I wait impatiently, tapping my foot against the old weathered boards on the bleachers. I can feel the warm sun rays soaking into my pores. The sky is clear today. I can make out the unique shapes in the clouds like I used to do with my children. The girls braid hair and talk about the latest gossip around “The Farm.”
I wait for the prison gates to roll open and see the daily transport van come into view. I wait for my friend Heather to come back from her routine cancer treatment. I’ve always thought it odd how they use the word routine. Routine like it is something we are accustomed to now-a-days. Heather is a two-time cancer survivor who the penal system now labels merely as the next number and offender. She, like the rest of us seeking medical care, sent in her kite (our way of requesting a variety of things through the mail within the prison walls) and paid $3.00 to be seen. She knew something wasn’t right — again. Weeks will drift away before you see the nurse. If you need to see a doctor, you’d better be ready to jump through hoops and breathe fire to prove you are worthy of a doctor’s time.
Heather was recently approved for treatment and now visits a prestigious hospital in Columbus, Ohio; well known for cancer treatment on the campus of The Ohio State University, The James. She is provided the same medical attention as the person whose spouse helped put the kids on the bus and cleaned the kitchen before heading to their feared 11:15 a.m. appointment with the oncologist. Except, Heather will walk through those sliding glass doors in her bright orange jumpsuit. Her hands are cuffed and the shackles on her legs echo throughout the sterilized hospital walls with each step she takes, escorted by a prison guard.
Heather is the girl that newcomers, sentenced to prison, look to for encouragement. They don’t know she is sick. They see her beautiful smile and kind heart as she helps each new offender adjust as smoothly as possible to their new home. They see her jogging daily in the yard, dedicating each lap to a member of her family. They notice when Bea brings her crackers to settle her stomach.
Bea, like so many women here, was too busy living a life that lead to prison to acknowledge her own healthcare needs. She had two difficult things happen in life just months apart. She was sentenced to prison, followed by mandatory admission’s blood work and a pap smear, which revealed one of today’s biggest fears — cancer. Thankfully Bae had cervical cancer that was detectable, unlike the woman in another unit that was instructed by nurses to buy Naproxen from the commissary and drink water to clear up what they believed was kidney stones. Unfortunately, the overworked and short-staffed infirmary missed the signs of what ended up being fatal pancreatic cancer. Bea had her cervix cut out two weeks ago and received her first round of radiation. She was back in prison before the 4:00 p.m. head count.
I wonder how sick Heather will be today after having poison pumped through her veins. Will she be able to walk to the infirmary from our dorms? Will she stand and wait in the hour-long med line?
My stomach turns as I recall now distant memories of lying on the bathroom floor with my 7-year old son throughout the night as he was balled up in pain. He was taking a chemo-like pill for a skin condition that left him missing school due to uncontrollable nose bleeds and extreme fatigue. I think about my grandma battling her way through breast cancer years ago. How the toxins wore her down and changed her body, as I watched helplessly. I wipe a tear from my cheek as I think back.
Tonight I’ll have to make a decision. Do I risk getting written up by a corrections officer for being too friendly with an inmate? Do I peel the blood saturated pad off of the bathroom wall as I hold what’s left of Heather’s hair back to make the bathroom slightly more accommodating as she gets sick? Or, should I just cook her some broth from a 25 cent Ramen noodle pack to help settle her stomach?
Today I’m sitting in the yard waiting for my friend. I feel disgust building inside of me as my thoughts race. I hold the four-leaf clover that I found for her, any little thing for a bit of hope. There are so many women behind these walls. They are deteriorating within a system of inept medical care, and it’s heartbreaking.
In two years, I’ve seen my daughter once. During our visit, we laughed and had a good time. We both dreaded it when the time ended, and we held each other when we cried. I’ve been unable to see my two sons for circumstances beyond my control. I tell them how much I love them, and I hope they really do know how much I care.
I have friends and family who send me pictures and fill me in on life. I can tell in my daughter’s pictures, she’s growing into a beautiful young woman, and looks more like me each day. One son is still the jokester and laughs with a twinkle in his eye. My youngest son has gotten so big. His smile is just like his dad’s. When I look at their pictures, I see the resilience they have had to learn. I can see the pain I’ve caused in their eyes. I can see them smiling and wonder, do they hide the pain and hurt behind a smile like I do.
So as I look out the window on this beautiful Fall day, I miss all the things I took for granted. I miss them every single day. I wonder if my children will surprise me with how much they are still like me, even without me there. I catch my reflection in the window and notice the changes the time has had on me. A few white hairs replacing where blonde once was. The lines around my eyes are deeper and more distinct. I can see how much I’ve aged. I take a deep breath, as it’s another sign of the time that has passed. I look down at my hands holding the bar on the window and realize that they look just like my own mother’s. It makes me smile, knowing that these are traits I carry. Traits like my daughter’s exact smile she shares of mine. Traits that will always be there, regardless of lost time.
Today I’m watching out my window from prison, and seeing yet another season pass. Today, I won’t be able to hug my children or allow my day to be consumed by them. Today, I’ll allow the hurt to hit me, because I can’t always hide from it. This is the hell I brought upon myself. As I watch out my window and see the colorful Fall leaves blowing in the breeze, I know this too, one day shall pass.
**Tara Snyder was incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) and is now home. “Forlorn” first appeared on her blog judgementoverjustice.wordpress.com and has been reposted here with her permission.
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