red flags

Visiting someone you love while they are in prison pretty much sucks. There’s no getting around it. I think the part I hate the most, aside from seeing them in lockdown, is getting buzzed through the gates. They don’t even give you time to ring the bell. You walk up to the first gate and it buzzes and unlocks. The second gate opens on its own too. Someone somewhere is watching. They see everything.

Conversation is stilted by their embarrassment. Their fears at having you see them. Broken down. Small. Totally dependent on other people to let them eat, drink or go to the bathroom. Child-like.

And then there is the constant worry that someone has been totaling up the hours that I should be spending behind bars. (A strange game that a friend introduced to me: think about the times you’ve went over the speed limit, etc., and then try to total up all of the fines you haven't paid.) The hours I should spend rehabilitating, for my many infractions, both large and small.

I was exhausted by the time the visit was over. Not from the pale ale my friends and I drank late into the night. But from all of the nervous tension building up to the day. I mean. It’s just so hard. My back was aching. I know it’s not from sleeping on too many strange beds during vacation (but how I longed for the sinking comfort of my own bed by the end of my trip), but from my worry. My anxiousness.

We talked about things of consequence. We talked about violence behind bars. Walking back and forth in a confined space for hours at a time to calm down. Quash the angry rage. We discussed integrating back into society after being away for so long. And we talked about red flags.

Red flags. A term in “group” that signifies indicators that you are heading down the wrong path. That you may undo all of your good work. That you are crossing too many lines in the morality sands.

I wish that I had the presence of mind to identify my own red flags. To avoid dangerous situations that may prove harmful to me or to others. Here are a few red flags I thought about after my visit:

Very screwed up men. Brilliant, lovable men who are far too charismatic for my own good. Men who want to make me forget my definitions of morality. Men who make me want to save them, because with all of my love I know that I could. I really could.

But how many years should I get for falling for the wrong kind of man? Do I get a suspended sentence for stopping just short of doing something truly stupid? Do I receive one count for each bad relationship? Or do I get a compounded jail sentence for every stupid act?

How many years are in a life sentence, anyway?

People who want to use me. Drain me of my creativity and make me doubt myself, taking advantage of my goodness. Generally lead me astray while sapping me of my individual strengths. I’m a good “judge” of character, but even I have been fooled. Do I get time off for not returning phone calls? For cutting them out of my life?

My addictive personality. Throughout my life I’ve struggled with addictions. To alcohol. To other people. If I promise to try to stick to three beers or frozen drinks will the court be more lenient? What if I promise not to get caught up in the moment but to slow down, stop being so impulsive, and to really think. About my actions. How they affect me, and how they affect other people.

Is that considered “rehabilitation?”

The list goes on and on. I know my rights. I’m allowed a fair trial just like every other half-wit who thinks and acts with her heart, gets silly drunk or makes bad decisions. But who will be my judge? Is it you? Is it me?

And finally…. If I really and truly rehabilitated. If I could prove to the court that I’ve learned my lesson and that I won’t repeat my past mistakes. Will I be half as interesting as I am now?