WELCOME TO HARD TIMES – Joan Rathburn
Anne Grant couldn’t hide the pathetic sulk from her face as the prison bus she was riding on pulled in to the Sate Correctional Facility for Women. Her lawyer had promised the 25 year old redhead that the plea bargain he had filed on her embezzlement charges would result in probation, but the stern judge insisted that the girl serve eighteen months in the dank reformatory to teach her a lesson.
The pouty girl sadly surveyed the six other convicts who were being inducted with her as the bus stopped at it’s destination. None of them were older than Anne, but all were repeat offenders who acted much older than their years. Anne decided to keep to herself, as the guard ordered the congregation to rise and be herded into the induction center.
Anne looked down at the cold steel handcuffs that manacled her wrists, sighed, and rose with the other prisoners to head for the requisitions office. When they arrived, the guard made her orders short and clear.
“Strip!” barked the brunette officer. “What you want to keep, check in with the clerk. What you don’t, throw in the canvas bags!”
Anne felt her heart pound as she saw her fellow inmates begin to peel off their clothes. But Anne had always been shy about showing off her body—especially to other women—and self consciously folded her arms over her chest, her doe eyes directed bashfully at the ground. The guard took no time in motioning the girl not to dally.
“What’s your problem?” asked the jailer as Anne stood frigidly.
“N…nothing,” the redhead replied, conscious of the collecting stares of the other prisoners.
“Well, strip,” responded the unsympathetic turnkey. “I’ve got a schedule to keep.”
Biting her teeth down, Anne began pulling her tee-shirt off, trying to ignore the sarcastic cat- calls that came with the display of her large, pale breasts. She tried to concentrate solely on the task at hand: removing her athletic shoes and white socks, sliding off her faded Levis, and finally gliding her pink cotton panties down her legs and onto the floor. Her ears burning at the wolf whistles and crude remarks around her, she gathered the few possessions she needed, and checked them in at the desk.
“Photograph, toothbrush, mirror,” listed the clerk to her assistant as Anne stood shivering in the altogether. When the administrator came upon Anne’s blue plastic comb, she looked confused.
“What do you think you’ll need this for?” asked the clerk in irritation as she regarded the accessory.
Now it was Anne’s turn to be confused.
“To comb my hair, of course,” she replied. Just because she wasn’t going to see a man in eighteen months didn’t mean she didn’t want to look pretty, after all.
The clerk looked at Anne’s long mane of curly red hair, and rewarded her with a menacing smile that sent a chill down the girl’s spine. The clerk seemed ready to say something, but was cut off by the guard.
“All right, girls,” barked the turnkey, “march yourself to de-lousing!”
What followed was the most dehumanizing regimen that Anne had ever gone through. The choking she thought would nearly kill her from the de-lousing spray, the hazing she got in the showers, and the humiliating probing she received in the medical exam sent the girl’s spirits crashing to the ground. But she felt a surge of energy that seemed to electrify her when the guard announced their next destination.
“Line up and march to the barbers!”
Anne’s heart began pounding a mile a minute as she took her place at the end of the line of nude girls and began marching towards a cold white door bearing the forbidding sign: “Barber.” Anne had always considered the thick growth of scarlet curls that cascaded down her back as her crowning glory, and never dreamed that she would have to alter it. She prayed that she would only be required to get a little trim as she witnessed the first girl in line, a pretty Hispanic teenager with shiny black shoulder length hair, sit nervously in the barber’s chair. The barber was an attractive woman of about forty wearing a white smock over her prison guard’s uniform, who surveyed the line of seven girls she had to attend to, gave a tired sigh, and picked up her scissors.
The girl in the chair was squirming nervously as the barber grabbed a handful of hair at her ear level, but the cutter didn’t seemed to notice as she chopped a huge chunk off with a loud “SNIP!”
The entire row of inmates gave out a gasp, but the barber (an old hand at this), displayed no emotion as she continued her shearing. The little Hispanic girl’s lower lip was trembling visibly as the barber continued shearing around her head, leaving a matt of short bristly hair that she wouldn’t even be able to run a comb through. When she finished with the shears, she picked up some electric hair clippers and began buzzing away at the rest of the girl’s hair, finally leaving only a stubbly crew cut.
The line watched in horror as the girl was shaved. The barber took no notice of the tears streaming down her face, and completed her task. She took a final study of her handiwork, lifted the devastated prisoner from out of the chair, and looked coldly at the girl at the head of the line.
“Next!” she said.
All of the girls in line, even the most hardened criminal, fidgeted with tension as they watched the pile of hair on the floor grow higher and higher and higher; but Anne thought that she was having a heart attack. She could feel herself taking steps towards the chair as the line became shorter and shorter, but she had no idea what was propelling her as her body felt stiff with paralysis. And when the last girl in front of her was pulled from the chair in tear with her head barely covered in stubble, Anne saw the barber look at her and say the last word in the world she wanted to hear:
Anne felt like she was living a nightmare as the barber pulled her into the chair. She saw the towel thrown over her in slow motion, and the inhuman claw of the barber grab a chunk of her beloved curls and approach them with the huge shears. Desperate, the girl screamed at the top of her lungs.
The guard was on her in an instant.
“I have a schedule to keep,” sneered the tired turnkey, as Anne suddenly realized that the guard had played out this same scene thousands of times in the past. “Now I’m going to give you a choice: we can do this now, and you can spend the next eighteen months growing it back; or I can take you in here for the same treatment once a week until you get out. You decide!”
Anne looked pathetically at the guard’s stern face, saw no alternative, and sat back gingerly in the chair.
The first loud “CHOP!” of the scissors sounded and felt to Anne like a monster clawing her heart out. The girl looked down at her lap, and saw a soft pile of red tresses grow and grow. She tried not to look in the mirror, but couldn’t help herself as the barber continued the machine-like shearing of her beloved locks
Anne thought she had felt the worst of it, but then she heard the barber click on the electric clippers with a loud “SNAP!” The girl thought that she had actually jumped out of the chair in panic, but remained seated as the dreadful humming came closer to her ears. She felt the cruel claw of the blades make their way around her scalp, and in a mere few seconds they had defoliated her entire head.
Anne opened her eyes and looked in the mirror. She almost didn’t recognize herself. Her gorgeous oval-shaped head, which was covered with a stunning mane of crimson tresses only five minutes ago, now had the appearance of a raw egg. The girl’s eyes grew wide at her new visage, and then she broke into hysterical crying.
The guard looked down at her watch, and then studied the group of shorn prisoners. The entire line looked at Anne with an almost sisterly compassion. The warden pulled the bawling girl out of the chair, and passed her to the waiting arms of a fellow prisoner. The guard then blew her whistle, and addressed the inmates:
“Next stop, uniforms. March!”