The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

Jail, Again?


What does it feel like to have a loved one or friend in jail? It is not a fun and exciting new life experience. It is an experience that becomes a necessity to endure when it happens, unless you are the kind of person who is able to turn away. Sometimes, that does become a necessity.

The saying is ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.  Maybe, maybe not. I can not say if I am stronger than I was before this happened. I think that sometimes things kill us so slowly we do not recognize death approaching. I have resigned myself to accept what I cannot change. That is resignation for the reality of this moment; I am not resigned to the conviction or the lie. There is the reality of now, but unfortunately the reality of the future means always looking back to the accusations and the years leading up to that moment. We have feet in the present trying to move into the future, but we are weighted down by the past.

I wonder often why my son’s life had to be so hard. How could choosing the wrong person to share your life with lead to this? Many have chosen the wrong person and been able to move beyond that with the pain of failure, but without constant torment. There is no answer to that question. Many parents ask that question about their children of all ages who endure all types of pain and misfortune. In the past, I asked this question about my daughter. Maybe the saying is equally true for children as it is for adults. Each obstacle in their life makes them stronger; unfortunately, it does sometimes kill. We want to protect our children from physical and emotional pain, but our parents could not protect us from everything, and we cannot protect our own. There are some things beyond our control.

I have thought about the accuser many times; I never forget. I have experienced the full range of emotions in those thoughts. Our lawyer reported that a psychologist or psychiatrist or counselor or whoever it was that talked to this accuser believed that this person was sexually abused. I have always considered that as the possibility. That possibility always leads me to the questions of who? and why this? then. Months ago someone offered an ugly explanation to Jacob. I discounted it, but still it sits with a poison in the recesses of my brain. That is the way with innuendo, intimation, suggestion, accusation, lie. Once out, they are hard to forget and decide whether they have a validity.

Why am I writing this now? As always, a new event upends the box and everything spills out again to turn over and over again in examination. It will always be that way because everything going forward will boomerang back to that moment when the accusations were expelled from the accuser’s mouth. I am afraid there will never be peace. There will be no peace for me.

Jacob did not call for a day or two which always brings lockdown to mind. That is the most comforting explanation to focus on; other less comforting thoughts are pushed back. Then he called on Thursday morning, and that number on the caller ID brought foreboding. He had never called in the morning. Only dreams at night bring good thoughts like release; in the daylight, there is only reality. He told me he was in PC (protective custody). Immediately I knew that other inmates had learned of his charges, and he was not safe.

I have always worried about Jacob’s safety. Jail is an extreme microcosm of society. Perhaps it really is not an extreme though. It just seems so because it is such a small subsection of our bigger outside world and everything is magnified. Jacob told me he had written a letter about what happened. He does not want to talk about it on the phone, because the call is not private. Not only are calls and visits monitored and recorded, but other inmates can hear the conversations if they walk by or you talk loudly. In PC, there are only two phones for a number of inmates, so the phone call is cut short so others can get a chance to call in that one hour they are given to make calls.

The odd thing I just learned is that not even attorney’s visits are private. Someone in his lawyer’s office explained to me the setup of the visiting room for attorneys and clients. They could be sitting at any time with five or six other attorneys and their clients in one big room. So unless you are lucky enough to be the only people in the room, everyone else sitting there will know your business. This seems like a contradiction to attorney/client privilege and confidentiality and could we add this to the list of possibilities for jailhouse snitch? I just add this seeming incongruity to my list of other false, misguided and naive beliefs about the police, the courts and the jails.

Do you think that anyone is listening to those conversations? Of course, they are. Information could be very useful in a place where all kinds of things can be used in barter and extortion. Someone told Jacob this story that he then repeated to me. A man was discussing sexual matters with his girlfriend while her teenage child sat in the same room with them. He suggested that the child should leave the room, but his girlfriend said the teen was busy on the iPad and not listening. What do you think? I think children are listening to our conversations and interpreting what they hear into their own world view; I think inmates are listening to other inmates and to the guards. They are listening to learn interesting and useful information.

No, having someone in jail or prison is not pleasant. It is simply a fact of life for some of us. We become inured to the metal detectors and the sign in and being treated a bit like children. We become accustomed to a lack of common courtesy. We become accustomed to dirty bathrooms and broken towel dispensers. We become accustomed to trash and discomfort in visiting cells. We become accustomed to poor phone reception on calls and paying exorbitant rates for those calls. We become accustomed to those things we have no say in. We become accustomed to making a list of things we want to talk about because we cannot just call up our loved one. We become accustomed to being turned away at the door when visits are cancelled. We learn the lingo of jail. We learn the workings and failures of jails. We learn that punishment may continue for life without end. The lesson is hard for not only the loved one but for us too.

One letter writer, Terry Leon Chalmers, featured in the Innocence Project’s National Letter Writing Month wrote that his family paid the price for his incarceration too. He added that he was charged and convicted of a sex crime, so he lost friends and acquaintances. Did they really know him or were they really his friends? Jacob is lucky to have some great friends. It is often human nature to join the popular sentiment and forsake your own mind and opinion.

Jacob says a similar thing about those in his pod when he left. Some of those who were ‘friends’ (I use that word loosely; are they friends or just acquaintances who have been thrown together in extraordinary circumstances?) felt betrayed because he had not told them his charges. He asked, “If I told you, would you have believed me when I told you I was innocent?” Most could not honestly answer yes. They are, after all, victims of human nature and subject to the influences of public opinion. Should he have believed that these strangers would believe him when his own wife who should have at the very least asked questions asked none and joined the rest of the accusers? That is simply the reality of human nature to trust the opinions of others over our own. Sure, we could be wrong; but there are times we must use our own minds and follow our convictions.

Jacob wrote a great letter about human nature and what it feels like to be him, to be a person innocently accused and innocently convicted. Perhaps someday, he will be a writer too.

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