The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

A Fruit-Bearing Disappointment


I woke early to that darkness between night and day. I remembered the dream of the night that is so often lost upon awakening. I was trying to climb steep dirt walls in the basement of a building. I recognized it as the basement of my paternal grandfather’s Baptist church, a church I never attended. I slid down the steep walls into the room for what task I did not know. I had my toddler grandson with me. When I was ready to leave, I pushed my grandson ahead of me up those steep walls to the opening above between ceiling and floor. He thought this was a game-fun. I struggled to get my footholds on this steep wall but kept sliding back to the bottom. I struggled and struggled to get to my grandson who now was alone on the other side of the opening. I considered telling him to run for help, but he had just begun the passage from gibberish to language. I must get to him. At last I got one foot dug in and swung my other leg up to grip the upper ledge. I pulled my body up onto that ledge and wriggled through the opening to my grandson.

Yesterday afternoon I felt the cruelty of the justice system in Allegheny County. Seven days ago the judge signed Jacob’s parole release. I received the unexpected news from his lawyer on Good Friday as I walked around Pittsburgh only two blocks from that triangular mirror-black entrance to the jail. Is there some paradox in ‘Good Friday’? Jacob did not hear the news until a visit later that day. He was confused because this was an early release. He expressed doubts about our understanding on each phone call that Easter weekend until I picked up his double-stamped copy of the motion from my mailbox. I read what I thought was clear wording on those pages. The days passed with no word, and I called the lawyer’s office daily, sometimes twice daily. I was told on each call that release was imminent. There was an explanation that the order had not been sent to the jail by the courthouse. Now it had finally reached the jail, and an official there said it was entered. What did I think of these explanations? Was it just a simple oversight, a sign of laziness or of incompetence, a deliberate action of hurt, or a lie? I spoke to Jacob who predicted a week of waiting for the process of release. He had seen this before; lost paperwork was quite common there. I thought back to his release in September 2014 and experienced a sense of dèjá vu. Yesterday morning I phoned the lawyer so I could tell Jacob when he called that I had made contact. ‘Release was coming at any minute now; it should have been yesterday.’ Finally at 1:45 PM Jacob called. I picked up the phone expecting to hear the words, “Come pick me up.” I envisioned him dressed in his suit and tie with his scruffy beard and his arms full of books and his C-Pap case handle gripped in his fingers. Instead he told me there was no news; he told me to call the judge’s office and intake at the jail. He, of course, had the advice of experienced knowledgeable jailhouse lawyers-in-training. It is as the grapevine in the workplace that often has those tidbits of news before official announcements. You must sort through the leaves and stems for the fruit. I found the judge’s number and dialed it. A woman answered on the 2nd or 3rd ring. Was she waiting for my call? I told her my name and Jacob’s name; her recognition of his name or mine was immediate. Is it good to have name recognition? She told me that a corrected order on one count had just been sent to the jail. ‘He was paroled on only one charge.’ I asked, “What does that mean? He stays in jail?” “Yes,” she answered. I said with sarcasm, “Thanks a lot.” I wonder if she recognized the sarcasm or irony in my voice and words. I think not; we on the sidelines are negligible. I hung up and dialed the lawyer’s office whose phone rang busy on the first two attempts. Success came on the third attempt. The person on the other end began to tell me the news; I interrupted to say I already knew. She said the lawyer was out, and she had the task of sorting this out. I asked, “Have you ever seen this happen before?”

I waited for Jacob’s call to give him this news; my voice choked as I relayed the news to family. Jacob called back, and I missed the call because I was walking outside with my grandson who was full of uncontrollable energy. He had the need to run and throw stones in the pond, while I had the need for the comforting calm of the sky and breeze and ripples on the water as he threw stones into its shallow depth. We were behind the garage and as I rounded the corner, I saw my daughter walking to me. I missed Jacob’s callback. I returned to telephone range and sat on my front porch unable to tolerate the squeeze of the walls of my house. I picked up the phone on the first ring and listened impatiently to that grating woman’s voice read her now stale rules of phone calls. I punched ‘5’ repeatedly on the keypad trying to bypass this message. I told him immediately; I did not sugarcoat the news. He was not angry or upset. He had always felt it was a mistake. I began to internalize that institutionalization takes a short time to seize upon the incarcerated. I considered that it had benefits both to those in charge and those in their charge. Unfortunately, I think it loses its benefit on the outside and leaves those released adrift without the tether. That drift of restlessness on the outside may eventually lead some back to the grip of those walls. His reaction calmed me and lightened my burden.

It was strange to think the cruelty of this court had thrashed Jacob’s family and friends so much harder than it had him. It is ironic that after those first emotions of resentment, anger, suspicion and disappointment, this setback fortifies me.

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