For a little more than a year and a half, I have been going to a drug and alcohol program in a county jail to coach an empowerment class on Sunday mornings. The class begins immediately after breakfast at 8:30am. Most of the room is still tired. And then there’s me, blasting through the door, charged with energy and ready to roar.
I would like the record to reflect that his is not my description of what happens. No, this was something I was told by someone that used to attend my class and reached out to me upon his release.
I see them, men from all different walks of life, from different areas and from different backgrounds. Their common bond is dependency. There are those who of course, have their own opinions and their own outlooks on what they do.
Some take this program to shave their time or look good for the courts with hopes to say they’re sorry, that they have a “Disease,” so please show mercy. Some are habitual and recidivists, which means they come in and out of jail like a revolving door—they’ve been in this position before and they know the system; they know what to do and how to do it. Yet still they state works to remove their excuses by allowing for treatment, which means no one can say that “Nobody helped me.”
There are some that wholeheartedly want to improve but yet, they struggle to know how. There are some that want to improve and will improve and there are some that for whatever reason, they will not and cannot see themselves living any other way.
There are some that still think what they do is “Cool” and they’re way of life is “Fun” even though, I can’t see how much fun they’re having in now, in jail, sitting on a toilet next to someone, with no privacy, and the only link to the outside world is a payphone and limited access to the internet, ramen noodle soups, and commissary goods, which in all actuality are not so good because how good can anything be here? This is jail.
I have seen good people here though. In fact, I have met great people here, beautiful people, loving people, and loving fathers.
I have met brilliant minds here and listened to shares from men that have served incredible amounts of time in prison, and yet, hard as they are, they’ve somewhat softened enough to allow me a glimpse of their life.
I have seen tears shed here, which is amazing because again, this is still jail—to allow yourself a moment to be human is not such an easy thing to do, However, I say this is jail but this is also the treatment side.
They are taught skills and helped with re-entry. There people I know, like my good friend Bonnie who comes in weekly to educate, support, and inspire these men to reach their best potential.
I do not call them inmates and I do not ask names. In fact, I inform them not to tell me their names because I do not ever want to be asked questions about anyone and have their anonymity come into question. Still though, I learn about them. I learn about their names and their lives.
It is a strange thing though. I interact with these men as comfortable as anyone else. I am alone with them and they are alone with me. There is a guard nearby but there is no urgency because there is no threat. This is a program and a great one at that.
As great as it is, however, keep in mind, we are still dealing with mental and clinical illness. Addiction or substance abuse disorder and alcoholism or however the politically correct try to label it; this is still a real problem. Therefore, in an effort to attack this problem from more than one angle, the men in the program are offered all types of treatment solutions. And me, well, I am a small part of this.
It’s hard to say goodbye to some of them when they go. I protect my boundaries and keep mindful that this is a position. This is not personal; however, the sharing becomes very personal and passion is important when it comes to being impactful.
I was thinking about the concept of time. I was thinking how long a week can be when living in the wrong place. Hell, I was thinking about the nightmare we face while sitting in the Department of Motor Vehicles for an entire morning or an afternoon.
I was thinking about the concept of one year and all the changes that happen in just one year.
I was thinking about the advancements in technology and what a difference five years makes. I was trying to think about the cell phones that came out five years ago and how they are almost obsolete already.
Five years ago, a 15 year old was only 10. Five years ago, a five year old was just born. A lot can happen in five years. People are born and pass away. Life goes on, we grow, we rise and we fall.
I was thinking about the concept of seven years or 7—14 years to be exact. I was thinking about a little girl that will be a grown woman by this time.
I was thinking about a family that will have to become self-sufficient. I was thinking about a little boy whose father will not be around to teach him to ride a bike or how to throw a ball or catch it with a baseball glove.
I was thinking about the parent teacher nights when moms and dads go to school; however, in this case, dad won’t be around, just mom.
I understand there needs to be a punishment for crime. I get that we have to uphold the law to ensure the safety of our community. I get this. I really do.
However, more time behind bars in the case of mental illness is not a cure for mental illness. This only postpones the inevitable.
More time behind bars does not help change the mindset and gear thinking toward healthy, sober living.
Eventually, the bars will give way and the release date comes up. Now we have re-entry. Now we have the possible PTSD scenarios and the nightmare stories heard about prison fights, or worse, there’s rape.
Jail is not nor shout it be intended to be a fun place. True one can get an education here. True, one can gain a diploma here. But some of the education and some of the diplomas here are not quite the same as that from a true school. They earn their degrees in hardness here.
I do not attach myself. At least I try not to.
Yesterday, one of the men in my class walked up to me. He said goodbye.
“They gave me 7—14.”
“But it’s okay,” he said.
“I’ll be alright.”
His face changed. And what I mean is his expression switched to an expression that explains he would have to change the type of man his is to be the type of man he will have to be to survive his time.
I have made friends here. Some have gone on to do great things. Some have kept in touch and I consider them close and wonderful friends to me.
There is something called N.A.T.O which stands for no attachment to outcome. I try to keep this in mind; however, last night, I shed a tear for a man that will be away from his family for no less than 7 but no more than 14 years.
I wish I could have done more for him . . .
At least, God, I hope I did
For a moment, at least on Sunday mornings between the hour of 8:30 and 9:30, we talk and interact like people and not like specialist to inmate.
To my friend I say this, just know my prayers are on your side.
And for the record, so am I