Getting a tour of a prison is always weird. Always. I’ve done it many times, at least four but maybe five. Anyway it’s weird because you’re looking at people in cages. Not animals in cages but people. Those people can see you looking at them in cages. It’s just very weird watching people in a cage who can see you looking at them as though they’re some kind of animal. They aren’t though. They aren’t animals. They’re people with real feelings and emotions and hopes and dreams. A few times, when walking through doors one of the men would just automatically hold it open- a hold over from automatic conditioning on the outside. I’d thank them; they seemed surprised. I’m not sure if it was because I thanked them or because they realized what they were doing. Either way, it was odd.
I’m thankful for a gracious warden. That’s not always the case. The prisons run on a schedule. Often the systems live and die by the routine and something like this? It throws off that routine, so many times the wardens aren’t thrilled about someone like me being there for the reason we are. This one though? He’s nice enough. He wanted to be involved in the process, met with us when we arrived and spoke with us again before leaving. He’s a warden of a prison with nearly 3,000 inmates. He didn’t have to make the time and I appreciate that. He’s not been to any of the trainings offered by this program so in true-to-self fashion I’ll be asking him to do so tomorrow.
The captain who showed us around was equally wonderful and knowledgeable. He’s been in the state system for over 20 years and is a navy veteran. He answered a million questions, spoke to us about the inner workings of the system. He went into detail about the volunteer chaplains, field chaplains (prisoners who have gone through education and are ordained and work with the prisoners themselves), staff interactions (like 2 officers for every 144 prisoners in a pod) and all the issues that come with a prison (gangs, violence, visitation and smuggling). He talked about drug use (synthetic marijuana being the biggest pain in the ass) and how it makes its way in. He talked about designations and what that means and what designation the offender I’ll be speaking with tomorrow has as well- this is in and of itself answered a lot of questions for me.
My mediator who I’ve spoken with at least once a month every month since March was there with us as well. She probably asked me a dozen times if I was alright, how I was handling everything and asked if I needed anything. She told me several times that while it was her job to ensure this process did not adversely affect the prisoner, her main job was to take care of me. No matter what. Her job was to take care of me. She knows a lot about me now. She’s been privy to the emotional process and development of when and how I decided to do this. I just met her in person today but she’s a feisty woman and I know she has my back.
All that to say that I’ve been avoiding the reality that my anxiety is through the roof. Heart palpitations, tightening in my chest, feelings of panic. It’s all there. Right there. I want to sob and scream and run. I remain still. I breathe. I remember that the man I’m speaking to tomorrow is not an animal. He is a human with real emotions and feelings and hopes and dreams. He is part of the creation. He did a terrible thing 16 years ago. Now, I have an opportunity to be apart of his process and to claim my own truth about justice, faith and action. If I truly believe restorative justice is real and possible then I must participate. Doing it despite my anxiety and fear is where growth comes in. I’m petrified. I move forward into the unknown with knowledge that my God is good and present and I am not alone.