Believe it or not, one woman inmate at the Muscogee County Jail has a better life behind bars than she had on the outside. That’s the story on Angie (not her real name). Mentally ill, she may be released for a time but then find herself back in when she doesn’t stay on her meds, becomes homeless and acts out in some way to get re-arrested.
Today when I was leading a discussion on the lower level with three other women, Angie paced the upper level and often shouted down to us from the railing. But not really at us. She has this far-away look in her eyes that suggests she’s communicating with something or someone way beyond. Inevitably, one of the other inmates will yell up to her to stop it. From where we sat, you could see into Angie’s room and watch her repeated movement of sitting on the lower bunk, standing, then sitting. Standing then sitting.
Yet as my CPE supervisor would ask me, “Where are YOU in all this?”
It’s interesting what I might bring up for discussion but he would want to know, why are you telling me this particular thing? What are you learning about yourself through it?
I must admit not only a fascination with Angie (what are the voices telling her?) but with the distraction itself. It’s a welcome distraction, for instance, when another inmate is telling me how she prostituted herself for drugs; or when another says, through tears, that her medicine makes her feel unlike herself and she’s afraid of what might become of her infant child if she stays locked up too long. Will her baby know her when she gets out?
Or when another woman confides she’s afraid of a sober life. She knew the tricks of her old ways, but not this.
Sometimes the stories are too much to bear, all at once, and so I focus on Angie and all her wackiness. If even for just a moment, I look away from the painful offerings brought to my lap and I say to myself, “Angie, girl, I would really prefer to be up on that railing with you.”