Part 1 of this story was the easy part. It was all about the excitement and introspective adventure that I felt sure awaited me after I volunteered with a friend to stay the night in a brand new jail facility. Though there was little in the way of solitude and quiet contemplation, I certainly did experience a profound awakening of long set aside childhood memories. And this is why this is the hard part. It's easy to briefly touch on the overall experience as a whole. But going deeper into the experience reveals a more traumatic scene.
During our overnight stay at the yet untested facility, we were given a tour of the compound. We were 'booked' and mug shots were taken. I looked like I was having way too much fun in mine. Others were able to put on a more believable facade of 'Oh no, what have I done... this is going to suck!', and, 'Yeah... I did it. So F'n what?' We were given bright orange t-shirts with a bargain heat pressed picture of a cartoon guy in black and white stripes sitting behind bars looking very guilty and forlorn. Words stating, "I spent the night in jail.' were sported across the bottom. I suppose this was pretty darn close to the very unfashionable punishment a true criminal gets when they are given the tacky orange jumpsuits.
We seen the massive kitchen that any 5 star cook would be jealous of. We were shown the 'Sally Port' where newly arriving criminals were brought into the facility and securely unloaded. When we were brought back into the main building, the corrections staff member guiding our tour had to use his key to open the door because the electronic components did not respond to the control operator's command. Little glitches like this were exactly why we were invited to put the facility through a real time test. Had an officer been trying to handle a rowdy arrestee, he would have easily been distracted by having to deal with a key to gain entry. And who knows what kind of mayhem would arise then!
Next stop: The visiting room. You've seen them in the movies... a piece of reinforced glass separates two seats. A phone hangs on the wall on each side, and each visitor seat is given the illusion of privacy via a 12 inch wide dividing wall to the left and to the right, up and down the bank of windows and seats. What you don't get to see in the movies is how small these rooms are. A claustrophobic family member of a detainee would just have to wait out the sentence of a loved one. I am not bothered by small spaces and yet I found it hard to breathe. But if I were being honest with myself, and you, the truth is more likely the shock of the simple reality of having been there before.
There are plenty things in my child hood that anyone would fully expect I would want to forget. Things that run the gamut from all kinds of abuse to nearly freezing to death. And it's true, I really don't remember many of the things I hear my mother talking about. And yet many I can't forget. But on this particular day, at this particular moment, I was forced to face a memory that I had never ever revisited since it's creation.
Details are blurry, and the jail visiting room of course was different. I do know it was the state penitentiary and I believe I was somewhere around the age of 7. I remember sitting on my Mom's lap as she talked to my dad through the glass. Seeing these glass windows again brought me straight back to the feelings of that time in my life. In looking back, it seems the only thing that mattered in my emotional world was my struggle with the question of 'Was this my fault?'
Yes. I told my friend a secret. Yes. I confirmed it's truth when it got back to my Mom. Yes. I took the stand. But I didn't have a choice. Yes. I told the truth. I had to. The judge said so. And yes, I told the judge that I thought my Daddy should go to jail. He had asked me if I thought so. What was I supposed to say? I knew right from wrong. And they said he had done wrong. Nor was my big sister defending him so I naturally followed suit on that accord as well.
The difference was, she wanted to kill him. I still loved him.
How do you ask a child of barely 7 years old to understand that we must do what is right, and that someone you love did something bad, but then go to visit them and cry and say you love them and act like they AREN'T bad. If they aren't bad... then... was I wrong maybe? And if they aren't bad... why are they in jail and when all is said and done, why don't you love them anymore? Why can't I have a Mommy AND a Daddy? And if my sister, the one I worshiped and idolized, wants to see him dead, why do I love him?
Talk about twisted and conflicted. I may not be the epitome of emotional stability, but some times I think it's a damn miracle that I hold myself upright at all. I spent the rest of my childhood and most of my teenage years pining for the father that got away. Eventually, I was able to realize it wasn't HIM that I needed and so longed for in my life. It was simply the lack of that ideal experience of a father daughter relationship that plagued me. I came to see him for the ill representation of fatherhood that he was. My heart only longed for what was supposed to be, not for something I once had and lost.
I was 15 when I came to this state of clarity, and it was the biggest relief I'd yet experienced in my tumultuous young life. I found a certain freedom in knowing that I did not NEED him. He was of little consequence to my life now. And a weight was lifted from the very core of me. I swear I grew up that day. Or at least began the proper journey of doing so. I let go of him and I found something more worthy of my devotion...myself. But stepping into that sterile visiting room, I could still remember the deep set longing and obsession of thinking that my life wasn't right with out my Dad. Going to church camp when I was 10 and being told that if I wanted something bad enough, and prayed hard enough, it would come to me. And maybe if I even cried hard enough I could speak in tongues directly to God himself and tell him of my desires and then surely they would be mine. Always left with the unsatisfying result and ingrained idea that it was again, my fault. For all that I cried, I still failed.
As we left the room, single file through the narrow hallway I was still somehow outside of myself and dead locked in the emotions and realizations of all the familiarity of a place, a time and feelings I had long forgotten. For lack of a better word, the whole experience was just... weird. In my life I had had to learn to be positive in order to grow up normal at all, but laying on my top bunk cot that night, I couldn't think of anything positive that would come out of that smack in the face. Though, by the light of day I could more clearly see - it was all about the stark difference in where I've been and where I am. It was about cutting the ropes and freeing myself of guilt and improbable hopes of making it right again. Where I was - codependence. Where I am - independence. Where I was- desperate confusion. Where I am - calm clarity. My conscience is clean and pure as the fresh coat of paint on those brand new jail walls.