One year ago today, I got out of jail.
Jail sucks. I would never, ever choose to be there or wish someone were there. After all the trauma of the experience, I'm not even sure I can ever play Monopoly again. Even the "Just Visiting" space would give me the jitters.
Late in the evening on that Monday night, I got a message that I had a visitor. For a moment, my heart soared. My husband? My dad? They were the only ones who knew I was there, and even after the trauma of hearing my husband say I wasn't worth getting out of jail the day before, it was still inconceivable to me that he would fail to support me through what was going to be a very difficult time.
Whenever you go someplace in jail, you are handcuffed. If another prisoner is involved, you are handcuffed to each other. My hands were still so swollen that the pressure of the cuffs was agonizing. The lady with me, Green 'Fro helped relieve the pressure by holding my hand, which was also a small human comfort.
We sat in the space reserved for us shackled people. When I was called, it was to a space inhabited by a man I did not know. Turned out he was a Conditional Release Probation Officer.
PO: Do you want to go home?
Me: Yes!!!!! What's the catch?
PO: (laughs) There are some conditions.
Me: What are they?
He listed the conditions. Basically, in my case, I had to agree to be law abiding, refrain from alcohol use, and talk to a Probation Office. I also had to agree to show up in court. The good news was it wouldn't cost any money to get out of jail.
PO: Can you agree to that?
He created the paperwork that allowed me to go home. It was after the cutoff for phone calls, so I asked him to call my husband. He said he had to anyway to establish my address was accurate. It was close to ten.
He sent me back to the cell with a warning: "Do not tell anyone you're going home. No matter how friendly they seem, there are some who will try derail your release. They will start a fight or threaten or hurt you or somehow make it so you can't leave. Do NOT tell anyone."
I went back to the cell. My spirit was singing; I was getting out of jail, a real hell hole.
When I got back to the cell, Know-It-All was at the window. Green 'Fro wasn't back yet from what I assumed was also a meeting with a Conditional Release Probation Officer. Know-it-all was crying. I went and stood by her at the window. The sisterhood had dispersed; we were three.
Me: What's wrong, honey.
Know-It-All: This is the first time I've been alone. 'Til now I've had all the questions. Your white girl questions. Now that I've been alone, I've been thinking about what I have to did and what I'm likely facing. It sucks.
Me: I'm sorry. Really sorry.
Her: I believe you. I didn't know there are still people like you in the world. You love people. You have hope. You believe there is something better. Will you pray for me?
OMG! I know why I was in jail. But in that moment it occurred to me that there may be deeper meaning. Maybe I wasn't just in jail for me; maybe I was in jail for her too.
Still, I was remarkably interested in my own best interests at that point. I never told her I was leaving, and I saw in her face the moment when she registered my betrayal. It was heartbreaking to leave her there, knowing she was going to be alone the rest of the night. The nights are very long in jail. Earlier in the afternoon when Kelli left, I couldn't even imagine how I was going to make it through the night without her support. Now Know-It-All was going to be completely alone. As sad as I was for her, I was also so, so happy to be leaving. I guess it's a moment that can best be described as bittersweet.
I have prayed for her, without ceasing. She was right; what she was facing was so much worse than what I was facing, and I was scared. I hope things went well for her.
So. I left that cell knowing I would never be back.
I was cuffed and shackled, and escorted to the same area where I'd been booked what seemed so long ago.
The officer cut off the bracelet and took my papers. I had to sign for my things, and I went in a room to change. Even though I felt like I still smelled of jail sweat, it felt so good to be in my own clothes and almost free. I gave the officer my uniform and the horrendous plastic shoes. She gave me the rest of my things and sent me to the phone. I called my husband; he was on his way.
Outside the building, unsupervised for the first time in days, I sat near a fountain and looked at the outside of the jail. I imagined I could see Know-It-All at the window looking out. We'd all watched people moving across the intersection, coming and going from the various buildings - even eating lunch in the very place I was sitting.
I was disconcerted. Free. Scared. Cold. Uncertain. Free.
My husband came about a half hour later. I was so happy to see him and the link to home. He was not happy to see me. The anger and loathing filled the space between us.
About ten minutes out of the city, he laid in to me.
Husband: You will go to treatment. Your dad and I will choose the place. You will be there for at least a month.
Me: I don't think it works that way. Before you can go to treatment you have to have a Chemical Dependency Evaluation...
Husband: Shut up. You don't understand that you have no power. It's not up to you.
Husband: Who paid for you to get out of jail?
Me: No one? Didn't the Conditional guy call you and explain?
Husband: Who paid for you to get out of jail?
He had a litany of things I would do. And a list of things I would not do. Much of his monologue was insulting and embarrassing. His words were meant to wound and denigrate. The conversation was very repetitive.
Husband: You will go to treatment this week. I will choose the place. You will not like it. But you will do it.
Me, eventually: You understand that it doesn't work that way, right?
Husband: SHUT UP. I HATE YOU. I HATE YOU. I HATE YOU. You will do what you're told. Do you understand that you have no choice?
Me: It just doesn't work like that.
Husband: YOU. HAVE. NO. CHOICE. Get it?
Me: Please stop. Please stop. Please stop...
Husband: If you say one more word, I am pulling off the next exit and throwing you out. I will say you were out of control and hitting me. You'll go back to jail.
I said not another word. Not one.The hope that I'd felt sitting in that visitor's room with the Conditional guy faded. The peace Know-It-All's words had given me faded. The simple joy in being free faded. The thought that I'd left one hell hole for another surfaced.
I was completely at my husband's mercy.
And it was evident that he had none.
No matter who you are or what you bring to the telling of this story, know that the telling is agonizing and brutal. As I write and remember and relive, I say goodbye to these pieces of the past. Much of the remembering is tied up with the demise of my marriage and the end of my twenty-eight year relationship with a man who had become bitterly angry, controlling, and abusive.
On this, the first anniversary of the fourth trauma, when I click "Publish" I will consciously let go of the events of that day.
Next year, I plan to celebrate each of these anniversaries with the sure knowledge that I wouldn't be who I am today without each of these horrible experiences.
And you know? The better I know myself, the more I love myself.
That, by itself, is a huge victory.