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Girls in Jail
It’s Monday afternoon, August 1, 1949, at The Fox theater in Hutchinson, Kansas. Mrs. Sheriff, Ruth Graves Dixon, 54; and her sister, Charline Graves Allison, 60; are talking prior to the start of the picture show, The Barkleys of Broadway, staring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
“How’s the jail treating you?” asked Charline, as she crunched her buttery popcorn.
“After two-and-a-half years, I still surprise myself,” answered Ruth, sipping her Coca-Cola.
“How so?” inquired Ruth.
“The trips with Walt, picking up prisoners around the country, are always a traveling adventure, but I never pictured myself in charge of inmates or supervising the jail’s kitchen, especially for four years.”
“You’ve handled it well,” said Charline. “I might have been in your shoes when George was elected sheriff if the county commissioners hadn’t denied him the courthouse apartment where Ed Cunningham lived.”
“The girls grow on me,” said Ruth. “When you get up close and personal, you see the person, not the crime. I get to watch them work. If I didn’t have a helper peeling the vegetables, washing the dishes, and doing all the cleanup work, I wouldn’t have time to sew and go to picture shows.”
“It does them good to work,” said Charline. “George said that when the prisoners are idle, they’re more trouble.”
“That’s true, and when they’re proud of an accomplishment it helps them feel better about who they are.”
“If you had a piano in the jail, I’ll bet you’d be giving music lessons!” Charline joked.
“We have a cute little colored girl who is a good worker and does the ironing. She was brought to jail after she stole $200 from a home where she worked. After taking the money, she hurried down to the bus depot and purchased a ticket for Oklahoma City. She told me that she just knew the police would be there when she got off the bus. And sure enough—they were there to grab her and put her in jail.”
“Are you too close to these young women?” asked Charline. “You talk about them all the time.”
“You sound like Walt. Don’t be silly. It’s not like I’m handing them keys to escape. Instead, I’m trying to give them keys to success. There’s nothing wrong with being friendly.”
“Remember, they wouldn’t be locked up if they weren’t criminals,” said Charline.
“I taught another colored girl to crochet. Seven months after she was released, she came back for a visit to show me a box of articles she had crocheted for her hope chest. She was getting married soon. She was so proud of them.”
“If your children lived in town, you’d enjoy them,” said Charline.
“I think of them all the time, but their visits are rare since they live so far away. I do enjoy the company of the girls in jail. The other day, a 19-year-old asked me for some crochet thread, saying she wanted to make something for me. A few days later, she presented me with a beautiful doily.
“There are so many stories,” continued Ruth. “A young, 14-year-old girl had run away from home because she couldn’t get along with her stepfather. After we told the girl her mother was notified to come pick her up, she asked if she could stay with me as she much preferred living in jail than at home.”
“Sometimes step-fathers are pretty strict,” said Charline.
“And sometimes they touch their step-daughters inappropriately,” said Ruth.
“Did she tell you that?” asked Charline.
“No, but for whatever reason, some of these girls feel helpless. It could be from mistreatment. They believe that any choice they make—good or bad—won’t make a difference in their future. One reason they attach themselves to me is because they’re hungry for protection and care. They fear being abandoned, dominated, or betrayed.”
“They trust you, Ruth.”
“Yes, and Walt has warned me to be careful and not trust them. But, let’s stop talking about the jail. I’m ready to get lost in this musical-comedy.”
“It will be good to see Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing again as partners,” said Charline. “This is their tenth movie together, and their first one filmed in technicolor.”
“Is it true that Ginger Rogers is getting her third divorce?” asked Ruth.
“I haven’t heard that, but in this film her character has marital problems because her husband’s always critiquing her, telling her how to improve her performance on stage.”
“Most men I know have more patience for fishing and hunting than they do with people,” said Ruth, “I know that early in this movie Dinah Barkley separates from her husband because she resents his superior attitude.”
“Ruthie, don’t ruin the movie for me!”
“Charline, one last thing about the girls. Our parents were always supportive of us and gave us opportunities to excel. I’m trying to convince the girls that better choices make a better life.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.