My husband David and I recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. I’d been married before (a lot) and no one said it would ever last. But I made a promise that no matter what, we would work things out. No more divorce. Little did we know what was in store and how much would have to be worked out, including a seven year prison separation. So this anniversary really meant something.
That seven years was very hard, very, very hard. The day we learned that we would once again be free together is one we will never forget. As I was waiting to hear if David would be granted his parole, I wrote this and we agreed it was time to share it. With particular thanks to Carolyn, Dianne, Eleanore and Will, Renee, Katie and Brandon from the Justice Project who made that journey for us.
“The weather has changed. I’m sitting between 1600 and 1645 West Jefferson in a courtyard next to a rock garden made by inmates. The sign says “Inmate Break Area.” Appropriate since I’m an ex-inmate. I’ve seen the girls in orange at a distance and I’m hoping to speak to them, to hear how things are and to give them hope.
The breeze wraps around me, feeling heavenly. It’s not a summer blast furnace breeze. It’s a real fall is in the air breeze. It’s only going to be 99º today. After months of 112 º, that is a cool front.
Why am I here? It’s David’s parole board. Everyone we care about has made the early morning trek for us. Will and Eleanore, Diane and Carolyn are here, and now Renee has joined the group. I’m deeply moved. They are all so busy, yet they’ve come to speak for David. Add Katie Puzauska and Brandon Keim to the mix. They represent the Justice Project. Never has David had such support. Only he is not here. He is in Tucson and will be on the phone. They won’t be able to see his eyes or his heart.
And I’m not there. I’m outside in the courtyard. They don’t want to see me. They don’t want to hear how I’m doing. They seek to separate us now. They link us with the crime and want to keep us apart in the interest of public safety. In their eyes, we could reoffend.
Maybe in their eyes, but never in ours. The thought of losing my freedom terrifies me. Every tiny treat and glorious luxury is heavenly. The freedom to eat what I want, sleep in a real bed, see the world without fences are all huge blessings.
While I sit here with the breeze in my hair and the sun on my face, I think of my husband. He, too, feels the breeze and the sun, but the barbed wire taints it in a subtle way that’s indescribable to someone who’s never lived inside.
Today he will sit in his COIII’s office with a phone glued to his ear while he listens to the parole board as they slowly peel his skin away. They will do their best to create an atmosphere of negativity and failure.
Recently I heard from an inmate at Perryville who’d just been to the board. She said she realized now why I always came back from the board devastated and it took me several days to get over the trauma of the appearance. She said if everything the parole board said was true, she was a monster and didn’t deserve to live. That is exactly how it was for me. No matter what good you’ve done; no matter how useful; it does not matter. There is great cruelty in that. It removes all hope and puts an enormous barrier in front of you. Only the super strong can find the energy to try to surmount it. The average person just doesn’t have the strength.
Since I’ve been free, I’ve encountered amazing barriers. Honestly, it hurts. With tears flowing, I’ve wanted desperately to get in the fetal position. (I call it going fetal.) But I don’t. I know it is a waste of time. I gather my strength, take a huge deep breath and put one foot in front of the other. Like all of life, it’s a choice but sometimes it takes all my strength to make it. There are places I can’t work or live. There is insurance I can’t get. Daily I’m surprised with new restrictions.
It makes me wonder about those without that strength. I met so many at Perryville who’s had hope and strength beaten out of them. Their eyes were hollow and their hearts were crushed. They had such dreadful lives. I’ve listened to their stories and as the tears slid down their faces, mine would join theirs in shared grief.
They’ve made some bad choices, but, you know, it’s hard to make good choices when someone is beating you senseless and telling you you’re a worthless piece of shit. When you’re ten years old or even younger, choice seems like a foreign word from another language and another world.
I am so blessed. I have optimism in my DNA. I have an inner strength and hope and faith from God. When things are the darkest, the tiniest light comes from God. Sometimes it’s only a pin prick of a beam, but it’s enough to keep me going.
Today is a day I will hang on to the light. I long for David’s release. I see us walking hand in hand through the park, cooking meals together, cleaning and gardening. I long to walk down the aisles of Fry’s together, shopping and planning our meals. Drudgery for some, luxury for us.
The parole board will make a choice. They will release him or not. I am ever hopeful that my visions will come true sooner than later but if it doesn’t, I will not lose hope or faith. I may want to go fetal, but I won’t. I will never give up.
I know who we are. I know what we’ve done and not done. I know what we will do and will not do. It’s all about choices and I know we will make the right ones.
As I sit in this soft fall breeze, I think of David and I think of the women I’ve left behind. I write for me and I write for them. Make the right choices and never, never, never give up. It’s good advice for everyone…inside or out.
PS. Just as I finished that last sentence, Dianne and Carolyn came running around the corner, arms in the air, beaming, screaming. “He made it. It was unanimous!!” As they threw their arms around me, my knees buckled and we sobbed together in joy. He made it. My husband is coming home.”