Ruth Takes a Ride
Candace and I were chatting as we approached the elevators. I was showing her my new Ruth Bader Ginsberg Notorious RBG tote bag with the words I DISSENT across the top. I had decided it would be my new “jail bag.”
Candace and I run a volunteer program called Write On. We visit female inmates at the Monroe County Detention Center every Monday night with composition notebooks, writing ideas and paperbacks (from inspirational to trashy.) We try to bring encouragement and distraction from the pink cinder block walls and florescent lights that stay on all day and only dim slightly at night. As the women write and share we hear stories of neglect, abuse and dark humor; the woman who killed her abusive husband but could not claim self-defense because she did not notify the police for two days, or the young woman who said she had moved to Texas because the heroine was cheaper but got picked up and sent back to Key West on a VOP (Violation of Parole.) Each Monday is different.
That night with a jail bag slung on each shoulder I pressed the button for the elevator and we waited. (My other jail bag, a green messenger bag declares me as an “Intellectual Freedom Fighter.) We were ready with our long pants, close toed shoes and IDs in our back pockets to leave at Main Control. After hours the guards at the Main Control desk controlled the comings and goings of the two elevators. At that point Candace realized she had forgotten her own jail bag in the car. She ran back to the car.
“We were so excited by your new jail bag, I forgot mine!”
Then the number 2 elevator door opened. Most nights someone in Main Control gets on the intercom and asked who we are. That night they must have recognized us from the camera in a black dome on the ceiling just outside the two elevator doors.
“Hold the door,” Candace yelled back.
Full of books, notebooks, paper, pencils, and erasers jail bags are heavy on the shoulders, so I tossed the Notorious RBG into the elevator and put my hand near the open door to hold it. There Ruth sat leaning in the corner of the elevator as if waiting for her first visit to the MCDC. The elevator door started to close.
“Are you coming up?” A scratchy voice asked over the intercom.
“Yes, Candace forgot her bag. She’ll be right back.” The door was still closing.
“You can’t hold the elevator door open,” was the reply as I pulled my hand out and the number 2 door closed.
No big deal, I thought, picturing Ruth in the corner of the empty elevator. When Candace got back I would hit the button again and we would go up, RBG and all.
A moment later Candace returned and I hit the elevator button. The number 1 elevator door opened.
“I threw my Ruth bag in this elevator,” I said indicating the number 2 door in front of us. I waited for the number 1 door to close and hit the button again. Again the number 1 door opened.
Candace started to laugh as we got in the number 1 elevator.
“Of all the bags to be stuck in a jail elevator alone,” I said.
Upstairs we got out of the elevator. When the door shut Candace hit the button and again the number 1 elevator door opened. We were both laughing now. I ran to the highly secure opaque window of Main Control, and bent to speak into the slot at waist height.
“We’re trying to get my bag out of the other elevator,” I told them. Not knowing, never knowing, who “them” are. I went back to the two elevators. Candace hit the button. The number 1 door opened. Bent over with laughter now I went back to Main Control.
“Can you open the other elevator? My tote bag is in there.” Should I tell them it was Ruth Bader Ginsberg? Is that why she was stuck in the elevator? Just as my wide eyed owl pencil sharpener had been declared contraband the week before and had to be left behind, was the Notorious RBG considered contraband?
“Try going back down,” a woman’s voice said from behind the slot.
They had control over all the locked doors we passed through each Monday night. I figured they had control of the elevator doors as well. Maybe not, or maybe they were having fun as well? Maybe not.
By this time Candace was leaning against a wall by the elevators laughing.
I hit the button hoping…but the number 1 door opened and I got in.
“Am I on Candid Camera?” I asked. “Is this being filmed” just as I noticed the small black dome on the elevator ceiling.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “It is.”
The door closed on Candace’s laughter.
Back at ground level I got out of the number 1 elevator and waited for the door to close. I waited a few seconds before hitting the button. The number 2 elevator door opened but there was no Ruth. I took that elevator back up.
“Do you have Ruth?” I asked as soon as the door opened onto the waiting area.
“Got her,” Candace exclaimed. She was heading towards the metal detector where a guard waited.
With an odd sense of relief I went to Main Control and slide my ID in the slot, went through the metal detector and waited while a guard searched our bags, probably not even noticing the messages of dissention and freedom they quietly proclaimed.
Monday nights can be funny, they can be intense, heartwarming, or heart breaking, but never boring.