Originally written 08/25/14
In two days—August 27th, 2014—I will turn the big three-oh in the “Big House”—California’s largest state correctional facility for women. I arrived just a week ago and am sitting pretty in receiving, what we colloquially call “A-Yard.”
A-Yard is a resting and distribution center, like a train station—filled with women waiting to go somewhere else, smiling uncertainly at each other because the future holds such extreme possibilities in regards to the relationships here. We all know it’s possible that you will never see the woman next to you again. It’s equally possible that you will share—in close proximity and neon orange Technicolor—one of the most memorable experiences of your life with her. Like a train station, it is constantly bustling here. It is saturated with hellos, goodbyes, and the commotion of people trying to live life in a limited amount of time and space. We have tickets, but we call them ducats. We have porters and bright flashing lights that tell the more observant amongst us if everything is running on schedule. Though, of course, it’s not. Like trains, prisons are charmingly—woefully—stuck in the past. The slow-churning relics answer to no one and make no apologies for their pace. There’s no reason they should. After all, it is their very nature.
Today, I understand true natures in a way that my 10-year-old self or 20-year-old self never could. This is the sort of insight that grownups brag about when they shake a finger at you and say you’ll understand when you’re old. It’s a frustrating thing to be told—all the way to the day you understand it. Suddenly, you realize the seed of frustration and curiosity and desire for black-n-white answers grew into a tree of ambiguity and uncertainty. And one day, you are brave enough (or crazy enough, or simply old enough) to pick a fruit from that tree and chew it to the core. At the core is acceptance, and life—as seen through it—is a steady cycle full of humor and irony. There is a little surprise, but much peace can be found in that knowledge. It is the sort of complex emotion that explains the silly behaviors of old folk. Like how they laugh and shrug when you want to teach your cat to fetch, but can’t pry her feline body from the sun-kissed grass where she lounges. You claim this as a betrayal of friendship, but old age knows this is a simple clash of true natures. Youth worries when nighttime falls, but old age knows the sun will rise again, it’s a matter of true nature. All this explains why grownups say you can’t understand yet—because you can’t. None of this makes any sense if you don’t already know it and besides, you are entitled to the innocent ignorance of youth. It is yours to be savored, and I’ve heard it told that youth has the most delicious true nature anyone could ever taste.
Though I have some time to go before I know that last part for sure. I’m only just almost 30… 10,950-ish days old… and falling quickly into my 11,000’s.
I’m not upset about celebrating in the company of people who have known me less than 10 days. No one is a stranger for long in this world and, as usual, I am blesses by the presence of brilliantly kind women. To some, they are arsonists, drug dealers, escape artists, and car thieves—but to me, they are my newest sisters. Their strength is plentiful and refuels my light when I run low. I would trust my transition into my third decade to these women, but (luckily for them) I have already celebrated. My husband made me art. My mama sent me a card with an appropriately—hassled—looking cat on it. The girls at county jail—with their unerringly natural sense of mindful love—made me a cake. It was made of beans and Top Ramen because I don’t eat sugar, and they understand the importance of holding onto that restraint in my life. It was made of almost all they had, and it was magical. They sang for me and drew me a card and the beauty of our band-aide sisterhood humbled me to tears. Everyone gave a little—but the sum of the parts became greater than the whole. The celebration became a metaphor for my entire life. It was my celebration—it is my life—but every bit of it can be sourced back to the love and gifts of others. In that moment of pure gratitude and recognition, I became 30. A soup-bean cake was my rite of passage.
Now, I’m just waiting at this A-Yard depot. I traded my jailhouse blues for prison oranges. My roommates seem to come and go as fast as the days, but we make the most of our time—keeping busy and finding value in shared insight. In this 8-woman cell, I was taught the secret of dream catchers, crafted from scraps of strings and used lids. They are wondrous. I build one and wonder if, perhaps, at my truest core, I am a dreamer.