We all build walls. Even the politicians talk about building walls. We think that they will protect us. But do they?
Janie had built some pretty impressive walls. I did not know if I could scale the walls that she had erected. She was so hidden away.
The next time that I met her was in our re-entry class, Mercy Works. In that first class we take an assessment of need. What will their needs be once they are released? Our main concerns are recovery from drugs and alcohol, jobs and housing. From Janie, we learned that she already had a GED and had her documents (birth certificate and social security card) that would be needed to secure a job. She had been to treatment for drugs and alcohol and had spent some time in a recovery house.
It would be a while before she was even eligible for parole but when asked if she had a place to go, we learned that she didn’t really have any plans and did not currently have a relationship with either parent. But, there was a boyfriend that she had met while in the recovery house.
She was very matter of fact as we asked her all of these questions. Then I asked her if she had any children. “Yes, two boys.” She said.
“How old are they?” I asked, smiling.
That is when the first crack appeared in her wall. Janie put both hands up to cover her face as her pale skin began to redden. She scooted back into the corner of the room as her body began to heave in an effort to hold back the raw hurting emotion that she had worked very hard to contain.
The three volunteers all looked at one another with a look that said at once, ‘what do we do’? I stood up, asked them to excuse us for a moment and led her outside our classroom to a small cubicle that had been set up in the hallway. We sat down and she began to bawl. A correctional officer (CO) walked by and asked, “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, we are just going over some of the work that we do in our class and sometimes it’s very difficult to process. We just needed a little privacy. Is that okay?” I asked (always ask for forgiveness instead of permission–you get more done).
“Sure” he said ” let me know if you need anything.” He said leaving.
Janie cried loud and hard. She had lost her relationship with her mother. Her mother had taken custody of her boys and in an effort to protect them from Janie’s bad choices she hadn’t allowed her to see or talk to them in months. Janie was devastated.
I had to wonder how a beautiful and intelligent young girl with no prior criminal history could end up committing a felony? Try to imagine making your worst mistake in 2010 and now in 2016, that mistake is the thing that has defined who you are as a person every day since. What if the only thing visible to others is that one action that now defines you?
How does that happen? What if people only saw you in that one light? Would you build walls? Would you be angry and shut down?
One of my worst mistakes was fearing my son’s choices to the point that I did not love him well. I didn’t see him. I didn’t hear his feelings. I failed to listen to him. Instead, I listened to my own fears and I built my own walls of protection. This young girl and I are the same. I see the log that is wedged in my own eye. Sometimes, I can see nothing else and I grieve my mistakes and the loss of relationship with my own son.
I tucked Janie into my arms and held her tight. I said the things that I wanted my own son to know and hear:
“You are such a gift to God.
Don’t you know that?
You are smart and beautiful.
Did you make a mistake—or three?
But, can you turn this boat around?
I bet that God looks at you and says, ‘I wish she knew how amazing she is.
I wish she knew how much I love her.’
Then I shut up and squeezed her tighter– in an effort to push out all of the hurt that I could, for the both of us.
Her crying seemed to slow and she began to dry her eyes with the hem of her scrub top and for the first time, she looked at me–not through me. I could see in her eyes that what she might be looking for is acceptance. Perhaps there was fear that the things that had just happened would disappear just as quickly. I smiled at her in our exchange. This was the beginning of a friendship and it has been a gift that continues to bless me. You see, Janie gave me hope. Maybe I could repair the relationship with my own son as well.
I am a daughter, sister, aunt, mother and probably most notoriously, ‘the Vet’s wife’.