After avoiding each other for a couple days—not easy to do in an 800-square-foot space—I offered to make dinner so Vince and I could talk and clear the air. “Unless u want me to write a letter to u instead,” I texted. No, he texted back, we can talk.
We started with a hug and “I love you.” It reminded me of our moments on the hug rug in prison.
He wolfed down his stir fry while I talked, then talked while I ate. We went through our lists of grievances. To my surprise I didn’t get defensive and he didn’t roll his eyes and walk out of the room.
The one thing I was nervous about was saying, “It is my house.” That’s a fact, right? But saying it would feel like I was lecturing a teenager. This was about my request that Vince ask me—or at least give me a heads up—when he was inviting people over—even family members. He responded that I had brought my friend Sarah home a few nights earlier without warning him.
“I didn’t even know who she was,” he said.
“Sarah? You don’t remember Sarah?” I asked. “We came down to visit you and we spent the day together picking agates. We had dinner at that nice restaurant where you ended up working….” Had he been high on something, all day and evening, and I hadn’t been able to tell? It didn’t matter now.
“It’s my house,” I said, and the world didn’t end. We agreed to have dinner together a couple times a week so we can talk things over on a regular basis instead of saving them up.
A few days later I texted Vince to ask if he’d like to eat lasagna with me that evening, and he replied that he just wanted to go home and go to be after work.
This is it. This is what they were talking about the day Vince was released, when they said that adjustment to life on the outside would be harder than anything they experienced in prison.
And now the weather has turned, to the cold, dark days of Minnesota winter. It’s hard for anyone to get up and leave the house when it’s dark as night and freezing drizzle, but Vince has to walk six blocks, take a bus and a train, then walk six more blocks to his job in the laminating factory. He still can’t cash his own paycheck because Wells Fargo requires two forms of ID, even for checks drawn on its own accounts.
There was an editorial and an article in the St. Paul paper about criminal justice system reform. At the end of a local forum, two mothers got up and spoke about the effects of incarceration on the family.
“There’s no help,” said one mother whose son had committed suicide at age 28 because he just couldn’t make it on the outside.
“There really isn’t,” said the second mother. One of her sons is schizophrenic, and thanks to her persistence he’s in a state hospital, not a prison. She faces eviction because her landlord won’t let her other son, newly-released on 10 years of probation, live with her. He was convicted of criminal possession of a firearm. If I was renting in her building and found out he had moved in, I’m sure I’d be unhappy.
These forums and op-eds are good news—there are reform efforts like this going on at the national, state, and local level, and that they have bipartisan support. But the words of these mothers weighs on me. Vince actually said the other day something like, “It would almost be easier to go back to prison that to be trapped on house arrest like this.” Ugh.
MUST be positive! Must make gratitude lists! Must not indulge in self pity! This too shall pass!
Only eight more months to go.