By supper time last night I could feel my body beginning its march of rebellion.
The intense tingling and slight burning on my skin I had been feeling all day was getting stronger. The unnatural feeling that the blood in my legs was slowly hardening to the consistency of concrete became hard to ignore. As I continued to finish the task of cooking steaks on the grill, and cutting up vegetables for a salad, I contemplated the sleepless night that was sure to come sneaking in like a silent thief. Stress is the biggest trigger for my condition and managing my pain [without medication as I am determined to do] depends on being able to manage the stress in my life, I know that from years of experience but sometimes life circumstances cannot be managed.
After dinner I accompanied Amanda to take little Riley for a potty and exercise break. Trying to wear out the tiny pup, we trekked up the steep hill behind our house as he hopped over the high grass and tried to keep up. His adorable puppy antics were a welcome respite to the impossibly frustrating day I had just endured and I gave thanks for my very normal and warm home life that I was able to return to.
Though she is only 15, the realization that my daughter has become my sounding board and confidante hit me hard as I tried to convey to her the frustration of the day’s events, and the conditions I witnessed as I interviewed the family members of my latest CASA case. She laughed as I told her about getting lost in the maze of hallways in the county jail; she knows that I am directionally handicapped. Going in unaccompanied or escorted surprised me and also caused me to forget the complicated instructions to find block B2 to where Convict Daddy would be waiting for me. After a small argument about my approval to visit, causing me to pull out my court order to gain entry, she instructed me to get in the elevator, go up to the 4th floor, go down a long hallway, take a left, get on another elevator, go down to the 2nd floor, down another long hallway and take a right. Find the magic set of double doors with a speaker and press the button to ask Oz for permission to enter. —or something like that.
Walking the long hallways with nothing but black camera domes in sight was eerie and I was easily unsettled. A few times I whipped around to see who was quickly coming up behind me, only to realize it was my own footsteps and the clicking of my heels echoing around me. The stress I was feeling caused my back to tighten painfully and all I could think was, “What the heck am I doing here? This is too scary for a small town girl like me.” I am sure the way I was lost and obviously intimidated by my surroundings was entertainment for the bored employees manning the camera panels and I struggled [and failed] to maintain a professional, confident expression on my face.
As I trudged along uncertainly, I was writing a breaking news headliner in my head and it went something like this, “CASA volunteer held hostage at county jail where riot has just begun—husband called in to plead with prisoners for her release. Kay Bratt is the author of Silent Tears and ironically there will probably be many tears shed for her today…” [I had already decided Kate Hudson would play my part and Richard Gere would be my devoted husband]
I finally found where I was supposed to be and only waited for a minute or two before Convict Daddy came walking up with his stylish orange jumpsuit and sat before me. I was expecting a terrifying lump of a man to come swaggering in but what I got was the complete opposite. Surprisingly, he appeared very neat and clean, with blond hair combed over to the side in a style that reminded me of Opie Taylor. But unlike our beloved Opie, Convict Daddy had many tattoos branding his arms—but I wasn’t afraid, especially knowing there was a wall of windows between us in case I said something he wouldn’t like.
He looked at me curiously and with even a small trace of fear in his eyes. So as I’ve seen the many dramatic prison wife actresses do in the movies, I pointed to the phone on the wall. He picked up his, and wishing I had some hand sanitizer and a paper towel with me, I reluctantly picked up mine and we began the interview that would end in one of us shedding tears.
After struggling through the county jail maze of hallways and moving beyond my initial foreboding of interviewing a man in jail whose child was my latest CASA case, I got down to business. I explained who I was and reassured him that I did not work for the department of children’s services. It took some time for him to process but he finally understood that I was a volunteer appointed to advocate for the best interest of his child. I asked him when his release date was and what his thoughts were on where his daughter had been placed as well as future custody of her. I recorded all of his answers in my handy-dandy (Target) notebook and then he said, “Can I ask you a question?” Of course he could, but I might not be able to answer it but in this case I was easily able to produce a strong response.
“When I get out, how can I get my daughter back?”
My response, “That isn’t for me to say but I can tell you that the wishes of the court is for every child to be reunited with their parents, if possible.” I explained to him about the issues of having a safe home, steady income, clean drug tests, counseling, etc. We talked about possible outcomes to the case, which depended on details I was not privy to and decisions I would not be making, as I am only a CASA. I scolded him about domestic violence in front of his children and told him, “You have a choice—you can either choose to straighten up and be a part of your children’s lives, or you can continue down the road you are on and that makes the statement that you don’t care about them.”
He began to tell me about all of the antics his wife was up to—but I stopped him and told him that I didn’t need to hear it because it was all in the court documents. He agreed that the system had fairly taken his child because of their combined inappropriate behavior but he wanted me to know that his daughter had never been deprived. I corrected him with the statement of, “Yes, she has been deprived—of the right to a safe and healthy home and parents who strive to put her well being above their own selfish needs.” I was expecting him to get angry, slam the phone down and stalk away, but to my surprise he began to sniffle and then wipe tears from his face with his clenched fists, and I told him if he didn’t have any more questions I needed to go.
Then the big, bad prisoner said he had one more question and with a shaky, whimpering voice asked, “I am only allowed one visit a week. Since you came am I still gonna get to see my Mama on Sunday?” I tried to feel sorry for him but unfortunately felt nothing but disappointment that a set of parents has been blessed with a beautiful child and they don’t even realize the gift bestowed upon them.
I left there and headed for my next destination—the home where Convict Daddy’s baby girl was temporarily living.
Stay Tuned for Part Three to be posted later.
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