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Mid June, 2011

     Welcome to the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, GA, a privately owned facility!

     Our journey began in the early morning hours of May 26th when we left Blount County in Maryville, TN, for the U.S. Marshall’s Office in Knoxville, TN. The Ocilla officers transported 9 of us women in a van, shackled and chained, with a sack lunch (peanut butter and jelly sandwich, bag of chips, bottle of water) with one stop for gas but no bathroom break on our six hour ride from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The male and female officers took turn driving at 80+ miles an hour – a little scary at times as they both played with cell phones while driving.

     Ocilla is a small town with two stop lights, tobacco, peanut and cotton fields. The detention center is off a county highway consisting of a number of warehouses – no windows! It houses about 1,000 local Irwin County/Federal/ and Immigration people. The women comprise 8 pods – 3 of us and 5 immigration. We are never to mingle – we wear striped jump suits, immigration wear navy blue tops and bottoms.

     Very similar to Blount County, our pod holds 32 women – 8 cells double bunks bottom floor and 8 cells double bunks upper floor. The plus is that each cell has a shower and the day room has no windows but 3 sky lights. We can look up very high and see sky and clouds and sun beams shine on us part of the day. However, it is a very dark area and the cement walls make the TV and voices very loud. We are able to watch CNN Headline news from 7 – 9 a.m. daily as the women all go back to bed. We have three phones, 4 metal picnic tables and a micro-wave.

     Our cell doors are only locked at count times and during food serving. Our schedule is as follows:

                 3:00 a.m.          Count (sleeping)
                 4:00 a.m.     Bright lights turned on
                 4:30 a.m.     Cells unlocked
                 5:00 a.m.     Breakfast
                 5:30 a.m.     Cells unlocked and most go back to bed
                 6:30 a.m.     Count (locked in cells)
                 7 – 9:00 a.m.           Cells or pod
                 9:00 a.m.     Two guard walk through, stand outside cells,
                                            beds made military style  - checked
                 10:30 a.m.   Count but can stay in cells or pod
                 12:00 noon  Lunch
                 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.    Cells or pod
                 3:30 p.m.     Count (locked in cells)
                 4:30 p.m.          Cells or pod
                 5:00 p.m.     Supper
                 6:30 p.m.     Count (locked in cells)
                 7:00 p.m.     Cells or pod
                 11:00 p.m.   Lights dimmed – locked in cells
               (on Friday and Saturday this time is 1:00 a.m.)

     The food is varied but processed and no fresh fruits or veggies. In two weeks the only fresh food was two tablespoons of cole-slaw and less than ¼ cup of iceberg salad. We get little fiber. Our menu is posted for five weeks and provided by a company called Trinity Services.

    The Phone service is from AmTel. The cheapest way to call is to buy a debit phone card – 40 minutes for $21.40. Local calls are $2.00 for 15 minutes. Long distance: in state $.25 a minute and out of state, $.50 a minute. Collect calls must be set up with an account and are very expensive.

    Recreation is one hour six days a week. The outside yard is a rectangle,  part of which consists of “dog cages” for the men in maximum security. There is no place to sit but there is a small overhand that provides some shade and a volley ball net. I will only  go out between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. because of heat and gnats. Bonnie goes out every day and is working on her tan. If the temps are too hot there is inside rec in the gym. This is also the only place one can go to cut finger and toe nails!

    The five of us were all placed in the same pod but different cells. We all have bottom bunks. I was blessed to have a single cell for eight days.

    Most of the women here are federal and waiting for a sentencing date or departure to a Federal prison. Only two women in our pod are from Ocilla and one is my roommate. She is a very shy, poor, African-American woman who has worked on tobacco farms. She was born and bred here and is teaching me about the area. What I notice here is that the southern women always respond, “Yes, Mam! – No Mam!”

    Our first mail arrived on June 3rd. We are allowed letters, cards, articles, etc. Paperback books must be sent from the publisher or book store. We have not been to the library yet and understand it has only pretty old books.

    Joe Power-Drutis visited and brought wonderful bibles… The New American Translation of the Catholic Study Bible.
The medical stories are again horrendous. We had a 75 year old woman recovering from open heart surgery performed 5 weeks earlier - incontinent and unable to care for herself. She was shipped out about a week ago to Alderson.

    I met a woman in the rec yard who fell on the volley ball court and broke her left arm in two places. One month later she received the cast!

    And the stories go on and on – I won’t repeat our Sr. Jackie Hudson’s because you probably know the story better than we do. We pray she is healing/healed.

    We are continuing to meet people who have family or friends  living or working near Y-12. They speak of the class action suits, the cancers and the radiated “deer”.  Any deer hunter must have the animal checked to see if it can be processed for food!

     We hope Jean Gump has arrived safely home until her September 12th sentencing date. She made a real impact on the women here and was a real trooper. They all miss her and Jackie. Ardeth is now the “grandma” of the cell block and sharing her loving heart.

     Thank you again for all your prayers, love and support! I want to close with a quote from one of our Dominicans: Saint Catherine of Siena: “Preach the Truth as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.”

                                                         Courage,  Carol Gilbert, O.P.