Ours was the third barrack. Made of precast concrete parts and painted white, it looked exactly like barrack No. 2 or 4, save for the black “3” above the entrance. Inside, it offered a single big room; bunk beds, chests, showers in a separated area at the far end. One table with chairs. Full Metal Jacket, anyone?
Ten other girls who had arrived the day before us had already been habituated to barrack No. 3. Right now they were performing laundry duty, but since this would be my abode for the next ninety days, I would surely find an opportunity to befriend them. I’m all about making friends.
“Your stuff goes into the chests, all of it. The chest at the foot end belongs to the person sleeping in the lower bunk, the chest at the head to the one in the upper. Within you find a description of how to stow your gear. The chests will be inspected every evening and on random occasions.”
Miss Cuntling was pacing the aisle off, wrists tightly crossed behind her back, gently tapping her crop against the nape of her neck in the rhythm of her steps.
“The chests cannot be locked. If something gets stolen, the thief will be disciplined. If the thief can’t be found, all of you will be disciplined.”
Being last and an odd number, I got a bunk bed for my own plus the upper bunk. As ordered, all my worldly possessions I didn’t wear on my body went into the chest. The description I found for that was indeed exhaustive, down to a scheme of how to fold a shirt into an exact A4 format.
The hours had summed up since our arrival in the morning, and midday had arrived. Lunchtime. I held the unalterable opinion that the “dishes” I had come across in pre-trial custody had been meant to be premature punishment, so my hopes weren’t too high when entering the mess hall. Adding my half-group, there were about forty detainees present, not including the ones on kitchen duty. Yet the mess could easily hold trice as much. When building that camp, they had thought prime time, to be sure.
“Take your places according to your numbers, no talking,” one of the guards grunted as we were waiting in queue at the counter, armed with empty plastic trays.
Truth be told, the food was way better than what had been served at the remand centre. The reason for this might be found in the fact that the staff ate basically the same meals, as I learnt later. Running on 30% utilisation, it was just uneconomical to cook for staff and inmates separately. As our lunch was light, I reckoned supper to be the day’s main meal.
Two male guards were walking the aisles between the long tables, and the only noises that disturbed the stern silence were the clanking of cutlery on dishes and the occasional harsh rebuke concerning etiquette:
“Fork left, knife right!”
Whilst I was munching, my seatmate just pecked half-heartedly at her food. 1316 was the party girl type; bleached blonde and with a bust size of questionable authenticity. It appeared she didn’t take her new environment too well.
“Oi! Eat.” I whispered
“I’m not hungry.”
“Seriously, eat,” I insisted, for I had a gut feeling. The speed the other inmates were eating with hadn’t gone unnoticed by me.
“Uh-uh. Besides, it’s not vegan.”
“Suit yourself,” I scoffed.
I finished right in time, because the moment I swallowed the last gulp of water from my plastic cup, the two guards began to bellow in canon.
“Cutlery down! Arse up!”
“You there! Put the fuckin’ fork down!”
“You, too, ponewo!”
Chair legs scratched in panic across the still new-smelling linoleum, and forty-plus young adult offenders stood in attention before their plates.
“What is that?!” one of the guard yelled at me from across the table.
I was so befuddled by the blatant malevolence in his voice that it took me some seconds to realise he wasn’t shouting at me, but at Sixteen.
“What is going on here?!” demanded the second guard, closing in from my right.
“1316 isn’t hungry!”
“Aren’t you hungry, 1316?!”
Sixteen, who was already close to tears, only stammered unintelligibly. The two men, however, considered her stuttering a motivation to investigate further into the culinary aspects of this incident, obviously taking great sports in shouting down a girl half their size.
“Huh?! Is our food not good enough for you?!”
“You don’t like your lunch, you don’t like your supper either!”
“No supper for you! Got that, blondie?!”
Now addressing all newcomers, the first guard granted himself some worthy closing words.
“You eat whatever dished out, and in the time you get!”
For reasons beyond me he was now yelling at me indeed – at least I got that impression as my face was sprinkled with his saliva.
“Is that clear, you ponewos?!”
“Yes, sir!” all of us ponewos replied in unison.
Later I was informed by an elder inmate as to what a ponewo was: person of negligible worth – a real self-esteem booster, that.