An afternoon at the Washington Corrections Center for Women: Part 4

Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2
Click here for Part 3

From what Sergeant B can remember, there have been four escape attempts from the WCCFW. Three were from work crews (programs that allow offenders to work outside the prison, usually doing maintenance and cleaning), and the fourth was an attempt to escape from the prison itself.

Attempt #1 – Work Crew:
The offender walked away from her crew and made it all the way into the woods. Then she realized she was lost – she hadn't thought it through, and didn't know where she was going, or even how to get back to her crew. So she sat down on the grass, figuring she might as well relax for awhile. Thirty minutes later, she was picked up and hauled back to prison, where she spent time in the Hole, lost all her privileges, and got two years added to her sentence.

Attempt #2 – Work Crew:
The offender successfully walked away from her work crew. But when officials checked into her visitors records, she'd only ever had one person come to visit her in the two years she'd been in prison – her boyfriend. The next day, the cops showed up at his house. Guess who was there, watching movies with him on the sofa? They hauled her back to prison, where she spent time in the Hole, lost all her privileges, and got two years added to her sentence.

Attempt #3 – Work Crew:
The offender successfully walked away from her work crew. Three months later, her face was spotted on a security camera at a local casino. The cops picked her up and hauled her back to prison, where she spent time in the Hole, lost all her privileges, and got two years added to her sentence.

Attempt #4 – Prison:
The offender came into WCCFW a heavy woman. Over the next year, she aggressively made an effort to lose weight, but she disguised the weight loss by dressing in several layers of clothing. Nobody noticed she was getting thin. She bolted one afternoon, climbing over the barbed wired fences, using her multiple layers of clothing to shield her from scratches and cuts. With each fence, she shed a layer of clothing. She made it all the way to the freeway, where she hitchhiked a ride from a passing car. She told the driver she was running away from her abusive boyfriend. But the driver wasn't fooled. He took a good look at her prison issue clothes, knew that WCCFW was nearby, and at the next gas station, he called the cops. She was hauled back to prison, where she spent time in the Hole, lost all her privileges, and got five years added to her sentence.

Do you see the pattern here?

I think the moral of the story should be: Don't try to escape from prison if you're stupid. Just sayin'.

In case I didn't mention this at the beginning of the series, the purpose of my visit to the Washington Corrections Center for Women was to research the book I'm currently revising. I have multiple scenes that take place in a women's prison, and I didn't want them to come across as clich̩. The visit was well worth it. I learned more in my three hours there than I could have from reading ten books (not that I could find ten decent books about women's prisons Рand trust me, I looked).

What was I hoping to learn? Really, it was about the little things. The sounds, the smells, the general mood, the attitudes of the COs, the camaraderie between the offenders, what they looked like, how they spent their days. I'm not a journalist, I'm a novelist, and so my impressions are just that – impressions. Whether everybody there was on their best behavior for me, I don't know. Whether they went above and beyond to paint the prison as a positive place that focuses on rehabilitation because they knew I'd write about it, I don't know. I wasn't there to investigate, I was there to observe.

Ultimately, I got what I needed for my book, and I'm very grateful to WCCFW for the access they allowed me. I know it will make a difference when I revise those prison scenes in my novel.

On a final note, I don't think I'd make it in prison. HELL, NO. The strip search alone would be horribly humiliating. The tiny cells, the unwavering routine, the face tattoos – I'm pretty sure that by the end of my first week, I'd be somebody's bitch. And I would definitely miss my Starbucks.

Thanks for reading! Back to business as usual next week... meaning, no more super long posts!


  1. Wow, Jennifer, thank you for sharing the experience in this series of blog posts. For all of us who never plan on seeing the inside of a prison it's been a really cool way to visit one vicariously.

    Sounds like you got a whole lot of writing inspiration out of it too!

  2. By the end of the day? I'd be someone's bitch by the end of my first hour. Thanks for sharing this with us, Jenny. The question is: Would you be smart enough to break out successfully and stay out? :-)

  3. Can't wait to see how this field trip comes to life in your next book! :)

  4. In a prison setting, Corrections Officers prefer supervising men over women.
    The reason?
    The male offender get angry then get over it.
    Female offender get mad then simmer over the matter. They hold grudges and out of the blue,WHAM, they get their revenge somehow, someway.

    Being a woman myself, I know what they are like, LOL. I never wanted to supervise female offenders. *shiver*

  5. Wow, wow and wow. I love that you went, that you care so much about your story that you want it to be authentic. Can't wait to read it.

  6. These are so interesting! If only that lady #4 put on a fake black eye and some civilian clothes under all those layers, it would have been perfect!

  7. Hahaha! You would so be a trophy bitch, though. Definitely someone's arm candy, not the abused sort.

    Doesn't seem like escaping the prison is really worth it! They always get you back and you get more time for it! Yark, no way. Very cool that you got what you needed!

  8. That was interesting, entertaining, and informative. Thanks! So, if I am ever in prison and attempt an escape, I should not return to my former life and I should not hitch hike right outside the prison wearing my prison clothes.

  9. What a great series! Thanks for sharing this with all of us. :) Do you know if they get coffee in prison? I'm imagining having espresso beans smuggled in...

  10. LOL - You have a way with words1 Really enjoyed these. Thanks for sharing!

  11. "I'm pretty sure that by the end of my first week, I'd be somebody's bitch."

    Best line ever. This has been so awesome and interesting to hear about! Thanks for sharing it. This has confirmed that I never want to end up in jail or if I do...must come up with good escape plan.

  12. Amazing! Amazing! Amazing!

    I'd make someone my bitch during their first week. :) hehehe

  13. I can't imagine being thrown in prison, but I REALLY can't imagine having the guts to try to escape!

  14. @ Huntress: Sergeant B said the same thing. She said men's prisons were much easier to work in. She'd tell the male offender to do something and yeah, he'd cuss her out, call her "bitch", whatever... but then he'd go do it. In the women's prisons, when she tells someone to do something, they WHINE WHINE WHINE for ten minutes. Drives her nuts, she said!

    @ Colene: Bwahaha! Trophy bitch, love it!

    @ Robin: I imagine that having zero access to Starbucks would be the worst form of punishment... ;)

    @ Mel: I have no doubt that you'd have SEVERAL bitches by the end of the first DAY.

  15. Wow, that is so cool. Yep- definitely a pattern! They always get caught! This sounds like wonderful info for your book.

  16. This was an interesting and informative series--thank you for sharing your experience!

  17. Wow, what a great series. Hats off to you for doing the needed hard work.

  18. This is a great series. Can't wait to see what you do with all you've learned.

  19. When I visited Alcatraz in San Francisco, they told us a few escape attempt stories. Those inmates were very stupid, especially because the prison is on an island and they'd have to swim to get away!

    This was such an interesting series. Thanks for sharing! I'm sure your prison scenes will benefit greatly from this experience!

  20. Wow, this is fascinating. (Also, I love a good dumb escape story, lol.)

  21. The escape story with the clothing is amazing! How could she plan the whole weight loss/clothing shedding and then not think of the prison clothes? It's interesting that she got so much longer added to her sentence than the other ones. Great series!

  22. Just read through the last three parts, thanks for these posts they're totally fascinating and very well written. And yeah, um, wow at some of those dumb escape attempts.

    One question from the last post - why can't visitors wear ripped jeans?

  23. Wow thank you. I am a new blog follower and your postings were extremely interesting. Glad I found you.

  24. as a employee of above mentioned prison i would be very curous to see what comes out in print having been there for over 12 years your first day sounds alot like mine