Sofia is sentenced to twelve years in jail for striking the white mayor and "sassing" the mayor's wife. The mayor's wife, impressed by how clean Sofia's children are, offers Sofia a job as a maid. Sofia responds with an unambiguous "Hell no." The mayor slaps Sofia for what he perceives to be her insolence, and in response, Sofia "knock[s] the man down." For that retaliatory strike, Sofia pays with twelve years of her life.
After Sofia strikes the mayor, the police arrive. The police proceed to mercilessly beat Sofia. They "crack her skull, they crack her ribs," and they continue beating her until she is "just about the color of an eggplant."
While in jail Sofia is put to work in the laundry. She spends fifteen hours every day washing clothes and sheets. Sofia does this for eleven and a half years, and she tries her best in this time to be a model prisoner. Harpo suggests that perhaps she might get out early for good behavior, but Sofia tells him that "good behavior ain't good enough for them," meaning the prison officers. Being in jail for nearly twelve years of course takes its toll on Sofia. She says that while she is in jail she "dream(s) of murder," not only when she is asleep but also while she is awake.