We have all experienced dark times in our lives, most that we would prefer to forget. Although, if managed, and worked through appropriately, will help us to become better versions of ourselves. We have to sacrifice some of our time and energy to consciously explore who we are, and who we might want to become to get there, but a reward of our trials is compassion, as well as a more confident, and authentic self. You often have to pass through shame, and that’s a rather deep dive into our subconscious. These days shame is rare in people. I have discovered that fewer people are accountable enough for their lives to feel shame, and shame is a difficult thing to face, especially when mistakes are met with criticism, and not understanding—as an opportunity for growth.
When I was first led through the doors of the county jail, processed, and booked, I was actually feeling relieved, if you can believe it. I know that may sound odd, but the alternative was to spend another night at home with my ex-girlfriend, who harbored a lot of rage and trauma, and instead of working on her issues she coerced, manipulated, and shattered the men in her life (there are a trail of tears, some of whom I have met and developed friendships with. I was with her for a few years, and she began our relationship by building co-dependence, very slowly, and very deliberately. She was so subtle and intentional about how she went about it that I didn’t even notice what was happening until I was already completely reliant on her, and I firmly believed that I was completely reliant on her. Once established, she would look for and pick fights, make accusations, belittle, and gaslight me, and the fights were intense; the rage that came from this petite, unassuming woman was remarkable.
Years into our relationship, and believing that I had no way out, I started contemplating the merits of suicide. And, one night, during one of her particularly horrid episodes, I grabbed a knife from the kitchen, walked to our master bathroom, I shut the door, and in the master bathroom I got closer than I’d like to admit to myself to taking my own life. I called the police from the closest phone available, which was hers, her phone was in the bedroom, on the nightstand. And, when the police came to the front door, they met her first, and when I heard them shouting at me to, “drop the weapon,” and to “open the door,” I opened the bathroom door, and I although my eyes were filled with tears, I remember still a snapshot of several guns pointed directly at me. I do remember seeing them, but I don’t really remember seeing them. They took me into custody. I spent that night on suicide watch at a hospital, and the following night I spent on suicide watch at the county jail. And it was there, that second night, that I felt genuine peace. I didn’t feel as if I were locked inside, I felt as if I were in the only place that she couldn’t get to me, and the relief was indescribable.
I was alone in this metal box that was shaped, almost like a lightly closed fist; there was a punched cold metal skeleton of a bunk, a metal toilet and sink, and a mirror much too abraded to see even a hint of my reflection, and a door that seemed less like a door and more a soldered slab with a thin, long airstrip of a window. They stripped me of my clothes; they took away everything, and they gave me a “turtle suit,” a padded green shell that wrapped around my shoulders with Velcro, although the Velcro, like the mirror, was worn useless. Being on suicide watch in a county jail means they leave you with nothing, just the framework; I had no mattress, sheets, blankets, pillows, pillowcases, clothing, toothbrush, hairbrush, or my glasses they gave me only a turtle suit, and they unwittingly gave me back my emotional freedom.
I didn’t realize the full weight of what was happening until two days later, when I was lined up with a handful of the others that were also recently booked, and we were led to what looked like a courtroom, there were wooden pews facing a wooden desk with a large, flat screen TV. After we were all seated, a guard turned the television on, and there behind the camera was a judge, and he was seated in some office miles away, in front of a computer sizing each of us up. We were called on one at a time to go over what we were being charged with. I have never felt as exposed as I did then, sitting opposite a county judge in a red gown, my wrists and ankles shackled, for a Zoom meeting. When he started listing off my charges, and it started reading like an inventory (as everyone’s did, which surprised me), I could only sit there stupefied, and, when he finished, I was in utter shock. I believed that I was there because I had attempted to attempt suicide, which wasn’t even among the charges. The only charge, of the four, that I was being assigned, that had any legitimacy, was “Interference of Communications,” and that was because the most accessible cell to me that night was my ex’s cell phone, which I used only to call the police.
I spent the next three nights in the county jail. After my second night on suicide watch, and my first on site, I was moved—once I was cleared by a psychologist, whom, honestly didn’t even give a $hit. I sat with him for, maybe, five minutes, and I was like, “I’m not gonna kill myself,” and he was like, “That’s good enough for me!”—I was taken through a handful of locked slabs, and into a block that was just a large room, most of which was a community area with several round metal tables and metal stools, there was a large flatscreen TV hanging twenty or thirty feet up on the wall, and a shower room in the rear corner with eight or nine showers heads over tiled floor; two floors of jail cells against the rear wall next to the showers, and each had two bunks. The first night I had to share a cell, which scared the hell out of me, and I don’t remember much about it, except that I never once let my eyes close. The following day my cellmate, believing me to be an undercover cop, or a narc—I was asked as much by probably the most feared person between the two floors of cells, multiple times—he moved into a different cell. I was alone in my cell for the rest of the time, so I was able to sleep, a little. I came out only to get food and to eat. There was one guy that would chat me up, I don’t remember much about him, I was in a constant state of fear the entire time I was there, and my memory because of that isn’t perfect.
I wish I remembered more about the experience, my life before, and after that is camouflaged by some severe emotional trauma; when the charges were dropped and I was released, my ex begged me to stay with her and, like any emotionally abused and co-dependent punching bag, I moved back in with her with several more months. I had locked myself in my cell for the extent, watching TV through the slit in the slab and writing. I don’t know what station the television was programmed to, I did spend time peeking through the thin, long airstrip of a window at whatever was on. The show’s seemed to alternate between The Big Bang Theory, COPS, and the local news. In my cell, there was a small metal table and a stool where I could sit, and from there I could almost see the whole television; also, I was somehow able to get my hands on some paper and a pencil. It’s possible the guy I ate with passed them along to me. I was able to spend time writing, although those pages were lost, I probably ate them. Most of my time went to thinking about collecting money for the commissary, so that I could buy more paper and pencils, books, rocks to carve down for chess pieces, and food, and I started to daydream about who I would be if I were to spend the next ten years to twenty years in jail.
One afternoon or morning, I’m not sure, a guard came to the block door, and he yelled my name, it was explained to me that I was being released, and he led me into booking, where I collected my things. My fear never left me, but as I was being released and, and for many years afterward, I felt nothing. And much of my personality was lost. Between my relationship and jail, I stopped recognizing who I was before. Before I was released, they fitted me with an ankle bracelet, the courts decided that I needed to stay away from my ex. It’s amazing to me how I could stand in front of a person screaming, and as articulate and transparent as one can, shouting any one thing— “I’m not going to need this, I’d rather stay here, than to ever see her again”—and no one would hear it. My ex never pressed charges, I did nothing that would even allow her to have pressed charges, the state was responsible for my charges. She actually aided in the promptness of my release—I was told. She was even at the preliminary hearings, for my support. And still the state wrapped a bracelet around my ankle to monitor whether or not I was going near her. Of course, as I mentioned, she did manage to manipulate me back into her arms, after the ankle bracelet was removed, and I stayed with her for another eight months, before I finally grabbed the suitcase, that I kept packed and hidden in our hall closet, and leaving most of my belongings with her, I finally escaped, and I never saw or spoke to her again. My time in the county jail now seems more like a very distant, and muted dream than it does a part of my history—of how I spent nearly a week of my life.
I am ashamed of the experience. The state inflated my charges, and they did so with the intention of them being reduced so that there was less a likelihood that they all might be dropped. However, because the charges were baseless, all but one was dropped, and that one was “interference with communications,” and it was a misdemeanor. I know that, aside from my mental state, and what I might have been willing to do to myself, I did nothing wrong, and still I’m embarrassed, in part because people make assumptions and they will critique, doubt, and “cancel” you, with little or no understanding. At this point, for me, the experience of my week in “Shawshank,” is one that has been added to my list of exceptional experiences—exceptional, yes, but not all of my experiences, even my exceptional experiences, are good. Experiences that may, or may not necessarily build character, but that will challenge us—me, us; me—and influence, and be the catalyst for greater personal growth.