---->So, this picture, though beautiful and in many ways whimsical, really just made me think about how we are each contained in our own worlds that exist within the main world we all refer to as life. ---->The bubbles in the picture really helped solidify my theory because while we each have our own worlds, no one’s individual life/world is separate from another.
---->We can always see into someone else’s life and observe their choices, often to our own folly because naturally, watching others means that we too can be watched. Thus, a paranoia is born. ---->However, what is really interesting about this photo is that their larger world is very bleak, and their individual worlds are full of color and life.
---->I took this to mean that we can easily dispel that paranoia of being judged by choosing to rise above and take control of our perspectives. ---->I then took this idea and related it to an experience I had seven years ago in which I visited my (ex)-boyfriend in prison.
---->I very much felt watched and judged during my visit, but also realized that jail is perhaps the best example of my theory, with the cells being the bubbles. ---->While this piece is specifically for a contest, I am using it to introduce a series of real life stories, poems, and vignettes from my life entitled: #Tales from the Black Sheep.
# I hope you enjoy the first installment!
Walking up to the prison, I immediately felt the weight of desperate eyes upon my covered flesh. The website had articulated very strict rules regarding attire during visits and had made a point to warn those of us identifying as female to cover up the goodies, so to speak.
Being of an open mind, I tried to give the inmates I the benefit of the doubt, convincing myself that during my short hour long visit to see my boyfriend that no man would objectify me. Now, I see I was unwise to not head the warning.
I hadn’t even made it into the building and catcalls whistled down from the barred windows into my ears like bombs, shrapnel lodging in my lungs, puncturing my resolve to continue down the bridge. I forced myself to continue forward, taking deep breaths, metaphorical dirt to staunch the flow of anxiety leaking from my chest.
Eventually, I made it to the visitor’s entrance. There were two sets of double doors to cross before making it to the main lobby. The first set opened to a small corridor with a series of lockers to the left and a man behind a counter to the right.
Without even attempting to remember cordiality, the guard behind the desk began barking orders at me. Maybe he had forgotten not everyone in this building was an inmate.
“Give me your license. Put your keys and your license in that locker - no, not that locker, THAT one. Oh, you can’t wear earrings. Nope. Not even the stud kind. You also can’t wear that rope bracelet in. You know these men, crafty. There may be glass between you and them during your visit, but you’d be surprised what they can do.”
I smiled nervously, unsure of how to respond to everything that was happening, everything he was saying. He shrugged and grumbled, seemingly annoyed that I did not echo his opinions of the men in his charge.
I smiled nervously, unsure of how to respond to everything that was happening, everything he was saying. He shrugged and grumbled, seemingly annoyed that I did not echo his opinions of the men in his charge. A loud buzzing sound alerted my attention forward and the second set of doors opened to reveal the main lobby. In a word, the lobby could best be described as hopeless.
The walls were concrete block painted a charcoal grey-black that was slowing chipping away to reveal the beige undertone. Where the paint had chipped the worst, leaving gaping holes of bare wall, someone had attempted to cover it with posters boasting prison programs
meant to prevent recidivism that I assumed were placed there to comfort mothers and wives concerned for their babies and men behind bars. The room was devoid of windows, except the frosted glass on the entry and exit doors, but it was clear cleanliness was not a priority and the grim filtered most of the light.
Thus, those of us parked on the rain cloud gray plastic chairs waiting for a guard to tell us it was time to go upstairs, were left illuminated by spotty, yellow overhead lighting that made our faces long and our eyes hollow.
I realized then we were all goldfish, each swimming in our own baggies at the carnival, waiting for someone to come and win the game so we could go home with them, ever thankful for our excessively short memory because no one ever wins the game. The same was true here. No one won the game here.
No one here ever really got to go home because home is never the same after this place pierces your life.
I suddenly felt very vulnerable sitting alone in my chair, one arm wrapped around me, while the other was tightly gripping the chair. I think I was nervous I might start to fly from how fast my body was vibrating.
I felt as though everyone here was watching me, seeing through the dingy plastic exterior of the baggy I was swimming in and without needing to ask, knew who I was seeing and why he was here.
I couldn’t bear to look up from my feet tapping on the floor to meet the gaze of anyone else in the room, lest it be confirmed they all knew. A female guard broke the silence, beckoning the group of us to follow her. We were escorted upstairs on a elevator, six people at a time. I had to wait for the second elevator.
I listened to the elevator go up and come back down, the doors opened and I automatically moved forward into the metal box. A woman next to me, maybe about 50 or so, grabbed my elbow.
It startled me, forcing me to gasp slightly and recoil. She apologized and smiled, removing her hand. “I only meant to offer some comfort. I know the first time coming here to visit can be very traumatizing. Who are you here for?”
I was shocked that she automatically read me so plainly, but also mildly grateful that someone seemed to understand. “My boyfriend is here. “
I was shocked that she automatically read me so plainly, but also mildly grateful that someone seemed to understand. “My boyfriend is here. “ “For how long?”
I was shocked that she automatically read me so plainly, but also mildly grateful that someone seemed to understand. “My boyfriend is here. “ “For how long?” “He’s been here two weeks and has about six months left.”
The woman nodded. “That will go by in the blink of an eye. My son is here. He’s been here three years and has ten more.” I started to apologize, but she held her hand up. “It’s okay. He made a mistake and he has to pay the consequences. I’m not proud of what he did, but he is my son, and I will love him no matter what choices he makes.”
With that, the elevator stopped at our floor and she smiled once more at me as she exited the elevator. I followed behind her in a line as we entered a room with a semi-circle of metal stools in front of a counter with 6 bullet proof window panes and six phones.
Each window was divided into six cubicles, mirrored on the interior of the semi-circle. We sat on the outside, waiting for our men to enter the interior.
Each window was divided into six cubicles, mirrored on the interior of the semi-circle. We sat on the outside, waiting for our men to enter the interior. Another buzzer sounded and a door opened, allowing the men to sit on the other side of the glass from us.
My boyfriend was the last to come through the door.
I had already picked up the phone in anticipation of him coming, but I nearly dropped it when I saw him, he was a ghost of himself and only two weeks had passed. His hair, normally buzz cut, had turned into a faux afro. His face was littered with scruff and his already thin frame was now held together by sheer will power alone.
Worst of all, he was dressed in prison orange, his inmate number bolded on his chest. His life had been reduced to a number. I could feel the tears rising in my eyes so I looked away from him as he sat in front of me.
I heard him pick up the phone, and through the earpiece I heard his voice, unchanged, “Chelsea? I’ve missed you so much.”
At that moment, the tears broke through but I had to see his face. I met his icy blue stare with my stubborn brown gaze and let the labels melt away. He was not a number. He was not an inmate. He was a man that had made a decision. Yes, it was a bad decision, but he was paying the price. He was not a different person, I saw that now.
I refused to allow myself to see him through the perspectives of those who were too quick to judge him. I knew him deeper than that ugly shade of orange.
“Oh Ryan, I’ve missed you too.”