african american dike and her struggle behind bars in the womens pen.
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"Prison is a huge factory. A fortress made of gray stone. Bars from bottom to top. Guards in the towers, with rifles. Screens on every window. Windows spaced out evenly, in rows. Behind each is the prayer of a woman: "I want to win! I want to be free!"
In the opening scene JoAnne Woods stands before the judge in a courtroom in Los Angles, California. She is ‘in drag’: "Jo Jo looked different then anybody would have ever remembered seeing her--had there been any friends or relatives in the spectator section. Big; a stocky build, black skin, the 22 year old was wearing a skirt, blouse and sweater; ill-fitting. -- Jo Jo’s thick nose was dabbed with a tiny trace of powder-- to keep the sweat from turning her black skin shiny like a Seal. And, she’d taken her nose ring out. Eyes painted in a hint of lady make up. The Public Defender was at her side. "JOANNE WOODS, YOU ARE ACCUSED OF SHOPLIFTING, HOW DO YOU PLEAD?"
Soon we see Jo Jo disembarking a jail bus into women’s prison. Now clothed in a blue uniform dress with other inmates handcuffed in double rows. We are introduced to Guard Knorr. "The matron led them down a cold drafty hall.-- She was strutting in her gray uniform. Her mouth twitched at the corners, almost breaking out in a selfish grin of power.-- Females. A sea of them. Sitting on their bunks, or, in larger dorms, at tables-- metal slabs bolted to the cement floor. Young fast talking slicks; arthritic old horrors in their 70’s. All dressed in the same blue uniforms. Sometimes the noise was deafening. There was no privacy. Yet, oddly, it was a lonely lonely place."
We begin to meet the other prisoners: "Rosie Sanchez was in for Murder 1. Cookie. A white woman from the near-poverty class. She had a medical condition--Diabetes--at the border-line state. Judith was in jail for demonstrating against the Vietnamese war. This Jewish woman was in for political reasons. 70 days. Desiree was a stripper, in for indecent exposure. 60 days. Tall, brown and attractive. Desiree had a regal baring and many lesbians secretly eyed her; both prisoners and guards." The plot begins to stir with new found friendships building behind prison walls.
"Jo Jo’s hands were empty. She was poor and couldn’t even afford a cigarette. Down the brick wall she heard the melodious voices of two fish talking. The stripper was saying; "I got my money already. $1,000. It was to advertise for the porn studio." She wiggled her curvaceous body demonstrative. "$1,000. I took my clothes off in the middle of Venice Blvd.-- They had a float in the parade. That was at 12 noon. At 2pm they bailed me out, and by 3 I was out shopping."
Interjection of some of the more detestable prison guards begins to add fuel to the plot: "Footsteps clicked primly down the hall, the shadow of the female guard Knorr. She liked it on the block with the girls. They obeyed her or went to solitary. Knorr was a nervous and high strung woman. Tiered easily of being cooped up in the guards cubical. She too was trapped behind prison bars-- 8 hours a day. ---She walked the halls like a cat pacing on a hot tin roof, looking for trouble."
The first night in lock up something bad occurs. "Minutes ticked on into hours. 1am. Many fish still had not found sleep. Suddenly, a scream rent the fabric of night. A loud scream, it was not play. Folds of sleep drew back revealing a skeletal backbone of fear as many women rubbed their eyes, awaking. It was a hideous scream that went on and on, lungs filing with panic and exhaling shrieks-- like someone being beaten or tortured. ‘AAHHHHHHHHHH HGGGGGGGAHHHHHHHHH!!!" --The scream was ice cutting. It penetrated into the psyche of the entire women’s prison. "AGGGHAHHIGHAGHUIUUA HHHHHHHHHOGGHHH!" As the guards dragged Cookie down the waxed corridors to the basement."
Differences & rivalries between the prisoners becomes apparent: "They had only been in 10 days when some shit started. Jo Jo was in the laundry room with her dorm and 2 other dorms getting clean uniforms when she saw Desiree. They smiled and Jo began to talk. Suddenly a redhead butch, black, with an evil expression butted between them, shouldering her way; "I DON’T LIKE WHAT YO’ SAYIN’ TO HER! MOVE IT, GET LOST!" Later Jo Jo saw Desiree and Cadilac with their heads together laughing, & the short redhead cast a dark expression at Jo Jo across the room which made her wonder; was that a set-up from the beginning? Whose side is that Stripper on?"
We are introduced to their problems here in the women’s lock up: "The largest group of offenders were the prostitutes. There was Eleanor Jenkins, a black sister who had acquired this street name of Kitty Twat. Over years of selling her sex in the streets she gradually came to BE Kitty Twat. After ten years of whoring and arrest, and re arrest, now she had a new title-- number #3017464.-- The second largest group are the drug traffickers: "It was the most cutthroat of the girls who were involved in the narcotics trade within the hollow cells behind the stone walls of La Habre. --- When Kitty Twat’s 6 months sentence was over two men encased in metal-- a $20,000 Bonneville Cadilac car-- would glide up like death to the front gate of the prison; hat brims over their eyes, stern faces, nodding in time to music’s cool sound of black jazz. Her limousine dope dealers would glide away with her as undersea fish gliding thru the night, predators with luminous eyes hunting for prey.
The story begins to mix it up. The drama continues with a horrifying discovery: "That night on the way to the kitchen, a woman Jo Jo hadn’t seen in jail before filed into line with a slow swagger; blue dress stretched over her immense bulk. Other prisoners clustered around her--retaining the double file, and obeying the SILENCE! rule, but nodding with their heads, & gesturing with their hands in a show of support.--- When Jo Jo’s eyes beheld the monster a chill ran down her spine.--She recognized the huge brown woman from the LA clubs where she had a reputation of being a mad dog who would fight anybody for anything.--- In battle her modus operandi was to leap on the enemy without warning, without a yell or squint of an eye, crush them flat on the floor & lay with her full weight on top of them, a razor in one hand, knife in the other pointed at their heads--and a gun to back it up; totally subduing her victim. Bulldozer was a bad bulldagger."
What follows are scenes of women behind bars in which the heat continues to build. "Judith talked to whom she felt like-- yet she too avoided the ratpack of Bulldozer, and Wanda’s white cons." Racial tensions simmer. Sexual pairings between some of the women begin, and subsequently jealousies are brought to a boil.
Finally: "Jo Jo had 30 more days left to serve." But she hears some of the lies being told about her behind her back. The tension builds... as Jo Jo’s sentence shortens, with freedom in sight. "She could hear metal doors clanging in her dreams. She’d heard them enough." During this time Jo has self reflection. A growing determination to make a better try when released back to society. "Slowly they’d been processed thru the prison machinery. It digested them and was preparing to spit them back out into the free world! Sister Black Woman had played the game right and was going to get out! Less then 2 weeks." Meanwhile, rumors move thru the grapevine. Jealousies & frustrations begin to rage.
The reader’s attention will be held captive until they get to the unforgettable--and unexpected ending of this classic Women’s Prison Dike Novel!
Book Review provided by RED JORDAN PRESS 2005
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