Tuesday, March 15, 2011

RIP Mary

I want to write about a woman I met the first time I was in jail. I was inside twice, neither time for a lengthy sentence: but the experience was profound in ways you might not imagine. I could write about facing down the head Latina King there, Ray-Ray: about how she stepped to me, and how I stood up to her with a firm dignity that I didn't know I had in me: about how she attempted to avenge herself on me, and how it backfired on her: I get a chuckle out of that one still. Ray-Ray was a thug, and one of the women who belonged there. She is probably still there.

But most of us didn't belong there. I picked up two misdemeanor charges at the age of 43. I had never been in trouble before outside of high school detention: I was new to the justice system, and believed that the guys in the white hats were mostly honest and fair. I was wrong. I was put on probation for my offenses, and was incarcerated both times for going to my probation officer in tears and admitting that I had used drugs again. Upon hearing my story, the other inmates assured me that I was criminally stupid, and they were right. I was told to ask for their help: instead I received their punishment. I was so, so naive. I watched these officers of the law blatantly lie in court, and I was stunned. I learned that justice and the law are not always related.

The first time I was in jail, I was terrified. I kept my mouth shut and my head up: I stayed to myself, nodded at people here and there, and took my time letting everyone size me up. It was hard to have no money when everyone brought out their commissary goods, candy and chips and coffee: I was starving, having gone days smoking rock instead of eating, and they don't feed you much there. But I knew better than to ask, because showing weakness is not a good plan. That much I knew. I knew not to admit that I had a suicide plan in place: their treatment would have been to put me in a straitjacket, diaper me, and put me in isolation. Think I'm joking? I saw it happen. I learned. I saw a woman have a series of mini-strokes: they put her in isolation, where we could not help her. When I left a month later, she had still not seen a doctor. Need to take a leak? Too bad. You can wait until the guard feels like getting up, and begging won't help. You are nothing in jail. You have no rights other than what they choose to give you.

There are so many other horrors I could delineate, but I want to talk about one of the women I met there. She was one of the women who taught me what it means to be a hero. Her name was Mary. She walked the pod like I did, round and round until it was time to lock down, or eat: killing time. She was in jail for taking her son to Burger King, with her ex's permission: he called the police and she was charged with kidnapping. She had a record of small drug offenses, so she was locked up with no bail. She was looking at spending the rest of her life in prison for nothing. NOTHING. She had spent her childhood being abused and gone on to make a series of remarkably bad choices in men. She had used drugs to alleviate the horror: she tried to get help, but there isn't much out there, and that's no excuse, that's the truth in the state of Massachusetts. As a crack addict, she was not eligible for detox: there are no rehabs available for less than an initial investment of $8000: and a mental hospital will not keep you for more than a week or so, even if you beg. So there she was, looking at life without: she had just been officially charged. It's fair to say that she was a little upset.

She and I were both walking our circles, as I said, and in time our circles synced up. And you know what she did with her fear and her pain, this woman? She asked me how I was doing. She was kind. She listened, and encouraged me to talk about me: she gave me some advice: but most of all, she just cared. I was amazed. In this descent into hell, I knew I was witnessing greatness. She gave me back my hope. And she showed me who I wanted to be when I grew up. She was my angel that day.

Mary died not long ago. She was 2 years older than me. This is when I start wondering, why me? Why not her? I have no answer. All I know is, she taught me something: I learned that love happens in the giving, not the taking. RIP Mary. You gave me the gift of hope when it seemed you had nothing to give, and I hold that hope to this day. I will never forget you.


  1. Way to often people who are addicts are misunderstood.They say that this is what we choose to do and how we want to live our lives.In reality,most addicts have some kind of trauma in there past lives that they don't know how else to deal with.And most of the times,there is no one there to show them the right way and advocate for them.By the time someone (if there is someone) comes in there lives that understands where they are coming from,it is more than often too late.The damage is done and it takes a long time, If in all possible to reverse it.
    The only thing that I can say is, that even thou she passed on and there is a void.She is in peace now. I hope you find comfort in that.Hug

  2. You had stayed in touch with her? What eventually happened with her case? It is certainly true that the rich get justice in this country and the poor get screwed.

  3. the love IS in the giving.

    Absolutely, it is.

  4. Anonymous: I marvel time and again that I ever got sober. All the odds were against me. I bleed for my brothers and sisters in this disease, stigmatized, ostracized, and punished with a cruelty that is the opposite of justice: and I will fight for justice for all of us still lost in the fog until I die. It burns my heart every fucking day.

    Menzie: no, I didn't stay in touch with her: I went back to my tour of shelters, crackhouses and sleeping in the dirt for quite a while after that. I have thought about her, and House Mouse, and a few other women there every day for years now. I think about jail every day when I can open the door and breathe fresh air whenever I want to. Do you realize what a complex smell air is? It is impossible to remember with accuracy: it is such a privilege, to breathe it today. I'm not sure what happened with her case: she was out at the time of her death. She committed suicide. (I have been sitting here at the keyboard after I typed that, full of feeling and at a loss for words.) She needed HELP, kindness, a break of some kind: she got nothing.

    Maybe what saved me was the ability to cling like hell to every small goodness, to focus on it, to retell the story of my life in my own head over and over until I could see those moments even more than the pain. It is no great strength in me, it was just a great determination from the time I was very young, that I would not lose myself to the rage. It is still there, thrumming just under my skin: every survivor feels it, and I'm sure anyone else can imagine it. So I had to feed myself something else, too. When I was 6 I thought of the rage as being something that would take away my "colors". I still fight to feed that part of me, my spirit or whatever you want to call it.

    Thank you guys for reading this. <3