Archive for the ‘jail’ Category

The eyes of a murderer

Posted: April 27, 2013 in jail

They were soft and amber. I had never seen amber eyes before. They had small flecks of gold that you could only see when the light hit his eyes just right.

His face was smooth and flawless. I envied his skin as it seemed pore less. His hair was thick, pure black and cut short. His build was slight but strong.

He sat quietly and listened as I spoke to him. He was calm and I found myself relaxing as I talked. He nodded at the appropriate times and once in a while a slight smile would cross his face. He was a sponge and was trying to absorb every piece of information and advice that I could give him.

Looking at him, I began to realize that my words carried a great deal of weight with him. I found that realization unsettling and a bit disturbing.

I could not recall anyone listening to me so intently and politely before.

I cleared my throat and stopped talking. If my words were going to mean so much to him, then I needed to take more care in what I said.

“Does that make sense what I just went over?” I asked. The room was noisy as the other students worked and talked with each other. I would get to them soon enough, but right now Jose had my attention.

He nodded and smiled. His teeth were white and perfect. “Yes Ms. Susan, that does make sense to me. I appreciate you taking the time to help me,” he said.

I smiled back. “No problem. Now, let’s get back to this point right here…” I said as I turned the book around for him to read. I pointed to a paragraph.

He looked down. His eyes scanned the page and he nodded and looked up. “Yes, I understand,” he said.

“OK, then tell me what it means to you, in your own words,” I said and waited.

His brow furrowed and he sat back and put his hands in his pockets. He looked around and then back at me.

His calmness was gone and was replaced by a slight degree of annoyance. The smile disappeared and then suddenly reappeared.

“No, that’s fine. I got it,” he said and smiled.

A perfect smile. On a perfect face.

How could anyone look at that face and not believe what he said?

I thought for a moment about what to say.

“Can’t we just go onto the next part?” he asked. He began tapping his leg under the table.

I knew what was wrong.

“No, we can’t,” I said. “It’s very important that you understand this book in your own way. Not the way I say it is. Not the way you THINK you should. You need to understand this for YOU. Not me. So, tell me what you think about what you just read,” I said and sat back.

He was being held, without bail, for first degree murder. He had been incarcerated for over a year. He wanted to learn and had signed-up for the class.

For a brief moment, I saw rage and hate cross his face and then he caught it and looked away. He was agitated and nervous. He began looking around the room as if he needed to escape. His calmness was gone.

“What’s wrong Jose?” I asked. “Do you want to tell me what is really going on?”

His head snapped back at me. He bit his lower lip and shook his head. “Nah, it’s OK. I just don’t feel like reading tonight.”

“You can’t read, can you?” I asked as quietly as possible. It was a whisper that only he could hear.

Shame crossed his face. He rubbed his eyes and leaned forward. I leaned towards him until our noses were almost touching.

“Please don’t tell anyone. Please,” he said and leaned back. His eyes were pleading.

“I won’t,” I said. I realized that up until now, he had been gliding along in the lectures and this was the first time I had sat down with him and asked him to read.

And so began my adventure of tutoring someone to teach them how to read. I had never done it before, but we learned together. I bought children’s books and we struggled together quietly while the other students worked with my staff.

It was our little secret.

One night I showed up and he was gone. I knew his trial was coming up. He had been moved to another facility to hold him during his trial for his safety.

I knew I would never see him again.

That murderer was eventually convicted and sent away.

That face that I grew to know and like belonged to a murderer. The person that I tutored and mentored was now gone.

That face belonged to a 13-year old kid.

“I don’t get this,” Eddie said. “You’re not making sense.”

I quickly counted to 3 before responding. I often had to do this with him. He was so blunt at times.

“OK Eddie, where did I lose you?” I asked. A few of the other student’s snickered and sighed. Eddie looked around quickly and then shook his head.

“No, it’s OK. I get it now,” he said and nodded his head.

No, he wasn’t understanding but as soon as he heard the others chuckle, he shut down. He looked like he was about to cry. I decided to ignore it for now and continue with the lesson.

He didn’t utter another sound the rest of the evening.

Afterwards, I asked him to stay for a moment. I again heard some snickering.

Eddie’s face turned red.

“Did I do something wrong again?” he asked.

“Nope, not at all. You’ve done lots of things right. I just want to talk with you for a moment,” I said.

Eddie was in his mid-30’s and the entire time I had known him, he always seemed to struggle with expressing himself. He seemed swallowed up in the class and unsure of himself. Subtle comments were lost on him. He had been incarcerated 6 months ago for burglary and didn’t seem to understand why he was here.

I pulled up a chair next to him after everyone had left. He would make quick eye contact with me and then look away.

“How are you getting along in here?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Is everyone treating you alright? Are you having any problems that I can help you with?” I asked. I leaned forward a bit and put my hand on top of his. He stared at it for a moment and then pulled his hand away.

“No, but I’m used to it,” he said and began to think very hard. “I keep doing things wrong, but I don’t know what they are. I just want to read my books, but they don’t let me.”

“Who is ‘they?’ I asked.

“The guys here. Don’t you understand anything?” he asked.

“Apparently not,’ I said and smiled. He looked at me for a few seconds and was once again in deep thought. Then he smiled back at me.

“Eddie, did you just think about whether or not to smile at me?”

His face turned red again and he nodded.

“You don’t know how to act, do you?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I know you’re supposed to smile at people when they smile at you.”

“That’s OK. You don’t have to worry about it with me. Just say what’s on your mind and it will be fine,” I said.

He struggled through the program but when he turned in his lessons, they were amazingly intelligent and articulate. I could tell that a great deal of thought was put into each and every lesson.

He learned to not say anything in class but to talk to me afterwards. I tried as best as possible to explain things to him so he could understand them.

He wasn’t dumb; he was very bright. He just lacked social skills.

One night, he sat down and said he was distressed. He was getting released the following week and was scared.

“Why are you scared? Don’t you have any place to go?” I asked. I hated this part of my job.

“Yes I do. I’m moving back in with my parents. They want me back.”

“Well that’s great! What are you upset about?”

He turned red again and began to fidget. “I won’t get to talk to you anymore.”

I felt a lump in my throat. He was right, but I had already figured out what to do.

I reached into my purse and grabbed a pen and a piece of paper. I wrote down an address and handed it to him.

He looked at it. “What’s this for?”

I ruffled his hair. “It’s a PO Box that you can use to write me. They will make sure I get it, so no matter where you go, I’ll get your letter.”

“Really?” he asked. He looked like a child who had just been given a huge bowl of ice cream.

“Yes, really,” I said.

He stood up and shook my hand. “OK Susan, maybe I will write you.”

“That would be nice,” I said. He left and I never saw him again.

Three days ago, I got a letter from him. He said he was doing alright and had found out he had Asperger’s and didn’t know it.

It was a long letter, filled with his thoughts, ideas and what he does everyday, what books he is reading and anything else that came to mind.

He signed it “Thank you Susan for being the first person to listen to me. Please write back and let me know you are OK.”

I wrote my letter back that night and mailed it the next morning.

Life is good. I have a new friend.

Care for those around you. We all need it.

I had never been asked that question before. I had never given it any thought at all. Ever.

I just figured you lived your life, did the best that you could and hoped people would think kindly of you if and when they thought of you.

I know my memories of people whom I had lost along the way became softer and kinder as time went by. Even the ones I didn’t care for no longer held my heart and mind hostage. I chose to remember the good about them, even if it was a stretch.

And some people can be a challenge to find anything good about them.

I took my glasses off and looked down at David. His question had stopped me dead in my tracks.

I rubbed the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes.

His question deserved an answer, which I didn’t have.

“I guess I want people to think kindly of me. Maybe as someone who made a positive difference in their lives in some small way,” I said. That was all I could think of.

“Well, no one is going to think well of me. That’s for sure,” he said.

I liked working with this group of men but sometimes it got intense and I would feel that I was walking on thin ice. So much potential meaning behind simple words.

It was easy to stumble and fall.

“How so?” I asked. Might as well cut to the chase. Something was brewing with him.

“You gonna start your pussy whining again?” asked Fernando. “Let it go, will ya? We’re all sick and tired of hearing about it.”

I raised my hand and gave Fernando a stern look. “Watch your language,” I snapped.

He looked away and leaned back in his chair. “Sorry ma’am. It won’t happen again,”

“This is a valid question,” I said. “Where you going with this David?”

“I’ve done a lot of bad stuff in my life and..”

“Stop right there. I don’t want to hear it,” I said.

David was incarcerated for at least 25 years for manslaughter. He had a long way to go before getting released.

“But what I did…”

“Seriously David, I don’t want to hear it. I want to know what you are going to do today and maybe tomorrow. How are you going to make things better around here?”

My question startled him.

Like so many people, he kept dwelling on the past and wouldn’t budge. Maybe because the present was a bad place to be and the future wasn’t looking much better.

“I don’t know.”

“Then figure it out and tell me next week. Until then, stop being such an Eeyore.”

This made him and the others laugh.

But his question resonated with me for a long time.

It still does today.

I finally decided that all I wanted on my death-bed was the knowledge that I mattered. That I had made a difference and that the world was a better place because I had lived.

How will you be remembered?

If you don’t like the answer to that question, then change now.

It’s never too late to make a new beginning.

I was sure I hadn’t heard her right. Surely after all this time, hopefully she had learned something. Anything.

My voice was harsher and louder than I had intended. I looked down at her.

“Oh shit! Teach is pissed!” Suzanne said and looked up at me. She had a slight smile on her face.

I was amusing her. Suzanne was easily amused by others. I often admired that quality in her, but not right now.

Right now she needed to harness her talent for knowing when to shut-up.

“No, that’s not what I said…” Amber said. “I meant…what I wanted to say…I was asking you…”

I picked-up my pad of paper and slammed it down on the table.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. The room was quiet. Even Suzanne had stopped talking.

After all this time, Amber still wasn’t understanding the whole point of the program.

I was failing her somehow.

I opened my eyes and looked at her for a long time. She couldn’t look at me. She was trying to fall through the floor and disappear.

“Amber, you just asked me if I liked what you were doing. You weren’t telling me about your progress because you are proud of yourself. You are telling me because you want my approval. You just asked me if thought it was a good idea…”

“That’s because I care what you think of me!” she said.

“Why?” I asked. “Who died and made me in charge of you?”

I heard Rita murmur “Amen” and chuckle. Suzanne started to say something, but the words never came out of her mouth because she saw the look I shot her.

Amber was young and had virtually no sense of worth or value. She looked to others for it.

She was easy for the pimp to turn out. As long as he approved, she would do what he asked. She was another “throw away” child who had ended up in my class because James had a soft-spot for first time felony offenders.

Amber sat up straighter. “I’m in charge of me!” she said and smiled.

The smile of a hooker. Empty, as insincere as you can get and the epitome of desperation and despair.

And people say it’s a victimless crime.

She was full of shit and we all knew it.

“Oh really? How’s that working out for you?” I said. “Did you forget where you are?” I said and stepped back. I folded my arms across my chest and waited.

I watched her struggle with trying to figure out what to say. All she knew to do was to repeat back what she had been taught to say. “Yes, you’re very attractive.” “No, that feels great.” “Whatever you want is fine with me.”

This list was endless and nauseating.

“No, I know where I am…”

“Then take a moment and tell me what YOU think and not what you think I want to hear.”

She blinked several times and looked around. She gave pleading looks to each and every woman in the class to help her. They all shook their heads and looked away.

She was on her own and no one was going to help her.

“I’m not sure what you want me to say,” she said. A slight panic was settling in.

“I want you to tell me what you think about yourself. Honestly what you think.”

She flashed her hooker smile at me. “I think I’m great!”

“Liar,” I said.

Back and forth we went. Every answer that she gave me, I called her out on it if I didn’t believe her.

When our time was up, I dismissed the class. Amber was still trying to figure out what to say that would get me off her back. She was frustrated and angry with me. The other women had kept quiet the entire time.

She was back the next week and we continued.

“I think…” she said and then burst into tears.


I waited.

She wiped her eyes and bit her lower lip. She started to stand-up and then collapsed back in her chair and put her head in her hands and sobbed.

We all waited. Lucy started to get up to comfort her and I motioned for her to sit back down and be quiet. She did.

Amber took a deep breath and looked up at me.

“I think I am lower than pond scum and nothing more than a worthless piece of shit. I don’t have any value at all except my looks. That’s what I think about me. Happy now?”

“Yes,” I said and smiled. “Thank you for being honest.”

“You’re welcome,” she said.

And then she laughed. Her words were out of the mouths of babes and when she heard herself say them and fly out of her mouth, they took with them the power they had over her.

For the first time in her life, she had been honest and no one yelled at her or hit her or told her she was wrong.

“I am partial to worthless pieces of shit,” I said.

“Welcome to the club,” Suzanne said.

Amber jumped up, ran over to me and gave me a bear hug. I held her tight and let her laughter turn to tears and then back to laughter.

“Amber, I am going to give you some homework. I want you to spend the next week writing down what you think about anything and everything. It doesn’t matter what as long as you are honest with what YOU think. That’s the assignment.”

The next week she gave me 10 pages. She beamed as she handed it to me.

“I didn’t know I had all these ideas and opinions that were my own,” she said.

“I did,” I said.

“Yeah, but I don’t care what you think.”

“Excellent,” I said.

“You left me alone with two psychos?”

Posted: February 9, 2013 in jail
Tags: ,

That moment when you realize you have suddenly turned from adviser to prey is a bit indescribable. It’s a mixture of fear and panic with an increase in your senses and awareness.

You are suddenly completely in the moment and it is extremely uncomfortable because everything around you is screaming for your attention. What you smell, what you see and what you feel are overwhelming.

It is complete overload of your senses and you can’t stop it.

Your body automatically tenses up and begins to flee. It slams into your mind to override it and force you to run. Because the mind is being held hostage by your endocrine system and the adrenaline rushing through your body and your increased heart rate, you could run right into a wall or door.

It’s called panic and it’s why some people do stupid things when it hits.

The mind is struggling to analyze a solution and the body has started to run away and has told your mind to stop thinking and start running.

That was happening to me as I sat across from the two brothers I was working with. Jimmie was 13 and Stan was 16 and I suddenly knew what they were planning to do to me.

I might not leave the room alive.

I wasn’t supposed to be alone with them in a room down the hall where no one could see or hear us.

At night.

With no phone.

I was supposed to have my friend Melissa with me.

I was supposed to have their parents with me.

I was supposed to be in a room next to the reception area and in full view of the entire staff.

I was supposed to have male protection at all times.

I had none of these things and I was a sitting duck.

Melissa had blown me off with no explanation. The parents had dropped the kids off because there had been a family emergency and weren’t attending the “Parenting Course” I was doing with them and their 2 sons.

The room we were usually in had been closed due to a water leak, so I was put in a small room at the end of the hall in an area that was closed off in the evening.

There were no staff around in the Community Center in this wing. No one was going to come by and check-in on me.

I had made an extremely grave and stupid error.

I was alone with two psychopaths who were now looking at me as prey. The conversation had suddenly turned sexual as they cast their eyes on me and smiled.

Stan moved closer and put his hand on my arm while Jimmie got up and closed the door.

The smiles never left their faces.

“Please leave the door open Jimmie,” I said. My voice was weak and high. I cleared my throat.

Stan tightened his grip on my arm.

“Nah, it’s OK Susan. We just want it to be quiet,” he said and sat down on the other side of me.

Jimmie reached over and put his hand on my other arm. I tried to pull it back. He held it harder.

My heart beat was so loud in my ears that I thought they could hear it. My mouth went dry and I wanted to cry. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes for a moment and then opened them again.

They saw the fear in me and their smiles grew wider.

This was what they wanted. Terror.

I couldn’t stop it. My mind was racing too fast and my body was trying to jump out of the chair and run.

I could not think for a moment. I sat quietly and shuddered as they stroked my arms up and down.

“You look nervous Susan. No need to be. We’re just talking here, right Jimmie?”

“Uh huh. Just talking. That’s all,” he said and moved closer to me.

I thought about my dogs that I couldn’t leave homeless. My parent’s faces flashed through my mind. They had already lost one child and I had to make sure they didn’t lose another one. They would not be able to survive it. I thought of my friends and family and how much they needed me.

But I thought hardest that it was not my day to die and my vow that I would never go through another beating ever again.

I smiled as best as I could and leaned back a bit and crossed my legs. I tried as hard as I could to not show my fear and tried to express my interest in them.

“I like how that feels,” I said to Stan as I looked at his hand running up and down on my arm. “Don’t stop doing that.”

He stopped and looked at me. For one moment his grip relaxed on my arm. I turned and smiled at Jimmie.

“That feels nice,” I said.

He stopped.

I was 15 feet from the door but would have to run past them to get to it. I would never make it.

“Maybe we could continue our conversation after I get my notepad from my purse,” I said and smiled.

They looked at each other. Stan nodded and leaned back against his chair. Jimmie did the same thing.

I got up and as slowly as I could, I walked towards my purse. I prayed he hadn’t locked the door. “I am so glad it’s just the 3 of us tonight,” I said. My heart was going to come out of my chest and I knew I was about to have a heart attack.

“Yeah, so are we,” said Jimmie and they both laughed.

I wondered why psychopaths always have the strangest laugh.

I reached into my purse. I was 3 feet from the door. I picked it up and turned around.

They were both staring at me. “OK, well somewhere in here I have my notes,” I said as I pretended to look through my purse and walk back towards them.

As soon as I was in front of the door, I grabbed the knob and turned the handle.

It wasn’t locked.

I walked through the door. Once I was out, I ran down the hall.

I blew through the doors at the end and ran over to the reception area where William was sitting.

He looked up at me and started to say something and then stopped.

“You OK Susan? You’re out of breath..”

“I’m fine. I just have to leave suddenly. I left those 2 kids in there, so you should go get them and bring them out here. Sorry, but I have to run,” I said. I looked behind me and they weren’t there.

I got in my car, locked my doors and got onto the freeway as quickly as possible. A few exits later, I drove to a gas station, parked my car and cried for 20 minutes.

When I got home, I called Melissa to find out what happened.

She never called me back but a week later she sent me a fax saying she was sorry but just didn’t feel like doing this anymore.

I read that fax several times. I grabbed my phone and called her. She didn’t answer so I left her a voice mail, letting her know that she had left me alone with 2 psychos and had endangered my life.

After 3 years of working together, I found out I was blown off because she wanted to be with a man she had met at work. Not only had she kicked me to the curb, she had done the same thing to her husband.

I never heard from her again and I never went back to the Community Center. I cancelled the course and refunded the money.

I was done.

I learned to never to depend on another person. They come and go in your life. Some will stay but most will not.

At the end of the day, your only asset is yourself.

People either enhance your life or they steal from it. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground as far as I have seen.

Six months later those 2 brothers were charged and convicted of rape.

Always trust your gut.

Do not trust anyone who tells you otherwise.

I thought of a million reasons, but the look on his face told me to keep quiet.

He gave me a slight smile born of apathy and grief. I was looking at a lost and destroyed soul. He looked away, rubbed his eyes and stared at his lap.

The room had become silent as if there was an absence of time and space. I looked up and they all either had their heads down or were looking away.

What had I stepped into and how do I get out of it?

I cleared my throat and gently put my hand on his arm. He pulled it back slightly but not completely.

“Gary, what are you talking about?”

He shook his head, coughed and leaned back in his chair and looked at me. His eyes were crystal blue and shiny from his tears. He was holding them back and struggling.

I didn’t know whether to push forward or leave it alone.

“Susan, what you have been saying and teaching us in these classes is good. Very good, but on this point, I cannot do it. Not now and not ever. I don’t deserve to be forgiven for what I did. If I don’t deserve it then how can I do it myself? Nah, not gonna happen. Can we change the subject now?”

I was there to help these men with their future. In order to have a brighter future, one must atone for the past and once done, put it behind them and figure out today.  Teaching and talking was crucial to learning but must also be done on one’s own determinism.

There was such destitution in his eyes; I decided to leave it alone. If he wanted to talk about it, I would listen. Until then, I decided to carry on with the class.

He sat quietly for the next half hour. He didn’t look at anyone and continued to stare at the table. The rest of the men read and chatted about what they were learning, what they thought about it and how it applied to them.

The laughter came back into the room for everyone but Gary. He was as still and silent as a stone. I could not keep my attention off of him.

Towards the end of the class as I was wrapping it up, Gary raised his hand.

“I have a question,” he said.

“Go right ahead,” I said. I felt some relief that he was talking again.

“Do you think there are some things that you can never make up the damage for?”

I knew this was a loaded question. The room got quiet again. There was something these men knew about Gary that I did not.

“I suppose so. Murder, for one thing, comes to mind.”

“What if you hurt someone and you didn’t mean to?”

He wanted to go somewhere with this. I knew this was thin ice for him. No one was interrupting him or participating in the topic. All the men were deferring to him for some reason.

“I think we’ve all done that…”

“Yeah, but have you ever murdered your own child?” he asked. He was looking directly at me.

There it was.

“No, I have not. I have never killed anyone.”

He nodded as an acknowledgement of my honesty.

“I was drunk one night and had my kid in the car. I crashed. She died. There isn’t a second since then that I don’t wish and pray to be dead. It should have been me.”

I did not know how to respond. I did not know what to say, so I just looked at him. He braced himself for my wrath and judgment. I had none. I only felt a great sorrow that went into my bones.

He put his head back down. I stepped forward and put my hand under his chin and forced him to look at me.

“I have no words for you,” was all I could think to say.

“Do you hate me now? Do you want me to leave because I am the most despicable person in this room? If so, I will leave and I will understand. No hard feelings.”

This man was in his own prison and always would be. There wasn’t anything else anyone could do to him that would punish him more than he already had. He would until the day he died. That was apparent by just looking at him.

“No, of course not. You can stay. I just wish I knew what to say.”

“Just don’t ask me to forgive myself. I never will.”

I nodded.  I wanted him to try to forgive himself, but there are times in life when you have to back down and let things be the way someone else wants them. As pure as your heart may be and as good as your intentions are, some people will always keep themselves in their own prison.

More people than you might realize are in their own prisons of their own making. No need to add to it. Let  them be and just do your best to love them for who they are. There is goodness in all of us.

“But I WANT to be in jail.”

Posted: December 27, 2012 in jail
Tags: ,

“Say what?” I wasn’t quite sure I understood what Damien had just said.

I was sitting across from him. We had 20 students that night and we were running around like crazy. The kids kept us busy all night. When I had first started working with them in Juvenile Hall, I had jumped in with my 3 friends who had been doing it for a year. I was still learning the ropes and getting to know the kids.

At first I was very stressed about the way they behaved. They were ages 13-17 from all different walks of life. They were very demanding of our attention and would get quite vocal if they needed some help or had a question.

At first I thought it was rude and wanted to say something. I was advised by one friend to not worry. It was just the way they were.

This confused me but I knew I didn’t know, so kept quiet.

It wasn’t until the 3rd night that I realized what he meant.

They had their own way of relating to us, of drawing us in and letting us know they needed help without losing face with the other kids. If they said something, anything at all, what was important was the effort on their part to get my attention.

What they didn’t want to show was they couldn’t read or didn’t understand or wanted to talk about something private.

So instead of raising their hands and waiting patiently, they would laugh or make noises or drop things. Anything that would cause us to turn and look at them was what they were after.

So you learned to wait patiently and not ask direct questions. Sort of read between the lines.

For Damien to make such a blunt statement threw me off. I assumed he was kidding. Looking down at him I could see he was not.

He was 15 years old and being held for trial for murder. He had been in the facility for 6 months. He was tall, dark-skinned and thin. He acted confident and was a bit of a bully. I knew he had status here because of the charges brought against him and the way the other kids would never look directly at him, but with me and the other women, he was a bit shy and quiet. Around the men, he stood taller and had an amazing sneer.

He never showed us his sneer. We would have laughed if he had.

All I knew about the charges was that it was gang related.

“Never mind,” he said and went back to reading his book. I had asked him what was on his mind as he had been distracted all evening.

“No, Damien, you said something and I want to know what you meant,” I said as I pulled a chair over and sat down next to him. I looked at the table and not at him. I leaned back and waited. He was either going to tell me or he wasn’t.

He looked up at me and then back down at his book. He casually flipped through the pages.

I waited. My friends were busy but everything was under control. I had time.

He leaned over, still looking at the table and whispered “I don’t want to go back. I want to stay here.”


“Because I get food 3 times a day, a bed to sleep in and books to read,” he said. I nodded.

“So I am assuming you don’t have that at home then.”

He chuckled. “Ah, yeah, you could say that. I wanted to come here. What I did was…”

I quickly put my hand on his mouth to silence him. He looked surprised.

“Anything you tell me, I have to report. Do you understand? It is not privileged.”

He nodded his head and I took my hand away.

“I don’t want to be found innocent. That’s what I’m trying to say. Because if I am, I have to go back to the streets and that ain’t good. I like it here. Can you say something for me? Talk to someone maybe?” he asked. His lower lip was beginning to quiver. He was scared of being released.

“No, there’s nothing I can say or do. I’m not even going to ask about your family. I assume it’s not a good scene.”

“You could say that. Please help me. Please.”

Here was a child that was begging me to help him be incarcerated for the rest of his life because that was the only way he could have food and a place to sleep.

I leaned over and looked directly at him. “Just be honest with your attorney. Let him do the talking for you. You are very young and there is a lot of help here for you. There’s no reason you can’t work this out in the long run. It would be different if you were an adult, but there’s still hope.”

He shook his head. “You ever been hungry and cold?”

I knew what he meant. No, I had never been as hungry or as cold as he had been. I had maybe missed a meal here and there but I’d never been without a roof over my head, clothes in my closet and a place to sleep.

“No,” I said.

“Then you don’t know, do you?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

He chuckled. “Well, at least you’re honest,” he said and started reading again.

I got up and walked away.

He got his wish. He plea bargained it out and was sent away.

He had been hungry and cold for too long.

The day I lost my patience.

Posted: December 3, 2012 in jail
Tags: , ,

I walked into the meeting hopeful and full of optimism.

Little did I know, that was my first mistake.

The second mistake I made was assuming that what I wanted to do was something other people wanted too.

Work with inmates and reduce the recidivism rate.

What was I thinking?

I had gotten the appointment with the grant writer for the county along with a third level Administrative Assistant to the Sheriff.

I had started my own non-profit and was legal and in business. Getting the non-profit status took over a year and was a brutal process. I understood why and we worked hard on it. I had given the project to one person to do and she got it done. We had filed endless papers, gotten our name secured and approved, provided the IRS with all the information they wanted, passed our background checks and was finally allowed to open our doors and start taking money.

I wanted a grant to get it up and running. I was working a full-time job and doing this evenings and weekends. Having a grant would cover our out-of-pocket expenses, give us the time and money we needed to secure a location and hire a person or two.

I knew working with a third level assistant was the beginning step of working my way up their own food chain. I knew she would basically meet with me and take my information.

I arrived on time and was escorted to an office. The assistant’s name was Marcy. She stood up, shook my hand and introduced to me to a man sitting there. His name was Dick for the purpose of this story. He did not stand-up when I walked in. I extended my hand. He barely touched it. I sat down next to him across from Marcy. We chatted for a few minutes. Dick stared at me.

“I appreciate you giving me a meeting Marcy. I hope I’ve brought everything you need and can answer any questions,” I said as I began to remove my documents from my briefcase. I had spent countless hours filling everything out and making it as professional as possible.

I leaned over to hand it to her, but Dick reached over and pulled it out of my hand. He put his glasses on and began to scan the documents. I sat back and waited.

He was wearing a suit. His hair was short and thick. He perched the glasses on the tip of his nose. As he read, he occasionally shook his head and frowned. I felt my stomach clench but said nothing. He spent almost half an hour reading them. Marcy and I sat quietly.

Finally he tossed the papers onto Marcy’s desk and sighed. He turned and looked at me, up and down. I felt my hackles rise but still said nothing.

“Why should I give you this grant?” he asked. He sneered at me.

“Well, because as you can see there, this program has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the county and I have brought it to this County to help. If you just look here…” I said as I retrieved the papers from Marcy’s desk and began flipping through the documents. I was feeling nervous. My mouth began to get dry.

“No, I understand that and I certainly don’t need you to explain it to me,” he said. “Perhaps you don’t understand my question, so let me ask it this way; Why should YOU get the grant money? From what I can see, you don’t have any credentials, you’re a new business and I am more interested in what your true motives are.”

My true motives? What the hell is he talking about, I asked myself.

“Huh?” was all I could think to ask.

“Why would someone who is as pretty as you, who already has a job, want to be in this line of business? I mean, I can see that you’ve got everything in order and I see that you are already getting clients from the courts and as impressive as that is, I have to be concerned on what the money will be used for.”

I felt my cheeks turn red. I could not believe he said anything about my looks or my motives. I had just met this man and what I was asking was perfectly legitimate and standard operating procedure. He was the grant writer. He was the one that did this for a living. Based on how he was dressed, he looked to be doing just fine financially. I couldn’t think of why he had taken an instant dislike to me.

I wanted to the money, but not that bad. I didn’t like his sneer. I didn’t like his condescending attitude towards me. I didn’t like the way his eyes rarely looked at mine but preferred to look at my chest, even though I was wearing a very conservative suit.

But I thought of what we could do with the money and the people and families we could help. I thought about the people I could employ and the difference we could make. I clamped my temper down and looked at him.

“I’m sorry, but I am not sure why you are questioning my motives. What I am asking for is completely reasonable, so I’m a bit confused,” I said and looked at Marcy. She hadn’t said a word. She shrugged.

He sighed, took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes.He was acting as if I was the stupidest person to ever walk the face of the earth.

“I want to know what you are really up to,” he said and sneered again. “Why do you want to work in a jail with these men? Why men and not women?”

I slight smile crossed his face as he sat back, folded his arms and waited.

I completely understood his implication.

The grant was being offered for a wide variety of people but I had chosen to use the limited funds to work with the men that beat the shit out of women so I could help both of them. It seemed like the smartest move on my part for the limited amount of time and resources. Help men to not hit women (and children) and have a shot at saving an entire family.

He was questioning my request because it dealt with men and I am a single woman. In his mind, there HAD to be an ulterior motive.

I knew I wasn’t going to get the grant.

“Because I want to meet men, that’s why,” I said and sat back.

I heard Marcy chuckle. Dick looked surprised at my answer. I shook my head and started putting the papers back in my briefcase.

“Oh, that’s not what I meant…”

“Yes it is, Dick. It is exactly what you meant to say,” I said and stood up. “Why don’t you just come out and say what it is that is bothering you about me? About my request? About whatever it is that is on your pea brain, because I don’t have a lot of time to waste with anyone who isn’t going to help me.”

“Well, I do need to be concerned about someone like you…”

“Like ME? What the hell does that mean, Dick?” I said. My voice was beginning to rise.

“Single, pretty and…”

I held up my hand. I actually didn’t want to hear it. “You’ve hit the nail in the head, Dick. You’re so smart to have figured me out so quickly. Yes, I want a grant so I can come into jail and meet men! I mean, you have to understand how tired I am of the bar scene and the dating sites. See, I figure if they are in jail, then I at least know where they are, right? And we all know women of my age are desperate and pathetic and will do just about anything to get a man!” I was now yelling and it felt good.

I turned and looked at Marcy. “This is what you have to put up with here?” She looked away. She still had not said one word.

I picked up my briefcase and purse. He put his hand out. “I would still like to take another look at your proposal. Maybe I got this all wrong….”

“No, you got it right,” I said and put the papers in my briefcase. “And I don’t want your money,” I said and walked out.

I cried all the way home. When he called the next day to apologize, all I could think to say was “Can you say ‘lawsuit’ Dick?”

He never called again.

I heard the words. How could I not? I was looking straight at him and in his eyes. He was staring back at me but could not hold his gaze. He smiled slightly and quickly looked down at the table. He fiddled with a piece of paper and looked around quickly. He would not look back up at me even though I had not moved and was still looking at him.

I felt as if someone had just thrown cold water on me. I felt chills go up my back. My stomach turned a bit. The room was quiet all of a sudden. Heads snapped towards this man who had just spoken the rawest truth I had heard in a long time. His truth.

I heard some rustling as the other men began to react to what he had said. I stepped back and looked at them. I smiled slightly and put my hand up to tell them to not react. Some were shaking their heads at what they had heard. Others glared at him and some looked away, ashamed for him and at themselves.

I walked back behind my podium. I felt everyone’s eyes on me, waiting to see what I would say and what I would do. After all, I’m a woman who is working with men who had been convicted of domestic abuse.

They were expecting me to react. They expected me to get upset.

And for a moment, I wanted to.

But that would defeat the purpose of getting someone to talk and be honest. If I reacted because someone was honest and I had guaranteed that I would listen to what they had to say, then what good am I?

I looked back at him. He was still looking down and began to rub his face. He was embarrassed by what he had said.

“How do you figure, Sam?” I asked.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” he said. He looked up at me quickly and then back down at the table.

“No, you said it. Now explain it to the rest of us,” I said. “I’m curious about your line of thought, but from now on, no more swearing. She’s not a bitch; she’s a woman. Can you remember that?” I asked and waited.

“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry,” he said.

“How come you think she deserved it?”

“Because she knew what pissed….I’m sorry….what made me angry, but she would do it anyway. It was all her fault.”

Many of the men began shaking their heads. Some muttered under their breath while others nodded. All remained quiet and waited.

I was suddenly interested in what he had to say and where this would go.

“So it’s OK to hit people if they make you angry? Is that right?” I asked.

“Some people, yes,” he said.

And so began a long journey into the mind of an abuser. The more he talked and was blunt, the more that came out from him and others.

After that class, I called the Program Director to see if I could get information on Sam’s wife and what had happened. She was not in the system so was not someone who would be in any of my classes but that was just a rule. It had nothing to do with me as far as I was concerned.

A week later, Sam’s wife called me.

“Can you help him?” she asked.

“That’s not the point of my call,” I said. “It’s up to Sam if I do or not. I’m calling to help you.”

“Oh, thanks but I’m fine,” she said.

“No you’re not. You’re far from fine and it’s about time you admitted it,” I said. “You haven’t been fine for a long time, have you?”

There was silence and I waited.

“No,” she said. I could barely hear her.

“When are you going to fix you? That’s the question I want an answer to.”

“I don’t know what to do…” she said. I could hear her crying quietly.

“Let’s see what we can do with you and not worry about Sam.”

And another long journey began, but this one was in the mind of a victim.

Two opposite journeys that were intricately connected. You can’t have one without the other.

Sam’s wife was allowed to join my classes with battered women even though she was not an inmate.

It was against the rules, but I disagreed with the rules.

So did the Program Director.

She was no longer alone. She was no longer ashamed. Because Sam was locked-up, she had the time and help to figure things out for herself. The women welcomed her and pushed her to look long and hard at her situation.

In their own way and with only the way they could help, she slowly pulled herself up out of the gutter and regained her pride and self-respect.

She divorced his ass and walked away with her kids.

Sam learned enough to leave her alone and let them be.

That was the one smart thing he did in his life.

This is a letter that an inmate had sent us.

Thought you might like knowing there is much hope and our work continues regardless of those who say people cannot change.

In her own words:

“I had been incarcerated nearly three months when I was first introduced to the program. At that time I was depressed and angry, hopeless. All there was to lose, I had lost – or so I thought.

“As I completed the program, I began to realize what was important to me. I have now learned a healthier, more productive way of viewing life and in doing so, my priorities have shifted.

“I no longer sleep all day, survive on junk food and caffeine, or react with violence and suspicion. As I began applying the things I’ve learned from these courses, my entire world changed. I had been very unhappy in my own skin, so I was treated as such.

“Now, although I still occupy the same 8 x 12 cell twenty-two hours a day with little sunlight or human contact. I treat each day as an opportunity to grow instead of a trial to be endured. I keep a schedule – wake-up and make my bed, clean my cell, study. I work-out and have completely changed my eating habits. I’ve stopped cursing and feeling bad for myself. Essentially, I have made the choice to begin living in the solution. This course encouraged me to realize I have made some mistakes – BUT I AM NOT A MISTAKE.

“I have worth and ability and I can become anything I put my mind to.

“I believe my life has changed and that this course has brought me confidence and self-worth.”

If you would like more information on what we do, feel free to contact me and I’ll steer you in the right direction.