The Allegheny County Jail is part of our narrative now, and its vernacular has entered our language. Jacob shares the stories of his months there. There will be months of stories as they are remembered, and he is reminded of stories from his pages of notes and letters. He met many men, and perhaps he may even call a few friend. Friends as enemies can be found in unexpected places. On his first full day of release, he recognized an inmate on the street. They did not acknowledge each other; Jacob did not know him well.
Jail is a learning experience for the convicted and those who still await their conviction or acquittal. There are many with drug offenses. There are the addicts who tell stories of how much money they spent on drugs, and the dealers who shared how much money they made selling drugs. Sometimes the two are one. When he listened to these dealers talk about the money they made selling drugs, it seemed a chimera to think that they would leave this life upon release. Perhaps it is a good life until you get caught and worth the risk.
There are inmates with talent and skills. Jacob has skills and talent. There was a man who wrote poetry that Jacob liked. There was a man who came to Jacob to discuss the word ‘onomatopoeia’ that he wanted to use in his rap lyrics. The men find ways to occupy their time with little to entertain or occupy them.
As Jacob and I were watching the news reports one evening of local arrests, he told me what each of the charges meant and which were the catch-all charges. He told me the sentencing guidelines for the charges. He talked about the new DNA testing used in a current case. He has read the newspaper in jail and talked to the inmates. That was his education. Perhaps one day he will find a new use for this education.
I was listening to Andrew Solomon’s Ted Talks, How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are. He shared his belief derived from his personal experiences that you must forge meaning from traumas and the worst events in your life to incorporate into a new identity. I wish that for Jacob.