Pitch: Juana, a 17-year-old immigrant, goes to prison and if she can’t keep the custody of her baby, she’ll lose her reason for living but first she has to survive the staff and inmates.
First 500 words:
My handcuff rattled against the window. A girl sat next to me, another behind me, our wrists tied to the bottom of the windows like goats going to market. The van crept down the street and sped up the freeway ramp the metal rings bouncing against the glass.
We came to a sudden stop when I slid forward until the chain yanked me back into my seat. I slapped my free hand over my lips. A flood of sour saliva traveled over my tongue. The girl next to me scrunched up her nose, her lips curled against crooked teeth.
“You’d better not barf.” She leaned away. Blue-black letters rose from the bottom of her neck, WF 13. Her cropped black hair reminded me of my father until she twisted her body to face me. Her chin up in the air. ”What’re you lookin’ at paisa?”
Her sharp tone made me catch my breath. I glanced out of the window into the morning mist and tried to stay calm. The girl banged on the mesh divider between us and the officers.
“She’s gonna barf, gimme a towel or somethin’.”
With each blow against the screen, my body squeezed itself smaller.
“Knock it off Gonzales. Ivanov, take this.” The officer pushed a wad of paper towels through the opening in the partition.
Behind me, a soft voice whispered, “You okay?” The girl’s skin was the color of piloncillo, the raw sugar cones used to make Mexican chocolate. “Me llamo Mariana,” she said in Spanish.
“Me llamo Juana,” I said. Her words surprised but comforted me. I flattened myself against the window, far away from the tattooed girl whose eyes darted between the both of us.
“Should be mouse, the way you’re shaking.” Gonzales lowered her eyebrows at me before her eyes shifted to Mariana, long enough to believe we were both in danger.
“What is your name?” I asked. Her narrowed eyes traveled from my face to my feet and back before she answered.
She spat out a strange name and turned away. I wanted to ask her what it meant but I studied the sunlight poking through the evaporating haze instead. Jester reminded me of what one of the girls at Center Juvenile Hall said before I left. There would be many tattooed girls at San Bueno Correctional; girls who fought in gangs, girls who smiled at you and hurt you five minutes later. Keeping safe was not only for my own sake but for my daughter’s. The thought of what lay ahead made my stomach churn.
The van accelerated up a small rise. My handcuff clicked against the window like tapping fingers. Concrete walls and towering chain-link fences came into view. My chest tightened. A sign on the gate read, “Inmate Processing.” We were closer. The officer turned onto another road where the tires dipped and bumped, stirring up clouds of dirt.With each bouncing movement, I smelled my fear. Dust and sweat, panic and dread. I felt dizzy.