Friday, October 5, 2012

Jailbird


The officer behind the desk today is the friendly guy. (There's only one.) It's as good a sign as you can hope for at jail. He asks Silas about Charles and laughs over my ancient Old Navy flats with their secret metal arch supports as he runs them through the machine again.

I pick up the receiver and there she is, her face as lovely as ever. She's there in her "reds" since she's a model citizen, so she stands in front of the video camera, twirls. Her cheeks flush as she tells me about her extra privileges; her, shining red in a wide sea of beige.

She swears like a sailor then says she went to a prayer meeting last night. The church ladies put their hands on her forehead and prayed for her headache. It didn't go away.

I hardly know this girl.

Her letters land in my box, tiny hearts floating above the "i"s and "j"s. We've mutually concluded that it must have been God who led me to her front stoop just 10 days before her world stopped turning.

I'd walked out that night excited about everything I saw in her in the small span of 30 minutes. It was enough. I gave her my number as I walked out the door. I watched her punch it in knowing she'd probably never call me.

We had no idea what was coming.

So here I am, her only friend. Her only visitor in almost two months. I'm the only return address and the only cash on her books for envelopes and a sports bra. She's got no one who can help. No one else sitting on the other side of the monitor.

Here's the understatement of the century: I never thought I'd see the inside of a jail.

My only frame of reference was some kind of ridiculous 1980's movie. Or maybe Shawshank Redemption. I saw myself walking down a cinder-block hall, tattooed men reaching through the bars, howling, leering. Spitting? Maybe.

Uh yeah, I watched too much TV in my younger years. (Also, single toothpicks are not whittled down from a giant oak tree, as Woody the Woodpecker would have me believe. You're welcome.)

So jail isn't what I imagined. It's just a big room full of telephones with screens. There's also a bank of vending machines that turn my smallest child into a frothing maniac. 

It's not as scary as I imagined. But it's every bit as lonely. It's maxed out with hurting people; kids without Dad or Mommy, women scrapping for less than what they deserve, men with tattooed necks whose blue eyes cast darkness like a line.

I hurt for my friends living on the inside. I miss 'em. Every week, they send me back out to the world with a smile and I'm so thankful, all the time, every day, that God gave them to me.

It seems futile to try to fix their kind of problems, so I just tell her she's smart and beautiful. I tell him that the God who made the world and him can handle a plea deal. I talk in the present tense and nudge them to dream a little about what comes next.

It never feels like enough.

It always feels a little unfair that they fill me up while I'm there.

It's exhausting and I fight the lie that I don't have time.

Because the truth is, none of it is haphazard. I fell into them for a reason.

So I go.