Author Archives: ednamerle
Big Bird was another room-mate that was certainly hellish. I’d known Big Bird for over ten years from another institution we’d lived in together before we eventually became roommates. Ten years ago, she was funny, smart, worked like a dog and was honest. At that time she was on medication treatment for schizophrenia, taking Halcyon and something else. I forgot what. Anyway, years later after I’d moved to another institution and she came back to prison for her 3rd or 4th trip, she became my roommate because no one else would take her. We were living in a pre transitional dorm then, kind of like an honor dorm. I was voted the dorm representative and told the counselor since I’d known Big Bird before and we’d been friends, I felt comfortable with having her in my room. Now we were sharing a two person room. I then learned that Big Bird has refused her medication for 6 months because she didn’t want to walk to medical to get it. It was about a mile and a half walk to medical and back from our dorm.
She didn’t have any money so I shared my store-bought foods with her. I paid her in food to clean the room and the floor. I tried to clean the room prior to our arrangement only to find her cleaning over everything I’d previously done. So, my cleaning was moot. I was wasting my time cleaning, for sure.
She was very predictable. Everything had a schedule from which there was no deviating. She would become very angry if things just happen to alter her schedule or delay her at any time. I learned her schedule and tried to work around her. Finally, one evening I had made some cherry kool-aid and had given her some lemonade. She wanted the cherry kool-aid, but I didn’t have enough left to give her. I went to eat dinner, she stayed behind. When I came back I took my cup and drank my kool-aid, which I noticed had a slimy strange texture to it. It also tasted watered down. I poured the remainder down the toilet and forgot about it. 3:00 AM I awoke with such severe abdominal pains that I immediately heard in my spirit, “you’ve been poisoned”. I got down off the top buck and alerted the officer to my door. He opened it and I went downstairs with him to call medical. I was taken to medical and given a sort of gastric cocktail. My blood pressure was “through the roof” because of the pain. The nurses asked me if I drank glass cleaner, because they said, that’s what the men did to get high”. I assured them I had not, nor would I ever do that. Then they asked me who my roommate was. When I told them they collectively said, “No wonder, she’s done this before. But we can’t prove it”. I was shocked that Big Bird would do this to me. And I didn’t want to believe it. But I knew it was true.
When I came back the next morning she asked me what the doctors said. I told her they said it was my gallbladder. She laughed hysterically, which I thought bizarre. I then proceeded to speak to the counselor and then finally the deputy warden of security who moved me immediately. After I moved to a different room. Big Bird became even worse, because now her money flow was gone and she tried to terrorize me. Big Bird wanted to fight me. I had been feeling the violence emanating from her, even while I was sleeping in the room with her. One night the feeling was so menacing, I slept with headphones on listening to the Fish Station. I knew the songs of prayers and praises to God floating through the air would keep me safe. During the night Big Bird got up and used the bathroom. I heard the toilet flush then snap, off went my radio. By now she was back in bed. She moved around so silently and fast like she was always in the defensive mode. Anyway, I got up checked the plug for my radio. It was connected to an adapter because the batteries burned out so fast. The adapter was plugged in over the sink, under the push button flourescent light. The plug was still plugged in. I couldn’t figure out what happened to my radio. I took the adapter out of the wall and looked at it. There on the side where the voltage is controlled, was pushed to the maximum voltage. That’s what shut off my radio. She did that thinking to burn out my cd/radio player, which cost $60.00. I went back to bed. But I was so mad I had broken blood vessels in my eyes the next morning. When she got up I said, “Listen, I realize you thought that I had fallen asleep with my headphones on and you were trying to help me by turning off my radio. But next time, please just pull the plug out of the wall if it’s bothering you”. She freaked out and started screaming, “I didn’t touch your radio!” I said, “Look, no one else was here at 3:00 AM to do it. I heard you flush the toilet and then the radio turned off”. She started crying hysterically, “I don’t remember anything, I’m sorry, I’m sorry”. I knew her cyclical sickness was worsening. I knew she wanted to hurt me. But there was no way on earth I was going to fight anyone in prison and then be known as “violent”, no way. Once a person starts to fight in prison, they have to keep fighting. I didn’t have the energy for that crap. Nor was I in condition. My brother and I took Karate when we were little. The one and only time I used it in 8th grade, was at Sutton Middle School, formerly Dykes High School. One day as I was coming out of the gym a guy grabbed my arm and held it behind my back while he was forcing me down the hill back behind the building. Knowing the first key to the upper hand was to get my opponent off-balance, I took an extra giant step forward, he faltered, I jabbed him in the esophagus then back kicked him in the groin. I was freed from his hold and I ran away. Problem was I never got to see his face. The rest of the school year I walked around in terror of an unknown assailant.
In prison, I remembered my karate lessons, but never wanted to use it, nor did I want anyone to know that I still might be able to. I wasn’t a fighter.
She was called Big Bird because she was 6’3” and had flaming red curly long hair and a huge nose like a toucan bird. Thus; Big Bird. She was finally moved to in the lockdown building to live until her sentence expired. At this point in her sentence she could not be granted parole because she’d violated her parole on several previous occasions. She had to “Max out”. Her sentence was for child molestation of her 3-year-old daughter for which she was sentenced to 20 years, I think. On her earlier prison sentences she was granted parole. But the laws had changed and child molestation charges were tightened, so that after so many violations, parole was not a legal option. Now, if she does something else, not even related to a sex crime, and comes back to prison, she can be given 30 years, then the next time, life.
Big Bird was another bad roommate example I had endured. There were many more, but for much shorter durations. I wondered why the fates were doing this to me. It was one bad roommate after another, 6-8 week intervals, for about 3 years. What in the world was useful about enduring them, I couldn’t imagine. To me it was just more hard time. Another thrust before I could go home.
2 Responses to Big Bird in Prison (7) By Edna Merle
- Barbara says:
What is the defining line between evil and sickness?
- ednamerle says:
It is said that sickness is from evil. Not necessarily because the person is intentionally evil, but that person maybe hasn’t found the truth. which in my case granted me freedom from depression and drug addiction by the belief and acceptance of Christ.
Also, I believe that when a person schemes all day on how to hurt other people to make themselves feel good, and they devise the most heinous plans to do so, may have an incredibly high IQ, but are sociopath at the same time. In my opinion these are the most dangerous people.
One of the first signs of mental illness is self absorption. The Bible teaches people how to be the opposite of self absorbed; to have compassion for others and to give from your heart, even when you don’t have much. It is in doing this that God grants to us more blessings. So we’re rewarded for our love and obedience, which precipitates more giving.
The feeling of walking on the correct path is very encouraging. If I’m rewarded from Heaven, then I have confirmation that I’m OK, and that I’m staying on the path God has for me and that’s my aim in life.
Actual confinement wasn’t as bad as is the part about who you’re confined with. That’s the bad part of prison. For example, I’ll just call her Trunkwoman. Trunkwoman was in the first year of her sentence, convicted of a heinous crime serving two life sentences without parole. I was in my 12 year of prison. We lived in an “honor” dorm then, and the theory was that if you lived in the “honor” dorm you were honorable, safe and most assuredly not violent. Well, Trunkwoman would walk around the room and the dorm saying that she was leaving to go home by the summer, which was then only 4 months away. When the 4 month came and went, she became more and more difficult to live with. She refused to wash her blankets or sheets, (and since she slept below me, this made me increasingly uncomfortable). I began to notice flies and gnats flying from her locker into the room and most of the time would settle on her bed. I discovered her eating fried chicken in bed at 2:00 in the morning one night. I knew we’d had (what they called) oven fried chicken 3 nights prior, and I thought, oh my she’s going to kill herself by eating that old bad chicken. So the next day I discussed it with the other room mates who then informed me that Trunkwoman had been paying someone to bring her “free world food” weekly. That’s why the bugs loved her locker and her bed.
Trunkwoman had previously run every roommate she’d had, that slept above her, out of the room. Generally they were gone within a week. I wasn’t leaving, she was. Though I didn’t want to get into an altercation with trunkwoman it was only with the grace of God that I didn’t lose my mind. Trunkwoman would use her bed as a launching pad from which she’d propel herself onto her feet, landing in the middle of the room. When she did this, the bunk bed frame would jerk violently and even shift the entire bed from its designated spot. The worst part was when she’d come in for a landing; she’d throw herself into a lying down position, from her formerly standing one. Bizarre. She said it was easier on her body to do this. And saved her time…Well, I could have said some real mean things to her at that point about saving time, but I never did. It was hard though at times restraining myself. But the more she knew things bothered you, the more she’d do them, while praising God. That made me mad. Living with Trunkwoman was doing hard time.
Finally, she began using tissues to touch the television or door handles in the room, as she was afraid of other people’s germs. We had two other roommates at that time, in the room and we all knew Trunkwoman was not a sane individual. When she used the bathroom (for both purposes) she did it standing and not ever touching the stainless steel rim with any part of her skin. We knew then that things had gone to a new level of sickness. When she was finished she’d use a dirty rag and a jar of old reused chemicals she kept by the toilet. Then the prison increased the population. They removed the TV and table and chairs and installed another bunk bed. Now we had 8 people that shared a bathroom with two stalls. She used the same one each time, thank God. But that meant no one else used hers, so we had 7 people sharing one toilet. When we would complain, they would tell us we could move. We showed the officers and counselors her toilet, they’d acknowledge it, commiserate with us and do nothing.
Things progressed to a violent phase when Trunkwoman proceeded to open our room door by kicking it with such force that the handle began taking chunks of concrete out of the wall with each violent thrust. Several times people were almost hit by the door being kicked open, which made Trunkwoman laugh uproariously. She professed to be a Christian yet had psychotic tendencies. I believed her to be insane or in shock or both.
We called her Trunkwoman, never to her face, because she killed a man for his money so she and a boyfriend could by some drugs. She kept the dead man in the trunk of her car for so long that the smell is what alerted others to the crime. Trunkwoman would pace the room we lived in as if trying to get away from something chasing her. Then she’d stop, look at me and yell, “I can’t get the smell of blood out of my nose”! That was hard living. I often thought she was going to say something else. But it was always about smelling blood.
Because I’d been a special education teacher’s aide in prison for several years, I could tell that whatever illness Trunkwoman had, went in cycles and was getting worse. I wrote a letter to the Director of Mental Health describing the situation and asking if he perhaps thought an evaluation might help her. He came and she was told that I wrote a letter about her. God protected me then too, because she was extremely angry at me for that.
Then one day her locker was hit in a random shakedown. They do this all day long every day in the prison. No one knows who’s locker is going to be searched or when. I’ve been hit 5 times in a week before. When the officer started pulling out a stash of empty chip bags, she had questions. Why are you keeping these? The truth was that Trunkwoman would take a potato chip bag in her pocket to meet the person who was bringing her in food. She’d put the food in her chip bag and carry it back to the room. I never remember an officer stopping anyone to look into their chip bags or cookie bags. So that worked for her.
When the officer pulled out a cup with bleach in it, is when the problems began. The officer said what’s this? Water, Trunkwoman said. Clearly the officer could smell it was bleach and wrote a disciplinary for lying and another for possession of bleach. Bleach was given out on a daily basis to clean with. Never is one allowed to keep any chemicals in their locker. It’s too dangerous with unpredictable people. When Trunkwoman tried to pour out the cup of bleach, she got another charge against her. Then after the officer put everything in the officer’s station, trunkwoman ran in there and tried to grab the cup of bleach one last time.
The officer finally had had enough and called for CERT (Correctional emergency response team) to come and take her to lockdown.
Finally she was transferred to a maximum security prison after her insanities came to be seen by more than just her room mates and her closed security status made it mandatory.
Closed security it the highest security one could have. It basically means that the person is deemed to dangerous to be trusted in anywhere but a maximum security prison. Or they have life without parole, or the death penalty. We were in a minimum security prison. Trunkwoman was definitely in the wrong prison.
After she left the entire dorm breathed an audible sigh of relief.
One Response to In Prison with Trunkwoman (6) By Edna Merle
- Susan Asher says:
Please keep telling us more stories like this about what it was like in prison. I’d love for that part of the story to go on and on, starting with your first day on through your last. Thanks for these wonderful stories. Keep ‘em coming. You could get published with these stories.
All day long I had felt that something was very wrong. It was with me while at work and stayed with me even after mom picked me up from work. I didn’t know what it was but I suddenly had a knowing that something was wrong with Jan Cordele and I told mom. She said call him. I said,”No” because I didn’t want to be presumptuous. Then as it got later the feeling became stronger and again I told mom. She said a little more strongly call him. Finally, I did. I almost hung up when he didn’t answer directly, thinking that maybe he had gone to bed. It was almost 1o:00 PM. Just as I was about to hang up a faint voice I could barely hear said hello. It was Jan and he didn’t sound well at all. I said pretty much right off the bat: Look Jan, I don’t know what’s wrong over there but I feel something awful has happened to you and it’s worried me all damn day long. And I just want you to know that I care about you. Always have, and I hope you’re ok. Silence. Oh hell, I thought, what have I done. He’s thinking whatever the hell is she talking about. Or, how dare her say something’s wrong with me. who does she think she is. But he said none of those things. Then I realized that as I’d said how I felt about caring for him, I suddenly had an in-love, heart palpitating, fireworks explosive feeling, coursing through my body. This was an entirely new sensation for me. Not just because of the last 14 years in prison but I’d never had a relationship with a man as a drug free adult, ever. Nor had I ever truly been in love. What he did say was that for some reason he wasn’t exactly clear about, I had suddenly become an important person in his life and that he was coming over tomorrow to discuss it.
Oh, he was coming over tomorrow! What was he going to do and say? I was terrified, really scared. I tried to imagine being kissed and touched. But I couldn’t let my thoughts go there. I turned red with embarrassment in a room alone, with just those thoughts. So, I ran and told mom. By now it’s probably after 11:00 PM and mom was in bed. She said, “So, he’ll come over and you’ll make him a nice lunch”. Stunned at her coolness I just shook my head. She said “what, you don’t want him to come over?” I said, “no, what or how will I make lunch?”
In prison you eat with what is called a spork. It is a plastic spoon with 4 – 1/8 ” tines on the end. Thus, the name spork. They are very light and disposable. All dinner ware is made of plastic as well as are drinking cups and glasses. So, imagine after 14 years how heavy an actual fork felt in my hand, how heavy and dangerous was a glass! Glasses were so heavy to me that I felt in danger of putting one down a little too hard on the glass dining table at mom’s house. I was very self-conscious of this handling of flatware that I dreaded dinner time with any guests. I had caught the attention of everyone at the table when I put down my fork or knife with a crash. Or people would look at my funny when I picked up a glass of ice tea. It was so heavy, I had to be so careful in bringing it to my mouth. At times I wondered why I never noticed in my earlier life that glasses and dishes are heavy. Though it was exhausting at first, muscle has memory and I recovered quickly.
Now things were happening very fast. My thoughts couldn’t keep up with the feelings in my heart. And this I did not understand. I don’t think I slept at all that night. But the next day when he came, oh my God!
I was in the garage with the garage door open. He got out of his SUV. I didn’t know how to stand there and be cool. I was so nervous I was shuffling from one foot to the other, feeling very stupid and embarrassed, holding my hands in front of me, then, behind my back. He came towards me and I backed up. I was smiling but he had a different look on his face. It was love infused with amazing need that he grabbed me and started kissing me. I mean really kissing me, like I’d never been kissed before. By now I’m up against the garage wall and suddenly I felt like I’d done this before and knew again just what to do. I opened the door and with our arms still around each other made it into the hallway. Thank God mom wasn’t home. We stayed in the hallway kissing and kissing and I’m climbing the wall or trying to become taller so I’m going up on my toes and I’m feeling like I’m queen of the whole world and I want this man now! But we just couldn’t do that yet….not that we didn’t want to.
God has done so much for me during my prison time. He supernaturally healed me of injuries, cysts, and illness. I’d witnessed also the same that God did in the lives of others there. He kept me safe from any kinds of danger. And of that there was plenty. He blessed me over and over so much that I could never not worship the God who saved and helped me and who continues to help me today. So, I didn’t want to have sex outside of marriage. But I didn’t want to get married. This was not good. At the same time Jan was on heavy duty blood pressure meds for 6 months to regulate his blood pressure. During which time the doctors told him it would affect his ability to have sex, but then later he’d be fine. He had about 4 weeks to go. What a relief we don’t have to worry about being disobedient to God! I was thrilled. I didn’t know what was going to happen after that, but for the time everything was falling into perfect place.
I was living with my mother in Jonesboro and Jan was living in Stone Mountain. It was a hike for Jan to visit me. But day after day he came over and stayed far into the night. Then he’d drive home. I worried about his falling asleep while driving. But he said he was too happy to fall asleep unless it was in my arms.
Days and days went by like this with him coming over until the day came when he said he had a project and it required a lot of computer work late into the night then he’d have to get up early and go to where the production was. And that he couldn’t come over until he got a break which would be about 5 days or so. I thought he was tired of me. We emailed each other our feelings, longings and more. At night even without Jan being there with me after reading his beautiful email poetry I’d felt as if I’d been physically made love to. When I awoke the next morning I’d felt as if Jan had been sleeping by my side. I felt that he was with me and it made me very happy. Though I missed seeing and touching him.
Finally Jan called and said I can’t stay away from you, it’s too painful. I’m coming over tonight. I was very glad. I noticed that I too did indeed feel a physical pain because I missed him and needed him near me. Now I understood the song Love Hurts.
I realized then it wasn’t the physical act of making love that hurt it was the heart that ached with love that was painful. But it hurt soooo good!
So he came over and we lounged around in my room talking and touching. I felt like a teenager. At one point we had all our clothes off and were exploring each other when mom knocked on the door. Jan flew off the bed and tried to hide himself in the closet which was impossible because it is so narrow. But he looked so funny standing right in front of my clothes with, oh my, the doctors were wrong! It does work! Look Jan, I yelled and pointing at it while trying to help hide him from my mother, who was still on the other side of the door, I later found out, laughing silently! When I did finally open the door and asked her “what?” she said some nonsensical thing. It was just a ploy to mess with us. That night, mom told Jan while I was in the shower that he could just spend the night since it was such a long drive back. I assumed she meant he could sleep on the couch, when she said, “and you’re not sleeping on the couch”! I said, “then I’ll sleep on the couch”. Mom said, “I don’t like people sleeping on my couch”. I was so embarrassed. I told Jan that I didn’t think I could sleep all night in the same bed with someone. It was only a double bed. And it was so hot in that month of August. I couldn’t have slept with a nightgown on even if I’d wanted to. But mom had a thing about messing with us. I was almost asleep and Jan was, the lights were out, when she knocked again. I was against the wall and scooted down to the end of the bed to reach for my robe when my elbow slammed into the corner of a table and I yelled out “ow”! I knew mom was again enjoying herself immensely on the other side of that door. And again, she didn’t want anything but to tell us a certain show was on TV. Darn her I thought, with a smile on my face. She had told me once before I went to prison that she lives vicariously through me. Yes, she was having a real good time now.
When I awoke the next morning I was shocked that I had stayed in the same bed all night with Jan, and had actually slept a very sound and peaceful sleep. I felt so much love.
The following is the email I sent to him the day of our first kiss:
Dear Jan: Aug. 30, 2009
Knowing I hadn’t been touched, much less kissed in over 14 years made me afraid of when that time would come. It came today. And as you witnesses the combination of so many feelings occurring at the same time within me, was written all over my face. My overwhelmed and heightened awareness and intense desire for you , and the comfort of your hands, your lips and your body against mine, made me feel more that right.
My body seems to be calling for you. And even now I feel tingling in the secret places we have only thought of, but have awakened in a savage way today. I’m pulsating with joy and happiness that you are going to be my lover. I pray that I will give back to you the love you radiate towards me and that you are happy in this, your new life going forward, even as my own is.
Then Jan wrote me back:
Edna: Aug. 31, 2009
Your body is calling to me and I am so damn frustrated that a certain peice of my anatomy cannot respond. Driving home I thought of just calling the doctors and saying that I was stopping the pills. My blood pressure is OK now, even though I felt it rising in your presence. But why stop the pills now that I’m so close to the end of them? You said it was probably the best thing that we would have to wait. But now, after holding you and touching you and kissing you, it is an eternity ahead of us.
You felt so right to me…You feel so right to me. I hope you know that I have fallen in love with you. Rather that toss and turn last night, I went to sleep with your taste on my tongue, your touch on my chest, your smile in my eyes. I think I slept in your love. It was so comforting. I wanted you to be there when I woke up so we could talk and kiss. You make me feel like a teenager who has fallen in love for the first time.
So now I have work and can’t seem to find my focus. Look what you’ve done to me! I’ll have to stop thinking of you, from your beautiful face to your tiny red toenail. But your are there, at every turn in my brain. Yes, I am unasshamedly happy. I do feel that you are the next chapter in my life. It will be fun and amazing to watch this chapter written by the hand of God. I think He has good plans for us. So just pray for my body to heal so that we might enjoy the fullness of our love.
Thank you for the great abundance of love you have shown me in a very short time. I just can’t wait.
“Oh Lord, help me”, I prayed, because I couldn’t wait either.
4 Responses to Our First Kiss (5) By Edna Merle
- carole says:
If your Mom was so hip why didn’t she just say hey we’re all adults here, just spend the night. That would have been way too cool.
- ednamerle says:
Well, she did ask him to spend the night. Only I felt like a stupid teenager among two adults.
- WildBill says:
I love the blog. Your comments about using a glass and silverware were so fascinating. Also the observations of how technology had changed so much while you were incarcerated. I appreciate your view of our world as seen in ways as an outsider. You mentioned God a few times. How does he play in this? Did ya know him before prison or as a result, or after?
- ednamerle says:
I knew God was the all powerful one ever since I was a child. I knew nothing about Jesus or the Bible. In prison I read the Old and New Testament cover to cover several times. I still see new things every time I open it. I learned in prison about the Holy Spirit, who enlightens my mind and teaches me daily. I’ve learned that God is utterly awesome and that there are not enough glorious words to describe him, even adequately. I know that God restored my mind from one of major depression and the sickness of drug addiction to realizing a hope of goodness and mercy in this life. And I am so thankful every day that there is a plan for my life. My husband and I pray daily that we are walking within God’s plan for our lives.
Edna Merle spent many years behind a fence under guard, her life run by rules and regulations. The only freedom she had was between her ears where her brain could go traipsing across the universe. Her soul was let go to explore the heavens. They can only lockup your body in prison.
I, too, spent many years in prison, but it was a prison of my own making with no bars or guards, no rules and regulations. I even took away my freedom to think or to let my spirit run free among the clouds of the universe. I shoved my soul into a dark, dank cell where there was no sound, no contact with anyone else. It was an ugly place where I could only experience pain and loneliness. I locked up everything but my body in this place with invisible bars. And I was a wretched warden.
The easy thing to do is to blame my ridiculous divorce after 17 years of mostly good marriage. The last five years of the marriage, however, was when I began to construct my very own prison walls. Brick by miserable brick I build my gloomy penitentiary where I would lie down at night to stare at nothing. It was because I was desperately unhappy, except for one shining facet of my life: my daughter.
She was, and remains to this day, the one thing I can proudly point to as the great accomplishment of my life. She is a loving, gentle and fun-seeking soul who thinks the best of everyone. She is kind and gentle without being a goody-goody, bland, plastic person. Growing up, I was the stay-at-home Dad who took her to school, drove her to gymnastics and piano lessons and horse riding lessons and girl scouts, and all that stuff that young girls do as they mature. Her Mom had long ago told me, “I love being a Mother but I’ve got to have my career.” So I ran my business from home while making my main business the growth of my daughter. Naturally, the more she grew the less she needed me, or so it seemed.
After I spent time at a major corporation doing crap I didn’t want to do and having to – this may sound really stupid – wear a suit and tie every day, I was relieved to be let go when they started to dismantle my department. Yet I had started to build my prison not long before, when my wife of the time said she had never been happier. I saw then that it wasn’t me but the weight of my paycheck that was her way to nirvana.
When she told me this I slumped down in my easy chair as if I had been sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole. I remember sitting there in the dark long after she had gone to bed and having visions of being in a moldy cell, my ankle chained to a great slab of stone. Throughout the night I tried to get up without success. So I sat in the dark, without friends, without God.
Over the next years I would find myself chained to that cell wall, unable to move or to think. It seemed the chain was sucking the life out of me. I know I could have gotten up at any moment, dusted myself off and walked out of my murky cell into the sunlight. On the other hand, I was immobilized, frozen to the spot. If you could look into my brain it would have been equally gloomy. The soul that had at one time soared into space had its wings clipped.
Only for a moment, when my wife asked for a divorce, did I suddenly feel unchained. It was a brief slash of light before the inevitable gloom of that most depressing process took over and possessed me. I cried for my daughter, who had told me a year before it happened that she thought her Mom and I would get a divorce. She could feel our unhappiness. She remained foremost in my mind as we sailed to separation.
Afterwards, when my daughter was with me, I felt the warmth of her little heart and the freshness of her soul. I was convinced that it was me she needed to make it in this world. As soon as she was out of sight I knew what a folly I was living under. I needed her to be my daughter more than she needed me to be her Father.
At least I forged a new, longer chain that allowed me to move about my empty house. I tried to look out its many windows. I saw nothing. I ate in silence without even the flickering images of TV to keep me company. I tried to meet new friends, and by this I mean women, on the internet. It was easy to meet them and easy to let them go; Virtual friends is the most apt description I can give them. For the most part, they lied about themselves or at least made themselves seem so normal. I never met a normal one. I only met one that I wanted to spend more than a few minutes with, and even she turned out to only want some guy to take her out to dinner.
However, it was on the internet that I was found by Edna Merle. It was on Facebook that she asked to be my friend. I had barely paid any attention to that social network since my daughter had signed me up a few years ago. And I barely paid attention to it even after Edna Merle wrote to me a couple times. In my haze all I could tell her was that I was in a bad place. If I had the courage to tell her about my invisible bars she might have understood but, knowing her now, she would have probably told me what a fool I was. She would have told me to get out and live. I could hear the liveliness in her voice even before we spoke on the phone. There was something there that, finally, I started to connect with in a good way. Here was this woman who had spent her youth in a prison, yet she sounded so alive and happy. She did not seem to have a trace of bitterness in her.
We met two times before I knew I loved her. We had dinner with her Mother and went swimming at her friend’s house. We talked about everything except my invisible bars. I could not tell her about them or the chain I was dragging around.
Then, on one of the worse days of my life, when I had to sell the house I had lived in for 17 years, the home my daughter asked me to keep after the divorce, the place I had sweated over and cared for over many years, I was administered a shock to the system that ripped open my invisible bars. I had signed over the house and come home to lie on the couch, now without any place to go or to call home. It was around 9:30 or so that the phone rang. I numbly answered it and, to my great surprise, there was Edna Merle. We talked for a few minutes until I told her that this was a bad day for me. “Oh,” she said, “I’ve been worried about you all day.”
Her words went straight to my heart and, to my amazement; I could feel the blood pumping again. I sat up and could see trees outside my window, trees that were not there a few minutes before. The chain was broken. The bars were gone. It wasn’t what she said but just the fact that someone cared, someone I cared about. I could feel her heart in mine.
The next day I rushed to meet her at her house and, before I could say anything, I was kissing her and feeling her heart. She had released me from the prison of my own making. My sentence was commuted by love.
If you want to know how fast technology changes, go away for 14 years. The Internet was in its infant stage when I went away to prison. I never had a cellphone, either. So imagine the shock of these two technologies when I came home in May of 2009. I was told to be very careful because things had changed since I first went in. But when I saw all the people who walked around apparently talking to themselves, I was scared. It reminded me of the time I’d been in San Francisco and there were a lot of people on the streets talking to themselves because they were suffering from a bad case of schizophrenia. I didn’t see that they had something in their ear that let them talk on the phone. It was something I’d seen on the TV show 24that I thought was a TV invention or just pure fiction.
It hit me the time my mom dropped me off in front of the garden center at a Home Depot where I was going to buy a tomato plant. Then I was confronted with all these people talking to themselves, or so I thought. I quickly ran back to the car, my eyes large with fear. “Mom, what’s going on out here, everybody’s talking to themselves, I’m afraid to look at anyone lest they kill me. I’d seen people do this a lot in San Francisco. But not here in Georgia”. Mom started laughing and explained that these people had blue teeth. I didn’t know that was the plural for Blue Tooth. I was bewildered. What could the color of their teeth have anything to do with their schizophrenia? And why did they all have blue teeth anyway? ”Are blueberries the main dietary source now or what?”, I inquired. Mom continued laughing harder than ever. Finally, she managed to get out that the blue teeth weren’t teeth at all, but a phone. Oh my God, I thought; people have put telephones in their teeth. Man, I really got off on the wrong floor. Mom was laughing even harder and could now barely breathe and keep herself upright. This was starting to make me mad. I was feeling jilted by God that the world has become such a strange and profane place that even my mother couldn’t relate to me anymore. When finally she stopped laughing and told me the phone was called a Blue Tooth and that tooth went into the ear, it was such a relief to me. Things weren’t so bad after all. This was something I could understand. So I got my plant and we went home.
After I left prison I was placed on a leg monitor with strict instructions about the times I could leave the house, go to groups and meetings and look for a job. A job was critical as my coming home incurred expenses for my mother that put her over her fixed income. Plus, getting a job is a parole requirement. So naturally, finding a job was high on my list of priorities.
Mom drove me all around during my allotted hours out, when I wasn’t in group or treatment, to find a job. But what a very bleak time for job hunting! I’d gone through the Department of Labor program, filled out applications on-line and in person, but it was all to no avail. I’d been home about seven weeks when mom drove up in front of the Barnes & Noble Bookstore and told me to go in there and get an application. I put on my secure face and walked into the store. Seeing a such diverse looking group working there, I relaxed and asked for the application. That was on a Friday. I took it home and filled it out completely, taking my time and the entire weekend to make sure it was perfect. I attached a resume with a list of all the jobs and things I’d done and learned in prison. One of which included working in the prison library and having read more than 1,000 books over the last 14 years. On Monday I went back to the store and asked for the manager. She was on the phone. I waited patiently for about 25 minutes or so. She took my application, glanced at it. Her eyebrows raised she asked if I could come back the next day. That went on for the next two days and on the third day I was hired. Praise the Lord, I said. That was on July 1st, 2009. Since then I’ve been given a promotion and a raise. God is so good!
I cannot drive as part of my probation, so another priority was to get a bicycle. I asked on Facebook, one of the cool internet things I had found out about since leaving prison, if anyone had a bicycle they weren’t using. One of my friends on Facebook was Jan, who had briefly said “hi” on Facebook. But he also said that he wasn’t in a very good place and that he would even be moving soon to another state. Although he did remember me, I did feel his depression through the cyberspace I was just learning to navigate. So, I figured I wouldn’t be seeing him.
Jan wrote back and said, “I have a racer I’ll bring to you”. Wow, I couldn’t believe it. I mean that was an answer the same day I asked! This internet thing is fantastic. I told mom about the bike and she suggested I tell him to ride it down and we’d get him a Marta ticket for his bus ride home, as a joke. I didn’t think it sounded too funny but I did as she suggested. Jan totally ignored our suggestion; maybe out of politeness or that he just thought we were plain nuts. He brought the bicycle two days later.
He pulled up in an SUV and got out and came towards me. My arms flew open and we hugged like long-lost friends do when they meet again. Damn, he felt good in my arms. But I figured that was because my arms hadn’t been around a man in over 14 plus years, unless you count my brother, my dad or my friend who used to visit me in prison. I didn’t count them as being like a REAL man nevertheless their gender. I must have felt good to Jan because he seemed to enjoy hugging me as well.
The racer was very tall and had a bar that I couldn’t swing my leg over. Jan held the bike between his knees as I tried to get on it, but couldn’t. It was too tall for me. Oh well, I said, let’s go inside.
Jan met my mother and they really hit it off. They are both cooking experimenters with excellent results. So they talked a lot about food. I watched in amazement as the conversations unfolded. We were immediately comfortable with Jan. He was like a member of our household already. But no one was thinking about love. No, love was a very far thought from my mind, and my body.
When I first met Edna Merle she was a shy, skinny, dark-haired brat who, at 11 years of age, wanted to hang out with the hip, cool, more sophisticated older men like me. I was 17. Yet even in her brat state I saw a wonderfully mysterious smile, two dark eyes with flakes of green-gold floating about, and a voice that would seduce an angel. She didn’t talk much but when she did it usually came out as desperately serious or unintentionally funny.
She was the best friend of my best friend’s little sister. They would occasionally show up wanting to listen to the latest from Led Zeppelin or Jefferson Airplane. If we allowed them to stay, the two of them would sit like two little Buddhas and listen intently, then put their heads together to talk or snicker about what they had just heard. We’d send them off after a while, satisfied that they had just crawled that much closer to being real grownups.
There was not one inkling in me that one day Edna Merle would be my wife.
We were never close but on a few occasions she and I had brief encounters where I respected and admired her, and sometimes I would lust after her, in a friendly, non-threatening way. She usually responded with a cool acceptance of me. Later, when we were married, she would say that she always loved my heart and knew that I was a kind person who always would listen to her. I didn’t know that there were few people taking the time to listen to her, even her parents, and it is their loss that I mourn. There is still that brief moment of uncertainty that comes over her face now when I think she is afraid she is not being listened to or understood. But it quickly goes away.
For some reason I remember her fashion sense. She normally was dressed unlike anyone else, even in those hippie days where fur vests, multi-colored pants and tons of beads were the norm. She wore these amazing colors that blazed intensely, probably because of her dark hair, eyes and skin. Often she wore these oval blouses that covered her little body and made her look like an umbrella when she put both her arms out. Edna Merle reminded me of a Cherokee princess even then, so it was not surprising when she told me just before our marriage that she was part Cherokee and part Romanian gypsy. Now I sometimes call her my Gypsy Woman.
My Canon camera became my constant companion just after I got out of college. It was at my best friend’s house that I saw Edna Merle again after a few years and she was more beautiful than ever, although to me she was still that pleasant brat who made me smile. We went behind the house to a small brick wall where she posed for me for the first time. In her mock superstar model poses you can see her not trying to smile yet smiling demurely, her eyes looking straight into the lens. It is as if she were saying, “Here I am. Take me or leave me because I’m not going to change.”
Another time I convinced her to pose on my friend’s big downstairs couch, complete with flat furry pillows where her delicate hands lay in portrait-like perfection, a stone wall that made the scene almost Medieval, and a metallic lamp burning behind her. Edna Merle’s angelic, faultless smile dominates her face. The only thing that lets you know it is a modern image is her multi-colored velour blouse, but it, too, is of another time somehow. It was and still remains one of my favorite all-time photographs. It now hangs honorably in our hallway.
We went driving in my VW Bug that night — Edna Merle, her friend and I — to retrieve some more film from the sorry house I was renting way out in Austell. While she should have been intimidated by being taken to an older man’s house, she was now 17 and I was 24, she entered it as if it were her own house and immediately flopped down on my bed. This is the only time, until more than 30 years later, that any sexual thoughts about her entered my head. If her friend had not been there I would have tried mightily to entice her clothes off so I could enter her body. I had to make up for it by taking several photos of her on my bed and when I look at one now she seems so young, so innocent with her hair pinned up, that I cannot imagine how it might have been.
The last time I saw Edna Merle, before I vanished into my void and she vanished into her confinement, she was still the cool beautiful dark-haired girl I remembered. We laughed and talked like old friends when she showed up at a party at the house I shared with two other roommates. Then she showed up a few nights later just to visit and to find some cocaine. I never really liked the stuff. My roommate loved it. So off she went and came back a few minutes later with enough coke to keep us up all night. But for some reason I slacked off about 2 am and went to bed, thinking she was more interested in my roommate than me. I was very surprised the next afternoon when she had left and my roommate had not gotten laid. “Didn’t you know she wanted you,” I told him. “No,” he said, “She never wanted me.”
And that was it. Edna Merle never came around again. I went off and got married to a red-haired woman who controlled my life for the next 17 years. It was to be my self-made prison.
Edna Merle showed up one more time about 10 years later. I’ll never forget it. Sitting in my den with the TV on and the volume low, I was waiting for a show to come on, idly watching the local news. Suddenly, there was a picture on the screen, a face I knew but couldn’t immediately place. It was a sad, scared face. And then it came to me: Edna Merle. What was the announcer saying?; Couldn’t make it out. So I turned up the volume to hear that she had caused an accident that killed two people.
The next day I talked with her friend who told me Edna Merle was going to prison. What? Why? We talked for a while longer, me getting sadder and sadder, and by the time we hung up I had promised myself that I would send her a letter or something. But then my life got in the way and I forgot about her. It would be 14 more years before I was reminded of the skinny little shy girl I would soon marry. Her friend told me Edna Merle was getting out and a few weeks later a Facebook message asking me to be friends said “Hi, remember me?”
It’s true. Love is always on time whether you believe it or not. Though it helps if you believe. When I went to prison in 1995 for a horrible car accident I thought my life was over. Prayed it was over. I had never been married, never had kids. I had been a drug addict for 26 years, though not to my delight. I’d checked myself in to drug and mental health programs 13 times for help to stop, to no avail. I just couldn’t do it no matter how hard I tried. Finally, I had a car accident that literally put a halt to my life and sadly ended the lives of a young married couple with a little baby. I had cocaine in my system which created a felony of first degree vehicular homicide, for which I was sentenced to 35 years to serve 17, in prison. I served 14 years and 3 months. During those early years in prison I prayed for death. My life as I saw it was most definitely over. I had gone to prison during the “prime of my life”. I was done.
The hell of wanting cocaine, craving & dreaming about it while in a cell of concrete and steel was torment enough. Yet, there was more angst than just that. There was the depression as a result of my brain chemistry rerouting new paths where there were none before. For some reason, that felt painful and hugely depressing. I was placed on suicide watch for 3 days. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that two people were killed because of me. There is no way to fathom that responsibility and it make any sense. But it was because of me. I wasn’t here on the floor in a paper gown for balloon sculpting at the local fair. I knew that the culmination of all my drug addicted tormented life had brought me to this place. And that will never be any else’s fault. I own that horror. I was a killer and I hated myself.
There I was in a paper see through gown on a dirty plastic mattress on the floor of a cell in the medical unit. There was an open shower in my cell along with a toilet stool all exposed for the male/female officers/nurses and passers-by to see me. And they did watch me. Not only did I need cocaine, I smoked cigarettes. And I really needed one of those. Knowing the quickest way out was to not make any waves, look as happy, normal as possible, I asked for something to read. I was given a Bible. I read it all day, all night. Tried to only use the bathroom when the women officers were present. But I was not always successful in that. People came and looked through the glass at me as if I were an animal. Living on the floor of a cold cell, naked, I felt very much like one.
One of the prisoners in another cell started a fire. When that didn’t get her the attention she wanted, she flooded her cell with feces she had saved up. Then when the officers tried to remove her from her cell she threw it at them with cups of urine she’d also saved. They let her out. I kept reading.
When I slept, I dreamed of shooting up cocaine. Knew that if I got out of jail on bond, I would go shoot some up, first thing. I also knew that I would probably run away and become a wanted fugitive. Hated to do it to my family, but knew if I got out, for sure that would happen. I was refused bond.
I had a plan, to read and explore everything I ever wanted to know and learn and do within my grasp and power in prison, then, I’d die. I figured I’d start by reading all the classic literature that I had missed in school. Then move on to science. Being a great Star Trek fan, I believed that if one could build a space ship that could get through a black hole, then we’d be able to travel into separate physical dimensions that I believe are there. So, I read, for years, having the time to do so, and learning became a passion. Art became a by-product. And, I became happy, in prison. Very strange to believe one could actually become happy locked up. But my life prior to prison was an array of awful dramas and lifelong addiction. I had never been an adult drug free until I went to prison.
So, since I was 11 years old when I started doing drugs, I was in effect that of an 11-year-old when I went to prison. Arrested development, it is called. Think of that, being 11 emotionally in a prison with all those other people…was hard.