Nine Days Into Her Freedom
Actually, I saw her on her fifth or sixth day of freedom, but I couldn’t remember her name. I have prison name amnesia (PNA). While every woman and her mother, sister daughter, grandma, seems to remember my name from the jail and/or prison, I do not remember most names of the hundreds of women I encountered during the time of being locked up and away.
On Monday or Tuesday of last week I was walking pass the dodgy section (it’s a city so even my block is shady) a block or so from my apartment building when I saw this chunky White woman and my mind and heart told me I knew her. I did not get that heart sinking, stomach acid feeling so I was sure she had not caused me any direct harm in prison or jail. I tried to make eye contact (which I normally do not do when I recognize someone from that time away because so many of them were just assholes to me), but she turned her back to me. She was standing with some Black men and I knew it was not a good scene, because I have seen these men around and they say things that cause me to pull out my mace. “I’m never for sale,” I have said back, “and if I was trust you couldn’t afford me!”
Each day that I saw her, she would turn away and I knew she was prostituting herself. DC is an interesting city, while there are actual “ho strolls,” there are also, “ho pickup” spots. And this particular section near my hood is a “ho pickup.” I’m not judging, just explaining what I learned from the women in prison who were forced by circumstances to sell themselves. I am a collector of stories and often while I sat knitting or reading in the common area of jail or prison, I paid close attention to the things I heard. I learned a lot about myself, and that by Grace I have not ever had to sell myself, and that substance abuse has not been a side effect for me as a survivor of much trauma.
On Saturday, I was walking with one of the four women I can honestly say is a friend I met in prison. M and I were taking in the sites of the city as she is recently free—because her case was overturned and instead of unjustly doing double digits she unjustly did five years (there is Grace)—and wants to touch see and smell everything. This was me a year ago. We saw the White woman as we neared my apartment. I nudged M and said, “Don’t we know her from prison?” M said, “Girrrl that’s Cindy!” Well “Cindy” was leaning on a Washington Post Express Paper stand. She was wearing a black sleeveless knit top and a long knit black skirt. Her long sandy brown hair was swept up in a clip. It was like 100 degrees with the heat index. Cindy was clean, but not looking well.
M called her name and Cindy turned her back. I was like, “She doesn’t want to see us.” M is not the type to be just dismissed so she walked right up to the woman—who had turned her back to us at this point—and said, “Hey! Cindy that’s you? When you get out?” The woman turned and said, “It’s Crystal.” M smiled her big warm smiled and said, “Girrrl I’m sorry. Crystal. Crystal when you get out?” Crystal responded, “On the 11th.” M lied and said, “Well you sho lookin’ good.”
Crystal did not want to look at me, but I greeted her and said, “I saw you a few days ago, but I don’t think you recognized me. I live right around here. Are you living round here?” She nodded yes and I asked, “Are you safe? Are you okay?” She barely mumbled in my direction, “I’m fine.” Then she turned to M and smiled and said, “I heard you won your case. How you doing?” M said, “God is good. I’m doin’ good.” I tried again, “Crystal are you safe? How are you feeling?” She ignored me and kept up with M. “I’m so glad I’m done with that shit. I’m off of papers and everything.” I said, “Congratulations.” No response.
Then M and I explained that we had to get moving and Crystal turned to me and asked, “Y’all got any money for a drink? I’m hurtin’ bad.” We told her no, but it was me she was asking. And I can tell you by the track marks on her arm it was not a drink she needed, but dope. My heart sank. M and I dropped off my packages at my apartment and crossed the street and we noticed that Crystal had also crossed over. She was sitting on a stoop of an abandoned house. We nodded to her and wished her well.
Then M said, “Her name ain’t Cindy or Crystal! It’s P!” Yes that is exactly who she is, P. I keep looking for her. Even though I have had to move from the apartment, I’m staying with a friend just down the road. I go up to the area and look for P. I want to call her by her name and give her information of those who will be able to help her.
Nine days into her freedom, P deserves so much more.
I am furious. I am furious at myself for having the audacity to have Prison Name Amnesia. Who do I think I am? I am Angry that P cannot see me—Returning Citizen, no fixed address, struggling with my mental illness, survivor of trauma—and thus felt such shame that she turned away for fear of my judgment. I am often mistaken and pass when I am not trying.
I am ENRAGED that there is an organization—created for the sole purpose of helping women (and men) like P—run by poverty pimps and they could have been in the know that she was coming home, no longer under supervision; and they did not reach out to her before her release. I am world weary, bone tired, and deeply burdened because I am but one person and can barely take care of myself.
I am so grateful. I am not on the streets. I have no fixed address, but I have hope and support.
The world is too much with me and I am struggling to survive. Yet, I have never had to sell myself for housing, drugs, or food etc. Maybe I have sold myself for love, but that is another conversation and blog. Yet by Grace there go I. Keep a look out for P and tell her when she sees me to stop and look at me, I know some people who Truly do reentry work.
You beautiful, lovely AMAZING people in the business of service to those of us who are Returning Citizens—Thank You For Your Service. I know if we all continue to stand together this struggle will be eradicated.