What I Learned in Prison

Geo Prison

I have been living in the California desert for awhile now, renting a room in a family’s home.  My almost seven-year marriage to a Turkish man broke up, and he is living somewhere on the streets of Los Angeles, stuck in his paranoid delusions that everyone is after him.  He leaves voice messages on my smartphone, though I had to get a restraining order against him, and he should not contact me.  I hope he goes home to Istanbul for medical help.  I feel alone, as the desert wind howls across rocks and sand, and autumn sun cools beneath clouds.  Better to be alone than yelled at, used . . .

Who would have thought that I, a free-spirited writer who has traveled much across this globe, would land in a regular job, from 07:30 to 16:00 Mondays through Fridays, 40 hours a week–teaching inmates in a prison?  I got the job after a 5-week background check (I had to list everywhere I lived since I was 16), a physical exam, and drug tests.  I drive to work across a desert Apocalypse landscape.  It is littered with rock queries, railroad tracks, and old industrial warehouses with broken windows and metal pipes.  Homeless people scarcely populate it, pushing metal carts or baby carriages without a baby.  I lost my three-level, wood-carved home in the mountain forest near a lake.  My children are young adults now, and I don’t see them much.

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My 2 oldest children have completely shut me out of their lives (and my grandchildren’s lives).  An enemy has much to do with this (an ex-husband who once laid me on a bed and strangled me, which I wrote about in my book “Fire and Ice”).  I don’t know what he’s said or why they listen and refuse to meet so that I may answer charges laid against me . . .  My few friends call me “Sweetie.”  I am not a serial killer or assaulter, some crazy grandma gone wild.  I can not understand how my own daughter, my firstborn, could take away my little remaining family . . . I lost my father at age 4 and my mother and only brother (that I knew about) not long after.  I never had a sister.

So . . . the best part of my life is the “Special Needs Yard” prison where I teach male inmates their high school GED course.  We cover mostly English reading, writing, social studies, and science (my inmate clerk helps with the math).  Most of the inmates are sex offenders who could not be in the general population; some are ex-gang members or ex-cops.  My classroom is the last one on the left, near the moving white-barred gate and blue door that leads to the desert yard.  I must have my special ID and my keys on a chain to enter the prison.  If I lose my ID or keys, the whole prison would be locked down until we found them.  I must wear professional clothes (like black slacks and a collared shirt, sensible shoes, my hair clipped back, with no identifying jewelry showing).  I walk through a metal detector, surrender my clear plastic bag for inspection, and pass through 9 gates.  A young guard in his khaki uniform with silver badge says, “Morning, ma’am,” as he holds the heavy door for me at Central Control’s Sally Gate.  I peer into the dim room filled with camera surveillance screens and many keys.

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