[Throwback Thursday — Originally published April 2014. Also part of a chapter in my memoir.]
Obviously, there are many ways to avoid getting arrested. But in reality, anything can happen. And to attack these people when you are utterly unaware of their side of the story, or the unbiased truth; to attack the people they love and who love them back, well, that’s not very humane at all. These people are hurting. They don’t need judgmental glances and gossip talked behind their backs; they need support and under-standing. Why have we become so incapable of that?
I love someone who is incarcerated. Actually, I love several people who are incarcerated — three, to be exact, and I’m sure I care about even more on a personal level, and probably more than half on a human level.
That does not make me a bad person. The fact that they are in jail or prison doesn’t even make them bad people. It simply means they made some wrong choices, like most of us have, or even just mistakes — mistakes our government thought were devilish enough to warrant being locked away — and got caught. And the really sad thing is that these mistakes can range from something completely voluntary to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even befriending the wrong person years earlier.
It is truly amazing how the general public reacts to an arrest. Thanks to the internet, we can now see every arrest made, and most become “news-worthy” stories. If you want, go check out your local news source. Find the arrests. Look in the comments. Nearly every person has something horrendous to say. “Scumbag” is an incredibly common insult. Shots are made about the person’s appearance (I bet your mugshot wouldn’t look that sexy, either). Some people even have the nerve to make assumptions about the person’s family and children. Most, if not all, of those people only know the story they just read. So who, exactly, are they to call these people anything at all?
Obviously, many people in jail have done something awful to get there. I’m not denying that. But, even in those cases, there will always be a part of the story the public does not know.
Let me tell you about my incarcerated loved ones.
Number one (we’ll call him Chester, just because) is in prison for protecting his family. They are safe, because he sacrificed his freedom. He doesn’t have the best past, and his record shows that, so people — including law enforcement — are quick to judge. But what they don’t know is how much he’s changed, or what his true character was even before he did. I’ve known him for about twelve years. Every time his name is spoken, the same story comes to mind:
We were at a friend’s apartment — one of our known party locations — when I couldn’t have been older than fifteen. This means, at the time, I had only known Chester for a year or less. There were a few other people there, but not many. I was the only girl in the house. All of a sudden, this guy we all knew but weren’t incredibly close with came bursting through the door with a bat. Someone had royally pissed him off. I don’t remember why.
What I do remember is Chester telling me to go into the bedroom; to get away from the situation so I could be as safe as possible. I was sitting on the end of the couch closest to the door, so I was in the most danger. Being the stubborn wanna-be hardass that I was, I refused to leave the room, but obliged in my own way by standing up and walking next to Chester in the entryway to the kitchen.
He picked up a screwdriver, the closest thing to him that could be used in defense, and escorted me to the bedroom. The very first thing he did, while everyone else was in shock, terrified, or itching to fight, was make sure I was safe. The first thought in his mind was me, and while I considered him a good friend at the time, remember that we still didn’t even know each other that well.
That is the Chester that I know. The man that only his friends and family know. The man that the law refuses to see. This man has a wife and children, and he loves them more than anything in the world, and was good to them. He had a life with them, and now theirs is continuing without him. They are all struggling through this, and random strangers have nothing better to do than comment about how horrible of a person they think he is, when they have no idea. What if his children read the things they say?
Number two (we’ll call this person Alex) also doesn’t have the greatest past. However, most of his crimes were minimal; they were more drug-oriented than anything. Alex is in jail because he turned himself in. After running from the law for long enough, he realized that the only way to get his life in order was to face the inevitable. You have to give him some credit there, at least.
Like I said, Alex doesn’t have the best past. He’s broken the law, he’s lied, he’s cheated, he’s stolen. But he is one of the most amazing people I know. He has been there for me when no one else was, and was one of the few people who never stopped believing in me. He’s made plenty of mistakes, but who hasn’t? His just happen to be outlawed. Really, we should be more focused on helping people like Alex, who are so obviously unhappy with some aspect of themselves or their lives that they turn to drugs and reckless behavior, and then ultimately turn to criminal behavior to feed their habit.
Alex also has a family. And I can tell you, after knowing him for over ten years in ways that most other people never will, he loves them more than he’s loved anything or anyone, ever. He’s changed more than I can even explain. He straightened up his act and was moving forward. If it weren’t for his past, which happens to be permanently in our government records, he wouldn’t be in jail right now. He would be moving on with his life and doing great things, because his potential is incredible. Ultimately, he is also in jail for caring about his family. He cared enough about them to deal with his punishment now, instead of asking them to run forever. Instead of taking the risk that he would get caught later in life, when it could really mess things up. All I see is a man who is doing the right thing — by making up for the wrong things he did for which he didn’t receive the proper help.
Number three I have written about before. He is a very important person in my life, and, as the other two, has been for over ten years. I have posted his story, with certain changes. Anyone who knows me also knows him, and they know his story. However, since most of my other posts involving him were part reality and part fiction, I’m not going to use the same name. This time, I’ll refer to him as Nate.
Nate is not perfect. When he was a teenager he used to get in a decent amount of trouble. Then he had children, and everything changed. Most of my friends and I didn’t grow up until we were in our twenties — some of us still aren’t quite there — but Nate started turning his life around when he was eighteen. And, until now, stayed out of trouble with the law his entire adult life.
I used to call him hyperventilating for no reason, and he would stay on the phone with me for hours simply to make sure I was okay. When I had my first real panic attack, and my boyfriend at the time ignored me, Nate picked me up and carried me on his shoulder away from the situation. I had blacked out, and when I came to we were several blocks away from my house.
I could go on forever about the wonderful things this man has done. I could also make a pretty hefty list about his not-so-wonderful qualities. But he’s not a bad person. Right now he’s in prison for something he doesn’t even remember doing. Something many people close to him still don’t believe he did. Something that too-lenient doctors and mixed prescribed medications could have caused. The truth is, his case is a mess. It has uprooted his family and friends and wreaked havoc on so many lives. And now he is living with murderers and rapists and truly bad people. How does that help?
There are many other aspects about these men, their lives, their families, and their court cases that shed even more light on the people they truly are. However, I would prefer for this to remain anonymous so I don’t want to give too many details. You don’t have to take my word if you don’t want to, but the truth is, these friends of mine are good people. They love and are loved. They care and are cared about. They do their best, they just hit some bumps along the way. In all three cases, their incarceration comes down to one single thing. If Chester had never met a certain person, he wouldn’t be in this situation. If Alex had never used a drug, which so many of us experiment with at some point in our lives, he would be home. If Nate hadn’t sought help for feelings eating away at him, he would be with me right now. Of course, life is full of what ifs, and they’ll eat away at you if you let them. We all have them, and we’re not all in jail, right?
Right. And wrong. We all wonder what if, yes. But we made a right instead of a left. We brushed on by that person instead of befriending them. We moved into Neighborhood A instead of Neighborhood B. Ultimately, the path of your life is based on a series of choices, many of which seem harmless. Of course there were certain things my friends could have done to help keep them from getting arrested, from getting into those situations in the first place. But the reality is that their mistakes took them over, and now many people are suffering.
If a crime has a victim, most people are quick to make horrible judgments about the ‘criminal’. But what you really need to remember is that criminals have families, too. Criminals are humans, just like you and me. And we all have feelings. Just because you watched a TV special about prison life does not mean you can judge every single person in jail. I read a story the other day about a boy who is serving life in prison for letting his roommate borrow his car. A lot of you may be familiar with the case of a woman serving twenty years for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband.
Our justice system is not always fair. When you read the latest news, there will always be a million details of which you are unaware. Unfair sentencing is common. A staggering amount of people are in jail for petty crimes you might get away with every day. These people aren’t hardened, they’re not evil. Of course, yes, some of them are, as are some people who never get caught. Really, what it all comes down to is being decent yourself.
Think before you post about what a scumbag someone is, because more than likely their family knows more than you do and is reading every word. More than likely, those children you’re saying are going to grow up to be scumbags as well are struggling without their parent and will one day read the horrible things you say. And most definitely, the significant other, family member, or friend that you harass on Facebook is much more aware than you are about the things their loved one has done. They don’t need you rubbing it in their face that they have to live their lives completely differently because of one night.
Many of those people you so easily shun will, quite literally, give you the shirt off their back. They will give you their last dollar and smile about it. They will help save your dog from a burning home. They will pick up your wallet and return it to you. Many prisoners will do more for you than the average person you come in contact with daily, and one day you might need them. So, how about we all pay closer attention to being good people ourselves, instead of spending our time going on tangents about people we don’t even know?