Two years before my son died, he spent a little over three months in jail, first awaiting extradition from Chicago back to California, and then awaiting trial. He eventually reached an agreement with the Court to receive psychiatric treatment, perform community service, and be on probation for several years.
He didn’t share much with me about his experiences in jail – “Mom, you don’t want to know” – so I didn’t press. But I visited him in jail several times, and there were a few details that emerged despite his reluctance to share.
I suspect that his fear of returning to jail played a part in his decision to end his life. Six months before he died, he was in a car accident – he was driving drunk. No other vehicle was involved, his car was the only property damaged, and he managed to escape fatal injury (although he suffered a serious concussion). However, consuming alcohol (he was not yet 21) and driving drunk were both probation violations. Returning to jail was a real possibility.
THINGS TO DO IN JAIL:
- Wake up quietly in case my cell mate is still zonked. Neither one of us sleeps well. Every minute counts.
- Wonder what crap they’re going to feed us today. Runny eggs? Applesauce?
- Dress myself in an orange jumpsuit. Orange is definitely not my color. I don’t think orange is anyone’s color.
- Check to see if someone’s scheduled for a call or visit. I both get excited about and dread seeing people here who know me from the outside.
- Finish reading the “Donnie Darko” script Mom printed out and sent to me. They won’t allow her to send books because – Lord knows! – she’s the type who would try to hide a metal file in one. Uh, not.
- Find something new to read. This place needs a library.
- Stay away from that big guy with the tattoo of rotting flesh. I keep mistaking it for the real thing and it grosses me out.
- Don’t let it slip that I understand Spanish.
- Watch TV. Fucking Fox News 24/7. At least with no sound.
- Breathe deeply when they let us outdoors.
- Exercise. I’m getting flabby, the opposite of what I expected.
- Help Ernesto with his reading. Illiteracy is rampant here.
- Check out Tyrone’s pencil drawing of the day. The brother can do some serious art!
- Avoid eye contact with certain Alphas. That includes all the guards.
- Try to get my hands on a toenail clipper. For my toenails. No ulterior motives. Although the idea of digging my way out with a toenail clipper has entertainment value.
- Make a mental list of the people who won’t want to have anything to do with me when I get out. Maybe another (shorter) list of those who will.
- Wonder – again and again – how I ended up here.
- Argue with myself about the existence of God.
- Look forward to getting out. Always that.
I can’t say why I created this list, why my brain went there. I believe some of it was the never knowing exactly what happened to him when he was incarcerated. My imagination wanted answers and filled in the gaps.
Part of my grief journey has been to make peace with the not knowing, to make peace with the fact that this dark phase was a part of my son’s short and precious life, and to make peace with the possibility that his dread and shame of returning to jail is part of what led him to suicide as a “solution.”
Sometimes the memories are not pretty or pleasant, but this does not mean that love wasn’t present or that he isn’t missed. Our relationships with the living are complicated; and so – apparently – are our relationships with the dead.