Mother’s Day in Jail – Charleston, SC

The banging doesn’t stop. The talking does not cease. The noise levels are deafening. Night and day make no difference in this place, except in the amplification of noise.

The androgynously masculine guards joke and guffaw, inmates the brunt of their jokes. If they ever knew what it was like to be thoughtful or considerate, they do not show it. Several hundred female inmates attempt to sleep behind locked doors in the cacophony of harsh sounds. Sacred space is not to be found here. As they joke and swear, telling stories in deep voices, the sounds bounce off the cinderblocks, reverberating through the walls.

Under normal circumstances, these are people to I would avoid when walking down a darkened street, the last group I would turn to for help. They are the heyenas of this jungle, keeping everyone in line by pouncing on weakness. Their callousness leads me to wonder to the time in their lives when someone treated them with such distain and shame that they would enjoy this kind of job. The cycle of pain continues here, metered out with a different kind of victim.

It’s 4:00 AM on Mother’s Day and as this particular holiday goes, it’s the last place I ever expected to spend it. As far as surprises go, this one is a doozy; far above and beyond anything my children could have envisioned for their Momma.

I’ve just arrived. Tired, and in shock over the chain of events that led here. For the first time in five hours, I’m able to rest steel bite pro and contemplate.

I daydream of previous Mother’s Days, each one different and yet the same. Of two cherubic cheeked, blue eyed little boys proudly bringing breakfast to their Momma in bed, accented with freshly picked wild flowers. There is no breakfast in this particularly confining resort, no chocolate French toast with whipped cream, no orange juice on today’s menu. Remove generosity or acknowledgement for the hardworking, sometimes exasperated young mother that I was. No praise for the mother of two self-propelled boys that I am today. None of that found in this particularly confining resort.

Surrounded by cold cement walls, only a thin sliver of 3 inch wide window gives any indication of a world outside. Two inches of stiff vinyl-covered ‘mattress’ separates my sore body from the cement floor. Ignoring the pain shooting through my limbs, I lay on the mattress in the only way possible, counting the dozen inches between my feet and the open commode. Although my preference would normally be to lie where I can see outside, the close proximity to the toilet intervenes. For now I prefer to face the steel orifice, my head 3 inches from one of two permanently placed steel stools. The irony is not lost here. My life is in the toilet.

The bedding ensemble is as harsh, perhaps left over from the Civil War. A dark scratchy gray blanket absent of flowers, fluffiness, or softness is my covering. A small hand towel rolled up under my neck serves as a pillow, the cement wall behind me supports my back. I lay sideways, close my eyes and rest in an attempt to acclimate to this environment and sleep in such a place. A thin gray blanket, and a sewn together sheet resembling a huge pillow case completes the ensemble in this bare place. The comfortable nest I normally sleep in is far away from here, yet I too far to climb into. Instead, I bring it to mind, sinking down into soft pillows, the sound of the ocean and sleep.

To drown out the deafening noise, I let my dreaming take me to previously happy Mother’s Days. Longing for home, my imagination takes me to a bathtub filled with hot water, Epsom salts and essential oils. My children are respectful, quiet, tiptoeing around the house as I sit in my womb-like room. Candles burn, instrumental music plays. I savor this, knowing that at any moment a dimpled little hand will knock lightly on the door, and a sweet baby boy voice will say, “Mommy, breakfast is almost ready!” Closing my eyes, gratitude for sweet moments as these begins to flow and I am able to doze.

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