My Time In Jail

How it all started.

It wasn’t what I expected at all.

But then again, how would you know what to expect?

I was there to start a program on teaching women self-esteem. I had somehow gotten talked into this by my friend Mary who knew Lucy. Lucy was the Program Director at this facility which housed convicted women felons.

Yes, you could say they needed some help in the area of self-esteem. Many of them had been abused and had obviously taken a wrong turn earlier in life.

And now I was supposed to teach them about self-esteem?

How does a person do this that has never been in jail?

Where do you start?

And, just as important, what do you wear? I mean really, what is the protocol? I wasn’t going to wear a jumpsuit and I knew not to wear a suit, so I decided to do the usual business casual without jewelry.

And in case you are curious, Miss Manners and Emily Post have not written one word about this in all of their writings. I know because I checked.

Both Mary and Lucy assured me I would be safe and that it would be fun and very beneficial. These women were going to be released in the near future and would need help and guidance to stay on the right path.

I racked my brains for a week prior to starting the class and I did not know what to say or do. I am not a public speaker and do much better one-on-one, but I had agreed because my heart-strings had been pulled.

And I have to admit my own morbid fascination about “those people.” Yeah, you know the ones I am talking about. The ones that have nothing to do with us. The ones that aren’t as good as us. The ones who are “over there” doing “bad stuff” that the rest of us have to pay for.

So I agreed. I wanted to know about this part of life that I had no exposure or interaction with. I wanted to hear their stories and learn and maybe, just maybe, offer some hope and help.

They were being released. They were coming back into my neighborhood and it would never stop. That’s the system and whether or not I liked it, it is the way it is.

So I decided to put my money where my mouth was, step up to the plate, as see what I could do.

But as hard as I tried, I didn’t know where to start. I decided I would just arrive and figure something out.

The facility was actually quite nice and clean. I was given the dining room to use. It was night, everyone had been fed and the room cleaned up.

As soon as I walked in, I realized I should have asked for a podium. There were only chairs, which meant there was no buffer between me and them. I could not hide. I had no place to sit. I was wearing high heels on a cement floor. I was going to have to stand and lecture for two hours. I had no place for my notes but that was OK; I didn’t have any notes.

I just had me.

It was going to have to be enough.

I was given a group of 20 women, all different ages, race and background. The demographics were all over the board. Lucy had asked me who I wanted to work with and all I had told her was battered women.

It didn’t matter where they came from. A poor, black battered woman had the same problem as an affluent, white woman.

They had been beaten and were now in jail.

I stood there as they filed in with the guards. Some glared at me, some ignored me, some smiled at me and some just looked at the floor.

They grabbed their chairs, formed a half circle, folded their arms, kicked back in their chairs and glared at me.

I smiled. No one smiled back. Some sneered. Some looked me up and down in disgust. Others looked away defiantly and one or two gave me a slight smile. I silently cursed myself for being such a fool as to expect that I could make a difference or that what I had to say was even important.

I wanted the earth to open up at that exact moment and swallow me.

But instead I cleared my throat, tried to think of something brilliant to say and opened my mouth to speak.

Little did I know that what I said would have such a huge impact on these women and on me for the rest of my life.

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Comments
  1. Anonymous says:

    I am a child of the 60s’ and I actually did spend a night in jail for protesting and I’ll never forget….I wound up going to Vietnam any way…..but life goes this way and that……

  2. Susan Lewis says:

    I was never arrested, but I was just a bit under age to protest at the time.

    But I remember it all clearly.

  3. People end up being sucked into “the system” due to socio – economic status, not just because they can’t afford the best lawyers… they have been denied education and a decent start to life. Life starts as a struggle, which then becomes a way of life and the cycle continues. They use drugs to escape their existence and then commit crime to afford the illusion. It might not be true in all situations, but it certainly seems to be common. Attitudes are moulded, not born. Nature vs Nurture? Knowledge is power!!

    • Susan Lewis says:

      You are very correct in your assessment.

      Also the system isn’t used anymore to rehabilitate the person and only to punish, which makes the cycle begin again.

      Susan

  4. Angry says:

    The United States for-profit penal system is a shame that is unmatched by any other country in the world.

    The for-profit penal system is one of the factors keeping medically usable marijuana artifically on the Class 1 Drug Schedule; in spite of the fact that the United States government is well aware of the safe medical uses of the plant, and the fact that it is not harmful—exactly 0 people have died from using marijuana.

    They know. They do nothing. It helps keep the prison system profits so high.

  5. Amanda Blain says:

    :) I knew i liked you! Look forward to following your blog :)

  6. curious212000 says:

    Hello Susan, I like ever thing about your Blog, you and your family especially your writing.
    I was recently arrested for having unwittingly a knife in a public place but it was not pursued in the Public Interest when it went to court and I have lost a bit of faith in the justice service.
    Bye for now.
    David.

    • Susan Lewis says:

      Thanks David. Glad you are enjoying my blog.

      Our judicial system is far from perfect and I can understand your point of view.

      Hang in there and thanks for your comments.

      Susan

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