My heart beat faster as I drove towards the entrance. I passed the high fence with barbed wire and felt the coldness that came from within, a coldness that somehow summoned me. At the security booth I was greeted by a boom gate with a stop sign. A man in beige uniform peered out and signalled for me to roll down my window. He was dark, sweating under his cap, but surprisingly cheerful. Perhaps the maskhande music coming from his loud radio had something to do with that.
“Eh … hello, who are you coming to see?”
“Mrs Baynard, the senior warder,” I said.
“Name and surname please?”
“Shay T. I write for a site called FlipTheCover.com.”
He turned around, whistled, hunched down as he walked back into his booth. His pointy ass bobbed in an improvised Khoi San dance. I watched him turn down the radio, pick up his walky-talky and mumble something quickly, in a formal tone. He nodded then signalled for me to go in. I was glad to be in even though anxiety was already starting to build up in my throat. It had taken us a few weeks to organise and negotiate this visit. We hadn’t covered a female prison before. I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the main building.
Tall face-brick walls with multiple barred windows; prisoners’ disjointed arms, luring me like sirens. I listened to them shout out I-love-yous and whistle as I got out of the car. Mrs Baynard was waiting for me at the entrance of the Arrivals Centre. I walked towards her, smiled to show I wasn’t freaked out by the atmosphere of the place. She was a chubby, confident woman in neat beige uniform: a jersey with green shoulder pads, a tight pencil skirt and brown court shoes. I followed her into a building where a couple of women were hanging around, waiting to be allocated to cells. She walked quickly through the long passages, which had high ceilings. Occasionally she turned around to speak to me. At a closed door, she slowed down.
“This large room is where the newcomers get checked for drugs and such.” I stepped closer to the door. I hoped to hear some kind of protest, some sign of resistance or conflict but it was silent. Nothing could be heard through the metal door.
“So they’re in there right now?” I asked.
“Yes, we have a few in there now.”
“May I see?”
I wasn’t prepared for her reaction or the question. “I guess I just wanted to get an idea how it’s done.” “Oh. Well, they’re made to strip, open their mouths, spread their arms and squat three times,” she said, without hesitation, as if she was giving me a recipe for a Sunday roast.
“Oh,” I said. She turned away and started to walk down the corridor. I followed her, imagining how ghastly and inhumane the whole process must be. Inhumane, or incredibly sexy? I found myself wanting to be part of the dirtiness and roughness. I felt like I was missing out on a pigsty orgy.
“Squat three times,” she had said. And then what?
Realising the increasing space between us, Mrs Baynard turned back towards me. “Don’t look so worried. We have to do a thorough check so we can make sure that no drugs or weapons enter the building. These girls can be very sneaky. It’s for their own good.” She set off again, this time a bit slower. I could feel the air getting damper and muskier as we went further in, like we were in the armpit of an obese cyclops. The mould crawled up every corner and crevice, reaching up to the ceiling. The sound of our shoes was too loud. It echoed high and wide at a paralysing pitch. Mrs Baynard walked on without fear.
“Sippy is one of our sweetest. She does what she is told and rarely gets into trouble. She’s also a bit shy so I hope you’ll get the information you need.”
I didn’t know much about Sippy except that she had been recommended as a potential subject by “the people upstairs”. It made me nervous to walk into a situation I wasn’t well prepared for. We reached a room with a table and two chairs. A guard was standing outside. Mrs Baynard told me to sit down and wait for Sippy’s arrival.
“Usually we don’t allow anyone to do this, so count yourself lucky. Remember, don’t show any fear and relax your face. Good luck!”
With that, she left, closing the door behind her. The room was cold with grey walls; some of the paint had been scraped off. “Okay Shay, calm down,” I whispered as I put my notepad and pen on the table. I wasn’t sure what this Sippy would say or do but I figured that my posture would matter. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be relaxed and slouched or poised and professional. I was told that she was also in her twenties and somehow this made me more nervous. If I acted too old she’d laugh in my face, for sure, but if I acted like I didn’t care she would make fun of me for trying too hard to be cool.
The door opened and I heard the shuffling of feet but couldn’t bring myself to turn around. The guard sat her down in the seat across the table, uncuffed her hands and left without saying a word. The door was closed once again. I smiled at her. She had no scars on her face, like I had imagined a prisoner would. She was not big, or scary. She was wearing a wife-beater that exposed her skinny arms. One of her forearms was covered in a street tattoo clearly made with hot wire or some dodgy machine. Her navy blue overalls were tied around her waist and her breasts were squashed and flattened against her chest. I looked at her light-skinned face and was drawn to her small eyes. She had long eyelashes, well-kept cornrows. I noticed her short, neatly clipped nails as she folded her arms on the table. I sat there surprised: I had been convinced that prisoners didn’t care about their appearance. I cleared my throat, sat back in my chair, put my notepad on my lap, hoping to look as unthreatening as possible.
“Hi. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, my name is Shay.” She looked at me, silently studying my face.
“I don’t know if they told you but I work for a site called –” “Do you know that when you talk you hardly open your mouth?”
She interrupted. Her voice a husky, deeper tone compared to mine. “No … no I didn’t know that, and I …”
“They say people who barely open their mouths suck at giving head.” She chuckled a little and sat back in her chair with her restless legs wide apart and her hands resting on top of her head like she had just said, “checkmate!”
“This is gonna be fun,” she said with a deep sigh.
“What’s Shay short for?”
“Nothing … it’s just Shay.”
“Your teeth are really white, you must come from a good family.”
“If you don’t mind, we don’t have that much time. I just need to ask a few questions. What are you in for?”
I spoke quickly and professionally so she wouldn’t interrupt again. “I’m in for getting caught fucking girls like you. They complained that the orgasms I gave them were a criminal offence.”
“I …” I shifted around in my seat before continuing.
“I’m here to get your story out there. I want to know about your past and what led you here. This really has nothing to do with me.”
“My past is my present.” “Sippy, I just need you to cooperate for …”
“Cooperate, she says. How would a girl like you be able to write about not having anything and having to hustle your whole life? No point in asking for information that you’ll only fluff up and decorate with flowers and butterflies later. This life is no joke. We’re not here to entertain Model C girls so they can go make their school projects colourful.”
“It’s not a school project.” It was the only thing I could say at that point.
“Do you have a boyfriend? Maybe you like girls … No, you look like you don’t like either. No ring on your finger. Thought girls like you married early – I mean what else do you have to worry about?”
“That’s none of your … none of that is relevant.”
I had lost control of the interview. I put my notepad and pen on the table, put my elbows on it and leaned forward. I had seen this in TV series and movies with an interrogation room scene.
“Cut the crap and tell me what you’re in for!”
“Oooh, tough girl! Hahaha. No but seriously, why don’t you have a boyfriend man? What’s wrong with you? Are you cold in bed, dry maybe? Is that it? Or maybe it is because you’re all serious and you dress like you’re 50?”
I kept quiet. I was starting to get angry. I sensed she wasn’t attracted to me … but why did that matter? I got up and walked towards the door, too embarrassed to look at her.
“And then what will you tell your bosses, huh?” she said.
“Sit down, sit your ass down!” I could’ve left but I didn’t. I found myself turning around and walking back to my chair.
“You think I’m the one with problems just because I call this place home? You come here with a notepad like you’re monitoring the progress of a monkey in a lab. I could very well be you and you me. None of us give a fuck anymore! This is what we have so we just deal.” She seemed angry. Maybe if I pushed further, harder, she would say more.
“Trust me, I could never be you,” I said.
“Oh, yes you could. Why do you think they picked you to come and interview me?”
“Because I’m a journalist and you’re a prisoner.”
“But there are other journalists, I’m sure, and there are many of us in here.”
“I live closest to this prison. And the warder said you’re the best behaved.”
“Oh, is that what they told you? Do you know which cell block I stay in?” “No.” “I thought so. Have you ever been with a girl, Shay?”
“No,” I said without thinking.
I wasn’t sure why I had answered that or where it came from. She sat forward in her chair, bit her lower lip, and scanned my chest with her eyes. Then she reached across the table and touched my hand. I let her. Her hand was surprisingly warm and soft. I shivered a little and felt my fingers twitch with shock under her palm. She looked at me with a smirk on her face, fingers lightly tracing the veins in my hands. My pussy clenched and released involuntarily. I shifted in my seat hoping to crush the sensation. It didn’t work. I felt excited and repulsed at the same time. I needed to get a grip. I snatched my hand back, stood up, and opened the door. There were two guards waiting, one of them walked with me and the other went into the room. Suddenly the passages were hotter and narrower than what I remembered. My legs waivered with each step. I had got up too quickly, left too quickly. Mrs Baynard was still at the Arrivals Centre talking to another warder when I came around the corner.
“Done already?” she asked.
“Yes, yes I think I got everything.”
“I hope she wasn’t too difficult, she comes out in a few weeks you know. Anyway, have a good day.”
“Thanks, you too. Thank you for everything,” I said as I walked towards the exit. I was glad to feel the sun on my skin again. I walked towards my car and realised I had come out empty handed. My notepad was still in the room.