Released from Prison

11 May

When my mother was sentenced to a state penitentiary, she eventually had to be transferred from the local prison to Chowchilla, the women’s correctional facility in Central California. She was transported in a Sheriff’s bus that you sometimes see on the highway. The buses are painted black and white like a zebra that announce to the world that prisoners are on board. I can literarily feel the humiliation my mother must have experienced while riding that bus. I wonder if she ever talked to the other prisoners, or if she slunk down from the window so that no one on the highway could look up and see her. I pray she wasn’t handcuffed. My mother was so far from having a criminal nature this is as far as I will let my imagination take me.

She never talked about her experiences in jail. This was the one area of her life that was a closed book. I was always relieved that she didn’t disclose much about those experiences and yet her silence spoke volumes. Shame serves an evolutionary function but I don’t think it is meant to imprison us. Yet many of us do time in one way, shape or form.

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When I saw the above photo the other day on FB, I couldn’t help but be struck. I recognized the profound love of the officer throwing a life line to the young man. To witness someone in the throes of excruciating pain takes both tremendous energy and courage. And I’m also reminded that when my mom hit this point, there was no one there and she couldn’t hang on. She slipped through the cracks and overdosed. She was literarily imprisoned in her own pain and through death sought release.

Most days I don’t think about my mom’s suicide or the note she wrote me. But when Mother’s Day comes around and you see messages about moms all over FB, how can I not? How can I not think of Chowchilla and the fate that befell my gentle mother all because she suffered from anxiety and depression and turned to alcohol to help her cope?

I am also reminded that I somehow got lucky. Despite my own emotional struggles, I have always been able to cope. I have also had incredible people who have sat with me during those dark nights of the soul so that I never was hanging from a bridge. I also know that I was lucky to have the mother that I did for despite her emotional fragility, I never once doubted that she loved me. I was always very much wanted and looked after.

I stumbled across this photograph this morning and remember all those times mom wanted me to have my picture taken. How she adored my very image… When I look at this photo, I feel my mother’s eyes gazing down on me from heaven. To her, I will always be that little girl.

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