I did not want to go in for class that night. I did not feel like teaching anymore that day. Anymore that week. Actually, I was feeling done with it. I was tired. No, I was fatigued because it was in my bones and I didn’t feel that I had the mental or emotional capacity to get up off the couch, let alone get dressed and drive for 1/2 hour to the facility. I didn’t even have the energy to eat, but I knew I would go.
I had received some very bad news a few days before and hadn’t slept much since then. Work had been grinding the entire week and the idea of teaching another class that night was just too much.
But I got up, changed my clothes and grabbed an apple for dinner. So much for nutrition. I didn’t care. I ate it as I drove and sipped a Diet Coke, hoping it would wake me up a bit.
It was a quiet night when I got there. I checked in with the front desk and was told by the Program Manager who would be attending class that night. Working with convicted women felons was always a surprise. You never knew who was going to be in class, who was new and who had been released.
He told me about a new student. “She’s in there now with the others. Her name is Gracie and I think you’ll like her.”
“No problem. What is she here for?”
He sighed and rubbed his eye. “Welfare fraud. She just got here and is settling in. She heard about your class and requested it, which is the first time in all these years I’ve ever had an inmate want to go to a class.”
I sighed. That meant I had more than I could handle that night. All the way over here, I talked myself into being in a good mood. I may be tired, but I am a professional. I leave all my troubles at the front door.
I walked in and saw who Gracie was. She was much older than most of the inmates. She was sitting quietly and smiling at the women, who were chattering and laughing. I stood at the head of the room and everyone took their seats and looked up. I said hello to Gracie and welcomed her to the class. She stood up, walked over to me. She took my hand in hers and gave me a very firm handshake. “Thank you so much for letting me attend. I am looking forward to learning.” She turned around and sat back down.
A stillness had come over the room. Usually my ladies are loud, rambunctious and take a few minutes to quiet down. Not tonight. They all watched Gracie sit down and not one of them said a word. The entire evening was like that and I was beginning to think that they had all taken sedatives before class.
They had not. I eventually came to learn that Gracie had this effect on people. You just naturally treated her with respect.
She wasn’t very tall and was quite thin. She was black and her short hair was pure white. She didn’t have one wrinkle or line on her face and she carried herself upright and proud. She was 78 years old, a great-grandmother and had recently been arrested for welfare fraud.
And she was innocent.
There was no doubt about her innocence from anyone at the facility. I eventually talked to them at length about it and could not understand how this could happen. It started with her raising her great-grandchildren when both parents had been sent to jail on drug charges. Gracie had applied to welfare and was eventually given it. The daughter-in-law, out of spite and a long-held grudge against losing her children, had reported Gracie for a crime she did not commit.
Due to an error, Gracie was arrested and incarcerated. I met her while she was waiting trial. She had been in the facility for 3 months and could not afford an attorney. She had an overworked and unpaid Public Defender who was doing what he could, but she could not afford bail.
Her crime was being poor and raising her family the best way she knew how. It was a very long and involved story. But the bottom line was, she was innocent and stuck in jail.
Someone had goofed and no one would fix it.
This scares the shit out of me.
After class that night, I was putting my materials away when Gracie came up and thanked me for the class.
“Oh, you’re more than welcomed. I’m glad you liked it,” I said and smiled.
She tilted her head as she looked at me. She took her hand and grabbed both of mine and asked me to sit down for a moment. I did.
“What is troubling you, child?” she asked.
I started to tell her I was fine, but something stopped me. There was something about the way she held my hands and the way she asked. I looked at her and it was as if she was looking into my soul and could see me, warts and all.
I felt my eyes tear up and I worried that I was being unprofessional. She leaned over and rubbed my shoulder. “We all have our burdens, don’t we? Now tell me what is bothering you.”
I did. Suddenly all of it came pouring out of me and I couldn’t stop it. She sat and listened and never said a word.
When I was done, she looked at me. I felt foolish and relieved. I apologized to her for saying so much and she told me to be quiet.
“Who listens to you Susan?”
“I guess you do now,” I said and smiled. I had not realized until that moment how much I had been carrying around on my shoulders and how much I had needed to talk to someone.
She stood up, leaned over and gave me a kiss on the top of my head. “Even angels need to cry once in a while” and walked back to her cell.
Gracie was eventually released – after 3 months of incarceration – and her named cleared. She was at every one of my classes and always stayed behind to talk with me. I didn’t have another outburst again. I would look forward to our talks every week and was happy when she was gone and also sad.
Last I heard, she had gotten her great-grandchildren out of foster care and back with her.
Even angels cry? Even angels end up in jail.