For a while, one of the best parts of my week would be when I received a letter from one of the ladies in jail I write with back and forth. Some are moved to other dorms in the jail where I don’t visit, and some have been transferred to prison but we still communicate. Since most residents, especially in prison, can’t receive visitors without a lot of paperwork and planning, writing has been an easy way to stay in contact and it gives us us both something to look forward to each week.
Over the past few weeks, I have received letters that made me cry with tears of joy as well as sorrow. One girl informed me that even though she would now be in prison for several months, she was adjusting well and focusing on who she wants to be when she gets out and how she can avoid going back to old patterns. We write about our dreams, our hopes, our fears. I tell her what I have done during the week – what has been fun and what has been hard. She tells me how she passes the time in prison and what it is like to try to keep her hopes up there.
Another girl wrote to me grieving the death of her sister, and the fact that she had to find out about her sister’s death while she is in jail and cannot be with her family. She tells me what it is like to feel lonely and isolated, and how it is hard to sleep at night because she is afraid of the past and is unsure of the future.
The real gift this week came this afternoon when I met one of the women who was in the jail church service every Sunday, but now she is out and was able to meet me at a Starbucks near my office. When I pulled up, I saw a beautiful woman in a brightly colored dress sitting under an umbrella enjoying the sun. I continued to scan the patio to look for my friend, because the last time I saw her she had not been able to shower in a while, she was wearing her ill-fitted “blues” (jail attire), no make-up, and her hair was tangled and short. The woman in the sunflower dress jumped out of her seat and all but ran to hug me in the parking lot. Her shiny curly hair was bouncing alongside her silver hoop earrings. I had not even recognized her, except for her smile. I will always know that smile.
We hugged and laughed, and went into Starbucks to place our order. She had to call a friend to ask what to order because she had not ordered coffee in so long. We sat down at a table outside because she wanted to just soak it in. I obliged even though I was wearing cropped pants and it was well over 95 degrees and we had no shade. I sipped my chai and grinned from sweat bead to sweat bead as she breathlessly told me story after story about what she has done in the three weeks she has been out of jail. She kept stopping in her stories to look up at the sun. It took me a minute to appreciate where she was coming from – she had rarely seen, much less felt, the sun during her most recent stint in jail.
She asked me how work is going and if my new dog had pooped on the floor anymore, and we took a walk through Winter Park Village to check out the human-size chess board. The pieces had been removed, so we grabbed a bench in between a large fountain and the life-size chess board under the trees so that we could continue talking. My friend told me that she actually likes to look at herself in the mirror now because she doesn’t hate what she sees anymore. She told me I would be the WORST crack dealer ever because I was too crazy (but in a good way). She said I wouldn’t last one second as a drug dealer because the drug dealers would think I was on crack because she thinks I am too hyper. She told me all about her drug classes, counseling, group therapy, and her plans to start computer classes next week. My friend is in her 50s and has never used a computer, but she wants to get a job and eventually start her own business one day so she signed up for classes to get the training she needs.
She talked about how she hasn’t gone back to old ways and places, that she hasn’t answered calls from old boyfriends, and that she moved houses when her living situation was tempting her back to angry outbursts. She stopped mid-conversation to thank Jesus for letting her be sitting on that bench in Winter Park rather than in prison.
She writes our mutual friends every week, too, so we compared updates and talked about how heartbroken we are for the girls who have received long prison sentences. We talked about racism. She told me that white people are really brave to do stupid things like jumping out of planes and climbing mountains. I told her I had never jumped out of a plane, I just wanted to be able to dance better. She laughed and said, “Oh you have some soul in you!”
We talked about who makes the best fried chicken, who serves the best Mexican food, and our dogs. We talked about seeing a movie when I get back in town because she has really missed being able to eat buttered popcorn in a cool movie theater.
We laughed and laughed and laughed. If you had passed us on your way to Victoria’s Secret or The Loft, you would think we had known each other for years. You may have even wondered if we were related somehow. No one would have been able to guess that we had met in jail – she as an inmate and me as a worship leader (not sure which one is more humorous, actually). You would have no clue that my friend was wearing a jumpsuit just over three weeks ago and afraid that she may never seen sunshine again. You would never know that she had scowled at me the first time we met and that I was terrified of her.
I had hoped we could see the movie Inside Out together today and then talk about it, but I had to go back to work. So we hugged a parted ways, laughing about what it would be like if we took a road trip together one day. I am so proud of my friend. She has a very long road ahead of her, but for today she is more than willing to do the hard work. She has lived in hell and is experiencing a piece of heaven and doesn’t want to lose that. I am so thankful to have her in my life, even if it is just to remind me to be grateful for the scorching sun on my back. Even that is a gift.