From the ferry: 5/20/09

Posted: May 24, 2009 in from the ferry
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My commute to and from the prison includes a twenty minute ferry crossing plus however long I get to sit in line to wait to board. It’s a good time to reflect on the night at Monroe, to record first impressions and document those moments that are resonating with me the most before I have a chance to filter them or make them academic. I’ll post these thoughts from the ferry each time I go to Monroe.

A good night tonight at the prison. The guys were in a good mood. The guards were in a good mood. Pulling into the prison and stopping at the speaker that connects to the guard tower I was thanked me for volunteering after being asked if I had an firearms, explosives or pets in my car (no, I’m not particularly certain how pets fits into that list. I sometimes feel thrown back to childhood, watching Sesame Street when they do the skit, one of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong). It’s nice to be thanked. Our normal custody officer processed us through the first security point and got us all squared away with our form, ensuring we had the right box checked this time so we wouldn’t be hassled further down the line. And we weren’t. We were late getting in because, well, because they were serving filet o’ salmon for dinner. We didn’t get any further explanation, but apparently it was slowing up chow, which was slowing up the guys getting to where they needed to be, which means we had to wait to go into the prison. What can you do but shrug your shoulders and say, okay, filet o’ salmon, sure, I get it, we’ll wait?

We talked about the archetype of the threshold guardian tonight. A seemingly small character in the course of the hero’s journey until you really start talking about it. Threshold guardians are the people who stand in front of us as we are about to make great change or embark on a new journey and test our resolve to see it through. Are we sure we don’t want to stay where it’s comfortable, familiar and safe? Are we sure we are ready? Wouldn’t it be easier to not go? Parents, police officers and teachers all serve this role often. Sometimes out of love. Sometimes out of fear. Often with our “best interests at heart.” And yet, we must still push past them if we wan to continue on.

I learned tonight that one of my favorite guys in the group has been down for seventeen years now for attempted homicide on his girlfriend. Not necessarily an easy thing to learn. I hadn’t pegged him for being in for so long, though I had suspected his crime was violent, mostly because I didn’t sense that he was a sex offender. They are talking about releasing him to “work camp”, which is like a holding pen before being released and he’s afraid to go. I would be too if I had spent seventeen years on the inside. I asked him if he thought he was still a threat to this woman and he said no. I believe him. I don’t know if I buy the whole story about his crime. He says he wasn’t trying to kill her, but the truth is if he could have then that’s probably bad enough. I don’t like having to think of him this way. He’s a funny man. And smart. A damn fine writer whether he’s ready to believe it or not. My background in working with domestic violence victims made me wonder what his girlfriend’s version of events would be and the terror she must have gone through. I wondered what her life has been like these past seventeen years. I’m fascinated by getting this “other” side to the story, the perpetrators side, and yet somehow the story still feels incomplete, like I still have to fill in the why and how. Now I wish I could talk with his girlfriend. But maybe that wouldn’t even be enough. Maybe this is part of the reason I write at all—I want to understand what makes people do what they do inside of relationships. What turns love into violence? How thin is the line between the two? And why?


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