Love: Don’t let me go!
My son is in prison. Held in an 8×8 cell. A container perpetuating trauma and dehumanization. A container interrupting his alcohol us, his drug use, his access to a needle, a spoon, and the possibility of an overdose. A container. I know where he is. I know he is not using. I know he is alive. A container, nonetheless. For that I am grateful and for that I am sad.
My son is in prison. Held in an 8×8 cell. Life interrupted. Family interrupted. Parenting interrupted. Plumber at work interrupted. Sure, there was a crime. There is also an illness, a health issue for sure. Society says, punishment. I say, compassionate care. Society says, he must pay. I say, restorative justice. He says, “This may be the thing that saves my life Mom.” For that I am confused and for that I am angry.
My son is in prison. Held in an 8×8 cell. Prison gates, bullet proof vests, stun guns, loaded guns, locked doors, buzzers, steel, steel and more steel, and plexiglass barriers greeting each visit. Safety, they say! Cold, hard defenses necessary to subdue the criminal, they say! Stoic, curt guards, holding power, heroes protecting society, they say! The crime: adverse childhood experiences. The crime: substance use disorder. The crime: a hardened society incarcerating the ‘junkie’. The crime: a privileged society casting out the wounded. The crime: a justice system exploding for profit. The crime: a people locking their doors and their hearts and their soul. Protecting themselves, they say! For that I am angry and for that I rise up.
My son is in prison. Held in an 8×8 cell. The visit: one hour. A container for the heartbreaking beauty of love. We speak with our eyes. I imagine the hug. We speak of regrets. We speak of the love that will not let us go. We remember the years shared. The years to come. We tell the stories. We laugh. We cry. I imagine the hug. His head tucked neatly on my shoulder. My arms wrapped around his pain, his tears, his sorrow, his despair. His reflection on bad choices. His life on overwhelm. We speak of the fear. He worries of release. He’s apprehensive of the pressures of life. We speak of the hardship. Parenting from behind bars. We speak of dreams and getting a second chance. We love with our eyes. I imagine the hug. His head on my shoulder. My arms around his tears. For that I am hopeful and for that I am heartbroken.
Rev. Carie Johnsen is minister at Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Augusta, ME. Speaking as a mother and serving as co-chair of the Public Policy Committee for the Maine Council of Churches, Rev. Carie works to influence drug policy and criminal justice reform in Maine