FREDONIA, Ky. – rules were relaxed, she didn't have to work and the staff was familiar.
"It was more like a family setting," said Quarels, who is serving 20 years for murder and arson in Jefferson County.
That setting came to an end at the Otter Creek Correctional Complex after a sex scandal involving prisoners and guards at the Corrections Corporation of America-owned prison, which pushed the state to relocate hundreds of female inmates 377 miles away to the state-run Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia.
At first, it seemed all that needed to be done were things like swapping out urinals with toilets and retrofitting showers to accommodate women. However, it's turned into a more complex and stressful adjustment. The complex is a prison farm — and now that women are the ones working, inmates and officials are having to adapt to new rules and a new reality.
"It's been an experience," said 36-year-old Tracy Arthur of Ashland, who is serving seven years for manslaughter and works on the prison farm. "Those of us who had been at Otter Creek for a while, we didn't do much. Therefore we had to learn to get up and move a lot more."
Kentucky ordered female inmates moved from Otter Creek in January after news of the scandal, which included widespread allegations that several of the mostly male corrections officers had sex with inmates. Some were charged criminally.
Western Kentucky Correctional Complex budgeted about $590,000 for renovations, with work continuing in some areas through the summer. The early work consisted, in large part, of plumbing changes and trying to hire more female corrections officers. Officials wanted more than half the staff to be women.
The first female inmates arrived in April. A group of about 200 male inmates were still housed in minimum security outside the razor-wire fencing of the main prison complex until June.
Corn, soybeans and hay are grown on the 2,450-acre prison grounds in part to feed about 200 cattle kept there. Inmates grew 70,000 bushels of corn in 2009, using 10,000 to 15,000 bushels to feed the cattle, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Lamb said. The rest sold at market for about $3 a bushel, putting about $30,000 profit into the state's general fund.
Lamb said the inmates were moved to Western Kentucky Correctional Complex, even though it had no history of housing women, because of its size. There wasn't enough space for them at local jails or the other all-female prison in the state, Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women near Louisville.
The western Kentucky prison stands in stark contrast to Otter Creek, which sits on the side of a mountain, with no farming, limited recreational space and almost no views from the yard.
"We just have a lot of room, a lot of room to breathe," said 39-year-old Stephanie Spitser, who is serving life in prison for murder and kidnapping.
But the open space came with restrictions the inmates weren't used to — regular head counts, strict uniform regulations and mandates that inmates show up for work on the farm. Quarels said the inmates call it "boot camp."
And there are small differences — the women don't get the deodorant and shampoo they had before and don't have a hair stylist — that are disheartening to some inmates.
Warden Bryan Henson acknowledged that officials didn't factor in some accommodations for the switch from men to women. Male inmates generally weren't concerned about their hair or how old they look, he said. Not so with the new inmates, said Henson, who is serving as a warden for women inmates for the first time.
"Gray hair is not a positive for them," Henson said of the female inmates. "They get stressed out. That was definitely something new for us."
Staff members also described their new charges as more curious than male inmates, requiring more explanation when they take on a new job.
"You find an answer, that leads to another 15 or 20 questions," said corrections officer Lisa Adams, one of the new hires at the prison. "They are very inquisitive."
Working the farm — driving tractors, tending to crops, raising animals — has been a learning experience for many of the women.
"There's not a lot of us that have done anything," said 35-year-old Lorrie Johnson of Danville, who is serving five years for theft and drug trafficking.
Former Otter Creek inmates now at Western Kentucky Correctional Complex called the eastern Kentucky prison a more relaxed but chaotic environment. The inmates said the once-friendly staff started keeping inmates at a distance and seemed to enforce rules randomly after the sex allegations arose.
Inmates interviewed by The Associated Press during a recent tour of the Fredonia prison blamed the scandal on prisoners trading sexual favors for privileges or looking for reasons to file lawsuits.
"There was an agenda behind it, not that it was OK for a staff member to do that," Spitser said.
The Hawaii Department of Corrections removed 165 inmates from the prison in 2009, citing safety concerns. Several inmates have sued the prison company, saying they were sexually assaulted. Those lawsuits are pending.
The last female inmates should transfer to the western Kentucky prison by September for a population of 693, which gives prison officials more time to make changes before the facility is full, Henson said.
Long-term inmates like Spitser said the there is a learning curve to adjusting — picking battles wisely and not objecting to every rule.
"I think it's going to be all right," Spitser said. "I think things can turn around for us."