My best friend has been in jail since Feb. 5th. Soon, she will be transferred to prison. She knows what she did, and knows she got a pretty light sentence. I don’t defend what she did – although I will say it was a non-violent crime and…I support the legalization of marijuana.
We’ve talked on the phone twice – jail, and I assume prison, make sure that prisoners have to buy phone cards from the “commissary”, which means they can charge about $2.00 per minute. So our calls are brief and rushed and filled with quick exchanges of information, and a lot of laughter.
How strange, the laughter? But that’s who we are – she can make me laugh harder than anyone in the world, and that’s saying something since I seem to collect highly amusing friends. Everyone who knows us understands that we will start cracking up the minute we’re in a room together. Even we don’t always know what the hell is so funny – but the world is hilarious when we are together.
We’ve had this joke forever – which might not be explainable, but I’m gonna try – where we try to outdo each other with superlative declarations of love. Example: “If all the leaves on every tree fell to the ground and someone counted them that would not add up to one tenth of my love for you.” We’ve been trying to trump each other for years.
So, now she is in jail, about to go to prison, and we talk for six minutes every week. Not enough at all. She has discovered the lost art of writing letters, and I have too.
The first letter I got from her had some sobering details, but still, I was crying with laughter, and maybe a few other tears, by her descriptions of jail. She’s tiny – five feet tall and about 110 pounds – and she’s telling me how she does her cowardly lion act when things get tough: “Put ‘em up! Put ‘em up!”. She had a friend who just got transferred, but when she was there they would break into the “Beat It” dance routine to break up the tension.
Here’s a quote: “ I’m over the romance novels. I almost read Danielle Steele the other day, and thank god I found something even worse.”
This is how I know she will survive. When I found out she was in jail, and why, I moved right into crisis mode. That’s my training, and I can go from inert to highly alert and organized in 30 seconds. I called our mutual friends who would want to know, and we now have a “letter tree” going on. Most of us write every other day, even if it’s just postcards – the assumption being that if she “sees” us every day, she will emerge as intact as one can hope for from such a brutal experience.
I also called the jail and the prison – that’s my way of being informed and proactive – and the guard at the prison who answered the phone was very nice and helpful. Shocker! Nice enough that he warned me that, upon transfer, all prisoners are put on 23 hour lockdown for 7-10 days and then released into the general population. My friend knows this, and is afraid. She could be transferred at any moment – the middle of the night – and the only way we will know is when she gets through that “adjustment” period.
I wonder whether the jail would forward letters – I’m assuming that’s not on the priority list – so I keep sending letters and postcards, often with those ridiculous superlatives or some other longstanding idiotic joke we have kept going for 23 years.
In this whole experience, well, I have the easy job. I can’t do much more to help or protect her, even if I wasn’t thousands of miles away. It takes months to get on a visitors list in prison, and with time served she could be out by January. (Her sentence, through a plea bargain, is 18 months).
But what I have found – and she has found – is this almost lost art that we used to practice. I’ve known her for 23 years – we basically were doing cave paintings and running away from dinosaurs together! We DID write to each other in the past, when we didn’t live together. No email, no cell phones – just a good old fashioned letter. It’s horrible that this skill is now coming back to us because she’s, well, in jail and going to prison, but it reminds me of how lovely it always is to get something in the mail.
For my friend it is a lifeline. It is something to remind her how much she is loved and treasured. It might be something she will read again and again, just to reassure herself that she is still real. That if all the tulips in Holland were counted one by one and someone fell down and then the wind blew the blades of a windmill – that wind and those tulips would be like my love for her.