Once upon a time, a philosopher in London designed the first prison to be used as a form of punishment. Before this stroke of genius, prisons had been used to temporarily house criminals until a corporal punishment could be assigned. It was the philosopher’s idea that threat of hard labor, harsh conditions, and loss of freedom would be a deterrent to criminal behavior. Of course, if this were true, there would be few prisons and little crime. The flaw in this thinking did not escape notice. Over time, prisons have tried to rehabilitate offenders with education, mental examinations, even shock therapy, all with little success. To this day, the tools used by U.S. penal institutions remain crude and ineffective. In 2018, the recidivism rate was 76.6% at five years’ post release. That is a significant increase from 1985, when the rate was 62.5%. It was early in that year that my ex-husband asked the state of Indiana to roll the dice on him being among the 37.5% that would not re-offend. His petition involved a legal maneuver called shock probation. Dave and his lawyer thought the judge would look a little kinder on the ploy if he had a wife and child who needed him at home.
Although we had been divorced for three years, he asked me to marry him again. The first time he wanted to marry me because he loved me. This time it was because he loved his freedom. So, to help me decide, I made a list. On the negative side, Dave was controlling, verbally abusive to me and “our” son, unfaithful, selfish, and unpredictable. On the positive side, I loved him, the sex was great, and he was unpredictable. While I struggled to force this equation to equal family, stability, and security for me and my son, the judge, in his wisdom, let him out of prison. Naturally, the marriage proposal was withdrawn, but Dave’s presence in our lives was not. He came home to us from prison, and together, Dave and I subjected Micheal to yet another round of manipulation, drunken arguing and tears, and typically, another move.
It didn’t last long, however. Before the last frost that spring, Dave had left us in a home I could afford even less than the apartment we had just moved from. Back to juggling rent, food, and utilities, I was again desperate for money, for hope, for family, and for companionship. I could never have foreseen it then, but my life was about to change. An opportunity presented itself, and while subconsciously I must have known my response to be mercenary, even predatory, consciously it seemed an answer to unspoken prayer, a solution to a multitude of problems not only for myself and my son, but for others as well.
November 24, 2018
I have been meeting him in various places for two or three weeks. The area encompasses 12th street through 15th street from west to east, and south ‘A’ to north ‘E’. I’ve met him on corners and alleys by predetermination. This time, I’m driving around while he’s sending me texts to turn at this block and that until finally he says he sees me. I pull over and park in the middle of the block. I see him walking toward me, his arms folded in his giant coat, the hood obscuring his face. He stops briefly by the side of my car and he rests his hand on the door handle. He hesitates, looking up and down the street before he enters my car. He says, “Hi, mom” as he gets in the back seat. He’s on the right side so I can turn my head to look at him. “You didn’t bring the police with you, did you?” He says the word “police” in a hard way, emphasizing the “po.” PO-lice.
“No,” I answer him, “No tricks, I promise.”
“Well, how are things?” He asks.
“I’m okay. I’m due to get my pacemaker on Thursday.”
“Are you scared?”
“Not so much. They tell me I’ll be awake the whole time, so it must not be too bad. I’ll come home the same day. I hope it works. I’ve felt tired for months. How are you doing? You look tired. Are you staying clean?”
“I’m not gonna lie. I’ve been using some, but not terrible. The girl I’ve been staying with is trying to quit. I’m trying, too. We are trying to help each other. We both want to get some help, go to treatment.” He still won’t give me the girl’s name, but I ignore the lapse. “I want to go to treatment whether they send me back to prison or not.”
“You should really call your parole officer, Micheal. Not being in contact only makes it worse.” I’ve only said this sixteen times, but I can’t stop myself from repeating it again.
“She called me a liar, Ma. That bridge has done been burnt. She ain’t gonna hear me or give me some slack no matter what. I’m gonna turn myself in, but I want to wait till after Christmas. I haven’t been outside for Christmas in a few years.” I hear what he is saying, but I don’t see that it makes much difference. Being holed up in an apartment with “the girl” doing meth doesn’t seem much better than being in jail to me, but I don’t say that to him.
“Anyway,” I say to him, “I brought you these pastries left over from the market.” I hand him a box over the seat. “And, here is the phone I’ve been telling you about. I have it for business but I don’t get many calls. If I do, just give them my other phone number. This phone has unlimited everything. You can talk, text, and watch as many videos as you want, no problem. Just be careful with it, and please, let me know every day or two that you’re okay.” I hand the phone and its charger over the seat. He puts them in his pocket. My hand is still extended over the back of the seat, open palm. He puts his hand in mine and we both squeeze and hold on. His hand is cold, almost clammy, but I don’t want to let go. My mind drifts back to a time when I held his hand daily. In my mind’s eye, he’s still my little boy, still the tender soul I have always loved with all my heart. My eyes well up from thinking that, and from realizing that soon I will betray his trust. It seems that betrayal has been a constant theme between me and him. I’ve betrayed him both through my own foolishness, and for what I tell myself is his own good, but I don’t think that distinction means very much to him. After all, if you can’t trust your own mother, who can you trust?