked up a “We’re Hiring” sign. Kayla nods and makes a note on her hand. She’s probably indulging me. A couple of weeks ago, she applied for a job at a home supply store, and they loved her and told her she had it, and then they did a backgroundcheck. Bam. Of course, the odds were not in her favor. Recent Illinois statistics aren’t available, but in New York, 70 percent of parolees are not employed. 1
All of a sudden, Kayla looks straight at me. “The day before I got out, when we got our ‘reentry orientation,’ they brought in these old inmates to tell us how they succeeded after prison,” she says. “They were saying things like ‘Now I make $90k a year and have five acres,’ and ‘Now I’ve got three kids and run my own business.’ They should’ve brought people in who said, ‘I got out and couldn’t find any work, ever,’ or ‘I work three jobs but they pay so bad that I can’t support myself let alone my kids.’” She glances down at her lap and says to her chewed-to-blood fingernails, “I miss prison.”
The next day, she calls me, half-crying, half-screaming, so loudly I must hold the phone at arm’s length: “What do I do? What do I do? ANY SUGGESTIONS?” The words scrape jaggedly in my ear, echoing themselves sickly. Do about what? The baby? The joblessness? The future, as an ex-felon?
“What do I do?” As the days pass, Kayla begins to quietly answer her own question. She disappears for long stretches, fading out through my parents’ door in the early afternoons, resurfacing days later, flopping into bed and slamming the door. “I got things to do,” she mumbles at the floor, when asked. Amid the disappearances and the mysterious “things,” the fights and the midnight phone calls, we find out that her baby is due September 3. Her name, Kayla announces in a brief moment of utter, serene sobriety, will be Angelica.
In late May 2013, when Kayla’s sentenced to a year in the penitentiary—during which time she’ll give birth to her baby—I barely remember which “thing” she is being sentenced for.
“No One Would Buy Those Cars”
Kayla once told me that, during the beginning weeks of her first prison sentence, when she slipped up on an obscure rule in her kitchen job, guards would comment, “She’ll learn—it’s only her first bid!” The assumption that there’d probably be a second bid (prison slang for “sentence”) always hung in the air. Disheartening as their comments may have been, those guards knew the drill: Many of Kayla’s fellow prisoners at the time were in on a second, third, or fourth bid. Each bid, it seemed, had ushered in the next, making prison a little more “normal” each time.
The magnetic pull that reels