To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing,
to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough
for one man’s life.
–T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) American Poet
Today is Saturday. Jailbreak day. Well, to be more precise – jail-break-your-heart day.
I went to visit Kathy again, to see how her court trial went, or IF it went. I called for an appointment on Friday (I’m learning the in’s and out’s now) and just hearing that my reading student was still there, prepared me for disappointment. She didn’t get her appearance in court last Thursday. She’s hoping, praying, for next week.
Kathy didn’t look good today. Thin. Sad. We talked for about a half an hour. I asked her to tell me why she was there. Just between us, I needed to know if she was arrested for using meth or selling it, because – well, it makes a difference regarding how I feel about this entire aspect of our acquaintance.
Apparently, she was home alone using meth (first time in two years, according to her) and it just so happens her probation officer (from the one time she was caught before) did a spot check on her that day. The officer asked her if she was on something, and rather than lie, Kathy admitted she had fallen off the wagon that afternoon. Unlucky coincidence – unlucky choice of response. The woman had to arrest her. Rather than this confession resulting in a night in jail, which is what Kathy expected, she’s been confined ever since.
I asked Kathy why she didn’t lie to the probation officer. Perhaps the officer, even if she had suspicions, might have let the transgression go. Kathy’s confession didn’t leave any alternative but to deal with the problem openly.
Kathy shrugged and said, “I do drugs. I don’t lie.”
Interesting. I related to that answer – and to her. People are far from perfect, and I appreciate those that admit their failings. It means they are honest about their dishonesty. I think that’s how you know you can trust an untrustworthy person. Ha. That sounds illogical, but to me, there is logic in that twist. I mean, isn’t it easier to trust someone sitting in jail who admits they’ve made a mistake, then trust the fellow proclaiming his innocence despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Anyway, I respect the way Kathy takes responsibility for her situation.
I asked a load of questions this time. I have an insatiable curiosity about things I don’t know, and my mind is working to wrap itself around her dilemma, trying to figure out how she can, should, and will, handle it. This entire scenario is teaching me to better understand her socio-economic group and the culture of the underprivileged, first hand. I’m piecing together how her being illiterate factors in. All this sounds as if I am insensitive and analytical, and to some degree, I guess I am. But my relationship with Kathy is about reading – it’s just not a more intimate, personally involved friendship to date. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to help her. Can’t explain it.
She cried today as we talked about her son. He had a birthday this month and she was granted a visitation in the same room with him– she got to hold his hand. It meant so much to her.
It’s her 40th birthday on Monday. What a way to spend it. But she says it’s better to spend your birthday in jail than dead, and considering the vile drug she’s been experimenting with, she feels blessed to be alive at all.
She says she’s learned a great deal about the evils of meth these past weeks. I asked if someone, a drug counselor or other professional, had visited her to discuss it. She said, no – she’s learned about the perils of meth from the other women in jail. That’s about as reliable as learning sex education from the other nine year olds in third grade, as far as I’m concerned. She told me about an eighteen-year-old inside for the same thing, and how she looks as if she is rotting away. That scares her. (Here I am worried that my facials aren’t keeping wrinkles at bay, while Kathy is worrying about rotting from the inside out. This does put life in perspective a bit.) Kathy says another woman inside was sent to prison for doing meth, but a few months later they discovered she never had a court trial, had no paperwork, nothing. Oops. They sent her back and there she sits, awaiting some action. A pawn in a chess game played by overworked, disinterested players who assume druggies are better not seen and not heard.
I listen, thinking the sensationalized TV movies about unorganized, backcountry legal systems and their failings don’t do justice to subject. Who’d imagine that.
Kathy said a minister visits the jail every day for service. They have church everyday but Sunday (he is busy elsewhere that day, no doubt). She showed me a small, business-card sized “Happy Birthday” card that he gave her. It is the only card/gift she will be able to have for this prominent birthday and she considers it precious. (Man-o-man, do I wish I could bake her a cake. I’d keep the nail file out. Promise.)
Kathy says the services help her “see the light and understand her folly.” When she talks like this, I can’t help but grit my teeth. She told me she didn’t feel strongly about religion when we met. I guess, in order to get along, it’s required that those “inside” repent according to the acceptable standards of this Bible belt community. Why does this annoy me so? Whatever brings comfort should be good, right? But it’s not unlike how I feel about the United Christian Children’s fund. I contribute regularly and I think it’s a noble and wonderful organization, truly, but I hate that, in order to be saved from starvation, the people needing help must embrace Christian teachings.
It’s like saying, “Embrace our God or starve.”
How fair is that? What do you expect those needy people to say, other than, ” Umm… pass me a roll, Amen.”
Not much of a choice, if you ask me. So the former Muslims and Hindu’s in third world countries are suddenly Christians – Christians with a nice full stomach. Hey, that’s good, right? We are helping, true. But I think the best way to serve God is by helping without all the strings attached. Action in HIS name that leaves HIS name out of it, if you know what I mean.
I am getting off track – forgive me. Hope I don’t trip as I step-down off this soapbox.
Kathy doesn’t have any idea about her case, what will happen if she’s convicted, where she will go, how long she will be held in jail, when she will see a judge or any other significant details about her situation. The court appointed attorney only visited her once, refuses to talk to her husband or tell the family anything regarding what to expect. He was extremely rude when they called for information and they’re intimidated by him now, so they don’t even bother to try to find out anything about her case.
Her husband brought her a bottle of medicine for her depression – something that was court appointed after seeing a therapist when caught the first time. She was given one pill, then mysteriously, the medicine was misplaced or lost and she was told not to ask about it anymore. She’s having some dark depression as result (Not like that is unexpected.) The husband doesn’t want to bring more, because the 108.00 it costs is hard to come by now that he is missing work – he has to stay home to take care of their son some days. And he doesn’t trust his wife will ever be given her medication in that place even if he struggles to be able to afford it.
I listen, nodding supportively, getting more and more pissed, thinking, where the hell is the woman’s medication then?
The entire thing is hard for me to comprehend. Can you imagine being in jail and waiting helplessly to see what the winds of fate (and the jaded establishment) does to determine your future – not taking defensive action? Not me. People of my middleclass upbringing demand due process and have expectations regarding what kind of treatment and representation they deserve. We fight the system to assure our legal rights are upheld, even when we are guilty of a mistake. But then, people of my class understand the workings of our government, and if we don’t – we learn what we have to learn to function within the rules, doing what we must to protect our best interest.
Mark and I talked about Kathy’s situation, and he brought up some good points about how we (all people) seem to be trained to operate in certain ways due to our upbringing and social expectations – class system mindsets. Kathy doesn’t feel empowered in any way, so she allows her fate to be entirely determined by people who think of her as another annoying social failure. She hasn’t much choice. Someone who can’t read a stop sign can’t exactly pick up a book or pamphlet to learn what her legal rights are. She’s got to rely on only what information she’s told – when and if someone chooses to share the correct information with her.
It kills me.
Mark thinks it’s almost impossible to help someone who comes from her disadvantaged world, because they can’t realistically envision a different life and they aren’t armed with the same sense of entitlement as those from more priviledged upbringings. A few rare individuals have been known to “pull themselves up from their bootstraps”, but that’s usually a case of one remarkable spirit defying norms. In most cases, even the best intentions to make a difference fail.
I think, this comment was a lead up to defusing my passion regarding saving the world, one illiterate person at a time. He doesn’t want me to be disappointed or feel I’m a failure if Kathy turns out to be “unsaveable”. Nor does he want me to invest too much time in a losing battle.
I think he’s right about the perils of social mindset, but I can’t help but honestly believe that teaching someone to read will enhance their life, even if it doesn’t enhance their life circumstance.
So, I’m going to call the attorney Monday and talk to him – see if I can wheedle some information out of him in the name of “literacy”. Since I am not a family member, or a friend, I can claim an unemotional (even if this is not entirely true) professional interest, so I might be able to gain insight into Kathy’s predicament.
I might also accidentally on purpose mention that I am writing articles for the paper on literacy, and that Kathy is one case we are looking at….. ummm…… and see if that makes him answer a few questions without the rude attitude I’m told to expect. I will also talk to her probation officer. Then I’ll call the college and discuss her situation. And I’ll make provisions to begin our lessons again, even if they are in the clink.
Once again, I left Kathy twenty dollars (a birthday present – at least she can buy a snack from the machine on Monday to celebrate) and I told her I would make arrangements for us to continue our lessons as soon as possible. I think this will keep her mind off of her serious problems, if nothing else. And we can focus on reading instead of all this other sad stuff for a while.
I believe, in life, we are all bumper cars. Sometimes we are aiming at others, hoping to make a dent in their façade. Meanwhile, others bang into us, catching us off guard. We try to dodge lots of bumps, drivers who are bumping with malicious intent rather than for fun. Sometimes, we try to outrun someone driving right towards us, this way, when they bump us, it isn’t so jarring because we are braced for it. Sometimes you barrel head on towards someone aiming right at you, and the force of the crash makes both of your heart’s leap.
We just go on, bumping away, touching each other softly or with great impact, colliding over and over with all the people on the ride – crashing in unexplainable random order.
I’ve bumped into Kathy, and I don’t know why or what I will learn from it. But she smiled at me after we made contact, so now, I’ll be damn if I’m going to turn my steering wheel around and drive away to bump into other people. I plan to back up, gain speed, and bump her right back – hoping I can force her to move in another direction. Just to see if I can. Our first bump may have been random, but I recognize her face on this ride now, and as such, I can’t ignore her.
One other thing I’ll mention in this blog (cause it is sort’ a the same subject). I got a call Friday from the Toccoa Technical college and the woman in charge of the Georgia Literacy Commission. She wants me to sit on a task force committee – a literacy board, I’m guessing. I will find out more about it Monday. Of course, I’ll participate.
Interesting. Life is a snowball. Sometimes little flakes of passion melt – but sometimes they roll downhill gaining size and depth. Wonder where all this literacy action stuff is going? Perhaps it is all just life research for something else all together – something I will do later that is significant somehow to me or others. My snowballs, -writing, being a reading tutor and becoming an activist in literacy – might join together to make one funny little snowman project – something else all together (a book?) . . . Or maybe, all this is simply “busy work” sent from heaven to keep me out of trouble for a while – an evasive tactic to help me pull my attention away from dance – like pulling the bandaid off quickly for merci sake.
I just have to go with the flow and wait and see – time will reveal what it’s all about.
Oh – and tonight I am going to the drive-in. All of life is not a project, ya know. Sometimes, I just have fun. Popcorn, a flick and fogged windows. Can’t wait.