A new local Twitter feed appeared on April 25, 2009. In the “bio,” the anonymous author describes it this way: “I spent 5 months in the Washtenaw County Jail in 2008. I had never been in trouble with the law before. Here’s what I experienced – 140 characters at a time.”
In his second Tweet: “I will not yet reveal my identity nor my alleged crime. I will say that I was 42 years old when I served my time and had never been in jail.”
The author agreed to answer some questions for us.
But first, a sample from the Twitter feed. Note that the entries read in chronological order, most recent first.
-------------------- A nurse comes with medication. I tell her how many hours I have been in jail without my phone call. She does not look very interested. Wed, May 6, 2009 9:51 AM -------------------- It is the loudest flush I have ever heard, filling the cell with sound, halting all conversation for about 30 seconds. Wed, May 6, 2009 9:21 AM -------------------- "Flush on 2!" Fred yells. "Can you give us a flush on 2?" We do not operate our own toilets. Wed, May 6, 2009 9:14 AM -------------------- Fred pounds a few times until he has a guard's attention. Then makes a twisty motion with his fingers. Wed, May 6, 2009 8:57 AM -------------------- By now the stench is approaching unbearable. Fred gets up and pounds on the cell window. Wed, May 6, 2009 8:33 AM --------------------
Q & A
We confirmed that the author was jailed at Washtenaw County jail at 2201 Hogback Road during 2008. The Chronicle acknowledges that this is one side of a multi-faceted tale, some of which predates the author’s incarceration. However, the narrative provides a literate insight into a tax-funded facility that most readers of The Chronicle will not experience first hand in the same way as the author. And we were curious to know a bit more about this writing project than was reflected in the Twitter bio.
1. Describe the writing process. Do you ever have to shave down sentences to fit 140 characters? Did you write out the whole thing in advance? Given the level of detail, you must have taken notes, right? Do you try to leave the last Tweet for the day as a “cliffhanger”?
There are a few parts that I took notes on during my stay in jail and I’ve referred to them as reminders, but the writing, itself, is all as I remember it – 140 characters at a time. Not as difficult as I thought it would be and it’s forcing me to tighten up my usually wordy writing, anyway.
As for “cliffhangers,” when it’s your first time in jail, every moment is a cliffhanger. I had no idea what to expect. Also, in the first couple of months, before I knew what my final sentence would be, every day seemed to be a cliffhanger to me.
2. Do you keep in touch with anybody you met in jail?
Yes, I have corresponded with, and called, a few people I met in jail. There are so many stories in each individual person I met, and some of them wanted me to help them write their personal stories. I am following up with them as time permits. I am also still in touch with one corrections officer – one good one who really does care about the people she is placed in charge of. I will get to her in my story much later.
3. Do you have a favorite euphemism for the time gap on the resume – like “independent projects?”
This was a very sad time in my life. It froze my career and, more importantly, separated me from my young children. They think I was away on a long “work trip,” and the psychological impact of me being away is still being noticed. I don’t have a favorite euphemism. They are all bad.
4. At home, with family, or at work, you find yourself citing your jail time as evidence that you’ve seen and experienced more than the average bear can even imagine? Or is it something that’s just taboo?
No. It is an experience I do not wish on anybody and I hope most find out only second-hand through people like me. It is not a taboo subject at home, but it brings up a great deal of pain that my wife and I still need to sort through.
5. Any idea how much it cost to house you at the jail for five months?
I have no idea, but probably not as much as it might look on the books. I will bring this up later in my narrative – how the system not only takes away your rights and freedoms, but robs you blind by giving you food portions that are not enough to feed a grown man and then making you pay for anything “extra.”