End of the Line Chapter

End of the Line: A Reminiscence by Miriam Moskowitz from her book, “Phantom Spies, Phantom Justice”

She said her name was “Liliana” but the guards called her just plain “Lily.” She said she wasn’t picked up for drugs, as were many of the women who landed here that summer of 1951. “Here” was the Federal Reformatory for Women in West Virginia – when I, too, was a “guest” of that institution.

Entrance, Alderson Federal Prison

The traditional darby was that if the FBI – and not the local police – picked you up for a drug-related crime you knew you were going to do time, but you got better food at a federal institution and they didn’t push you around so much. Or put their hands all over you, or make ugly remarks, or slip into your cell at night with a promise they’d let you go in the morning if you didn’t squawk. But life was never like those local goons promised, the women said.

She was a pretty woman underneath all that make-up, you could see that, but her pale, round face sometimes seemed vexed with ghostly memories. Her frequent expressions of apprehension alternated with a breezy false confidence and it betrayed less worldliness than she may have wanted you to think she had. She kept patting her graying hair – now streaked with fading, bottled yellow – as though for reassurance – although she was as well turned out as any newly arrived prisoner could be who had just been through a humiliating arrest procedure.

Lower Quad, Alderson Federal Prison

Her lumpy frame, all five feet of it suggested a personal timing somewhere between the late thirties and defiant middle-age. But it was her manner that set her up for trouble – it was “elegant” when elegance among us got you relentless ridicule. She minced her words, she sounded at times like a transplanted foreigner, English upper class perhaps, but then she would forget and lapse into down-home regional speech so you knew she was faking. The women dubbed her, “Lady Lily” and she wasn’t laying out her life for anyone. Odd, I thought; what secrets was she hiding?