And for Part 2, here.
I'm guessing the big question on everyone's mind, but they're afraid to ask is, "What is it really like? Prison, that is? Is it anything like what we see in the movies or on TV?"
There are some similarities, yes, but with one, huge, monumental difference. Watching it unfold on on the big screen is world's away from living it...day after agonizing day.
As I hesitantly exited from the secured caravan in handcuffs and shackles, the outside world ceased to exist from that moment forward; I had entered into a completely and totally different realm, ominous and foreboding.
I will tell you this for sure. The officers, the other inmates, the steel doors...they're all very, very real.
I quickly discovered that if there was anyone remaining in my life who trusted me, they weren't to be found inside those concrete walls. Let's face it - I was sent there for a reason, and therefore, treated as such. There would be no special treatment, no favors, no fuzzy blankets, or fleece pajamas.
Upon arrival, I was stripped of everything I came with. Whatever sense of humility I thought I still had in tact went directly out the window when I was instructed to remove every piece of clothing I had on to prove that I had not smuggled anything through the prison doors. I was handed my new clothes and a set of white, starched sheets and shown to my room. I had three other roommates; one of which was charged with theft, one with manufacturing meth, and the other was charged as being a sex offender. As I stood there making up my bed, I felt panicked and shaky, as if my heart might jump directly out of my chest at any moment. I struggled to hold back the tears that would surely come, day after day, night after night.
Each and every morning began with a correctional officer walking down the cold, linoleum hallway and announcing, "6:30", which was our indication that the day was about to begin. We had approximately 15 minutes to get up and out of bed to pick up our breakfast. I can remember waiting until the very last moment to throw back the covers, because to me, waking up was a harsh and brutal reminder that I had to live yet another day in this nightmare.
With the exception of two days off a week, we all had a specific job to do. That job ranged anywhere from mopping the hallway or the common areas, to serving lunch or dinner, to cleaning the showers and bathrooms. There were no doors on the stalls of the bathroom and showers were kept at a minimum. The heat barely worked; in fact, most nights, I slept fully-clothed and still struggled to get warm. The food was basically void of any taste and nutritional value; never once were we served a piece of fruit or a vegetable that didn't come out of a can. The beds we slept on were glorified blow up mattresses and often in the morning or at night, I would hunch my body forward and listen as my spine cracked from top to bottom from a lack of stability and support. There were often heated fights between women, with one or both usually being sent to solitary confinement for days on end. On one weekend in particular, a water pipe burst so we were without clean, running water for over 48 hours. You were to wear your inmate tag at all times and stepping outside of your doorway before being given the go-ahead was not allowed.
Considering all of the above, I was very lucky in the sense that my family back home continuously provided me with money for my phone account, which allowed me at least one call a day to my husband and around once a week, a call to my parents and sister as well. Without a doubt, these calls were my lifeline, and I clung to those 20 minutes like a child clinging to their beloved security blanket. I was desperate to hear a familiar and loving voice. I would sit in the corner with my back to everyone else as I called home, with tears streaming down my face.
I was also priviledged to have my family visit me each weekend. I could sit by my little window which faced the parking lot and watch as they walked up to the front door. It took every ounce of willpower not to run outside and greet them, and when they left to go home, I can remember saying over and over again through my tears, I just want to come home. Unfortunately, there were so many inmates that weren't as lucky as I was. They would go months without a visit and some never had a visit at all. I often felt guilty for this privilege, but knew deep down I was blessed beyond measure.
It's safe to say that I walked away from this entire situation as a different person. I fell in love with God all over again, thanks to the abundance of prayers from back home as well as a local church that came in each Thursday night to lead a bible study. I had known God at one time in my life, but I had separated myself from Him in lieu of worldly things I felt were much more important. And since I didn't have my family to lean on, I chose to lean on Him instead; this would prove to be an amazing and comforting realization. I also realized that compassion can soften the hardest of hearts. I spoke to inmates who were so desperate to get off the streets and off drugs or alcohol that they re-offended for that very reason. The fact that their home life was so totally non-existent that they were better off in prison was mind-boggling to me. Can you even imagine? My heart literally opened up wide, and then simultaneously broke, for them.
Hearing my full story, you may want to pass judgement. You might say to yourself or be thinking, I could never. But as I mentioned here, we cannot step into someone else's shoes and claim that we would have done differently. We can only live the life we've been handed; that is our only job here on this earth. For those of us who have taken the road less traveled, God gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a beautiful, grace-filled Sacrament, of which I have participated in and obtained the ultimate forgiveness. I consider it a second chance at life and I will not squander it. That is a promise I made to God...and to myself.
Do you have a story to share? Are you in need of a second chance?
It's there, just waiting for you. Grab hold of it.