Recently, Sunshine and I went to the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex to visit a friend of ours. Normally, when we go visit our friend, we stay at our friend’s house. This time, when we texted our friend that we were getting near, he texted back an address and told us to meet him there. We got there, and it was a hotel. See, our friend’s house was on the market, staged and ready for an open house early the next morning and he didn’t want us to have to feel rushed to leave, so he put us up in a hotel.
Now, our friend is one of those “go big or go home” kind of people. Well, maybe “live life out loud” or “live life at high speed” or something would be more like it, but whatever–the point is, our friend believes in living life to the fullest. And because he knows that we live in a tiny house on wheels, he couldn’t just get us a hotel room. He had to go and get us a suite, with a living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom that on its own was bigger than our whole living room, kitchen and dining area combined. The living room and bedroom each had one entire wall made up of windows overlooking the city to the south, and to a city girl like me, the view was stunning.
Sunshine, our dog Mollie, and our friend took off to do whatever it is they do when they hang out–probably fossil hunting or some other grand adventure. I went shopping, as my ass has grown too big for my pants or my pants have shrunken too small for my backside, and there are just so many good stores in the DFW metroplex.
I got done shopping (in a surprisingly short amount of time) and returned to the hotel. After taking my purchases out of their bags and packing them in my luggage, I surveyed the living room area of our suite. There was this cute little armchair right in front of the window, but it was facing the wrong way, so I turned it around and plopped my ass down facing that wall of windows, and I watched the world go by from my perch on the eighth floor of this hotel.
There has always been something so soothing to me about watching the world from high up in a building in the middle of a large city. Maybe it’s because I can watch the city go by without being affected by the hustle and bustle and mad rush and overwhelming NOISE of it all. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a large city and somehow wound up in a swamp and miss the hell out of city life. Maybe it’s a little of both with some unknown factors thrown in for good measure.
Whatever the reason, I sat there in that room and watched the world go by out that window and listened to the sound of the air whooshing through the vents of the air-conditioning system and the faint sound of the water in the fountain eight stories below me splashing on the concrete.
I sat there in that silence and watched the world go by, and felt such a deep peace.
That may not sound like much out of the ordinary to some of you, but to an addict like me, to sit alone and just watch the world out a window and enjoy the silence–well, that’s a miracle.
There were many years when I couldn’t be alone. There were many years when I couldn’t stand silence. There were many years when I always had somewhere to go and something to do and somebody to be.
I was able to sit there in that chair and watch the world go by and be content with just sitting still. I was happy to know that, unlike all of those people in all of those cars rushing by below me–I had nowhere to be, no pressures, no deadlines, no expectations to meet. I had only to sit and reflect in the silence.
I was able to sit there in the silence, with nothing to distract me from myself, and not want to crawl out of my skin.
After my addiction, failed marriages, prison time, and all of the other horrors that go along with addiction, it’s a miracle it is for me to be able to sit in silence and watch the world go by. It’s a miracle for me to sit high up in a hotel and watch humanity pass by without worrying that life is passing me by.
So my dose of happy this Monday is being able to enjoy the silence, to be comfortable in my own skin. I hope each and every one of you can find a few moments this week to enjoy some silence, and just be.
He is my “brother.”
Or, to put it more aptly, my “street brother.”
Even more accurately, he was my drug dealer. When my then-fiance went to jail, he took care of me by making me his full-time driver. Shortly before my man “B” went in, our dealer “J” began referring to me as his “sister.” He had quite a few “sisters” surrounding him – none related by blood. One of the first times J and I were alone together (ever), I told him that if he wanted me to be his sister, and wanted me to consider him family, I’d take that seriously; it would be a big deal to me.
He said he understood and agreed.
B was arrested within a few days of that conversation. J was my first call. He told me to come over. At the time, I still had a drivers’ license and a legal vehicle with insurance. He kept me by his side pretty much 24/7 for the next 6 days.
Unfortunately, 6 days later, we were arrested together, in that vehicle. He was absconding from his probation officer and was charged with Intent to Distribute (with Priors) among other things. I was charged with DUI and possession – since it was my first arrest in this state (and my prior out-of-state record had been expunged), I was released after being booked in. He and I sat together in booking before he was dressed out. That was the last time I saw his face. My brother. 10 1/2 months it was until I saw him again.
He hadn’t written down my number when he was booked in. Having done as much county time as he had, with no one writing to him or paying for phone calls from him, he hadn’t seen the point. I promised to write him a letter when I got home that night including my phone number. When the phone rang 5 or 6 days later and the automated voice announced his name, I grinned and accepted the call immediately. I could hear the tentativeness in his voice when I answered. He hadn’t expected me to pick up.
Two or three weeks later, J was transported to The Point, which is the nickname for Utah State Prison’s main campus – so called because it’s location is directly across I-15 from “The Point of the Mountain”, which is the dividing line between our two most populated counties – Salt Lake County (home of Salt Lake City) and Utah County (home of BYU).
I alternated letters, keeping greeting cards and stationary and stamps in my purse at all times. When I finished a letter to B, I began one to J and vice-versa. B remained in County Jail and I spoke to him often, though the calls were expensive and the cost became prohibitive. I didn’t hear from J for almost 2 months.
Utah Department of Corrections has a You Tube Channel with a series of orientation videos for Friends and Family. I watched them all.
J’s first stop was “R&O” – basically Intake. While in R&O, he was not given an opportunity to contact the outside world and had almost zero commissary privileges. For a first-time inmate, R&O typically is 4-6 weeks while the staff evaluates the inmate’s compliancy, ability to understand and follow rules, evaluates their educational and programming needs and determines their long-term housing assignment.
The Point has different areas for drug offenders vs. gang members vs. violent criminals etc. Female inmates spend far less time in R&O typically as they only have one housing area for women. The other option available to inmates is to “County-Out”. Basically, the Utah Prison system is over-crowded and so several of the smaller counties with available jail space house prison inmates on a contract. Many inmates prefer staying in a County environment (whether that’s a housing preference or they prefer fewer cellmates or they like the availability of programs like “Getting Out” which is a communication option at some counties that is unavailable at the Point). Other inmates prefer staying in the main prison (or it’s sister facility in Gunnison) – commissary and phone calls being cheaper and the guarantee of jobs and/or programs to fill the hours.
After R&O, J went to Promontory aka The Conquest Program, which is the drug treatment program inside Utah State Prison for men (Women have a version called Excel). While in Conquest, he did not have the ability to have a paid job (inmate labor is underpaid – between 65 cents and $1.75 an hour – for anything from working in the kitchen, organizing and distributing commissary orders, working in the cafe open to the public, administrative jobs, custodial work, groundskeeping, maintenance) because of the nature of the Program, but he did become a Trustee (which is a position of authority within the housing section including responsibility for keeping the Unit clean, distributing meals) and in addition to nearly completing the program, he managed to earn his High School Diploma.
In Utah, when a person is sentenced to Prison, the trial court judge does not have the authority to limit or govern the length of the prison stay. A third-degree felony carries a maximum penalty of 0-5 years in prison. A second-degree = 1-15 years, a 1st degree = 5 years – Life and then there’s the “Super-First” which is, I believe either 15 or 25 years to life. Once a person is convicted and in prison, a different agency – The Board of Pardons and Parole (BOP), assumes jurisdiction over the inmate.
The BOP sets a hearing date for each inmate based upon his/her convictions – a 3rd degree felon will see the Board after 3 months (+/- depending on backlog); a 2nd degree, after 6 months and a 1st degree after 18 months (It’s unclear to me whether persons convicted of a “Super First” ever have the option to parole. J’s hearing was held approximately 7 months after he arrived at The Point. A few weeks after the formal hearing, the Board renders its decision – usually including a potential release date.
Here’s the thing: there’s a TON of bullshit rules about prison.
The first one I learned: inmates cannot have pictures of themselves. My first letter to J got returned because I enclosed a bunch of pics of him and me, him and his girl, etc. Just sent back. Letter too.
Next: persons on probation cannot visit the prison – in fact, if you have a misdemeanor conviction within the last 7 years, you cannot visit the prison (except to see family members).
“Family” is strictly defined. To be approved to visit someone you claim as family, included with your visiting application must be documentation of the relationship (i.e. a marriage license, both birth certificates showing a parent in common). So much for visiting my “brother.”
Putting money on an inmates books (so they can order items from the commissary for themselves) comes with substantial fees (about $6 added to whatever amount you’re giving them).
Phone calls are WAY cheaper from the prison than from the jail (depending on the jail). When B called, I was charged 29 cents a minute when I funded a prepaid account (each time I added funds to the account, there was a $3 surcharge). When J called, it was 10 cents a minute (also with a surcharge but still.)
J saw the Board after about 7 months and his tentative release date was set for two months later – March 28. Here’s the thing about that: because he would be paroling (as opposed to “term-ing” or terminating), Adult Probation & Parole had to pre-approve any address he wanted to reside at. This meant a parole officer would have to call and verify that J could stay there and perform a check of the place (to ensure it met parole requirements – no alcohol or firearms on the property) before his release could be confirmed.
An inmate without an address to go to has to wait an additional 6-12 weeks for a bed to open up at one of the halfway houses before being released.
Here’s the other thing:
Being a person willing to receive letters/calls from inmates immediately subjects you to A TON of requests.
Since J went up, I have written to several other friends who were sent up to prison as well.
Universally, they all want you to do something for them (and often for their friends as well). J had me send texts and make calls to his buddies’ wives and/or girlfriends who couldn’t afford to take calls, write to other buddies who had no one writing to them, put money on his books if I could. Another friend of mine, a woman, beginning her third stint at the Point, included messages from her friends for me to forward, requested magazine subscriptions, requested that I send blank greeting cards and silver rings from WalMart that she could sell to her fellow inmates… and yet another friend (without asking me first) enclosed a letter from his buddy to his buddy’s girl for me to forward. J was the only one whose requests I did my best on.
But healthy boundaries are TANTAMOUNT when you have a locked-up loved one.
Of course, when J received his March 28 tentative release date, his immediate request was for me to find him a place to go. I was on probation by then (making me ineligible), plus I was homeless and living in a shelter (a very comfortable shelter but not one I could receive him to) at the time. He submitted the address of his mother’s trailer and asked me to call her and tell her to please hide the beer and the gun so AP&P would approve the address and could he please stay there etc etc.
Did I mention I hadn’t ever met his mother?
Her first question: “Well, couldn’t he stay with you guys?”
She told the parole officer when he called that there was beer and a gun at the trailer so that option was gone.
J called me, despondent, asking me to try to find someone.
Finally, I asked my probation officer for sober living properties in the area that might help. He referred me to a place. I submitted J’s application online myself (he dictated the answers to me on a phone call). I committed to paying $500 before his release to pay his first two weeks’ rent and the application fee. I put up with bullshit flirting from the Program Director.
But I secured the address, submitted it to AP&P and got it approved.
The street sister.
Here’s the other thing about inmates:
You get a lot of promises about what they will do once they’re out.
Pay you back.
Make it up to you.
Change their Ways.
J promised me a lot of shit.
He was released March 28. The Program Director picked him up from the prison and (despite some crazy drama culminating in my emailing the dude’s boss) B & I were allowed to go to the Sober Living and see J the day he got out. An ex-girlfriend of his gave us a ride up there. She was clearly wanting/expecting to be the center of J’s attention. She turned a little green when I was.
J went through his property bags that day. His prison-issued Bible, his court papers, the one letter he had received from the ex-girlfriend, the one from another girl and the three foot-high stacks of cards and letters from me.
I’m still proud of the way I held my brother down while he was away. I’m proud of him for staying sober since the day he and I got arrested almost 18 months ago. Better than I’ve done.
But I’m supremely disappointed in him.
He and I don’t talk anymore. He prefers to help out buddies who use him and his goodwill – even though they are still using drugs. Buddies who jeopardize his parole status for their own reasons. The girlfriend who told the cops the drugs in my car at our arrest were his – then lied to everyone on the streets about he and I for months, never wrote to him or anything, cheated on him, but when she lost her kids a couple of weeks ago (due to continuing to get high on heroin after a 90 day inpatient program), sitting with her was more important than trying to help me through a hospitalization.
It hurts to admit, but the fact is that people in prison are different than the people they were before or return to being after their incarceration. I loved my brother in prison. I will always love him in so many ways. But I don’t like him out here. And I can’t allow myself to be used by him anymore.
I have ended all contact with incarcerated persons except my now-husband, B, (who is back in county again *sigh*) and I have made an exception for his best friend. I have changed my phone number. I have blocked almost everyone on facebook. J isn’t blocked, yet. I did “Snooze” him for 30 days. it was too painful seeing his comments to lowlifes and dumbasses I know to be still hustling.
The last post of his I saw was that his PO has told him that if he continues to do well he will terminate parole successfully at the end of April.
Well done, Bro. Proud of you. Wish I didn’t know for a fact that you could have gone back to prison at least twice for breaking the terms of your parole. Not getting caught isn’t exactly what you should be striving for here.
Wish I had a way to show you how much danger I can see you’re in.
I wish prison weren’t a revolving door.
And even if you manage not to go back in the next 5 months +/-, I wish I could be convinced that you understood what REAL priorities are, what REAL friendship should be, what REAL family does for each other.
I’m not usually one to do stuff like this. I’m the creeper lurking in the corner wanting to make friends but never approaching anyone.
But I have a story, and I need to let it out.
I was your typical Midwest teen in 2006. I was 15, went to the movies with friends, spent all the time I could in the band room or wandering around the pastures surrounding our house. Life was pretty good. Then came that fateful day in February.
My half-brother got arrested for murder. My dad and I always knew he’d end up in an institution somewhere. He wasn’t raised in a good home like me and he had a hard life; we thought he’d get some time for burglary or car theft.
But never this.
After he was arrested, all these issues from the few years when he lived with us surfaced again, all the abuse he put me through before mom came home from work. My school never did Sex Ed, I didn’t know. For years they were buried…he hadn’t lived with us for awhile, but when he was arrested, the memories came back.
But I never told anyone, until now.
I failed my first class ever that year. I just didn’t see the point in doing any work when spring came around and my brother was in court and here I am in school while the people around me are complaining about how the school food sucks or how some teacher took their cells. On the outside I was the same as always, but inside I didn’t know who I was anymore.
I made it through the year, when my mom yelled at me about my D grade, I thought about ending it that night. Just swallowing a bottle of pills, but I was able to get online and talk over all the stresses with my internet. Life was stabilizing again.
Then came the day I can never forget, and I still have trouble talking about.
June 11th 2006, 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning, I got a phone call from my best friend.
She told me that 3 students from our school and our Spanish teacher were lost in the ocean while swimming on a school trip to Costa Rica. The body of one of the students had been recovered already.
Sunday, they recovered the body of one of my closest friends. The third student was recovered Wednesday. Sr. C wasn’t recovered until Friday.
All I remember for those summer days was sitting in front of the computer refreshing news pages, hoping and praying that maybe Andrew, Jessica, and Sr. C were still alive, then it was Jessica and Sr. C, then just Sr. C. Finally it hit me. Four people I knew, went to school with, acted in plays with, sang in the choir with, played in the band with, learned from.
They lived in Kansas and they drowned in the goddamned ocean in Costa Rica.
It was 2 days before my 16th birthday and instead of going to a movie with friends or something on a Friday night I was sitting in a hot crowded auditorium with some friends and Andrew’s brother, crying, wishing it was all just a dream.
Saturday, I didn’t get out of bed. Sunday, my mother prepared all my favorite food for dinner, a beautiful cake, my sister was there, I didn’t eat anything. I got a car. I didn’t care.
Later that week, I was on a bus full of high schoolers heading down to Texas for Andrew’s funeral. Everyone thought I was okay, I acted normal for my friends. But when they played Amazing Grace at his funeral I lost it. Amazing Grace? What’s so amazing about a 17 year old losing his life?
The freshest memory of Andrew is sitting with him on the floor of the band room on the last day of school listening to Good Riddance by Green Day. Any time I hear that song, even now, 4 years later, I cry.
My junior year in high school things were back to a semblance of normal, but band didn’t have Andrew. That spring I started cutting because I was so sick of being numb and the pain let me feel something. It wasn’t deep. There are no physical scars, but it allowed me to feel.
Then I went off to college, started smoking to get away from my crappy roommates, slept any free time I had. I didn’t have a social life outside of band and my dorm room.
Next year in college, I rented a house with a friend of mine, and I started cutting again. One night, I finally left scars. The next morning, I called the schools Mental Health Services, the next day I was talking to a therapist. I told her part of the story, how my brother was a murderer and my best friend drowned in the fucking ocean. How I almost scratched my arm raw on the first day of classes because I’m so nervous in new situations. How I’m always afraid that the worst is going to happen. She didn’t try and give me coping mechanisms or advice, she just gave me pills.
The pills made me feel nothing, I went through that semester feeling like a shadow. I tried to tell her that I didn’t want the pills, she said they were the best option for me. So I stopped. They weren’t helping the depression, the anxiety, or the suicidal thoughts. I was on my own again.
During spring break, my significant other of 4 months cheated on me with another friend. She had the dignity to tell me but it didn’t really help. I started drinking, and picked up smoking again. I failed all my classes.
I am not proud of who I was, or of what I did. I have regrets and I can’t forget those regrets.
But I am stronger now. I switched schools and I’m back to living with my parents. I don’t really see my friends much anymore, but I’m becoming who I need to be. I’m trying to learn to cope with my feelings in a good way instead of just bottling them up inside.
I’m 20 now, an age Andrew will never reach. I haven’t seen my brother in 4 years. I can’t trust anyone farther than I can throw them (read: at all) but I am becoming me. I’m changing the path of my life, some days are bad, some days are good, and some days I wish I could crawl under a rock. I just have to keep telling myself that everyday is worth it, that I am worth it, and that in the end I will be me.
And maybe in years to come when I look back at the last four years of my life I can smile and remember good things that happened instead of seeing this crater left by that summer.
July 1st, 2015
To me, recovery is something one person takes to heart to better him or herself and breaks away from the chains of addiction. It is far from playing with someone’s emotions and feelings in front of a group. When a person in a professional position picks apart a person’s flaws in front of the whole group, then this person is not taking that individual’s recovery seriously. Assigning 500 word essays that are not related to my recovery is no more than an abuse of power.
Here at this correctional facility, my recovery is a joke. It is nothing more than a waste of tax payers’ money. This is the wrong setting to break the chains of someone’s addiction. If you have someone in a professional position acting unprofessionally, how is that helping with recovery? All it does is push me to the point of anger and attitude, which just triggers my addiction.
I know that when I finally do leave here and go home, my recovery was not taken seriously. I will be going out that front gate worse than when I came in because of the way I was treated as a human being. I have come to realize that recovery is not the priority of this system. Instead, it is a way to condition me to be a failure. That will make me come back here, keeping the money rolling in, so everyone can receive their paychecks.
To me, my recovery is much more important than someone else’s paycheck. This DWI program is not allowing me to be honest. It is teaching me to lie, wasting money on teachings that are just common sense. I feel like this program is like forcing a horse to drink water. If I do not do this program, then I max out and lose all my good time. If I want my freedom, I am forced to be in this program, even though it isn’t helping me.
All I know is that my recovery goes far beyond this program, and I need real help.
I don’t know where to begin. Too much has happened in my life, it even seems unreal to me at times. My coping mechanisms are different than most people because I have Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID for short. I will try to be as clear as I can about the events while protecting myself from the grief.
The first trauma – I was sexually abused by an older brother from ages of 5 until 9. That is when my DID began. When I was 9 years old, my mom committed suicide. Her suicide had 2 lasting effects on my life- 1st, it sent my abuser away to live in another state and 2nd, it formed a wall inside of me that will always and forever prevent me from taking my own life.
My twin brother and I went to live with our paternal grandparents. It was not always easy there. I don’t think or believe the same as the rest of my relatives, so while not exactly worthy of outright hate, I was not worthy of unconditional love either. I tried to earn love and respect by getting good grades in school, but that only seemed to alienate me further. My grandparents were hard working farmers and completely illiterate. I would keep my mouth shut, so my “book learnin” wasn’t quite so obvious.
It wasn’t that they didn’t care, I think they just didn’t know how to respond to me. They felt uncomfortable with me. I loved them anyway.
My dad was a truck driver. He drove “cross country,” so he wasn’t home much. Once, he was gone for 2 years. I used to sit on Grandma’s front porch and wait for him, hope in my heart for the slim chance of him coming home. When he did arrive, he would flood my twin brother with gifts and stories. I would get a hug and a pat on the head. I wanted to sit on his lap, to hear the stories, to ride in the “big rig” with him like my twin. I still don’t understand how being a girl made me unequal. I needed him to love me the way he loved my brother, but that would never be the case.
After I was married, he came to my house looking for my twin. He had not yet met my newborn son. I begged him to come in. I would make coffee, we could wait together for my brother to come home. He stood at the door and said he would come back when my brother was home. I shut the door, slid down to the floor and cried. Why was I so unlovable? Why was I not worth an hour of his time? After that, I decided that I was done begging for his attention. I had my own issues to worry about.
My husband was abusive. I left him when my son was 6 yrs old. I moved in with someone I met online, a terrible decision because he was not good for me or my son. I left him too, and quickly found myself living in my dad’s basement.
I went to college, earned all A’s and a degree, and met a wonderful man. He does not abuse me in any way, and I finally felt loved for the first time ever.
My son was 15 by then. He had undiagnosed autism and an IQ of only 72, but we tried so very hard to create a safe and loving home for him. Sometimes it was really difficult, he was rebellious towards my boyfriend, never wanting to listen to him. I cringed every time I heard him say, “You’re not my dad.” We worked to try to make things better.
When my son was 19 years old, he came home from school one day and told me he had met a wonderful girl and wanted to date her. The problem was she was only 14. Her parents were divorced. I spoke with her mom, and she was alright with the situation. I never heard from the girl’s father, figuring I would get the chance at some point because he welcomed my son over to his place once or twice.
It was early morning on a Friday. I went to check on my son. There was no answer when I knocked on his door. I open his door a crack. It smelled like old socks because he never cleans it, but he was not in bed. His backpack was gone. I figured he must have gotten himself off to the school bus by himself, unusual, but I was happy about it. I spent the day dreaming of the wedding I hoped to be planning with my boyfriend soon.
When my boyfriend arrived home, I realized that my son was not home from school yet. I told myself he was probably at his girlfriend’s house having dinner, so I had my boyfriend call over there. At first, my boyfriend was silent, then he stood up and turned on the TV. There on the news, was a picture of my son and his girlfriend. The caption on the picture said, “Man, 19, kills 14 year old girlfriend’s father.”
In that moment, I lost everything that I had ever held dear, my hopes and dreams gone, blasted away in pain, regret and remorse. What did I do wrong? How could I not know that was going to happen? I blame myself every single day …if only I knew what was happening, if only I would have done things differently …if only …IF FUCKING ONLY!!
That was 8 months ago. I have not been able to touch my only child. He does not emote very well, never has. He will go to trial in the spring. The best I can even hope for is that they will put him into a mental institution instead of a prison …but how likely is that? I don’t know. I know if you are capable of doing something like that, you need to be kept away from society. He had never been violent before, and has not been violent since. He waited for the police, admitted his guilt. He cooperated and did not flee.
My son was nearly strangled to death already. It is a painful reality that he will not do well with the rest of the prison population. He cannot read people’s emotions, and does not understand when someone is being sarcastic. His mental age is 14, and he is easy to manipulate.
My boyfriend is still with me, thankfully. My twin still talks to me, but my dad and grandparents passed away before all this happened. The rest of my family speaks ill of me because of my “different” ways of thinking. My community hates me because I am the mother of a murderer. I feel completely and utterly alone.
I am not suicidal, I won’t take that road, even after all of this, but I am not actively living now either. So, where does that leave me? I don’t know, but I don’t like it.