Who would expect that visiting a 30-plus-year resident of death row would bring lessons in gratitude? I heard others say their visits were a blessing, that they have been changed in unexpected ways by those visits, some of which have lasted more than sixteen years. I would need to be committed for the long-term, the man who trains and schedules the visits told me. The men incarcerated were all poor, whiite and black, and most have been there many years. While no executions are currently scheduled, at least seven have completed all appeals, and the man I visit will reach that category as soon as the US Supreme Court turns down his appeal, which is expected.
The man I'll call Jim (not his real name) acknowledges his crime and is also clear that he isn't the same man who committed it more than thirty years ago. We are both writers, both experienced sexual and physical abuse as children, perpetrated or set in motion by our parents, both dissociated in the same manner, and both of us have quick cutting remarks at the ready for those who push our hot buttons. Mine are tempered because I'm a woman but made parts of my professional life more difficult; his can cause privileges to be revoked. As children, we both sought solace in nature and can talk for hours about those places that brought us comfort. He tried to gain his mother's love until one day, after she broke something he saved to buy her, he gave up and knew he was on his own. I tried to stop my mother's fits (caused by her mental disorder which I didn't understand), told Dad to no avail, and after she put my brother and I in the car and said she was going to run the car off a ravine and kill us, and Dad just said, "she didn't mean it" and "it turned out okay," I decided I was on my own too.
One big difference was that in spite of all the chaos, there was a kind of stability in my home. My brother and I were the fourth generation of the Wood family (Mother's father's) to live on our farm. Dad made a reasonable living farming though money was more often spent on animals, farm equipment and repairs than on the house with no in-door bathroom. My parents were respected members of their church and community, no matter the darkness that resided in the secret group or in our home. I was always expected to get a college education, though each parent had a different reason for that being of importance.
Jim has helped me to be more grateful for being "Hurley Coxes' daughter or Allie's girl" as I was known as a child. I'm more grateful for that little girl part of me who needed to be good to offset the evil in which she was forced to participate. Jim acted out so he could be taken out of his home. I did my best with whatever was required in the cult meetings, thinking that might get me out of them. When that didn't work, I plotted revenge that had no bearing in reality. The actions that might have put me in prison were in my head but not acted out.
Ways that I wanted to rebel were controlled by the strict limitations of my parents outside of the "meetings", and Dad's retribution if a boy phoned me after I was sent to town to high school. I wasn't to date or have a boy friend until I was sixteen my senior year. By that time I was counting the weeks until I would be in college and had learned to avoid any attention from boys other than smart ones who didn't date. By repressing memories of the cult meetings, I'd left the part of me that acted out there. It's an interesting thing for which to be grateful.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!