Friday, January 11, 2013

A Confession

By Christi Buchanan

My first reaction to the news was “crap.”  Everybody in the wing was hugging and crying and praying.  Everybody except me.  I was mad.  I mean, pissed off.  And it was slowly boiling over into rage.  Watching all these people with their joy and excitement was making me want to slam a door.  I wasn’t buying any of it.  They felt the same way I did.

As the days dragged on and the news settled over the compound like some kind of NASA heat-retaining, solar-insulated blanket-of-suffocation (in my opinion), folks came together with a multitude of good will and decided to throw a celebratory party in the wing.  There would be food and speeches and good-natured ribbing.  All the old heads would have places of honor from which they could spew forth their wisdom and anecdotes about the last 25 years.  Even the officers were buzzin’ about the news and offering up their own experiences.

I, on the other hand, sulked around, avoiding the party-planning and overall merriment, generally just being an ass.  I didn’t have to say a word – people could tell by looking at me that I did not share in their festive mood and would not likely make it to “a place” where I could.  However, when the party finally came, I was trying very hard to be someone other than myself, which meant putting aside my feelings and being present in the moment for the sake of the moment.  I won’t say it was akin to some sort of terrorist torture because I have never experienced that, but it had to have been damn close.

The food, the joy, the endless tears- it was too much for my resolve and I began to feel, damn it!  People joked around and told seriously funny stories (there is nothing like prison humor!).  And there were moments that were profound and moving; the genuine goodwill nearly did me in as I sat there in silent judgment of those around me.

It’s no easy thing I am doing here, admitting all this so readily just a few weeks after the news first wrecked my day.  I am not proud of myself or my behavior.  I am ashamed and it’s like heartburn that will not go away. 

So I spoke to my chaplain about all this.  She said she thought about me when she first heard the news and wondered how I was reacting.  She was glad I got mad and struggled with jealousy.  To her that meant I still very much cared about my own situation and hadn’t resigned myself to this life.  She also said she felt it was a perfectly natural reaction for me since I had been waking up every day for 25 years, too, waiting for my own “news.”

Tee made parole.  She made parole (which is virtually un-freaking-heard of in Virginia) and I’m pissed? Are you kidding me?  I got totally peeved because one of my oldest and dearest friends was going home.  I wasn’t angry with her.  I was angry with Doug, and myself, and the lawyers, courts, and judge, and damn it, even my victims.  I am afraid I will never go home.

I am jealous, too, but this is less defined than my anger because sometimes I don’t know any more what the big deal is about going home.  There’s nothing there that I know now.  My family loves me but I’ve been gone so long…I’m so far out of the loop…

Life goes on.

I suppose to some degree I am institutionalized, too.  How can I not be?  I grew up in prison.  It’s what I know.  The world has moved on in terrifying ways and I no longer belong to it.

This is all compounded by the fact that me and Tee have been friends since the late 80’s.  She’d already been there over half a year by the time I rolled in.  Back then, the older inmates looked after the younger ones, tried to point them in the right direction.  I was only 21 and naive as hell.  Back then, I was one of the youngest women in the system.  And Tee just stepped in and showed me the ropes.  We developed an easy friendship based on shared interests and personality traits.

Our friendship has grown and endured over the decades.  We haven’t always seen eye to eye.  There have been lapses in communication, which spanned years due to the nature of prison living arrangements.  But we were always able to pick up exactly where we left off as if no more than a day passed.  I can’t imagine life without her.

There is a deep and turbulent sadness that flows beneath the anger and jealousy.  I’ve met some of the most fantastic people in prison.  I’ve been blessed to find a handful of genuine life-long friends, too.  Tee is one of them.  She is also one of the first of us to make parole since Governor Doug Wilder left office in 1995.

Nothing is the same out there for her.  Family has moved…and died.  Technology has changed.  Even the seasons have changed.  And even though, after 25 years in prison, you get to a point where freedom under any circumstances is better than nothing at all, there is still a small part of you that longs for the life you lost.  Echoes of what could’ve been haunt us…and perhaps teach us.

The news of her release is still causing ripples here and there.  Most days I rise to the occasion with sincere happiness for my friend.  Most days.

Christi Buchanan 1003054
Fluvanna Correctional Center 1A
Box 1000
Troy, VA 22974

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