Bringing FCI Sheridan to Life
by Lynn Kelling
By far, the toughest part of writing Caged Jaye wasn’t capturing the emotionally charged moments Jaye had to live through, but the place he was forced to live in.
Writing a story almost entirely set in prison is a daunting, challenging task. I haven’t personally been to prison, though I have family members and friends who have. The particular place I needed to capture was beyond the experience of those in my circles.
Jaye is arrested in Anchorage, Alaska. The Alaskan penitentiary system is different compared to the rest of the United States. Many of their inmates are transferred down to the lower 48 because they simply don’t have the facilities in Alaska to hold them all for the full length of their terms, especially if the sentence is a long one.
One of the facilities they do actually transfer these inmates to is called FCI Sheridan. Small disclaimer: my version of FCI Sheridan is not in any way intended to be an accurate depiction of the actual place. I used its name and created its form within Caged Jaye for my own purposes. But first, I did one hell of a lot of research about it.
I combed through the websites of some of these facilities used by the Alaskan penitentiary system in order to understand their procedures, systems, laws, buildings, staff, etc. I downloaded copies of their orientation documents and read them cover to cover, taking all sorts of weird notes about the specific programs offered to the inmates, the hierarchy of the administration and staff, the organization of the facilities, the contents of the cells, what specific inmates are permitted to possess… the list goes on and on. It was wildly fascinating stuff and I highly recommend digging in yourself if you find it to be of any interest.
They get very detailed in the A&O Handbooks, one of which Jaye would have received before his arrival. Cells are to be cleaned daily – baseboards dusted, windows washed, walls cleaned of spills, shoes neatly arranged under the bed with the toes pointing outward, floors swept and mopped. Pictures are not to be attached to the walls. No cardboard is allowed in the cells. There’s a distress button located inside each cell. Television hours are from 6 a.m. until work call. Health care Rights and Responsibilities are specified (e.g.: Right #5 is you have the right to be treated with consideration, dignity and respect. Responsibility #5 is you have the responsibility to treat the staff in the same manner.)
The more I knew about the inter-workings of basic, daily things, the more Jaye’s world came alive. I tried to add in realistic detail wherever I possibly could when it added to the story, but not in a way that was overwhelming or unnecessary for the reader.
Some plot points demanded specific research into certain things. One was the utensils provided to inmates, and the carefully controlled way food trays and utensils are distributed as well as manufactured. I found information and discussions between people who have been incarcerated about a special type of brown plastic that’s used for the utensils, which will not break but only bend, so that it’s not used to create weapons.
I researched the ways contraband tattoo machines are created and the parts procured, as well as ways the supplies have been hidden from guards, and the social effects and benefits of being a tattoo artist in prison. I’m a big fan of prison documentaries, so I was fascinated to get to see some actual contraband tattoo machines built piece by piece from parts acquired through illicit barter systems.
It wasn’t just the prison facility I needed to understand. I looked into the way Jaye would have actually been processed at the Anchorage Correctional Complex and the way he would have been transferred down to Oregon.
To help me better understand the human factor of what Jaye was facing during his time served, I read the Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison by T.J. Parsell, which is about a seventeen-year-old gay kid who is sentenced to four and a half to fifteen years in prison after attempting to rob a Photomat with a toy gun. The level of T.J.’s terror, the heartlessness of the way he was treated by the people who were supposed to be taking care of him, the danger of every moment when he was locked away with other inmates who only saw his weakness with the ravenous lust of the hopeless and cruel – it all informed my knowledge of what Jaye went through as well. Being incarcerated, especially at such a young age, is a fundamentally transformative experience. Those who come out of prison are not the same people who went in. Their ingrained survival and mistrust of everyone around them, the importance of trade, value and respect, the inability to take care of themselves in practical ways all adds up.
Some moments in our lives are more vivid than others. They stay fresh, sharp and huge in our minds, long after they’ve occurred. To do Jaye justice, and everyone like him, I knew I needed to shape all of those layers so the reader walked away with a good sense of the endurance and strength of character required just to survive with some degree of sanity and physical health in tact. Those of us who are fortunate enough to avoid doing time ourselves still owe the rest of our fellow humans at least a basic understanding of what we’re putting them through by locking them up together for large spans of their lives. I hope that by reading Caged Jaye, you’re left with a greater appreciation for the suffering of these men and women, and a desire to see their circumstances improved. They’ve more than earned it.
About Caged Jaye
It’s Jaye Larson’s nineteenth birthday, and all he wants is to spend time with his boyfriend, Kris, and his mother — the people he loves most, who make life worth living. But faced with his mother’s demons, the imperfections of his relationship with Kris, and dangerous, homophobic strangers, one by one, all of Jaye’s dreams are soon derailed. Plunging into a waking nightmare, shortly after going to bed alone, Jaye wakes in an alley, pinned down by two men with slow, bloody rape and murder in mind. It’s just the start of Jaye’s fight for his life, and his sanity, as time and time again, he’s forced to make impossible choices to survive, no matter what it costs.
About Lynn Kelling
Lynn Kelling began writing in order to tell stories that aren’t afraid of the dark, don’t hold anything back and always strive to be memorable, forging lasting attachments between character and reader. Her inspiration comes from taking a closer look at behaviors and ideas lurking at the fringes of life—basically anything that people may hesitate to speak of in mixed company, but everyone wonders about anyway. Her work is driven by the taboo in order to expose the humanity within it. Lynn is an artist, designer and lover of any form of creative self-expression that comes from a place of honesty and emotion, whether it’s body art or opera. She has had multiple novels published, has written over seventy works of erotic fiction of varying lengths, and always has several novels in progress.
As part of this blog tour, Lynn is giving away an ebook copy of Caged Jaye to one lucky winner!! To enter, just click the link below!
Please be aware that the only way to enter the giveaway is to click the Rafflecopter link above. Any comments on this post will not count towards entering the giveaway unless otherwise stated but are still welcome anyway.
Don’t forget to check out JustJen’s review of Caged Jaye to see what she thought of it!