Behind Bars!

Well, I visited my first Maximum Security Prison today. We have a relationship with the United States Prison Big Sandy in Inez, KY. We have helped them out for a little over a year now with purchasing needs for prisoners. It is a facility that houses around 1700 inmates and 400 staff. I asked Stephanie, the young woman taking us on the tour if that is understaffed. She said that it was. With the war raging in Iraq most prison funding and man power has been taken away from the prison system she went on to tell me. They had just been in lock down for 9 days and had had a fight earlier that morning. Mike and I had of course gotten lost and had missed all the excitement being about an hour late to the festivities.

I wasn't nervous a bit. I wasn't excited either. I was less than thrilled about driving the the nearly 3 hours up and back and I just didn't want to put the effort into it. However, I wouldn't take the 3 hours we spent with those inmates for the world. I was in for a suprise blessing of my life! I wasn't angry or nervous about hanging out with prisoners, I was just upset about having to do my job. That is how it is most days...get up a little irritated, get to work crabby, and by mid day I've adjusted and moved on to my days tasks. I've just had a bad attitude. There's no one else I can blame but me. We got a bit lost on the way up there and back and I now feel cheated somehow out of the time we were going to get to spend with "the boys".

It was the best 3 hours I have had in a long time and I feel so foolish that I couldn't express that fully with the inmates. I'm not sure if I was appropriate at all times...cracking jokes with inmates that I wasn't sure what they were in for. I felt cheated in not being able to say fully how much it meant to me to spend time with them. A couple of the inmates just couldn't be convinced I was happy to be there. "So, I guess you pulled the short end of the stick", one says jocking, his deep blue eyes and piercing white smile could melt a thousand girls hearts. I would guess he was in his mid 20s and I kept thinking what did and intelligent beautiful man like yourself do to strip your life from freedom. He later went onto say when I was asked if I was coming back tomorrow and I said no, "well I bet you will be glad." "No!" I said, "this has been the best blessing that I've had in a long time...it helps me get our of the office (probably the wrong thing to say, I wonder if it reminds them of not being able to go anywhere!)...but I wanted to connect...I wanted to find out their narrative...no matter how bad, how brutal...at least it would be something real and that is what I seem to need so deeply in my life right now...something real.

One of the guys asked me if I write...I told him I did and he asked if I had finished any work. I said no not yet beyond some short stories and poems. I went onto say that I did have a book idea in mind I just needed to make time to do research and actually be creative. He said, "Honey, I'm in prison and I still don't have time to do what I need to!" I said, "Isn't that funny, we always can waste time!" He went onto say, "You think you will have it accomplished in 5 years?" I said, "I have a 10 year plan for my life, if I can't get things accomplished before I'm 40 then I think I have a problem (once again probably not the most intellegent thing to say!)" I forgot to ask him if he wrote...I forgot to ask him about his life! I wanted to, but, well I just forgot.

We kidded about how the inmates should have taken a fieldtrip to the store...I told them why not. The young man with the deep blue eyes said, "Well, we would scare all the customers away!" "That's there problem," I said.

I brought a book called "Walter the Farting Dog" with me. It's a children's book that is very popular. It has caused two sequels and a stuffed dog that you squeeze and it make a farting sound. I thought the inmates would get a kick out of it. It caused a stir. They were irate(msp) about it. One, old blue eyes again, even said that if he got out of this place he was going to go have a talk with him. They didn't find it funny at all. I was sharing with my Mom and Jill that the problem with most of these men were that they didn't know how to react in the proper way to their emotions. Then I thought, well don't we all...I know I've acted very inappropriately to many situations. There's no class for it. I mean all the rehibilitation in the world doesn't keep you from acting in a primal way at times. I'm not trying to justify what these "boys" have done. I have no idea what their crimes were. I was completely objective...I was able to meet them on a human level only.

They were trying to send books to children, nieces, and nephews. They needed to know what a girl of six would read or a boy of 13. I realized that one moment of reaction had caused a chain reaction not only for them but for their whole family. Society would never look at them the same way, and the burden was told in their warn faces and in those eyes that held pain, fear, and a little resentment. It was easy to look right into those eyes. Normally, I have a very difficult time keeping someones gaze, looking deep into their eyes, but with these men I found I wanted to...I found something familiar in them...a pain, an anguish, a humaness that bled deep into my soul.

I miss them...I'm jealous that Janet and Sophie are going tomorrow and a little nervous on how they will behave.

I didn't expect this. I found myself not wanting to leave. I wanted to pull up a chair, sit back and just chat for awhile with these men. These rejects of society. I wanted to tell them they were loved just because...I wanted to share my narrative with them. Even those tough knecked boys who were playing in the court. Those more dangerous ones that I didn't reach out and touch. I had no fear.

You see due to the prison being open for only three years their is a power struggle still taking place within the walls. I thought about all the things that these men had to go through on a daily basis. I wanted them to know that someone from the outside cared for them. I don't know if I even made a blip on their radar, but I will say that they forever impacted my life. They forever filled my heart with something I won't soon forget.

As I was leaving one of the guys asked if I would be back tomorrow. I said that I wouldn't but that two other employees from Barnes and Noble would..."Oh shoot!" he mumbled! Those two words meant the world to me. As I left the confines of the walls that kept them in and took in the beautiful landscape of the rolling mountains around me...some of the most beautiful countryside I've seen in Kentucky is found all through this drive the prison, I stepped out, breathed deeply, and thought about the own prison that I create in my heart. The bars I put up before the day is even started. Once again filing away, trying to break free, to breathe deeply. Freedom is a state of mind...in a world that says you deserve so take, I choose to give.

Clang! Clang! Clang! It takes courage not to be a resounding cong! It is fitting that our VBS was Artic Edge: Where Adventure meets courage. Living on the Edge seems to be a resounding theme in my life. I also finished Anderson Cooper's audio book on my trip to the prison. A wonderful and thrilling adventure of American and personal struggle seen through the eyes of a very incredible man.

I'm done with my rant. I was trying to think of a poignant end, but there is none...I could go on like this forever...I think I'll go to the Edge!

Comments

Pilot Mom said…
I remember my visit to the federal penetenary when I was in Jr. high school. It made a profound impact on me. Even the clanging of the bars etc impacted me.
Dawn said…
I've never visited a jail before. Sounds like an experience you'll always remember.

So glad you're back :)
Becca said…
That's so amazing. I'm jealous.


I hope those guys remember the influence you had on them, because you just might be the best thing that's happened to them in a long time.

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