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For Women Only

by Cynthia Lee Ozimek

I remember as a child watching the "Andy Griffith Show," which was one of my favorites.  - - Sheriff Taylor always got the bad guys while He employed the least amount of force and showing a wealth of compassion. Once incarcerated, Aunt Bea delivered home-cooked meals to the duly imprisoned, usually accompanied by a vase with a single red rose.  - -Andy often played cards with prisoners, and Otis, the town drunk, came in and went as he pleased, depending on his level of inebriation. This was justice in small-town America and,as a child, I had dreams of becoming a police officer, that I might protect and serve in  the same manner  of "Sheriff Taylor."

It is 35 years since I dreamed of becoming a police officer. As a drug addict with a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I  had many encounters with Seattle Police Department.  Sadly, I have found  most of the officers lacking the compassion so prevalent in the town of Mayberry.   In fact, my most recent experience with the Seattle Police Department is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland after she has gone through the looking glass: up is down and right is wrong.

The story begins about 9 p.m. on July 3. - - My friend and I were on the corner of Blanchard Street and Second Avenue,just across from the office of Real Change. Another individual sold $20 worth of drugs to an undercover police officer.  - - - -Seconds later, - - - - there were police everywhere screaming, "Get down on the ground and tackling us, even before we had a chance to comprehend the orders given to us. - Once searched and handcuffed, we were told to get up and move toward the waiting police cars.

If any of you have ever been handcuffed with your hands behind your back, you have some appreciation of how difficult it is to get up on your own volition when you are face down on a cement sidewalk. Once this nearly impossible feat was accomplished, - - we were processed at the downtown precinct and taken to the King County Jail.

Even as I was processed into the jail, even as I was fingerprinted, strip-searched, given my prison garb (blue for misdemeanors, fire-engine red for felonies). Even as I was led to my "tank," I was not seriously concerned. - I had been found with no drugs on me, no drug paraphernalia. Surely I would seen be released. - - - -Thus, -- I laid in my four-by-eight foot cell, hour by hour, day by day, wondering when justice would prevail.  - - - In the interim, I "kited," (sent notes to) the jail's health staff, requesting and re-requesting the immediate implementation of my bipolar medications.

Initially, - - I was interviewed by the jail's psychiatric nurse, who went over my psychiatric history, including my medications, and assured me, that I would be receiving them in about three days  time. - -Three days came and went with no medications.  Finally, about the seventh day, I received part of my medication. The missing pharmaceutical was a drug called Seroquel. It allows me to sleep and counteracts the severe depression,   I routinely suffer as a result of bipolar disorder.  It also acts to clarify my thought processes.

 - - - -A bipolar person cannot filter out excess noise, stimulation, or interaction. Without medication, - - - - - the brain becomes overwhelmed and chaos ensues. Depression follows.  Isolation is the end result. - - - - The life of an unmedicated bipolar person is an exercise in brutal futility. You would think that the jailhouse medical staff would realize this, - and provide prisoners with proper psychiatric  medication. - - It would make for a more secure, peaceful environment for them and their wards.

Finally, - on the 10th day of incarceration, I was given a subtherapuetic dose of Seroquel. - - A psychiatrist who had never seen me decided to cut back most of my medications. Despite repeated "kites," and interventions from my prescribing physician and my attorney's office, my medications were never restored.

As for my case, despite the fact that I had no drugs or related paraphernalia, I was charged with "delivery of narcotics" under the Washington State Uniform Controlled Substances Act.  Apparently, anyone within the vicinity of narcotics who might possibly be aware of those narcotics, -  can be held under the same charges as the person who is caught with the drugs in question.

When my attorney told me this, I shook my head in disbelief. - I told him that I would fight it, would go to trial.  - - He stated that the county prosecutor's office would then add the charge of delivering drugs in a school zone (any metro bus stop can be considered a school zone), - which would get me years in the state prison system. - - So the prosecutor's office would punish my attempt to protect myself by piling on other drug-related offenses.  It was then that I realized I had gone from Seattle through Alice's looking glass.   Right was wrong and up was down.

On August 8, 2001, I was released from the county jail on my own recognizance. Releasing a homeless person on their own recognizance is almost unheard of in the King County justice system.  - -The assumption is that a homeless person has no roots within the community and is, thus, a dangerous flight risk.  - - - - This is particularly ludicrous to me as, of all people, the homeless cannot readily board flights to Tahiti or Russia or Katmandu -  - - -if we could, most of us would not be homeless in the first place.

My trial was scheduled to begin in September. While I realize I am far from an innocent,  I can't help but wonder if the people's monies and the government's time might be better served, n capturing and prosecuting rapists, bank robbers and people who cause bodily harm to others.

It is my experience that the vast majority of people in the King County Jail are there because, like myself, they are adept at causing the most harm to them-selves by way of drugs, homelessness, and abusive relationships.  - - I believe society's interests (and pocketbooks) would be much better served by promoting alternatives to incarceration such as drug and alcohol treatment.  Regardless of what happens to me, I tell you this one thing with absolute assurity: I will never look at "The Andy Griffith Show" in the same light again.

Cynthia Lee Ozimek is a poet who lives, works, and plays in the Belltown section of Seattle. 

I share with you the story of the four unknown women in remembrance of their lives.  I'm sure to most people they were nothing but the scum of the earth.  - I may not have known them personally,  but I can certainly identify with parts of their lives.  I don't care how they made their living,  nor the about the fact they used drugs --- precious, sensitive souls unable to deal with the cards dealt them  - - -  pain became intolerable for them, but not one of them deserved the kind of  death they received.  I  want to pay tribute to them through Cynthia's write up. It could have been any of us --   The Director

Violence and drugs walked with of the four unknown women whose lives were ended by Gary Ridgway. I know, because I’ve been there.

by Cynthia Lee Ozimek

November 5, I was one of many Seattleites — and, in fact, many Americans — who sat transfixed in front of their televisions and bore witness to the lethal revelations of confessed serial killer Gary Ridgway. - - - - As King County Deputy Sheriff Dave Reichert read off the names of the 48 women strangled over the course of the past twenty  years, a poignant myriad of emotions and memories rose up within me as  vividly as if,in each acknowledged confession,I could actually see the importunate and violated eyes of each prostitute pleading, in the last moments of their lives, for a brief moment of munificence, a fledgling sense of compassion, a simple human consideration they had seldom if ever known.

In life, for the most part, most of the women who were strangled by Ridgway were wholly anonymous to the society in which they lived. They were the women whose families had, for better or for worse, given up one them. They were the alcoholics and drug addicts whose unchecked disease led them to the alleys and the under-passes and streets that sought through  violence  and  abandonment  to  eviscerate them. They were the teenage girls who, in the process of fleeing incest and abuse, ran straight into the unholy arms of a society, a people,and, ultimately, a man who sought to silence them by any and all means.

Most difficult for me to accept, in listening to Ridgway’s monotone machinations of death, was his opinion of the women he murdered.  He targeted addicts, street -prostitutes, and runaways  because he correctly ascertained they would not readily be missed, and that not much effort would be generated on the part of the justice system to locate the man who asphyxiated them, built pyramids of stone inside of their dead bodies, who molested them even as they lay absent of their last breaths, on the banks of the Green River and along the borders of a few remote hinterlands anonymously spread throughout western Washington.

Several months ago, when I first began to think, - - about writing an article on the subject of homeless women, drug addiction, and prostitution, - - I spent many an agonizing hour in emotional and psychological consideration of how intimately I would connect myself to the story I felt compelled to tell.  Would I write about the many females I have known over the months and years of my homelessness, who have earned the money, for their various addictions,  in the context of paid sexual favors — those women seen ducking in and out of doorways along Fifth Avenue in Bell town in an effort to flaunt their human wares while at the same time remaining unseen by the Seattle Police Department?

Would I write about a specific woman, such as a beautiful blond-haired and blue-eyed woman I know who, despite a generosity of heart and a willingness to help almost anyone, most recently had her jaw broken,  by the man to whom she had pledged her unfailing and ill fated allegiance? Would I, could I, for the first time, acknowledge my own intimate connection with those women whose names and  deaths were read out loud to a sea of cameras and microphones spread through-out the cold marbled halls of the King County Courthouse?

In the final analysis,  I am writing today, in memory not of the women, - who were represented in death with their given names, - whose families came finally to their side, but to recognize one of Ridgway’s nameless victims of murder,known simply as Jane Doe # 10, and to give testament to my own experience, as an addict, as an homeless women, and as someone who, at one time, could have easily been one of Ridgway’s victims.

I have had a lot in common with Jane Doe # 10.  - = I was born to a family that was both educated and reasonably affluent. When I was 9, a combination of alcoholism and physical illness took my mother, who both was an opera singer and a classical pianist.  My father, an artist turned steelworker, - by economic necessity, died of a broken heart, unable to fathom a life without his partner. In the years following my mother’s death, I witnessed his horrifying descent into depression and alcoholism.

As a child, I remember innumerable nights from age 9 to 13 that I left our home, now an inner-city tenement, and sat outside in the bitter Pennsylvania winter air, alone and undone because I could no longer listen to the sounds of his tears, his nonsensical verbal rambling and his equally untenable rage.

My older sister, seeking flight from our family’s disintegration by way of narcotics, was addicted to heroin by age 15 and dead by her own hand at the age of 28.   My brother, everal years older,was both unipolar, and an alcoholic. Through physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, after the death of my mother, both my  brother  and my father attempted to “save me.” Finally, at age twelve, I ran away, hitchhiking from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles.

Eventually,  I was caught, charged with “status offenses,” (crimes such as truancy and being a runaway, for which no adult could be convicted) and shipped backed to Pennsylvania . By the time I was emancipated at seventeen, I had been in count -less number of both foster homes and institutions.

The end result was twofold. Since I had been misused, abused, lied to, and preyed upon in countless ways by both the men and the women who were my designated “protectors,” I trusted absolutely no one. Just prior to my 18th birthday, I ingested an entire bottle of barbiturates and very nearly killed myself. At 28, far from the hills of Pennsylvania and those horrific years after my mother’s death, I again became severely depressed. It was then that I was dually diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and chemical addiction.  It has been a long road back to myself since falling into both mental illness and drug addiction. I would like to tell you I have come wholly into my own, that I have taken all that I could from my battered childhood and turned myself into a stalwart, independent and resilient individual. Which is accurate. But like Jane Doe # 10, I am most often the victim of my own ingrained sense of self-destruction.

Just as I would imagine,  of Jane Doe # 10, in the days and the years, prior to her murder, there is not one day that passes without my wondering , how the people who said they loved me,  could also be those men and women who most tortured me. Like Jane Doe, after years of neglect and abuse, I had so often and so deftly been brutalized I was unable to forge any meaningful and committed relationships with anybody.

Instead of putting myself in a position to be hurt again in an intimate relationship, and in the interest of supporting my burgeoning drug addiction, I turned towards prostitution. On my best days, with an abundance of money and power, I felt as if I had turned the table on anyone, who might possibly scale the walls, I had built a-round my vulnerable self. On my most cumbersome nights, I felt as empty and as gray as the worst Seattle winter, having neither my self-respect nor any safe har-bor.

Adding to my sense of isolation then was my sexual orientation as a gay woman. I felt I could tell absolutely no one about the lifestyle I was living, without swift  and absolute rejection.  My gay sisters would certainly alienate me. Society would con-demn me.  In my soul, despite assuming the control of my body, for whatever pur-pose I chose, I was again the child abandoned by all and anyone who cared about me.  And I did all of this to myself, in the name of self preservation.

I do not know exactly who Jane Doe # 10 is.  - I do not know her name, nor where she was born, nor what motivated her towards her inclination to also “control her destiny.” I do not know Jane Doe # 10,   but I see her each night in the nightmares born of a past I will never forget, and the memories of those childhood antagonists I am still unable to forgive. - - - I see Jane Doe each night I walk through Belltown, tucked into darkened corners bereft of any attachments,other than those narcotics, those drinks, that will allow her to forget the people who stole her trust, who raped her or beat her or who simply and systematically neglected her.

I see Jane Doe in the unforgiving eyes, of all those women, who walk around and around the Border of Denny Park, along Jackson Street, and International District, searching for yet another hit of crack, another shot of heroin, just  another Dollar Bill with which to escape themselves, for just a moment at any and all costs. - I do not know Jane Doe, but she is a part of all of our souls, the fabric of all of us who have hurt, by those who bore us, ho swore to love us, and who failed at each and every turn to protect us. I want Jane Doe # 10 to know that,  if only in death, one child, one woman, one kindred soul remembers and cries solely, finally for her; she will not be forgotten.   

Updated:  September 22, 2005         Compiled and Edited By: Deborah Shrira