My Time In Jail
“I don’t do victims.”
I said it. I don’t know why I said that. The words just came out of my mouth and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The room got very quiet. I had stopped breathing and just stood there. A couple of heads snapped up and looked at me. I could feel my palms get sweaty and I suddenly had this urge to throw up.
But I didn’t. I said it and there it was.
I heard someone gasp and then someone else grumbled, but I didn’t react. I just stood there and surveyed the room.
It had become a very small room and it seemed as if all of them had moved 10 feet closer to me.
One woman raised her hand.
“Yes?” I asked. Thank God someone else was about to speak.
“What do you mean by that?” she asked in a timid voice.
I sure as hell wasn’t quite sure what I meant by it, so I had to gather my thoughts quickly and carefully.
“What I mean is this; I’m here to help all of you with your self-esteem and I guess you should know from the very beginning that I don’t want to hear your horror stories. I have no interest in them. I don’t care who did what to whom. What I am interested in is this; why did you give away your self-esteem and self-respect? Because you did. No one took it from you. You wrapped it up in a pretty package with bows and handed it to someone else.”
I let it lay there for a moment and then turned back to the woman who raised her hand. “Does that answer your question?” I asked her.
She smiled and nodded.
Several hands went up at once and suddenly several women were all asking me questions. I was just grateful that no one had gotten up and walked out or worse yet, hit me.
“What do you mean, we gave it away?”
“Huh? What the hell are you talking about?”
Those were the main comments I heard. I waited until everyone had stopped talking to me. I figured they would wear themselves out and they did.
Once the room was quiet again, I cleared my throat and looked up. Everyone was very quiet and all of them were looking at me. It struck me hard how much they seemed like so many people who I knew outside of here. They were all shapes and sizes and ages. They were all dressed the same (prison uniforms) but each woman looked unique.
I still wasn’t quite sure where I was going with my bold statement, but I knew I wanted to reach these women. I didn’t know anything about them so I had no opinion. I just knew they were incarcerated and I was sure that each one had a story. Everyone has stories but I was more interested in finding out what we had in common rather than focusing on what was different between all of us.
I knew I had on many occasions sacrificed what I thought was right in order to please someone. I knew that I had made better choices than these women, but maybe if I had been in their shoes I would have done what they did. No one can ever answer that question truthfully.
It wasn’t my place to judge them but it was my place to be honest. This is much easier said than done but I figured I had nothing to lose.
“No, I’m not crazy. Not at all. I don’t know any of you and I wasn’t really told much about what to say or do. This is not my line of work. For the record, I’m a volunteer, so I’m not getting paid to come in here on my night off. I came in here because I have an odd belief that women are valuable. Maybe I’m wrong and if I am, please tell me.”
“No, you ain’t wrong. You’re just really white, that’s all,” someone said and then they started laughing. Some laughed really loud and some chuckled but suddenly there was a change in the atmosphere. I wasn’t sure what it was or if I even liked it, but at least they were smiling.
I could live with that.
“Yes, I admit it, I am white. There’s not much I can do about it either.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” someone else muttered.
I smiled. “Well, here’s what I think we should do. I would like to get to know more about each of you, so how about all of you take turns and tell me a bit about yourselves.”
I thought this was a great idea. I thought I was brilliant and amazing.
Then I heard someone clear their throat. I saw all the women suddenly look behind me. The room turned quiet again. I was afraid to turn around and see who it was. I was convinced by the looks on everyone’s faces that it was Michael from the movie “Halloween” and he was about to stab me to death.
I heard someone call my name from behind me. All eyes were on whoever was standing behind me. No one seemed to be breathing.
I knew I had to turn around and I finally did.
It was the warden. His face was stern and he was motioning for me to walk over to him.
I smiled, gulped and turned and walked towards him. Someone mutter something about me getting into trouble. I could feel my face turn red.
It was the warden and he was pissed off. He ushered me out of the room and closed the door behind me.
“Ms. Lewis, do you have any idea what you’re doing?” he asked.
I wanted to confess that I didn’t but I was too stubborn.
“Yes, why do you ask?”
He sighed, turned and looked at the door and pointed to it. “I don’t want you getting too involved with them and their lives. It’s not a good idea. Just stand up there and lecture them. Don’t ask them to interact with you in any capacity. It’s a waste of your time.”
I wasn’t quite sure I had heard him correctly. Don’t interact with the women? It’s a waste of time?
Just as I was about to say something, he turned around and walked away. I stood there for a moment. I wanted to just walk out the door and never come back. I was humiliated from being pulled out of the room like that. I was embarrassed to go back in because I knew they were all going to laugh at me. I felt stupid for even thinking I could make a difference.
But I had to go back in and face them.
I walked to the door, opened it and walked back in and stood in front of them. No one said a word.
“Now, where were we?” I asked.
Several hands shot up. They all wanted to talk and I realized something more important than that.
They wanted someone to listen.
And so I did, one after the other and I heard the most amazing stories I had ever heard before in my life.
Coming soon: Meet Yolanda – gun runner