Archive | July, 2010

Me in a men’s prison and this is not a porn

21 Jul

I walked into the liquor store down the street from my building and bought my usual six-pack of Harpoon IPA.

“How you doin’?” the smiling dude behind the counter asked.

“Good. Gonna be a lot better in a few minutes,” I told him.

He laughed. “Pop a couple cold ones and you’ll be all right.”

I walked out uneasy with the words I’d chosen, with the fact I really was about to “pop a couple cold ones”‘ to “feel a little better.” It’s true I need major unwinding tonight, but the fact I’m choosing a beer to speed up the process is pretty freaking ironic.

I’ve spent the last two days, 9am – 4pm, in the classroom of a men’s medium security prison, sitting in a circle with about 16 inmates and three ladies “from the outside” like myself. I’ve been listening to grown men talk about their important memories, about what goes on in their minds on a daily basis, about what they’d wish to buy if any thing were purchasable , what they’ve all most wanted to do at some point in their lives, how they feel about the people they are today. I’ve watched them struggle to find something about themselves of which they’re proud, I’ve heard them express gratitude to one another for creating this temporary community where they are comfortable and relaxed for a whole seven hours during their day, I’ve heard them talk about their insecurities, the crimes they committed, I’ve heard them reinforce to one another the importance of self-forgiveness, of patience, of compromise, of hard work, of considering consequences. I’ve heard them talk about their children, their wives, their girlfriends, their mothers, and oftentimes about the absence of their fathers. I shared too, I shared as much as they did. I cried today, and honest to god, I never imagined I might feel so comfortable letting a couple tears stream down my cheek in front of 16 ripped and tattooed, white t-shirt and blue jean-wearing strange men. “Jesus, I think I’m PMSing,” I blurted out loud. They laughed.

Some of these men have murdered, robbed, physically and emotionally damaged others. Many of them are alcoholics, crack-cocaine and heroin addicts, many of them have gotten out and back in and out and back into prison.

And yet I haven’t felt as connected to a group of people as I did in these couple days. Is that at all strange? Yea, sure, I realize how fucking weird it sounds.

I could say that I’m looking forward to making a commitment to this program because 7.3 million Americans are in jail, prison, on parole, or on probation and the great majority of them will get back on the streets, so shouldn’t we help them reinforce positive values, ways of thinking, and habits so that we can in turn better protect ourselves? I could say it’s because they might discover a thing or two that will help ease the strain in the relationships they have with their sons, daughters, wives, girlfriends, mothers, fathers, friends, which in turn may positively affect the lives of each of these people. I could say it’s because we need to reduce the number of incarcerated people so that our tax dollars aren’t sent to jail, so many of which are run by evil fucking corporations.

All of these are fantastic possible consequences of showing convicts an alternative to violence. But my mother said this to me on the phone today (and I’m so glad she did because, goddamn it, we all need a little encouragement and affirmation in our lives): “do it because you feel it’s the right thing to do, not because of statistics.”

I’ll say this: with the overwhelming negativity that permeates this world, I’d be a fool not grab an opportunity to help breed positivity. With all the sadness and regret that gets passed around in that classroom, has come more empathy, eagerness, effort, and honesty than I’ve experienced in months. I want to be present and cooperative in a group of people doing the same. It feels hopeful, honestly. I don’t care who or where we are; that’s the kind of stuff we should all live for.

And fuck it, where else would I get stories like this:

I was eating lunch next to Nick and Jay, when Nick said to me, “I can’t believe you’re eating state food, man. You can bring in your own lunch, you know that?” I told him, “Yeah, I know. But I didn’t today, and I’m hungry, and if you guys can eat it, then it’s no big deal.”

Nick then said, “I worked in the kitchen for a couple days, man, and that shit is nasty. Some of the people working in there are just crazy. You get used to stuff in here that you’d never consider out there. You know what, there was this one crazy dude in the kitchen once who put his own shit in the pancakes while he was cooking it.”

Jay nodded vehemently; he works in the kitchen and had just an orange for lunch that day.  I said, “Oh well. Chocolate chips!”

My dad licked me often

13 Jul

My dad was 34 when I was born – the third and fattest of his babies.

40 when he began kneeling down at my bedside, interlaced fingers, calm and quiet, listening to my prayers as I thanked God for mom, dad, sister, brother, dog, parrot, grandma, friend, teacher, neighbor, toys, food… The biggest atheist I’ve ever known, he waited patiently for me to finish and repeated “Amen” after me. And he always followed that up with a kiss to the forehead and a good tucking in under the sheets. I haven’t slept as peacefully since. Especially not on the night he discovered that, at age 13, I was attending Catholic mass not for my relationship with God, but to steal kisses from my first boyfriend as we sat on the back pew, barely listening to the sermon. Dad was pretty livid when he caught us holding hands outside of church. That was the last time I attended Jesus’ crib.

He’s tried but can’t hold a grudge for too long. And he’s got odd ideas about getting even too; in my Prime Pest Modus Operandus, I enjoyed (still do), flicking, poking, pushing, tripping the old man, slapping magazine or book out of his hands, turning off the computer monitor and running away, hiding his silverware as he’d help himself to seconds (or thirds), snatching a pen from his hand and tossing it across the room, standing in front of the TV, blocking his view… you name it, I did (do) it with the biggest smile on my face. He’d smile back too:

“I’m gonna get you. I’m letting you know that you can stop now or I will get you,” he’d say calmly.

I’d go on about my business of annoying him.  Suddenly he’d get up from the couch or chair and run after me. Locking myself in a room was useless because his patience has always outlasted mine. I’d choose instead to run as fast as I could and enjoy the thrill until I was finally caught. He’d place me on the floor and tickle ’till I couldn’t handle it anymore and then… he’d spit all over his hands and smear them on my face. That was his punishment and, what can I say… it was disgusting but I must’ve enjoyed it. A quick wash with soap would rinse away the foul smell of saliva and I’d go find him to shake hands in truce.

I had no revenge for all the snacks and sandwiches he’s stolen over the years, unfortunately.

“Oooh, did you see the cat zooming by??” he’d ask surprised, out of the blue.

I’d look, and in that split second, half of my sandwich would be making its way down his belly. The man will eat anything too. Blame it on having grown up poor, or just being a food fiend; he’s been known to eat cake sandwiches or banana sandwiches – yes, a slice of cake or a banana between two slices of bread. In two bites. No water. When I was little and didn’t have the appetite to finish my food (throwing away was not an option), I’d find my dad, step on his foot, and he’d open his mouth, like a garbage disposal. I always got a kick out of that.

He taught me to ride my first bike, even though he never learned how himself, having been too poor as a kid to own one.

Last month, on father’s day, I took him kayaking – his first time – and enjoyed the reversal of roles; he listened to my instructions and I calmed his nerves, reassuring him that the damn thing wouldn’t turn over and we would not drown in the Charles River.

My father was, is, and will always be my standard of a Man. It’s his birthday today, and I’m as silly as he is when it comes to showing emotion – we’ve never said “I love you” to one another. But the tears won’t stop streaming down my face as I think about everything he’s been in my life. I love my dad and I can only hope to find for a partner, a man half as strong, honest, and good as he is.

I’m a slave for you

8 Jul

Not gonna lie; I am a stuff junkie. When I was a kid, my parents taught me to be resourceful, and to have fun without the latest and greatest toys. Sure I spent many hours with Mario and Donkey Kong, but I spent many more riding my brother’s recycled bike (dad and I painted it, changed the seat, and added a horn and basket), playing with the dog, and making up games. I’d run through the back yard, in between corn and coffee plants, chanting like a little Indian girl hunting white people. The dog was either my wolf companion or my horse. Imaginary rivers and quicksand were crossed by swinging from liana or my rope. Whole afternoons would go by, spent outside, until a crusty and hungry mini-me returned home for the evening. I can’t remember caring for many material things; I was satisfied with my cheap watches and a few Nintendo games, though I did wish Freddy Kruger’s replica glove weren’t so expensive.

Then we moved to the US – just as I hit puberty. To make up for my accent and small boobs, I needed gorgeous hair, the prettiest skirts, the most bad ass leather jacket, the newest sneakers, the best this, the best that… as my mother eventually began denying me all of my wants and needs, I started working at age 14, so I could afford all the shit I wanted. God only knows how many thousands of dollars were spent on teen magazines, beauty products, jewelry, clothes… I remember watching shampoo commercials and running to the bathroom to check myself in the mirror; I’d run my fingers through my hair, angry that it wasn’t as shiny, thick, or straight like the model’s. I’d make weekly lists of shit I needed so I could run to the mall after payday and spend my check on the stuff – stuff that would become obsolete weeks later.

When it wasn’t clothes and beauty products, it was gadgets or home furnishings; but there was always something to buy.

It wasn’t until after college that I really began to assess my slavery to stuff and my easily persuadable personality. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but it’s true; I’m fairly gullible and impressionable. I tell myself that these traits go hand in hand with my optimism and the big heart I carry on my sleeve, but still… the truth is, I’m not like my mom, who can walk through any store and barely blink at the shelves, focusing solely on the specifics of her list. On a grocery shopping  mission, it is not unlikely that I’ll find myself sucking my thumb or twirling my hair, staring at crayons and erasable markers, convincing myself that drawing pictures would be incredibly therapeutic IF ONLY I had the glow in the dark glittery glue.

I know myself too well, and at least I have that on my side. I can’t tell you how much more pleasant my life has been since I cut out television (commercials), and celebrity-centered news, online shopping, women’s magazines, and ‘casual’ trips to the mall. I don’t know what Vogue wants me to Buy, Keep, or Store, I don’t know what Posh was wearing when she went out for brunch on Saturday, and I haven’t a clue how quickly the new wireless home theater systems can deafen me. I stay away from stores like a lap-band fattie does from sugar, and when I do go I clutch to my list.

Unless I don’t make one. Unless I foolishly tell myself that I’ll just “pop into Target and Sephora real quick” for a computer cable and some foundation. “Twenty minutes, and I’ll be home before dusk for a jog with Tori.”

I found the foundation. I also found lipgloss and $100 worth of perfume. I found the computer cable, along with a new bath curtain, wastebasket, soap dispenser, play-doh, more nerf gun ammunition, Starbucks coffee, a $20 mug, organizing boxes, tanning product, and whatever the fuck else. It’s absurd and I’m ashamed. I’ve put aside some stuff to return over the weekend, and I’m hoping this relapse is an isolated episode. But my oh my, how pretty does my bathroom look.