Today there were a lot of tears.
Today was the day we wrote love letters.
To our lovers,
To our mothers,
To our children,
It is a deep, meaningful, sweet, sad, somber exercise.
We are close to the end of our 10 sessions.
We are comfortable.
We know each other.
There is trust.
I start off the session by reading them the boys’ poems/love letters.
When I first started doing this work, I started off in the boys’ facilities.
I did exactly the same exercises, but they were completely different because I did them with boys.
When I asked the boys to write love letters/love poems, they wrote very cheesy metaphorical, lyrical words of love.
I remember how astounded I was then, that my tough, gangbanger, violent, tattoo covered guys could write such eloquent poetry.
I remember thinking then, “Wow this, these words the boys are writing, this is change.”
Now that I have been working with the girls for four years, I look at those poems through a completely different lens.
I read the poems to the girls and they laugh and they sigh.
“Hell, those Homies say stupid shit when they are locked up,” one says.
I hand out paper.
“Write!” I say.
With music in the background they pour their hearts out.
This is a great group.
They are so good that I am slowly losing them to early release. I might have just 5 of the 12 for the final presentation.
But that is good.
We start reading out loud.
The first girl can’t read what she wrote. She asks the girl next to her to read for her.
My eyes are tearing just looking at her.
“I love you. That is the main thing I want to tell you.
I am sorry for putting you through the pain I have.”
Tears are rolling down her cheeks.
“Even though I am the one locked up, in reality, all my family is locked up, because you guys are away from me, and I am away from you.”
Now, tears are rolling down my cheeks.
In the letter she tells her mom that she is the best, that she is amazing and on and on. The letter is sensitive and touching.
We all clap at the end.
“That was beautiful,” I say.
“I love that you wrote that everyone is locked up to describe your situation.
Does your mom visit you?” I ask gently.
She shakes her head. “No.” More tears.
“She doesn’t have a car and can’t get here.”
I can hear my heart breaking.
It is known that a minor being away from a loving family can damage rehabilitation.
Yet, we cannot offer any solutions for families who want to come to these facilities but don’t have a car or money to get here.
And, of course, there is NO public transportation to get here.
“I am so sorry,” I say and I get up and sit close to her.
“God help me!” I think.
I put my arm around her.
I kiss her head.
There is nothing else I can do but be present.
Next letter. To an ex lover. To her baby’s daddy.
“I didn’t know how much love can feel good and how much it can hurt.”
“Shit!” I think.
Each time they read their letters, no mater how many times I hear similar things, I cry.
This is my 24th session and still, I cry.
I will never get used to their broken hearts and the bad that has been done to them!
“Everyday I pray you will change,” she adds.
“For the sake of our son” she reads.
“He will not change!” one girl says.
“I know,” she says.
Tears flowing, she reads,
“It’s all right. I now know to leave you for good. No more will you make me a fool!”
“That’s good,” I say.
“I figured that out here,” she tells me.
“Okay,” I say. “That’s good. I’m happy you understand this.
You don’t need him.
But you will be tied to him, because you have a child together.”
It is quiet.
She says, “I know and I love that baby boy of ours!”
When the girls talk about their kids outside the walls, I find it hard to stop my tears.
And then she starts to cry and says to us all,
“You all might see me happy, laughing, going to school, like it’s all good, but I can’t tell you how hard it is for me. I miss my baby boy. I miss holding him. I miss smelling him. I go to sleep missing him and I wake up every morning losing my mind for him.”
Oy, vey! I am a puddle.
She is crying.
I get up and move.
I sit next to her.
It is so quiet.
I ask her very quietly, “Who is your baby boy with?”
“My mom,” she says.
“Do you see him?”
“Yes,” she says.
“That’s good,” I say.
“I hear you,” I say.
“If I couldn’t kiss my kids to sleep, I would be a mess,” I add.
“I am so sorry! How long have you been in?”
“Three months,” she says.
“When do you get out?”
“In three months,” she says.
“So you know what, Sweetie? You are halfway there.
Now you can start the count down.
Can you look at it that way?
You’re almost there.”
And I hug her.
Babies having babies.
Freedom taken away from babies.
Can’t we do better than this?
I drive home very quiet.
I hug my own kids tight.
I would die not being able to hug them to sleep, and kiss them when they get up.
I think of her tears and her longing for her son.
I think of her broken heart finding out that her lover, father of her child, is with someone else.
I turn on some stupid TV and watch.
I try to turn off the day, because what else can I do?
My youngest comes in and curls up on my lap.
I stroke her hair and am relieved that she has the life she has.
She opens her eyes and looks at me.
“How was jail, Mommy?” she asks.
“Sad,” I say.
She wraps her arms around my waist.
“Next week you will make it happy,” she tells me.
She snuggles her head onto my lap and goes to sleep.
Tears roll down my cheeks and I think
“Yes, my sweet girl, I will go back next week, and I will try my hardest to make them happy. That is exactly what I will do.”
And I fade into a re-run of some meaningless sitcom.