I’m Happy to announce my guest blogger, Minette, renowned blogger on social and prison issues. I’ll be posting a series of her informational blogs during the next month, so keep a watch out for them. I’m sure you will find them interesting and full of valuable tips and interesting personal experiences. This first one reflects on how we often fear telling people when we have a child or relative in prison.
The Last Taboo
There are no carefully guarded family secrets anymore, no skeletons in the closet waiting to be exposed, no deep dark secrets taken to the grave. Now, everyone shares everything. All the filters, gone. Five years ago I don’t think anyone would openly admit there was alcoholism or drug addiction in their family. Not anymore. It’s all changed. Now you can read about it all on Facebook or on someone’s personal blog. But, maybe there is one exception. One shame that lurks behind eyes that have cried all night, alone.
Earlier this year while on vacation in Costa Rica, I waded into the water of the pristine, clear, warm Pacific Ocean, surrounded by craggily rock formations on either side of a wide open, beautiful sandy, hardly occupied beach. I was standing in the surf near a fellow traveler I met a few days ago on the tour bus. After rushing around seeing rain forests, volcanos, and coffee bean plantations, this was the beginning of our two day total relaxation time. A wave engulfed us, she was pushed down by its force, then she popped back up, catching her breath. She laughed and told me, almost a complete stranger, she had a parent who was an alcoholic. OK, good to know, I guess.
Most people would think that’s a weird reaction to getting tossed about by a wave. But unfortunately, I could see the relevance. She felt unbalanced as the wave hit and then the sand was pulled out from under her feet as the water receded. A metaphor for how she felt when she lived with her problematic relative. I found that I could share with that wave impacted vacationer that I too had the gut wrenching experience of a relative who was an addict, providing a small bonding experience as we continued to go back to jumping the waves, and then ultimately back on the tour bus. But there was still one thing, one horrible thing left unsaid. I could not bring myself to tell her, but now I’ll tell the whole world, maybe I can start a trend that may change things. That addict was my child and he ended up in prison. I’m telling the world because enough time has passed and I can deal with it now. But I remember the pain, the confusion, the lack of understanding I felt about it happening to my family and the lack of believing that it was actually happening at all even as it was going on. I did pinch myself, but it didn’t help. It was like being in a small boat in a gushing river with broken oars. The river current carried us along, and as much as we tried to stop it, the impending boat wreck stared us in the face and we could not avoid it. We tried everything we could think of, spent tons of money, believed in what we thought was the system, and still we had to live in the middle of the rubble and remains as if nothing had happened. We had to go on living, like nothing unusual had happened. There was no other choice.
But when I was in Costa Rica, I just could not tell a stranger. I could not make the words come out of my mouth. They were stuck in my throat. I knew she wanted more. She was waiting for something more, something to continue the conversation, but I could not say it. The last taboo seems to be prison.
More importantly, I could not tell my parents, in-laws, brother or sister, or anyone in the family. It would be too sad and hurtful for them, how could that happen to the sweet little boy they once knew. He was a nice, bright, fun kid. He was clever, lots of smiles and laughter. He was charming with plenty of friends. He loved riding his bike, fishing in a lake, exploring everywhere and everything. As he got older, I thought he had street smarts, but sometimes he displayed anxiousness if he wasn’t sure about a situation. On the other hand, he had the steadiest hands I had ever seen and a right to the point focus.
There were times when he was little and we would be standing on the edge of a lake. He would see a fish nearby, and he would wade into the water, and catch the fish with his hands. He’d hold it up for the family to see wearing a big grin on his face. He was quick and steady. One time we were browsing stores at an airport and a souvenir store had a sign, IF YOU CAN SOLVE THIS PUZZLE, IT’S YOURS FOR FREE. It was one of those little wooden boxes you had to get small metal balls into the right sections or holes. I worked on one, his friend worked on one, and he worked on one. And, one, two, three, he did it. They gave it to him for free. Then he did another one, his friend and I were getting nowhere with the ones we had. I was too embarrassed to take a second one for free. He just had a knack of that sort of thing.
Another time we were going to a Mets game. We were meeting a friend who had the tickets in the parking lot. My friend was a few minutes late, he was panicked that they wouldn’t show and then what would we do! I was surprised by his over reaction, but then my friend came and he was fine and had a good time.
He was not brought up in a slum, he did not live with family who abused him, or an environment full of drugs. He had a perfectly fine upbringing with lots of opportunities. But still it happened. People I asked for advice after the fact, shrugged their shoulders because they thought it was so unusual for a kid like mine to be in that position. It was not a problem that fit in their world.
Had I told my family that my son was an addict, he committed a crime, was convicted of a felony, and ultimately went to prison, yes, it would have been heartbreaking for them. That is true, but probably the greater truth is that it was too shameful for me. Never in a million years would I have thought this would happen to us, not the addiction, not the prison, and not everything in between. Such an incredible, overwhelming, embarrassment for us. And, it is something that we’ll have to live with for the rest of our lives. They used to scare me with getting a B on my report card, it will go on your permanent record! That didn’t, and it wasn’t so terrible either, but this does, and it can make life a whole lot more difficult. This sure didn’t happen only to my son either, although he’s the one who will bear the brunt of it for the rest of his life. This affected me, my husband, and his sister, and even though I did not tell them, the rest of my family.
First Blog Post July 18, 2018