Mothers and Sons and Sibs

Once a month or so since I started this blog, I’ve posted a roundup of all the prison-related news.   Lately there has been a lull in the media, but not in my personal life.

I met a grade-school friend for dinner.  Even though I have a constant desire to live somewhere else or to at least travel constantly, as I get older I’ve found I appreciate the old friendships more.  We went to the same school, lived in the same neighborhood, spent a lot of time at each other’s houses.

And our sons have much in common.  Over dinner, she told me the long story of his unraveling. To protect her privacy I won’t go into detail, but he is looking at some serious prison time—maybe 10 years.  His circumstances didn’t come about over night; she’s been trying to balance support and detachment for 20 years.  All I could do was empathize about how powerless and bereft she felt.  She didn’t seem to feel the shame that was predominant for me when Vince was first imprisoned.  I think she was too exhausted.

Another friend, whose son is a Lutheran version of Vince, called to say she had phoned the police to report her son acting threateningly.  It took the police an hour to show up.  They took him down to the station and she didn’t know what would happen and she asked if she could sleep on my couch in case they let him go, because she was afraid.  I said of course.  The police did let him go and there was more drama but in the end they both slept under her roof and no one was hurt.

Two professional colleagues have brothers who were recently jailed for Driving Under the Influence, neither one for the first time.

One asked me if I thought she should bail her brother out.  In Alanon I learned not to give advice but to talk about my own experience and offer support.

“If you pay his bail,” I said, “expect to lose that money.  And since he’s looking at 10 years inside, don’t be surprised if he goes on a major bender.”

“But he’s going to live in the family cabin in the middle of the woods, and he won’t have a car,” she said.

“Is there a riding lawn mower or an ATV there?” I asked, and we laughed because there is a riding mower at the cabin and she knows he would ride it into town to the liquor store.

A member of my own family spent time in jail recently.  He managed to find an old grade school friend to bail him out.

Note to my grade school friend: If I ever wind up in jail I hope I can count on you to bail me out.

My relative is out now.  He was ordered to undergo mental health and chemical dependency assessments as a condition of his release.  This is a good thing but since he is homeless and unemployed and doesn’t have a vehicle, it’s hard to imagine how he will make it happen, even if he was enthusiastic about it, which he isn’t.  He calls his mother and hangs up, or leaves messages which start out sweet then turn sarcastic when she doesn’t pick up the phone.  She is doing a wonderful job of not reacting to him.  But then, she’s had 30 years of practice.

It’s never, ever just the person sitting in jail who is affected, it’s the whole family.  All the old narratives, grudges, and codependency kicks into overdrive.  Mothers feel guilty.  Fathers hide in their workshops.  Step parents are often the most sensible ones because their identities aren’t hanging on the offender’s actions.  Siblings are either overly involved, ordering everyone around like they have an invisible clipboard, or distance themselves even further from the family.

So what’s going on?  Is it the full moon, the holidays, the dark cold season?  Or because, like most people, I associate with people like myself?

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