Enduring Pain You Cannot Change: My Life as a Prison Wife
Two years ago, at about this time, I had just met the man who became my husband a few months ago. His name is Jabari.
I love him deeply. He’s in prison.
We have a long way to go yet (almost 6 years). Whatever prison was supposed to teach him he learned a long time ago, and now he’s just running down the clock. And I’m running it down with him.
Every day we learn more about who we are and how to make this work. And every day is one more day lost that we could have lived together, in freedom.
It’s a high price to pay, but it’s the only way to be together, so we pay it.
There’s no way to sugarcoat the lack of humanity in our prison system. But our story is the story of the love that we make each day, because we choose each other. We choose hope and perseverance over despair. We choose to do what we can with what we have. And I won’t lie, some days I pray for a miracle. But mostly, I just live one day at a time and know that every day is one day closer to the day he comes home.
We seem made for each other in every way I could imagine.
Our backgrounds are nothing alike—he comes from inner city poverty and I come from hippie parents and grew up on a farm. He’s a mixed-race convict body-builder and I’m a middle-class white girl who makes websites for a living. But it feels as if I’ve always known him. I feel safe with him—and a deep sense of belonging that I’ve been searching for my whole life. We fit together. There is nothing but fate to explain how we met—our paths just would not have crossed any other way.
So what I’m going to write next doesn’t come from a place of not believing in magic. I do believe.
I know there are mysterious forces at work in the Universe, and I believe if we listen closely to our inner guidance and follow it, we will end up where we belong.
But I also think that in new-agey, spiritual growth circles, we tell ourselves a lie about magic. It goes like this: “You can make your life good and easy if you think about things in the right way, or do what you are “meant” to do”. Another version is: Life’s problems are all due to your attitude toward things. Poor? Work on your scarcity consciousness. Lonely? You should love yourself more. If you change your perspective, if you “shift” your consciousness, if you “let go” properly…everything will be OK. And the underlying message: You can escape your pain. (And if you’re still in pain, it’s your fault in some way, because you should be more enlightened than that.)
I searched a long time for the place I belonged. And I believe I’ve found it. Everything deep inside me says this is where I am meant to be.
But it’s far from easy. It’s often incredibly painful, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
It’s right, it’s good, it’s beautiful—but it’s not easy.
And there’s no amount of spiritual adjustment that will make it not hurt.
It definitely helps to look at your perspective, to let go of what you can’t change, to not resist life. I am totally about healing stuff. All the work I did on myself has undoubtedly made this easier and less painful than it could have been.
But it’s still fucking painful.
Pain is: Walking through prison gates to see him. Having to sit across the table from him and hold hands when I’d rather be in his lap. Being watched. Florescent lights. Not having a single moment of privacy for the entire time I’ve known him. Talking for hours…because we literally can’t do anything else. Saying goodbye each time and leaving him in a prison.
Pain is: Paying .16 cents/minute to talk on the phone, and knowing someone could be listening to any of our calls. Waiting for times he can call. Not being able to call him. Sending an email which gets there 3 days later because every form of communication is recorded or read or screened. Constant low-level anxiety that some randomly enforced infraction will result in losing our visits or losing our phone calls for 6 months, or a year.
Pain is: Sleeping alone. Mornings and afternoons and evenings alone. Holidays without my partner. Gatherings with friends without my partner. Cooking and cleaning and shopping and living every single part of my life without my partner.
Pain is: Constantly wanting to talk about someone my friends have only met once. Not talking to my brother for a year because of his reaction to my relationship. Not really wanting to meet new people and face the inevitable question, “Are you married? What does your husband do?”.
Pain is: Being constantly aware of a reality, a whole world, that doesn’t usually cross most people’s minds. Being aware of whole lifetimes lived inside walls. Being aware of the grinding helplessness and despair that living in a cage produces. Being aware that most people aren’t aware, and don’t care, because they believe all these people deserve whatever is done to them. Or simply because prisons are out of sight, out of mind.
Pain is: knowing Jabari has already lost all of his twenties, and will lose all of his thirties, and no good will come of any of that loss. Prison is a living death. It doesn’t produce good. It doesn’t heal social harm. It doesn’t repair victims’ lives and hearts and souls. It only destroys yet more lives.
Pain is with me every day.
Sometimes there is nothing you can heal on a personal level to make the pain any less, because the pain isn’t about you. Sometimes life is just fucking hard. And there’s nothing you can do about it but get through it the best you can.
So I’ve adjusted my expectations.
I used to think a good day was one where, you know, I manifested my Divine essence through meaningful work and perfect Right Relationship to everything in the Universe. With blissful sparkles. My bar for a good day was pretty high. I wanted to be self-actualized, and meeting my needs for meaning and purpose. I wanted to feel like I was doing what I was meant to do, what I was born to do. I thought that would make me happy. All the time.
It hadn’t occurred to me that I could get what I was wishing for so ardently, find what I was seeking so diligently, and still be unhappy…not because I needed an attitude adjustment, but because along with that grace came a reality that was just crushingly, unalterably painful.
And it’s not a pain I can grieve and let go of. It’s not a pain I can search for lessons in. It’s a pain that is borne of unfairness and oppression and fucked up things humans do to each other. You can’t personally enlighten your way out of those kinds of things. This kind of pain is truly senseless. There is no purpose to it. There is no good that comes from it. This isn’t the pain of healing and growth. This is the pain of toxicity.
The prison system isn’t trying to be helpful. It’s not trying to support the personal growth of its “clients”. It’s an archaic system of social control. There is nothing enlightened about it. And it’s ongoing. I feel it every day. It’s inescapable. It shapes my life like gravity. And I can’t fix it. It won’t begin to be fixed for me personally until he gets home. And nothing will change that. There’s no way to “be OK” with something that is just fundamentally not OK.
So I’ve had to learn a new skill.
It’s called “adjusting my expectations”. It works like this:
A good day is a day I get enough sleep.
A good day is a day I get some work done.
A good day is a day I eat real food and not too much sugar.
A good day is a day I can see him and we have fun together.
A good day is a day I don’t let my spirit be crushed.
A good day is a day I get through. Because it’s one day closer to us being free.
A good day is a day I am as happy as I can be in this situation.
I just don’t have the energy for the neurotic self-absorption that used to consume me. Am I living my purpose? Uh, sure. Whatever. It’s good enough. I’m going to watch TV and go to bed early. Visiting starts at 7:15 am.
(P.S. Here’s a link to our wedding video / pics and vows!)
I’m not a therapist or a guru, just a fellow seeker who has been there, healed that, and wants to share. I firmly believe we can all heal, and its often a winding road to get there. The more we share what works and help each other, the more we can all benefit.
If my writing has helped you, you can leave a tip at buymeacoffee.com, leave a comment below, learn more about me, or follow me on Instagram.
I’m also looking to start a community of people looking to build authentic connnections & grow together–follow the link if you are interested.
Thanks so much for reading! ~Emma
heartbreaking….mind boggling….soul stripping….gut wrenching….if I can walk in my world carrying one tiny small sliver of the pain you and Jabari are living with daily on your behalf I will and then some. It hurts to hear what you are going through. You write beautifully and clearly.
Deb, I love you. 🙂 Hugs.
I am so happy you found a partner:) I feel I have some life experience, possibly a taste of your current predicament.
My heart is quite interested in helping the plight of repairing the broken system of punishment in this world. I have no idea where to start or what to do, but I feel compelled to start doing something, no matter how small. Even, this, reaching out to you, I suppose, is one small step…
Let’s get together and chat sometime:) My life has changed so much in the last few months!!!
If you are interested, how about meeting at the tea house on Alberta? Text or call me at 503-780-3303
Thank you, Emma.
I love you, very much.
Love you too sib!
This might not be the best way to start my comment after reading such a post, but I wanted to say a very enthusiastic “thank you” for your blog. In an online world of endless noise, vapid advice, and empty platitudes delivered as wisdom, your quiet blog never ceases to comfort and clarify things for me with its honesty and kindness.
I’ve decided to add your “Adjusting My Expectations” technique to my daily spiritual life. It could really help me right now.
And I’ll keep you and your husband in my thoughts. Love is so rare for so many, and compassion often seems forgotten. Blessings on you both.
Thank you Tara! I really appreciate it, both the feedback on my writing and the blessings! 🙂
Thank you your words are exactly how I feel.
So eloquent. So real. From one PW to another, THANK YOU and God bless you. Hang in there. This may be a really long chapter in our story but it’s NOT THE WHOLE BOOK. Much love.
This is fascinating, real, and meaningful. When will he be released? You two have so much to look forward to in a way most couples have no idea and have already become complacent (myself included :/ ).
As of today, we have four years and a few months left. Yes, it definitely teaches you to not take things for granted.