This blog was begun a year and half ago by my mother, who put her fingers where her mouth was in terms of giving me a sense of purpose in my time of desperation. All of the postings are my work, written on the backs of envelopes in my extreme frugality “inside,” lovingly and dedicatedly transcribed by my mother. The thoughts, the emotions, the words, are mine. The creative idea of an outlet for that voice, and the persistence in making it happen were hers. She went above and beyond the call of duty, as mother are wont to do.
A year ago, I came home.
If home is a halfway house more terrifying than prison, where for over a month I was the only woman housed with (quite literally) gang bangers, a few of whom were reformed or reforming; the majority of whom continued on their nefarious careers with the full (faux blind eyed) knowledge of halfway house staff. I heard gunshots outside at all hours, listened to stories shared over blunts smoked in the yard, and used my mom voice to stand my ground, all while wondering what surreal universe I had fallen into.
If home is a guest suite in a nunnery, because federal inmates cannot go home without some to “take responsibility” for us, and my retired nun aunt was the only local person willing to do so for my felonious self. The nuns were a warm and welcoming group, asking no questions of my sins, and yet most definitely not home.
If home is a basement apartment the likes of which I have not lived in since college days, insufficient for welcoming my children and providing that home I have always provided for them.
If home is a state of perpetual judgment visited upon me, more harshly in many moments by “friends” than strangers.
If home is lonely and sad and confusing, a continual struggle to focus on positive forward motion.
If home is the opportunity to become the poster child for the local re-entry program, as they can credit themselves with my poise, articulation and professional demeanor, while they keep me from recidivating; and I hold my tongue from screaming that I will succeed in SPITE of the system, not because of it.
Throughout this journey, I have had 3 steadfast pillars that have kept me from curling permanently into a fetal ball or literally pulling out my hair: 1) A core of supporters, mother and father at the helm of that sturdy ship; 2) the constancy of nature- in whatever limited snippets available, a constant source of hope and beauty; and 3) writing as a safe and therapeutic outlet.
The journey is far from over. I am continuing to re-create some semblance of home, a career and a future. Meanwhile, I endeavor to be dawn rising from the ashes of my funeral pyre.
I continue to write as Aurora Phoenix.
(below written 8/15)
I write as Aurora Phoenix.
Nine months ago my world shattered. Unexpectedly and dramatically arrested, I have been incarcerated ever since, as I await the unbearably slow machinations of the system.
As a clinical psychologist who has worked with a wide variety of disempowered individuals, I would not have described myself as naïve regarding the pervasive inhumanity of the criminal justice system. A moderate anecdotal and academic understanding, however, was insufficient preparation for life “inside.” Bereft of daily contact with beloved children, family and friends, powerless over all but a painfully limited few aspects of my existence, and immersed in a culture at once dehumanizing, disorienting and bewildering, it has been an exhausting struggle. In many moments, it has been my experience that I am fighting to save my very soul.
I have spent the majority of my time in a jail that I am confident is better than most. I seldom fear for my physical safety and there are no vermin scuttling under my bunk. I am blessed with strong and devoted support systems that have actively demonstrated their love and concern. I have access to books and opportunity for physical exercise, both of which have helped immeasurable in efforts to sustain myself. Bird outside my window have served as winged emissaries of hope, reminders that there is still beauty and joy in the world “outside.
Nevertheless, there have been dark and desolate moments. The confluence of emotional isolation and absolute lack of privacy has been oppressively daunting. Devoid of verbal communication that is unmonitored, pen and paper have served as my truest outlet for grief, fear and angst. I am daily faced with the dual reality of a systemically dehumanizing present and a terrifyingly uncertain future. Armed with toilet paper for intermittently copious tears, my motions experience and reflections are PaperMate poured. In this chapter of my life, I write.