Seraphic Disclaimer: This post contains some language that is a bit, actually, a lot more graphic than is normally found in Seraphic Secret. So if you are young, under 18, religiously modest, or secularly modest, the following, which deals with life in a women’s prison, might not be appropriate reading matter for you.
“I killed him by mistake,” she says.
“Mistake, what kind of mistake?”
Josepha, serving a life sentence for murder one, is known to be one of the most violent and unpredictable women in a society of violent and unpredictable women. She stares at me with gray eyes that are surprisingly warm and endearing.
I have to be careful. I’ve been in this women’s prison for three days and I don’t understand the social rules that make this place go round. I’m terrified of saying something really dumb, and then seeing my insides, well, outside.
I have already witnessed one violent skirmish between snarling inmates, and the CO’s, the Correction Officers, whisked me away before I got hurt.
They do not want the blood of a Hollywood screenwriter on their hands. Me, I just want to go home to my wife, Karen, and our children. The sooner the better.
Prison. One thing I’ve learned about the inmates: they lie. Whatever they say, you have to read between the lines to discover anything resembling the truth.
I’m doing research for a film.
This is the best part about being a Hollywood screenwriter: travel to exotic locations and mixing with beautiful, glamorous people. Well, every screenwriter but me. I get the scary stuff.
Josepha is in her mid-twenties, she’d be pretty if she didn’t weigh over 200 lbs. and stand barely five foot one. Oh, and there’s the matter of the ink. Her body is a living canvas of lurid images. Some are of her Lord on the cross, suffering horribly, with copious amounts of blood spouting from shoulder to knuckle.
Alongside the traditional religious imagery are gang tattoos, tagger images that are a blight on the Los Angeles landscape.
I suppress the urge to inform Josepha that her images typify the worst of Early East L.A. Rococo, totally low-rent decadence, like Betsey Johnson—on a gallon of acid.
And, oh yeah, the tats are not slimming. In fact, the opposite. Unfortunate on a woman already grossly overweight.
It’s a good choice on my part—not critiquing her ink, for Josepha has three blue teardrops dripping down her left eye. This informs her homies that she has killed three people.
My art criticism would probably not be appreciated. And as the warden of the prison said to me in a private briefing, “The one thing all these women have in common: absolutely no ability to see beyond the moment, to control their urges. These women are emotional morons.”
I love the warden. She’s engaging, funny and utterly unsentimental about, “My ladies.” That’s what she calls these 3,000 female killers, thieves, drug addicts, prostitutes, and G-d knows what else: my ladies.
Anyway, back to Josepha’s confession:
“I killed him by mistake.”
Josepha is telling me about her husband, Silvio. “Well, not really my husband,” she admits. “I mean, it’s not like we wuz married in the Church or nothin’. Silvio, he says, what we need a piece of paper for? He says, we got love.”
“Very romantic,” I say.
Josepha smiles dreamily and lights a cigarette. It’s something I have to get used to in prison. The inmates smoke all the time.
“Did I tell you how ol’ I was?”
I shake my head.
I control the urge to scream.
“You were a child.”
Josepha giggles. She’s now in her mid-twenties, but when she laughs, she becomes a little girl.
“Silvio, he was older, thirty-two, that was like part of the thing. My therapist, Mrs. Zuckerman, she taught me that because my Papi up and left and I grew up without a papi, well, I grabbed on to Silvio as part husband and part papi. Thing is, Silvio like a full time bastard.”
“You had a rough time, huh?” I’m all Freud 101, totally predictable and totally dopey.
“How come you not writing this stuff down?”
“I used to take notes, carry a tape-recorder, but found that it made people self-conscious. What I do is, I pretty much remember what we say, go back to my hotel room and write everything down.”
“You gonna put me in your movie?”
“Who gonna play me?”
“Some skinny-ass white bee-atch, right, all skin and bones and like sooo beautiful.”
“Hey, I’m just the writer.”
The cowardly writer. If Josepha doesn’t like the film I’d prefer she blame the director. He’s the auteur, or so I’ve been informed by the French.
“Hey, don’t get me wrong, that’s what I want. You think I want some fat slob puta playing me the fat slob puta?”
“I’ll let the casting department know.”
“Like I said, I killed Silvio by mistake. I caught him doin’ my bestest girlfriend.”
“Cheating on you?”
“Can we just say, duh.”
“But you didn’t kill your girlfriend.”
“Women, we can’t control ourselves. With guys, it’s all their game. So I banged at Silvio.”
“But you killed him by mistake. That’s what you said, right?”
Josepha examines the long ash of her cigarette. She takes a drag and blows a plume of smoke—right in my face. I cough and heave and feel a migraine blooming in the left side of my skull.
“I shot him right between the eyes.”
There’s a long pause. Her eyes take me in me. Measure me.
Silently, I thank G-d for prisons.
“I meant to hit him in the shoulder,” she says in a flat and utterly unconvincing tone.
“Mind if I ask you how you felt?”
“After you shot Silvio.”
Josepha ponders a long moment. She’s genuinely puzzled by my question.
I persist. “Did you feel guilty, did you feel sad, did you feel—”
“Hungry. I was real hungry. I went down to the Taco Bell. I wuz supposed to be doin’ Weight Watchers, but I figured what the hell.”
Usually, there are worlds within worlds. But sometimes there are no worlds set within other worlds, sometimes there is just a vast and awful emptiness.
Josepha gives that little girl laugh. This time the sound sends a chill up my spine. “Now I’m home.”
“Home, baby-boy, that’s what we inmates call prison. Welcome to my home.”
To be continued…