When I think on my time in prison, I only remember it in increments. Certain events stand out, like violence, perversion, and drama. Put these events together, one after the other, and you have a full week of pure and utter insanity. Take them apart and leave the puzzle of it scattered and you have reality. The time in between these events, the dull droning of the buzzing florescent lights. The cards being shuffled by stiff hands. The boredom. The payphones hung along the wall, patiently waiting to be picked up and serviced by collect calls. The t.v, cheap and cracked, speakers old and worn, blaring out classic Bollywood movies. The weekly strip searches and bunk turn overs. The damn awful food. It’s overwhelmingly monotonous, and the stillness of it can drive you to inner chaos. Honestly.
You keep yourself in check by holding onto the routine, patient, controlled. Knocking off each part of the day until night time arrives, and you’ve made it through unscathed. Hopefully.
Looking back, as I often do, if faced with my inner scars, as I am every time I sit down to write this blog. I think of the women. The gut wrenching tales I heard. The pain and hopelessness of it. That I had a future at that young age still, and many of them did not. That I was blessed, still, and that some of these women would die here. Honestly, never leave and see the day again like I would.The clouds and birds. The summer rain. An ice cream cone. That this is where their path would end, and that mine would continue on, like a young girls should. That the slamming of those metal barred doors would be one of the last sounds they would ever hear. The damn awful clanging keys. Click, lock and slam. The end.
I touch on this now, for one reason.
This one women, forever walking around in my bloody beating heart. The women, who screamed cries of desperation every night in the dark until I left that cold, concrete jungle.
I remember the moment she arrived, it was at night, which was rare and often un seen due to guard shifts and schedules. A special case, it was supposed. She came in quiet as a mouse. Fragile, tender and shaking. Her hands cut up and beaten like an underground street fighter. Her hair matted and crazed. Her eyes surrounded by swollen, black bruises. An awful sight to take in. She was so tiny too, just a little thing. No questions were asked at the time, as she was in a state, a state only the severely damaged find familiar. Her eyes darting back and forth in terror and confusion. Like a Vietnam soldier carrying the burden of war and suffering post-traumatic stress. Suffice to say we left her alone. Everyone in the dorm room walking quietly as not to disturb her. Women are still women, even if they are in jail. Our natural desire to soothe will always come up to the surface. I’m telling you, just one quick gaze at this broken soul and you’d cripple your heart.
During the night I was snapped awake by her screams. The kind of scream that stops your heart and forces you to search for a breath. Your brain looking for reasoning before your eyes have even focused. She had no idea where she was. She was terrified. Tearing at her face and hair, repeating the same sentence over and over again.
He’s dead. Where am I. He’s dead. Where am I.
Being the person I am, I rushed over to her. Sliding on my knees to the base of her bed and reaching out my hands to soothe her. To touch her and bring her back. She could not reason, or even see my face. Let alone feel my hands on hers. She was away, re-living the storm that brought her to the steps of this cold hell. My heart wrenching as I look into her bulging eyes, the eyes re-playing a movie of horrors that was her reality. Her eyes like that of a deer about to be shot, knowing it’s fate. That if it were to try to run, it would stumble and fall with the sound of the blazing rifle anyways. There was no place to reach her and pull her out. She was going to stay in that place until it was passed through her. I knew it, and was helpless. I sat there with her until she floated back to a fevered sleep. Holding her lashed and bruised hand in mine.
She slept late into the next day. I kept my eye on her, feeling a great responsibility to subdue her struggle. It was in this next day that we were able to figure out some of what had happened to her. The tale came in quips and pieces, never filling itself out in totality. To look at her was enough.
There we’re few things she had the strength to tell us, but this is what I took from it. The police had found and arrested her in the evening. She was found in a pile of blood, laying in the middle of a dingy, nasty crack house, that was her home. Her boyfriend had been stabbed to death and his body lay not far from hers. When the police found her she was unconscious, and covered in his blood. This is all she remembers. The blood, the handcuffs, the judgement. Nothing else. The police will proceed to say she was being uncooperative due to confusion on her part. Due to trauma. Her time lines were way off, who’s wouldn’t be?
I’m not saying this woman was innocent, how could I know…but, what I saw of her, in this, was a woman who genuinely had no recollection of that night, and was being tried for a murder she had no memory of committing. She cried and wailed all day… all night. Shaking and sweating. Randomly screaming and tossing her tiny body in all directions, a person having a waking nightmare. Fighting against things we could not see. Completely broken. There was nothing to be said. Trying to make her feel better seemed ignorant and almost disrespectful.
That notion setting in real deep, when I found out, not only was she standing up against murder in the first degree, but she had AIDS. Not H.IV…full blown, take you down AIDS. That her trial would take at least two years at this point, and her doctor had given her only as much as a year left on this planet. It was likely she would curl up and die in this place before she could be proven innocent, or at least knocked down to man slaughter. Just the process of acceptance on her part, to even relay the events in greater detail would take months due to her state of trauma. That even if she had hopes to set herself clean under this damned system, her body would give out on her before she could. She had a child, of whom she would talk of with a glimmer in her eye, like all parents, understanding it was likely she would never see him again, and if she did, it would be with a huge red stamp on her forehead. Murderer.
We think we have issues….
My life seemed like the country fair in comparison with hers. I pray the grace of God found her there. I pray there was a light inside of her I never knew of. I pray she carried a secret of hope I could not see. I pray there are things about life that can be overturned, and that everyone finds peace at one point. But, I know better, and accept I’m trying to fool myself with those thoughts. Those high hopes. For some people, it all ends with suffering. I carry a small guilt in me, that I can wake up and breathe everyday. That for me, it was overturned and set right. That I’m one of the lucky ones, and that for many, it’s just not the case. Please my friends, remember this. Don’t let this sad, twisted tale go without purpose. She may have been a murderer, she may have deserved that title….but no one deserves that kind of end. Remember, please, that right now, there are people staring into an oblivion they cannot control or remedy. That their plight has been carved out for them, and they have no choice but to live out this horror story. Life to them, on the other side, the forgotten side, still beats.Peering out of a cage, eyes cast down in shame and abandon. You still have life waiting for you, spread out like a canvas of opportunity. The fact that you can even decide what your going to do this beautiful Sunday…that you have choices when so many do not. That those awful stories you see on the channel six news are a reality. That the only difference between you and them is a system of choices and circumstances. So, be joyful and go grab your life. Give honour to this story today by being grateful for your freedoms…because this woman may very well have been innocent…and sucked in her last breath, in a cold barren jail trying to redeem herself…
I wish I could have done more for you.
I personally, won’t let your story, and impact on my life go wasted.
I’ll always remember your voice.
I honour you, innocent…..or not.