When I was growing up my daddy was a cop. As a child I was told that my father’s job was to put dirt bags in jail. These criminals were dangerous and had no conscience or remorse. These criminals were waiting to hurt me, everyone I loved, and other innocent people. This is what I knew; my father drove around in a patrol car, risking his life to protect innocents. He would leave us, he would put his protection of me on hold and leave to protect others. Needless to say I feared these criminals. They could hurt me at anytime when my daddy was gone and they could take my daddy’s life and leave me vulnerable to danger. So I learned to hate them. I was scared and so hated. I hated and so I wanted them to suffer
Starting around 5 years old I began to fantasize about shooting child molesters in the knee caps and elbow and leaving them in the desert to die. When Pelican Bay opened in 1989 I rejoiced. I was 14 years old and I took comfort in knowing that these despicable criminals were locked away. I enjoyed knowing that they would have zero human contact. Why should they have contact with their prey? All these people do sit and contemplate how to make people like me suffer. They put my daddy’s life at risk because they are evil.
Fast forward 20 years…I’m sitting in the visiting area, on a level 4 yard at Folsom State Prison. I am surrounded by about 50 inmates, most serving life sentences, all criminals that I had been taught to fear and learned to hate. But my criminal, my soul mate was a low level thief with a life-long drug problem.
I had known my soul mate since I was 14 years old. He was the first boy I kissed, my first love. At 28 years old I had know this man half of my life. We had officially broken up when I was 19 years old. He was barely coherent and slightly psychotic in those days from week long runs. I was a firefighter. He sat me down in a moment of clarity and told me that I was smart and pretty and I could actually BE something, BUT, if I stayed with him, eventually I would just become a useless drug addict like him. He said he couldn’t live with me wasting my potential for him. He couldn’t ruin my life. He sent me away. And he did it for my own good. And here he came out, in prison blues to a visiting area. I would learn that the contact visits we enjoyed were a luxury among the prisons. And as I sat in that room, talking to my friend I saw humanity in that prison. As I looked around I saw men enjoying popcorn, ice cream and chicken wings from over priced vending machine. I saw kids coloring pictures and presenting them to their daddies with hope and having that hope fulfilled with a prideful smile from their daddies. I saw humanity in that room and immediately it was taken away. I was hit with inhumanity as I was quickly surrounded by correctional officers asking my soul mate to “come with them.” He was returned to me about 5 minutes later and I was told not to show so much affection. What are they talking about? I think I had my hand on your knee or was holding your hand, I thought that was allowed? He laughed and said, “they say that they have you on video giving me a hand job.”
“WHAT THE FUCK?” I was outraged, humiliated and SCARED. For the first time in my life I feared the cops more than the criminals. I realized their power. They could say or do anything and the truth didn’t matter. But they didn’t remove me or even talk to me directly. Allegedly, I had just committed a crime, they stated they had the recording of me doing it, yet I just needed to mind my manners and I could stay. That’s not logical.
“Which of those guards did you piss of this morning?” I joked
“Probably all of them, why?”
“Because they are using my humiliation to get even. And I know you. Thanks smart-ass.”
I was outraged but there wasn’t shit I could do about it but joke about it. In fact, any effort I could make to defend myself would make it worse. So I sucked it up, got through the visit, got through the snickering and whispering from the officers as I left the premises. And I went back home. Home to my kids, home to my husband, home to the middle of my first year of law school and home to my new commitment to become a public defender.
I became that public defender and my soul mate became a lifetime guest of various penal institutions for very predictable and very boring crimes associated with drug addiction. As I write this he is sitting in solitary confinement in prison. His crime is irrelevant. His punishment extreme. The last time we spoke was a year ago when he committed the crime of disobeying a correctional officer and sneaking to a phone instead of the shower to hear my voice, any familiar voice. Our last contact was a letter 6 months ago. I don’t know how he is doing, but I imagine it isn’t well. I wonder each day how being locked-up without human contact has destroyed his mind, I wonder if that box has destroyed my soul mate. When I was young I hated because I was scared. But I was young and ignorant. Ignorant of the suffering a human can be subjected to. Ignorant that losing human contact completely can literally makes you insane. I do know this, you don’t have to love an inmate to want them not to suffer this way, you just don’t have to hate. Ignorance and fear caused me to hate and hate made me endorse the destruction incarcerated individuals mind at all costs. Whatever your thoughts on punishment I implore you, is inducing extreme mental illness by continuous solitary confinement ever the proper punishment? Because that type of hate is worse than any crime.