It is almost thirty years since Operation Rescue, the largest civil rights movement in the history of our nation, was in full sway. People are alive today who were “rescued” back then when other people sat down and prayed in front of abortion mills. I remember some of the happenings in the following letter but I did not know the letter existed until now and I was going through some old papers. When Dolores and I went to King of Prussia, PA, and on to Paoli, PA, back in July of 1989 we were apparently helped by Pat and Jack. I’m glad I thought to thank them because I’m able to post at this late date what it was like for one day in West Chester County Prison way back in 1989. ┬áIn 1989 I was 66.

October 18, 1989

Dear Pat and Jack,

Dolores and I want so much to thank both of you and Mrs. Toland for your kindness in putting us up overnight and shepherding us through the “going to jail” procedure. It is so true that when we follow the Lord he gives us many more brothers and sisters and we are blessed many times over. All told, it was a truly great experience and we would not have missed it. Actually, while we were glad to get out into the pouring rain we would have liked to have stayed longer to get to know better some of the other inmates. Because you did not know exactly what we would encounter in jail, I am going to try to get down some of it for the benefit of potential future inhabitants of that fine facility known as Chester County Prison (but I can only speak for the female side.)

First off, there were about 30 women and 800 men housed, of course, separately. When we entered we were patted down and then filled out intake papers, name, age, sex, pregnant?, on medication?, suicidal?, etc., etc. Then they loaded us down with two sheets, a scraggly but clean blanket, white T shirt, green overshirt and pants, and we went upstairs to our cell — about 7 x 9 feet with a barred door, toilet, sink, bunk beds, desk and seat, all quite firmly bolted in place, plus a window that looked out over a roof but also let in fresh air and we could see trees, fields, birds and sky. We then went down the hall where we stripped and were again searched (open your mouth, lift up your boobs, turn around, bend over and cough, show me the soles of your feet.) That done, our head hair and our pubic hair were sprayed with some smelly stuff and we were given a bar of soap to shower hair and body. (It seemed to me a rather perfunctory delousing — I doubt that procedure would have killed anything.) We were allowed to put on our own underwear, socks, and sneakers, and then the prison apparel. Then to lunch. We were late for lunch but they had saved us two hot dogs, bread, baked beans, chicken noodle soup, juice and milk. We could easily get fat on prison fare! I forgot to mention that we had not brought in combs and toothbrushes and they didn’t issue any so our hair looked pretty unkempt for the 24 hours we were in jail. We were told we could have brought these things in with us.

After a brief period locked in our cell we went to the day room (same as dining room) where the other girls were playing cards and watching TV. (Do I recall that you folks supplied the games? They had chess and checkers and cards and seemed to prefer playing cards to watching TV.) They also had MTV which Dolores thought was not a good idea as she terms it “provocative.” I plan to write a letter very soon to one of the girls I was able to talk with who won’t be getting out until next March. Some have been there two years or more. They were friendly and eventually invited us to join in a game of Rummy. One girl, Karen, came over and introduced herself, saying that she had robbed a bank last week.

Supper was chicken salad, bread, macaroni salad, iced tea, celery and carrot sticks, pickles, and a huge piece of chocolate cake. After supper were asked if we would like to go to the library, which we declined, having brought reading material in with us. Then came an interview with the nurse’s assistant with blood pressure, pulse, temperature, medical history, have you been in jail before? (they said lots of us answered “Atlanta”) and we were told they were going to take our blood to test for venereal disease. I asked if they did HIV and they said no. They never did get around to taking our blood!

Then back to the dayroom until 11 PM. (if you wish) and then lights out. You have no control over the light in your room, an overhead light that goes on at 5:30 A.M. whether you like it or not, out during the day, and then on again until 11 P,M. Some time on the first day, I forget exactly when, we went downstairs to have our pictures taken, with our prison number, and fingerprints (more than you could imagine they could possibly need). And so to sleep.

After breakfast the next day (pancakes and syrup, cereal, coffee, milk – you are allowed 20 minutes to eat a meal and only a spoon to eat it with. Then they brought the cleaning stuff around. I had thought the windows in our cell were mighty clean and now I knew why. Twice a week you wash down your door, dry mop the floor and then wet mop it, brush out and sanitize the toilet, scrub the sink and Windex the windows. Good clean place! No vermin! Next came the opportunity to go out in the yard for two hours (on bad days one goes to the gym) . Big yard, nice grass, basketball and baseball for those so inclined, or just walk or jog around. It started to rain so we came back to the dayroom where we were again patted down. A black girl cried out, “That greyhaired lady has a hacksaw! She asked me if I had found one. I told her I couldn’t but I had tried.

In between all of these things I had time to read a book. I plan to write to my fellow inmates very soon. Somehow, deep down, it was a very good experience and we are richer for it. They let us out promptly at 11 A.M. the second day. The trip home through New York traffic at rush hour was harder to take than jail.

God bless you all and your work. May you grow and multiply. What do you think of Hugo in Charleston, Jerry in Galveston, and the San Francisco earthquake while we were cussing out the New York traffic? What is this world coming to?


Dorothy Vining

P.S. They have a black chaplain whose last name is Christmas.

P.P.S. The C.O.s were decent and professional. None was obnoxious or unkind.