Saturday, January 19, 2008

An Officer Will Be With You Soon

The room was like so many I had been in before. The thin comforter on the too hard mattress. The whining of the air conditioner. The smell of the sneaked cigarette taken in the "non-smoking" room. The little bottles of shampoo and lotion arranged like little soldiers next to the sink. I usually enjoyed staying in motels. There was always a little bit of excitement about it that never went away. Probably because it was an experience I never really had as a child. As a family, we didn't have much opportunity to go on vacations and stay at motels. My only experience as a child was staying in motels when I was on the wrestling team and we travelled to tournaments.

I tossed my backpack on the floor in the corner...nothing to hang up. I put my few toiletry items on the counter next to the sink and then found the bed. I reached for the phone and called Paula. She was already getting settled into the condo back in Leavenworth. She had driven there directly after dropping off at the bus station 26 hours earlier. She was ready to move on with her life and to get settled back into her own house. She had stayed with our sister-in-law for six months and we were both so thankful for Deb's love and grace. But Paula was ready to get back to what might finally become a "normal" life again.

The visit was pleasant. We had grown close again during the month before I got on the bus on that cool August evening. Not intimately close...but close spiritually. We had spent three weeks getting the condo ready for her to move back into. Painting. Cleaning. Decorating. Making it "her" home again. The minutes flew by as we just talked and visited. She wondered how I felt...was I scared or anxious. "Yes" to both questions. I told about the trip and walk over from the bus station. When I got ready to hang up, I told her I didn't know when I would be able to call her again. I told her I loved her and set the phone back in the cradle.

I laid on the bed and let my eyes just stare off into space. I could hear the sounds of the Bakersfield night off in the distance as they seeped through my window. The regular sound of the ice machine dumping its load down the hall was the only other sound that broke the near silence. I got ready for bed, but sleep didn't come easily. I had set the alarm for 5:00 AM. I had a transit bus to catch at 6:45 and I wasn't really sure where the transit station was. I didn't have cab fare in my pocket so I know I would be walking where I needed to go in the morning.

I jolted from sleep as the obnoxious sound of the little alarm pierced the room. Wobbly steps led me to the bathroom as I reached in and turned the shower on. As my luck would have it, there was no hot water. Just something that might be considered luke warm. I think I've swum in swimming pools that were at a higher temperature. I let it run for a while, hoping I was just a long way from the hot water tank but time didn't deliver me a hot shower. A quick shave and then Colgate on my toothbrush and I attempted to clean away the taste in my mouth. The toiletry items were tossed in the waste basket along with my socks and underwear as I put fresh ones on. I knew I wouldn't be taking them with me where I was going.

The clerk at the check out counter was pleasant. He took my credit card and swiped it through his machine. "Accepted" flashed on the screen as I signed my name. His look was perplexed as I asked him for a pair of scissors. I took them and walked to the corner and quickly cut my credit card and debit card in little tiny pieces. I didn't look over my shoulder to see if he was watching. By this time, I didn't really care what others thought. I handed them back and thanked him and walked out into the late California summer morning.

As it turned out, the transit station was only about 15 blocks away. The walk was refreshing. There was little traffic at that time of the morning. A few street people were still sleeping in the alleyways as I quietly walked past. On another day, I might have paused in front of the shop windows but not this day. I terminal area was empty when I got there. I checked the board and found the location of my bus pick-up. As I sat on the hard bench waiting, there were several young men in the area that at any other time might have made me a little nervous. But I had nothing to give them if they wanted to rob me. And if they wanted to hurt me...I was on my way to prison, did I really care? At that time and place, the answer is no. In my mind, it might have been a relief.

The bus arrived and we started on the hour long trip out to Taft. As we left Bakersfield and headed west into the southern end of the San Joaquin valley, I was amazed at how much it reminded me of the Yakima home for almost 25 years. Ugly, brown hills crept up the horizon as the miles passed by. When we arrived at Taft, I told the driver I needed to be dropped off at the Taft Regional Transit stop. She didn't know where it was, so I just had her drop me in the center of downtown. I went into the restroom at the bus stop and changed out of my khaki shorts and into my sweat bottoms. I put my t-shirt on under the polo shirt I was wearing and once again went in search of a phone booth to find a phone book. As my luck would have it, all the phone books had been stolen. I went into a little diner and asked the clerk at the counter if I could borrow their phone book. A quick glance and I found the address I was looking for.

For the first time that day, as luck would have it, I was only about six blocks from the the transit office. I walked down the empty streets until I found the address. I went to the window and asked when the next shuttle was going out to the Taft Correctional Institution. It was uncomfortable to say the words. Maybe they would just think I was going out there to visit someone. Thankfully, they didn't ask any questions and told me to wait by the street and the shuttle would be there in about 15 minutes. I found the shade of a tree and waited.

The small shuttle bus pulled up to the curb and I walked up the two short steps and found myself a seat. I handed the driver two quarters and settled back. I was the only passenger. I told the lady behind the wheel where I needed to go and she pulled out. As I sat there, my mind was still numb. And then I heard it...the soft sounds of Christian music coming from her radio. I silently thanked God for this little gift of grace. The driver asked if I was going out to visit and I sheepishly said no. I was going out to surrender myself. She glanced up at me in the mirror and then said that people make mistakes all the time. No condemnation. No look of fear or disgust in her eyes. In fact, there was a look of compassion. As we pulled into the driveway and then up to the entry, she wished me well and said she would be praying for me. I don't know if she followed through on the promise of prayer, but I know that prayers followed me inside those razor wire fences. I stepped off the bus and into the lobby and told the lady at the desk who I was and that I was surrendering. She told me to have a seat and wait. An officer will be with you soon.

1 comment:

Deb said...

What an angel that transit driver was!

I'm struck by how hard it was for you to get there! And you're someone who wants to follow the rules. What if you were a drug addled high school drop-out with no motivation or cognitive resources? It seems so much like the home we grew up in -damned if you do, damned if you don't. Everything made just a little harder than necessary in the name of toughening us up, or just because they were big and we were little.

I want to know more about your clothes. I loved the way you described what you were wearing. It broke my heart reading the part where you threw things away. But why the t-shirt and sweats? Did they give you a list of what to bring/wear/do - like summer camp?

Your writing is deeper, more personal, more full of feeling than ever. Off to read the next one - I love having three to read - it feels like a book!