Monday, November 11, 2013

Visiting jail, and coping

This is post #7 in Where’s Jeremy (2013)

July 1st I had [as far as I can remember] my first experience going to jail. Fortunately it was through the front doors, as a visitor, no handcuffs or Miranda rights involved. Of course, it took several attempts to even find the correct front doors, because the first front doors we tried were locked. Eventually we found the correct, side-front door to gain entrance.

I looked around the waiting room stupidly, then finally picked up an unmarked phone and spoke to the unfriendly lady behind the bullet-proof glass. She gestured at a pile of pink sheets of paper that I apparently should have known to fill out. After depositing my pink paper and driver's license in the metal tray for the lady to examine, I emptied my pockets into a locker and waited. And went to the bathroom. And then waited some more. And talked a bit with my friend who'd come with me.

20 minutes later a disembodied voice called my name, and I stepped through the metal detector. It begrudged me my shoes, so I had to take them off, step through again, then grab my shoes and open the door before the buzz-in lock re-locked. This brought me into an airlock, with multiple doors and no clear direction to travel. Fortunately a kind soul traveling the opposite direction, pointed me on my way. Outside the airlock, a nice man behind his own bullet proof glass had me sign in, and gave me a sticker name tag to wear. He directed me down a long hallway, at the end of which a button-less elevator opened and closed its doors for me automagically.

The elevator brought me up (I think up?) to another floor where I found half a dozen stalls. I call them stalls because each was 6 or more feet "deep", and only 2-ish feet wide. The walls in between were tiled to waist-height then plexiglass above that, so you could see between all of them. On each stall's wall was a telephone that resembled old-school pay phones, like from the 90s, before modern society, something straight out of an history eBook. At the end of each stall was a hefty pane of glass, maybe an inch or two thick. There were no people anywhere to be seen, and it took me a minute to realize the name tag sticker I was wearing had stall number "5f" written on it. I took a seat on the uncomfortable stainless steel stool in my assigned stall, and waited.

A minute later Matthew entered from a door on the opposite side of the glass, picked up the phone on his side, pressed some buttons, then gestured for me to do the same. I pressed 1 to confirm I understood our conversation would be recorded, and then the first words I heard were "can you hear me now?" Typical Matthew. For someone who had just been sentenced to nine years (six with good behavior), I was amazed how bright his spirits were. He wasn't angry, he wasn't bitter. Instead he said, in so many words, he did the crime and now was rightfully doing the time.

We talked for an hour. Well, mostly I just listened - it was clear Matthew needed to talk, and frankly his stories were more important than any I had brought.

Thrice I neared tears as I looked around and took in my surroundings, the realization dawning that this - the phones, the impenetrable pane of glass - this would be our friendship's new reality for the next six years, and I don't know how to deal with that. I held back my tears and focused instead on the moment, determined to remain present. Mourning would come on its own later.

A recorded voice interrupted, saying we had one minute left. We said our hasty goodbyes, and Matthew put his hand up on the glass; I returned the gesture, and we hung up. The no-button elevator brought me back downstairs, I retrieved my wallet and phone from the locker, and left, sad, but also with some peace.

I met with my pastor a couple days later, and he was pretty blunt in telling me 'your relationship [with Matthew] is going to be different from now on; he is not going to be able to fulfill the same role he has in the past in you life.' A younger Jeremy's gut reaction would have been resistance and to exclaim "you're wrong!", but I could tell right in that moment that I've grown in emotional maturity, because I heard what Greg said, and understood he was saying it out of love and care for me (and not because he's trying to say anything mean about Matthew). A younger me could not have received that, but my "older, wiser" self is at a place where I've seen enough friendships come and go naturally that Greg's words didn't scare me. I know that wherever Matthew and my friendship goes, it will progress there naturally, and I do not need to force it. I think the way Greg put it: the friendship that we had is over, now let's begin a new, different kind of friendship. I don't know what that's going to look like, and it's not a bad thing, it just "is."

On Friday of that week, after a wedding reception of all things, on a whim I went to visit Matthew again. This time was more of a conversation, back and forth. I got to tell him I finished the database, and I was again encouraged to hear how positive his spirits remained: to paraphrase how he described it to me, "no one would ever choose to be in this situation, but as long as I'm here, I'm going to look at it as an adventure, and make the most of it." I know he will. We talked for half an hour until visiting hours ended.

When a person dies, oftentimes the survivors have regrets: "I should have spent more time with them." Matthew's not dead (and I have had to keep reminding myself of that, even before the sentencing happened), at the same time I feel like this situation is so similar, where someone might have regrets. I don't have any regrets, though. I was very deliberate about getting together with Matthew in the months leading up to sentencing, and so I don't have to look back and have all those "shoulda woulda couldas". Our friendship will be different, but my friend isn't gone forever.

1 comment:

Mom said...

I have never had this experience, except this current one vicariously through you. However, as I read this posting, I couldn't help but feel a certain familiarity with the situation. The feelings you describe remind me of my own as your grandparents' health and mental capacities began to fail. They weren't dead, but my lifelong parent-child relationship changed. Going forward was a new reality. Fortunately, like you, I am able to say I don't have any regrets; "I don't have to look back and have all those 'shoulda woulda couldas'. " I still feel the loss, but I can be at peace with it.