I went to prison a few weeks ago. No, I did not go for finally killing my husband or kids but as a volunteer with a local non-profit called Truth Be Told. Truth Be Told works with women who have been incarcerated by helping them tell their stories of how they ended up in prison. The stories don’t focus on the crime that they committed but on the life events that led them there. Truth Be Told works with a group of women for several weeks to tell their story either through writing or speaking or movement. At the end of that time, the women participate in a graduation ceremony where they share their story. Truth Be Told takes a small group of volunteers to attend these ceremonies and witness these women bravely sharing their truth. I went to prison in order to be a witness.I won’t even bother to try to put the experience into words because there are none in the human language that would do it justice. Their stories and their willingness to survive and forgive themselves at any cost are beyond what can be found in the dictionary. They can only be felt in a touch, an embrace or a moment when eyes lock and souls connect at a level that defies race or class or religion.Among all the stores, however, is a common thread. They all seemed to center around drugs…and men. Either an abusive father or uncle or boyfriend that introduced them to meth (mostly) and these women who were desperate for love and affection and escaping their shitty lives at any cost said yes. Yes, to a life of crime. Yes, to betraying their families and (worse) themselves. Yes, to allowing the best of themselves to be traded away for some small cold comfort.
“Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghost? Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for cool breeze? Cold comfort for change? Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”
There was one woman in particular who talked about how her mother used to take her out of the bed that they shared so that a man could take her place. She talked about how she could hear them having sex through the walls and the noises that her mother made. She talked about how she learned at a very young age to use sex for love and attention. She began to dress herself as provocatively as possible because it made her feel good to be wanted. She traded away her childhood and her innocence and her dignity before she had the capacity to understand what those things were.And so did I. And so did most of my friends. But by the grace of God or socioeconomics we just never ended up in prison. Remember that coffee date I had with the long lost friend? What she and I ended up talking about that day was how promiscuous we all were and at a very young age. We had one friend who had an affair with a married man in his 30s who was her boss. That friend couldn’t have yet been 18. What the fuck?Looking back I can see how desperate we all were for love and affection and the only way we knew how to get it was through sex. We could use sex or the possibility of it to get somebody to pay attention to us. We did this because somehow we had gotten the message that it would make us more valuable. We weren’t enough on our own. Our lives only meant something if we were attractive enough to get a guy.Until puberty we had all been achievement junkies and derived our value by making straight A’s and being the teacher’s pet. But once we developed breasts and boys started to notice us… it was over. We spent the next I don’t know how many decades chasing some relationship or weight loss goal or eventually a job that could complete us. Always looking outside ourselves for validation of who we were and what we’re worth. Never pausing to look inward out of fear of what we’d see. What we had to choose to ignore in order to shed those blue jeans in the backseat of a car on a school night.We would have seen the lost, lonely and completely fucking terrified little girl who couldn’t for the life of her understand why we were letting these boys touch her down there. The one who was confused by our newly felt sexual desires and just wanted to slow the fuck down.We would have seen the truth that nothing or no one would ever really make us love ourselves if we didn’t think that we were worth it first. Like a drug. Like meth. We used boys and their fumbling affections that were only given in exchange for even the possibility of an orgasm as a replacement for love. For God. For realizing that at the end of any day or life the only real thing that we have to come home to or comfort us is ourselves.And it breaks my fucking heart. How I wish I could go back to myself at 15 and beg her to stop. I wish I could hold her and tell her she was worth the world just for being alive. I would tell her that it’s not her fault that her daddy left. And that no drug or drink or boy or even food would ever fill that hole inside her heart. That she could only slowly fill that hole back up with self-respect, self-esteem and self-love. That she was absolutely the only person alive on this planet that could ever actually make herself feel better. And that would only happen by faith and choosing to lean in to a loving presence that she had grown up referring to as God. But that God didn’t care what she called him as long as she turned to him for her sense of self-worth.So, that’s what I mean by Boy Crazy and the bad side of it. Is there a good side? Man, I just don’t know. All I know is that I’m sick of trading a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage. Are you?