I needed to take a break. The first 30 minutes of the three and a half hours were the most intense. So we took a break. It was a lot. Just so much. My mediator stayed with me the whole time, walking me from the visitation room to the warden’s office where my friend was waiting for me. When I saw her I immediately sat next to her and snuggled and cried and wailed, “when this is all over I’ll need a milkshake and some cake!” There were some giggles. Of course. Of course I would want that. I’m the girl who had her friends drop off donuts at labor and delivery after months of gestational diabetes abated.
We were in the Warden’s suite of offices on a couch in front of his administrative assistant. She was about the funniest woman I had ever met. They were all a little on edge as none of them had experienced victim offender mediation before. I figured it’s why she walked away from her desk when me and my friend and my mediator were talking about what kind of milkshake we would get afterward. Instead, the assistant returned and unceremoniously, hilariously, plopped a Tupperware container on my lap. I looked at her surprised; “You said you wanted cake!” was her only response. I opened the lid and inside was cupcakes from the warden’s wife who had chaperoned a middle school Halloween dance the night before.
Delicious sweet vanilla cake with homemade chocolate frosting. On my lap. On a Friday, at a prison during the first of many breaks between me and that inmate. Ask and you shall receive indeed.
The entire mediation there was a sense that there was work to do. We only had once chance at this. We were focused, we spoke, I asked questions, he responded, I’d move on, circle back, push for more answers and cry and keep going. There was work to do and we did it. The mediator sat next to me with a table between us. There were, occasionally, moments where the veneer would drop for a second. An acceptance that even two people so opposed to each other still have our humanity. Like when he realized that he had to explain prison terminology to me because I didn’t know what he was saying. We chuckled.
At one point, because of a disruption, we had to move to another room. We got seated, we went to work again. It was a pain in the ass. We really needed to work to get back into the groove. We did and after awhile everything was flowing again. Then there was another interruption. The warden needed to speak to my mediator. It was the only time that the offender and me were alone at the table. He looked at me and I looked at him and then I looked over to the door and then I looked back at him. “Oh man,” I whispered (should I be talking to him without the mediator?? I didn’t know), “that guy is just so funny.” The inmate looked at me like I was crazy, “the warden!?” “Yea man, he is HILARIOUS” and he looked at me again, shook his head and started chuckling. “Oh” I realized belatedly, “probably not funny with you guys.” The mediator was walking back and he mouthed “no” while shaking his head (He obviously didn’t think we were meant to be talking to one another without the mediator). My mediator sat down again, “Alright, sorry about that, where were we?” We got back to work.
That moment is one that is sealed in my mind. A moment where both of us were just shooting the shit, waiting to continue, realizing that the interaction we had with the same person was very different. That was the moment I knew he was human.