Prison Talk: I Miss Them So Much Today

Before I begin, it’s important for me to add:

Take a moment before reading this post to miss your loved one. It is okay and important to take a moment to process this feeling of missing them.

I promise most days I’m prepared to handle the heartache. Some days, though, do you ever feel like it hits you like a ton of bricks? You know those days…the mornings where you wake up and are immediately filled with dread followed by the I miss them so much today. What makes those days any different from the rest? Are they thinking of us too in that moment so we feel a little more pain that morning?

On these mornings, the common theme for me is that same dull ache when I realize I woke up to the same reality. The reality where your loved one is still incarcerated, not the dream we’ve convinced ourselves we’re in.

I would love to say that one day these mornings just stop, but with time they only get worse. I miss him more today than I did yesterday, and I’ll miss him more tomorrow than I did today. I like to keep a special box around for days like today.

In this box, I like to keep all of the letters from my brother. I like to keep any cards he may send on birthdays or holidays. I like finding keepsakes from any time we had together and hide them in my box. I strategically place each of these things for days like today when the emotions feel so overwhelming. Each special item holds a happy memory, love and a smile. Do we really need anything more on days like today? These items are my perfect formula to happiness by the time I reach the bottom of the box! {that’s the secret} I take some time and look through each individual item. While looking I enjoy recalling each memory, and I swear if I focus hard enough it’s like he’s actually here.

These hard days can be so tough, but we can’t lose our fight. We can’t lose hope, because you never know when your loved one will need to borrow some of your hope. We must keep hope to restore theirs when they’re on empty!

If you’re ready, try imagining homecoming day. It took me a long time to be comfortable with doing this, so I encourage you to think about if you’re ready. I like to plan exactly how homecoming day will be. Create an itinerary, if you will. Where will we go first? What will we have for dinner? What’s the first thing we’ll talk about? What song will I show him first? What movie will I take him to? Where will I take him shopping for clothes? What will he want to do first? Oh, and that hug!! I like to think about that first homecoming hug for a few minutes. A few minutes, because oh how sweet it will be!

I wasn’t always so resourceful {hehe} with my coping mechanisms, and it took quite a bit of practice. I promise, when you begin putting in a conscious effort to be better in your situation you will begin seeing changes. It will always hurt, but it gets easier to make it through these moments of complete pain.

Don’t forget, you are not alone. I know it feels that way, but remember our loved ones are missing us too. I spent so long looking for someone who was going through the same thing, I overlooked the love my friends and family already had to give me. My friends and family were prepared to give me so much love in my times of pain, but I felt it needed to be a certain love they couldn’t provide. They couldn’t provide this love because I was the one with the incarcerated loved one. They only understood what I was saying, not what I was going through, and to me in this time, that love was not enough. It wasn’t enough so I completely denied them of giving it to me. I chose not to accept it. Not consciously, of course. Only in my actions of pushing them away in any way possible. Pushing family and friends away began to show up in many ways throughout my life. Choosing to say I didn’t want to hang out with friends when they asked. Choosing not to ask for extensions in school when I’d miss because I needed to attend court. Choosing not to ask for extra help from teachers when I didn’t understand things because I couldn’t focus. Looking back as an adult, my 14 year old brain didn’t understand what was happening. I understood, but I couldn’t make sense of it. I didn’t know how to tell an adult what was happening inside my mind during these first years. Choosing not to talk to my parents more…we three needed each other most in this time. My high school years were the hardest, and looking back it almost feels like I was just skimming through people looking for that one. That one person who understood exactly what I was going through because they were going through the same thing. When we’re in this much pain, it can be hard to take a step back and see the love surrounding us. I challenge you to accept the love someone is willing to give you today. I challenge you to accept and reciprocate that love. By doing this, we are creating a cycle of love that we will begin to lean on during these tough days. While it is nice to have someone who understands and my goal is to create community around this topic, don’t put too much energy into this idea. Any and all love is good love.

 

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Prison Talk: My Loved One was Arrested, Now What?!

I’ll remember this day until I die. For me, I had band rehearsals that day. I was 14 and beginning my Freshman year of high school the following week. We were in the car, just beginning to leave. We made it to the end of our drive way when not one, but three police cruisers pulled in front of us. Immediately jumping out of the car, I’ll never forget them shouting at us. Screaming like we were animals and guns raised. Guns. I remember the gun pointing at my brother, and I remember BEGGING “Can I please give him a hug? Please can I hug my brother?”. I remember crying for months just wondering, “Why couldn’t I hug my brother???” It just stunned me, I was completely and utterly in shock. I just knew my brother needed me to hug him. My 14 year old brain was convinced that if I could just hug him, somehow we’d magically be transported to five years prior when things were sweet. Hell, even two months prior. A time that this didn’t exist. As I mentioned above, we were already in the car in transit to school. So, we also got to follow him in the cruiser until we each split ways – about a minute from the detention facility. Once he was arrested, I had no idea where to turn. I had no idea what to do. I had no idea what to say.

During the first months, I spent so much time on the internet…researching and researching. Not only was I searching for that “magical answer”, but I was also searching for ways to cope. While I was able to find a few websites, they just seemed as cold as the idea of prison. There was just something about the idea of communicating with someone who understood without having to explain myself. Genuinely understood first-hand the damage an incarcerated loved one (ILO)can do to an individual. This is precisely the reason I decided to begin this blog. An attempt, after all these years, to begin my very own community and support system. After ten years, it feels like I’ve got this one mastered, unfortunately. Here are 5 things that helped me:

  • DO NOT – whatever you do – DO NOT google ANYTHING in relation to your case.
    Sure, it seems like a great idea to stay informed. {Your lawyer is the best place to stay informed} Even to see what others are thinking/saying. Please, let me save you the pain. Please. DO NOT GOOGLE ANYTHING. Actually, just stay away from this subject while on the internet. If you begin seeing anything, close it immediately. Close your phone, and take 5 deep breaths. During these few minutes, tell yourself what you love about your ILO. If this isn’t an option, focus on the most beautiful place you’ve seen on earth. Focus on this place until your mind is convinced you’re there. Focus until your nose believes you’re there, smelling each and every beautiful scent.
  • ACCEPT your situation.
    The only way we can begin making progress and cope with our situation is to accept our situation. This isn’t something that is going to happen overnight. In fact, it didn’t happen for me for YEARS. I don’t mean to scare you, but each family and individual is different. Each allegation is different. Each case is different. Before focusing on too many other things, try spending your energy on accepting the situation in front of you. Truly accept what is happening. Please do not get this confused with losing hope. I fought acceptance for the longest, because I thought this meant I was losing hope and letting him down. Instead, think of it this way: By accepting our situation, we are able to provide the mental and emotional support our loved ones will need in this time. Some days are easier than others.
  • Communication
    Write letters. Visit. Do whatever you can to maintain as much communication as possible. When you have an ILO, it immediately feels as though they’ve died. Especially depending on how much communication you’re allowed. For me, this was the case seeing as I had a total of 1 hour for visits {two 30 minute sessions}, and the only time he could call was anywhere between 1a-3:30a. Yep, you read that right. He was only able to call during the night between these hours. During these phone calls, we were allotted 15 minutes. 15 minutes that were not guaranteed, but I’d still be charged for. And yep, earlier, you read that correctly, I was just beginning my freshman year. No wonder it went so poorly. Almost every night I’d be awake during these hours talking to my ILO. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying every 14 year old should be doing this,I actually think their phone calls should wait until the weekend as to not intrude upon school. The cool thing about this tip, it will help both you and your ILO. Write as many letters as you feel necessary, because your ILO has nothing but time. Nothing but time to think (what I imagine to be a perpetual “i’m lying in the bed at 2a trying to sleep but I cant stop thinking” moment), and why not fill this time with your voice and your loving words. I know from first hand experience, this makes huge differences in morale. Even when writing letters gets hard – don’t stop sending them. Find something to say. Play a game of hangman. Discuss current celebrity events. Anything to keep the conversation light and loving.
  • Family over everything
    Don’t forget to lean on your family. Unfortunately, due to being in my teen years, this was something I was completely against. {Yes, teens, I’m talking to you in this point} You don’t always need to talk. Just be with your family. Accept the love they’re willing to give you. Embrace their love, because you need it more than you’re aware right now. If anyone understands what it’s like to have an ILO, it’s them! They’re going through this with you. If your family is like mine, and struggles in the communication department just bring it up. Try saying “I know it’s hard for both of us, and we don’t need to talk right now, but maybe we could just be together.” If you have children, no matter the age, talk to them. Push and pry, because they need to process this. They may be struggling more than they say. They need you more than they know right now.
  • Set boundaries
    In the process of worrying about our loved ones, we must not forget about ourselves. Sometimes we can give so much support that we forget about ourselves. Please don’t make this mistake. If there are visits you can’t make, be honest. If there are phone calls you can’t take, be honest. If there are letters you can’t write, be honest. We must be honest and upfront with our loved ones because, like I said earlier, they have so much time to think. To support them, we must help them understand our boundaries. In helping them understand our boundaries, we are preventing them from thinking the worst. Aside from our ILO, we must be aware of setting boundaries with others as well. Every aspect of what you’re going through is painful, so be sure to help others understand these boundaries to avoid any unnecessary pain.

As much as I would like to say “it gets better”, it does not. If anything, it gets harder with each passing day without your loved one. The key is what we decide to do with these emotions. We can cry about it. We can cry about it to others. We can wallow in the pain. OR we can begin working to accept our situation.

Which will you decide to do?

Prison Talk: My Story

This story was something that I’ve tried to sit down and write many, many times. Every time ends the exact same way. I write a few well worded paragraphs only to realize I had spent the last three paragraphs word vomiting. Each time made no sense in its own ironic way. To be frank, I’m not sure I’ll ever have the capability to tell this story without word vomiting. Only because, even eight/nine years later, it’s still just as hard to talk about. I’d rather accept and process things in my own “normal” way, because that’s what works for me. That is what has gotten me to this place in life. While this story is eight years of “meat”, I believe I can shorten it without hindering the….point? The moral? The story. That’s all we’ll call this. A story. My story. Part of my story. This is one of those things that I just had to decide in a literal blink of an eye that I was going to write. Because no matter how much prep, no matter how many outlines, it’ll never be easy enough to talk about. Forgive me if it doesn’t sound “complete”. It is what it is.

Aside from the introduction, there’s one more subject I want to discuss. I made a post a while ago. A post I intend to remove. I don’t think I owe this to “soul searching” or feeling “apologetic” (to be honest), I believe I owe this one to myself, my childhood, my future. My previous post was titled “Prison Talk: The Forgotten Victims”. In this post I discussed how we, the inmate’s family, are often the forgotten victims. Me then could call myself a victim, but I don’t feel like I can take that from them. Me now says no. I don’t know what I am, and I’m not sure what kind of credit I deserve. I only know my strength. I would be lying to say that I didn’t feel like my childhood wasn’t a victim to this incarceration. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like my life wasn’t a victim because of this incarceration. The judge was right that day, you know, we didn’t deserve this. We don’t deserve this. We will never, in a million years, on a million universes, in a trillion lifetimes ever deserve this. I remember laying on the floor by mom’s bed at night for months just holding her hand, crying myself to sleep every night. Our Christmas money, school clothes, etc. were spent on a lawyer. In what universe did we deserve this? In what lifetime did we deserve this? We didn’t. We don’t. We will never. I titled the previous post that because I channeled a bit of my anger through that title. See, that’s the thing. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try it’s always an open wound. It’s like having a dead relative that didn’t die? Instead of going to a funeral and working through grief, your loved ones are dangled two feet in front of you with a couple of television screen visits and thirty minute phone calls a week. They’re dangled in front of you like it’s some kind of joke life is playing on you. Where you at, Ashton? As if it isn’t hard enough, he’s in a facility that’s eight hours away from me. Like I said, life’s sick joke. I don’t want to disrespect a true victim of any crime, but I just haven’t thought of what I feel like the immediate family is. Whatever it is, it hurts.

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Me (left) at 7/8 and Zach (right) at 12/13 in our childhood home.

For me it all began in August 2009. My world literally crumbled, and everything was changed. Literally everything. From day one, everything was different. No matter how many years have passed, no matter how bad I’ve wanted it back, nothing was the same. Nothing would ever be the same. It was the hardest day of my life, and the experience is the hardest thing I’ve had to face so far. Some days I wonder how I’ve survived this long. In August 2009, my brother was arrested. I’ll spare the details for privacy reasons. The details aren’t the purpose of this post, anyhow. The purpose of this post is my story. How this one event has changed my life forever. The purpose of this post is to discuss the difficult times I’ve faced, and I can only hope someone will find some inspiration from my experience. The first stage, after the arrest, was shock. I was in complete shock that this could even be happening to my family in the first place. I cried. I couldn’t stop sobbing. Once I was in the presence of a close friend, I collapsed. Literally. I collapsed and cried for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. I remember asking myself, “Why didn’t I just stay home? Surely it was a decent excuse to miss band rehearsals, wasn’t it? Surely the director would understand, even if I was just a freshman?” Many tears later, I picked myself up and moved on to practice. That day was a blur. How could I seriously focus on anything else. It was a weird line between feeling over dramatic and reacting appropriately. How did I know what I was doing? Did I really care? All I cared about was that it was happening to me, and it was happening right now, and it was the most painful thing I’ve ever felt. My entire family crumbled. We all shut down. We processed things on our own. We grieved, and “accepted” the situation on our own. We didn’t have many conversations about it, until I confessed, years later, that I needed a therapist. Today, the most sad thing about that is that I was able to recognize how much I needed a therapist before anyone else. I guess I just knew there was no other option for me. I knew if I wanted a future at all, I needed to see this therapist. My second stage….denial, complete and utter denial. I was almost incapable of working through this experience. I blame this on it taking four years to get a trial. My brother sat in jail for four years. I was incapable of working through this because I knew my brother was innocent, so surely a jury would too. How do you accept something when it isn’t definite? I was a person that believed in miracles. Thanks to a therapist and many sessions, I was able to move on to accepting my situation, and begin truly healing. Once I was able to do this, life became a bit easier. I felt lighter, in a sense. It was like this huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt lighter, because here’s the thing, once you’re able to accept your situation or experience for what it is, you’re able to live your life. You’ve accepted your situation for what it is, so you’ve released exactly what was holding you back. Once I accepted my situation, I was able to begin loving myself and begin creating a life I love. I’m still fresh to this last step, but it’s been so sweet that I’m in no rush to pass this stage of my life. In my opinion, we may worry, but we may not let this worry consume us. Because it will, if you let it. I’m afraid I’ve never realized how far I’ve truly come until I’m sitting down proofreading this. I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be in my life, but I’m more than happy with the place I’ve brought myself to. I’ve always had to process this situation on my own, so growing through it, healing, and beginning to live my life is the most rewarding and humbling thing. It’s extremely humbling to realize I’ve brought myself to this place in life. When I say I’ve brought myself to this place, I don’t mean to give my friends and family less credit than they deserve, I just mean that I’ve made the empowering decisions needed to grow through and heal from this experience. Accepting my situation freed me from the prison I allowed myself to live in for over six years. Accepting my situation allowed me to heal in ways I’ll never have words to describe. Keep reading below for my attempt at describing.

When my brother was arrested, my life transformed into an immediate nightmare. Life was playing this sick game on my family, and surely it had to be over soon. I was in shock. How could this happen? How could this happen to my family? I remember crying for hours that day. I remember getting home from band rehearsals, and it was the strangest feeling when I realized my brother wasn’t home. Mom was locked away in her room, something she did best. Who was I to tell her how to process this? I’ll deal with it in my own way…and I did just that. My dad didn’t say much, but tried to keep things light, as he did best. It was the strangest feeling. This first stage of shock was just that, shock. I don’t have many scenarios to describe it, it’s just a feeling I pray to never feel again. What fucking terror. The second stage, and least important, in my opinion, denial. Absolute denial. This cannot be happening. How is this happening? Why is this happening? Why do such terrible things happen to such good people? We did nothing more than simply live our lives. How could this happen to a family like ours? It was the worst experience I could describe. I felt every possible worst feeling in my body, all at once. Those deep feelings, the ones you can feel at the back of your throat and deep in your stomach.

Once I was able to move on to the final stage of accepting my situation. This is the most important step. This was the last time I felt sorry for myself. This was the last time I let my situation be an excuse for the decisions I made and continued to make in life. This was the last time I let this situation control my mind. This was the last time I felt guilty, like this situation was my fault. (as I’m sure so many of us in the immediate family do) I truly realized this situation was not my fault. There was absolutely nothing I did that caused this experience. Placing blame wouldn’t do any good anyway, believe me, I’ve tried blaming as many people as I could. It will not change a thing. See, as long as we carry the pain with us, we are giving this situation power over us. Giving it power to take over our minds, and eventually, our lives. Our bank accounts, our education, our relationships, our jobs….As long as you enable it, it will continue consuming your very being. We can still love and support our inmates without allowing the situation to overpower us. As important as our inmate is, we must not forget ourselves. The most beautiful thing? We can love our inmate and ourselves at the same time AND equally. SAY WHAT? I would have laughed in your face if you had said this to me four years ago. Self love is something that is so underrated. It’s truly amazing what you can do when you love yourself unconditionally. When I look back to certain times in my life, I see small hints of self-love (that, at the time, i thought were HUGE), but I think the moment I began to truly love myself was when I decided to change to a plant-based lifestyle. I had never made a decision that would benefit me one hundred percent. This was the first decision and first action I made that didn’t have even the slightest benefit for anyone but myself. Becoming plant based last March was something in which I invested myself completely. I invested myself with no shame, and I did not look back. I am almost one year with no animal junk, and it was the greatest decision I’ve ever made. See, the key is not that I’m cutting out animals. The key is not that I’m doing something for the good other beings (not quite yet, at least), and the key is not that I performed one of the most selfless acts that most people cannot perform. You see, they key in this scenario is that for the first time in my life, I was able to make a decision that only had positive outcomes for me. I was able to invest so much of myself into this, I was simply incapable of thinking of anything else. Being Vegan is something I’ve dreamed of doing for about five years. Being healthy is something I’ve dreamed of doing for as long as I can remember. Changing my lifestyle and being healthy seemed like this horribly daunting and impossible task. A task I NEVER thought I could accomplish. It will be one year in March 2018. ONE YEAR! Not only did I complete something I thought impossible, but I made it sustainable and have lived the lifestyle for almost a year. Thankfully, after one year, I have no intentions of turning back. I worked very hard to get here, and it truly makes me believe I can do anything. But that’s exactly the truth, I can do anything. And so can you. Any of us can do anything. Life is one hundred and twenty percent about perception, and it’s a prison until we realize this.