Today was a very emotionally exhausting, upsetting, and draining day; I did something that in my lifetime I never expected I would have to do … I tried to go visit a dear friend who is in prison for having been incredibly stupid. What he did was the sort of thing that in other countries (many in fact) would not be illegal … but here in the USA its not only illegal, it’s anathema.
There’s a list I keep in my head, its a list of all the people on this planet that I love. It’s a list slowly compiled over my lifetime. To be fair, most of the people on it are men (who I may or may not have been sexually involved with at some point), but there are a handful of women too. These are the sorts of people who I can go months or years without seeing, but always feel close to in spite of that; and, when we eventually get back together it’s almost like we never separated. Almost without exception these folks are unique, brilliant, creative individuals who are often the sort that make a difference on the planet — some even make it into history books (no seriously, they do). They pretty much all live large in one way or another. This guy, this friend, for many years not only was he on the top of my list, he was one of personal heroes,
… he was, and still is — despite what he’s done, someone who made me want to be a better person.
That was the friend I tried to visit today, emphasis on the tried… and failed. If I were to describe him to you in detail, you’d understand why I can forgive him for being a stupid idiot about certain things — and I can not over emphasize the level of stupid that got him thrown in prison. However, in my world some stupid (no matter just how stupid, and this was very very stupid on oh so many levels) does not negate 25 years of honorable merit, at least not in my book. Not only was he one of my personal heroes, but this is the sort of guy, who till just a few months ago, schools invited over to talk to their kids about how ‘no matter who you are, and what your background, your life is yours to lead and you’re the one who gets to make decisions — good or, ironically, bad — regarding how to live it.’ But like many folks from problematic backgrounds he had never fully addressed his inner demons but rather he just repressed them in favor of basking in his current successes, (imagining I suppose that they were now no longer part of him) till they came up to bite him in his ass. To quote different friend of mine who, like this person, was a recovered alcoholic, “there really should be a required 13th step of therapy, so you can figure out why you turned to your drug of choice to self-medicate yourself in the first place.” When I met him he was already maybe 10 years sober and doing amazing things with his life. I can only hope that while in prison, that what he’s doing during his time of prison (in addition to writing his book) is working with a therapist to discover why he did this oh so idiotic thing.
Before he’d gone in we’d talked multiple times and each time I asked him if he wanted me to visit him when he was inside, and he had insisted he did. So, I honored my promise and I drove to the prison to visit him. When I arrived it wasn’t visiting day (he’d not stayed in contact as promised so I had no idea when visiting day might be — the prison web site didn’t say), and the staff at the secured entrance didn’t even know whether or not I was on the list of people who were allowed to visit him.
Before going I had on multiple occasions spoken with his mom and once with his sister, telling them that I intended to go. His sister had even a few weeks before reminded him that he had said he wanted me to, and that I was planning to, and that he should make sure to do what needed to be done to get me on the visitors list. She said he’d not responded one way or another, so that she wasn’t sure if he would do it or not. But I figured, if he had, I would see him, and if not, I’d do what I could to fix that… and even if after that he had not put me on the list, at least he’d know I had done everything in my power to try.
To those who have never had anyone in prison, this is foreign territory. Lord knows I honestly never thought that in all my years any of my friends would be on the inside for anything other than, maybe unintentional manslaughter (being unlucky enough to accidentally kill someone, which could happen to anyone I suppose). Anyways, there is, apparently, paperwork that the prisoner is required to send to you requesting that you visit them, which you then have to fill-in and send back; then, the prison does a background check on you before you can be put on the list. Makes sense if you think about it. The onus, according to the guard I spoke to, is completely on the inmate to do that paperwork, and the guards intentionally won’t lift a finger to help them. The theory being that most prisoners lack the basic skills to succeed in life (or they wouldn’t be in prison), and this is part of them learning those skills. Then, once the prison has jumped through the hoops, and you’ve cleared the background check, the prisoner is supposed to send you an email inviting you — none of which my friend had done in spite of the numerous promises before going in that he would.
Now, like I said, this is a highly educated (graduated from the best schools) individual who had reached some of the highest levels of success in his profession, so it’s not that he lacked the basic skills necessary to send me a form. I tried to explain this to the guard, that if my friend had not done it it wasn’t because he lacked the basic skills… but the guard, who clearly was not the brightest light on the Xmas tree, although I think his heart was in the right place, kept repeating to me that it was about them trying to teach the inmates necessary life skills. (sigh)
Now, you might say: “well if he still wanted you there, he’d have done the paperwork as required” — and in fact you’d not be the first. The thing is, I had asked him multiple times when still out of the prison if he wanted wanted me to visit, and he had said he most definitely did. Granted, once inside he probably got depressed and started to feel sorry for himself and decided that he didn’t want me seeing him like that (he knows he had been one of my heros, and that I love him)… but.. well I’m sorry, but fuck that shit. One thing I’m not is a fair weather friend, and if I think you are in a place where you NEED to be reminded that there are people on this planet who love you, I’ll be damned if I’ll make it easy to push me away.
It’s sort of the down side of having many friends who are unusually brilliant and talented, most of those sorts are also folks with lots and lots of issues.
To quote Steve Jobs:
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
What Steve forgot to mention is some of these round pegs secretly hate themselves for a variety of reasons, and when if they were once high, but then are brought low by the forces in the world that will vilify them, is that they will then do some pretty self destructive shit to make SURE the world punishes them… that’s what I really believe happened here.
But seriously, most of the ones who change the course of humanity are folks that most of the rest of humanity wants nothing to do with till AFTER they become famous. So, if one of them stumbles and falls, I’m not turning my back on them because they somehow fucked up. Failure, even personal failure, is a learning experience, and learning experiences are some of the worst. Clearly, this is one he needed.
However, the fact that I had shown up without that paperwork process having been done by the inmate freaked the prison staff out big time. I’m not one however to let things like that stop me, and basically refused to leave in spite of many hints from them that I should, and that my friend had to initiate the process of my being allowed in (and yes, I told the guards multiple sob stories on how far I’d driven, etc., and I allowed the very real tears of frustration to fill my eyes, because what’s the point of being a girl if you cant play the damsel in distress card). The guy at the front desk realizing I wasn’t going to be easily put off called the person in charge of my friends group within the prison. This guy said to just go ahead and give me the form that my friend was supposed to have sent out; and that I could send it in (they refused to just let me fill it in there, it needed to be put in the post) …. and told me that then, after maybe two weeks, I might find out whether or not I was on the list.
Now when you enter a federal prison you’re not allowed to have anything with you other than your keys. I did not know this till I got to the front door … So I returned to the car and took only my keys and my id (cause I figured they would need that, but they didn’t). What they demanded was my friend’s assigned inmate number (in prison, apparently, you become a number), info that I in fact had with me, but it was on my iPhone and they told me to go get the information; but then when I came in with the iPhone which I had to go back to the car to get. When I walked back in, phone in hand, they said “NO you can’t bring the iPhone into the building (the guy was really freaking out) — not even into just the entry area; you have to put it back in the car.” So a lot of back-and-forth between the car and the prison was going on…. but I ultimately got the form I had to fill in
….. So now, an hour later, imagine I’m back at the hotel and I’m sitting down at the table to fill it out …. and I realize I don’t have my drivers license.
Suffice it to say that after the stress of the morning I started freaking out just a little bit ….
Now to backtrack…
Then day before when I first arrived at my hotel, I discover that while the TV worked, the HBO cable wasn’t (Game of Thrones, anyone?) but they promised me it would be fixed that next day; so upon return it I turn it on only to find that it is STILL not working. I called down and it apparently was a room specific issue, so the manager offers to move me to another room where it was working. So, I move… and then when in the new room (this is after visiting the prison) I pull the key cards from the old room out of my pockets and dump them in the garbage. I collapse on the bed and watch some TV till I feel my emotional energy coming back.
I finally sit down to fill out the form and it asks for my drivers license (which is NOT in my wallet, where it should be — and I start freaking), and then — thankfully, I had a thought; I went to look in the garbage can and sure enough I had thrown out my drivers license…. remember I had put into my back pocket before returning to the prison after leaving my stuff — as instructed — and I am sitting at the table, looking at the form and thanking G-d for the form having asked for my drivers license number because I could have easily, if not for that, have checked out the next morning with it still in the garbage.
It’s been that kind of a day