Maybe if I’d watched more prison movies, it would be easier. Maybe I’d be better at this. At staying, successfully, on the outside.
As it is, my knowledge of more typical incarceration and parole, and the scourge of recidivism, is limited mostly to the Shawshank Redemption, and the dozens of times that I’ve painstakingly watched Brooksy and Red fight to survive outside the gates. But man, do I know the struggle.
I find myself the mother of three grown ups, in an unfamiliar world in which the rules of parenting have changed. A world which bears almost no resemblance to the world in which I parented the little people with whom I lived for many years. In this new world, I find it difficult to stay clean, which is to say to keep my trap shut, to enjoy freedom, or at least parole. To not say anything that might land me, with respect to those grown up kids, in Parent Jail.
Parent Jail is a place no one wants to be, of course, though many of us find ourselves doing time. It is where you end up when you and your big mom-mouth forget, for just a second, that they are actual grown ups. And that you are subject to the laws of their jurisdiction.
Like many inmates, I had hoped for better. I had goals and dreams for this time in my life: to stay clean, never overstep. Never nag, suggest, or opine to a grown up child of mine. Avoid getting locked up. But incarceration is often generational: my mom was locked up, too. When I was in my twenties, I was the one throwing away the key from my own lofty department of corrections: of her every word, and her point of view. I employed excessive force in dramatic eye rolls, and, when things escalated, angry hang-ups, locked doors, punitive silence.
It happens quickly for the offending moms. You hear the inappropriately opinionated or intrusive or outdated and generally-now-regarded-as-insensitive words just a second too late, which is to say after you have said them out loud to your adult child. You try to fast-talk your way out of it at first, and then, realizing that your story doesn’t really add up, you have an illogical and adrenaline-fueled urge to run.
Bad boys, bad boys. What you gonna do?
I am such a frequent offender that I am very familiar with my rights. I know that anything I say can and will be used against me. As during police interrogation, talking is a trap, and it is usually best at this point to take the fifth. There are just too many things that could go wrong. One of them seems friendly; perhaps they offer you coffee, or remember your favorite snack. You relax just a little, and before you know it, you have fallen into the trap: you accidentally made a suggestion, opined on what you think they should do, or gotten a little too real about the date they recently brought around. Maybe you asked, in a told-you-so kind of way, if they remembered when you suggested last week to call the cable company so that it would be installed promptly, instead of waiting until the move-in was in progress. Or that you suggested they buy a full mattress, instead of a queen, since you know that a full can fit in the back of your minivan, while a queen will require a U-Haul. Maybe you noted that their outfit might have been regarded as a teensy bit unprofessional in your day, or asked how they plan to support themselves, or if that is a rash on their face. Maybe you couldn’t hold your tongue another second about that annoying thing they have done since they were five and you never dreamed would still be on your radar today. Any repeat offender would have known better. I should have known better. I should have known to keep my big snitching mouth shut.
I know that I have the right to a speak to an attorney, and that one will be provided for me. The problem is that the only attorney on hand happens to be their father, who cannot be relied upon to provide a defense, as he is even more apt to be confined than I am. Sometimes they grant him a day pass, like when their teams are playing on our giant TV, or when they need help buying a car. Mostly, though, he’s a lifer. We used to cover for each other when the Heat came around, but y’know, it’s tough out there, and these days, it’s kind of every man for himself. I have to be careful about the company I keep.
I check in regularly with my girlfriends and we act as both parole officers and cellmates for each other. We keep each other on the straight and narrow, providing guidance and stability. We know each others’ rap sheets and we have all committed similar crimes, so we know how it is. We have been together on the outside, but we have been together on the inside, too, and we know the cold discomfort, the cell-block confessions, the long and lonely nights. We know how hard it is to stay out of trouble, to follow all of the rules.
But we can see and celebrate whatever small progress we might be making. We encourage each other to hold our tongues, to take a second before responding, to reframe how we see things. To examine what we “need” to say and to mostly convince ourselves each other to maybe not say it. To take the long view, because that is the only view that extends far beyond the confines of short-sightedness and old habits, of children become grownups, of wall and of wire. It is only the long view that holds. way off in the distance, freedom.
With your help, girls, I think I can make it, on the outside.