The Prison Bra

A Short Piece of Nonfiction by Mary Ellen Ziegler

Michael B said my LIFE is a “Performance Piece.” He wanted to know if I’m ready to do it on stage – but I don’t want to be like Harry Chapin’s, “Mr. Tanner,” so I tell him about the guards not letting me in to see my brother in prison because I wasn’t wearing a bra. Cross my heart!

I drove down from Chicago with mom just for a visit that day. Five hours! I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt and denim vest. They patted Mom down and she went through to the waiting room, but after patting me down they said, “You’ll have to go put on a bra. It’s a new rule for all women.” We didn’t bring a change of clothes. I said I didn’t have a bra with me and there’s only an hour left for visiting and we drove all this way. Too bad, they tell me, go down the road a piece to the dollar store and get one.

When I get to the parking lot, I meet a pregnant woman talking to a tow truck driver. She had left her lights on and needed a jump. I ran up to her car and asked her if she had enough money for the jump start and could I please buy her bra for $10. I thumbed through my wallet and realized I only had $20. I offered her the money for her bra, she smiled as she unhooked it, slid it out her sleeve, and put it in my hands! I thanked her and ran back into the building swinging it over my head yelling, “I got one.”

When I met mom in the waiting room, the mild mannered, shy woman was pacing the floor asking to speak to the warden. She wanted to ask him if the men were required to wear “cups and saucers” or “jock straps” cuz it must be mighty seductive with all those men walking around there just hanging loose. She’s determined to go back and make a fortune opening a bra shop out front for all the women who don’t know the rules yet – or don’t care.

But I got in and I was able to visit my brother.

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