I don’t have any photos of a handmade project today, because by the time I remembered to take a picture, the sun was setting. So instead I am sharing a photo that I took earlier this week, on Monday, my regular day off. You can click the image to enlarge, and you can see a few things that I’ve written about already. There’s the fish hat that I knitted, and the jars of iced tea instead of soda, and my first quilted placemat, and the people’s favorite, the Mexican wrestling masks placemat. There’s a pile of fabric waiting to be made into something, maybe another patchwork block table runner. And of course, there’s Sean, who didn’t know I took this photo, because otherwise he would have made a goofy face at the camera. I like this photo because it captures a lot about the way we spend our time inside the house– relaxing, hanging out, engaged in leisure activity– and definitely not cleaning up.
It’s usually never a good sign when a correctional officer shows up at your office with a mental health referral slip in his hand and an apologetic look on his face, just when you’re about to eat your lunch.
“Sorry to bother you,” he said. “But I’ve got an inmate outside who I think may need to be seen.” The C.O. then went on to explain that he noticed this particular inmate (a twenty-year-old who happened to be on my caseload) trying to leave the yard in sweats and no ducat. The facility policy is that all inmates leaving the yard must be appropriately dressed in their state-issued blue pants and blue shirts that clearly designate their status from the rest of the staff. Additionally, they should have a ducat or pass indicating that they are due for an appointment or some sort of work or school assignment. This particular inmate had no paperwork to prove that he was supposed to be anywhere, and he acted lost and confused when the C.O. questioned him.
I was familiar with this kid through previous encounters. Even though he was twenty years old, he had a history of impulsive behaviors and the emotional maturity of a nine-year-old. Hell, even my nine-year-old nephew had better insight and judgment.
“Bring him in,” I said, putting my lunch bag away and cursing the poor timing of events.
The youngster was escorted in and left alone with me. I got right to the point. “What’s going on? The C.O. told me you were trying to leave the yard and go out into the plaza.”
“Aww, I’m just tired. Tired of being in prison. I just want to get out.”
“So you were trying to leave?”
He didn’t answer, but everything about his demeanor said yes, that’s exactly what he’d been trying to do. I asked him a few more questions, and he was vague with his answers. I also noticed a few little things about his mannerisms that made me suspect he’d been using drugs, and not any that were officially prescribed to him. My gut feeling told me that he needed to be referred to the crisis bed, officially known as the Correctional Treatment Center, which is basically the prison’s inpatient psychiatric hospital.
I explained to him that I had some concerns and would have him evaluated by somebody from the CTC. I had him wait on the bench outside the sergeant’s office. I let the sergeant know what was going on, and then I called the crisis screener. She showed up in about fifteen minutes.
“What’s the crisis? Is he saying he’s going to hurt himself?”
“No,” I said. “He’s denying it, but I think he’s minimizing his symptoms.” I explained that he had tried to leave the yard and seemed to have a plan to walk out of the prison.
“So? It’s not like he would have gone anywhere. They would have stopped him.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but he doesn’t seem to care what happens to him. It’s like that suicide-by-cop mentality.”
She said a few more things that gave me the feeling that she didn’t trust my judgment or believe that this situation warranted an admission into the crisis bed. But she went off to interview him, and I went back to my office. Half an hour later, I had to go to the sergeant’s office on unrelated business and ran into her. She was finishing up her paperwork.
“I’m having him admitted,” she said, “and I’m ordering a drug screen. I’d be surprised if it turns out that he’s not on drugs. But he’s not safe to go back to the yard.”
I wanted to say, “Of course! I told you so!” But I didn’t, even though she’d been so dismissive of me earlier. Instead, I took comfort in the knowledge that I was right and anyway, what was most important was that this kid would be getting the help that he needed.
I hadn’t been inside the prison since last week Wednesday, so when I returned to my office this morning, it was with some dread. The thing about being gone for a week is that the work just accumulates until I get back. There are always emails to answer, phone calls to return, and inmate requests to triage. The inmate requests are usually placed in business envelopes and delivered to my mailbox. Because they’ve led to bad experiences in the past, I am now averse to opening these envelopes. Naturally, having been gone a week, I returned to find one of those business envelopes addressed to me and sitting in my mailbox.
In one of my earlier posts, I wrote about Mr. X. He was what we call a Third-Strike Lifer. In 1998, he’d been “struck out” under the California Three Strikes Law and sentenced to 27 years to life for possession of a controlled substance. In 2012, the majority of voters in California voted in favor of Proposition 36, allowing the Three Strikes Law to be revised so that a life sentence can only be imposed when the new felony conviction is a serious or violent offense. Under Prop 36, Mr. X became eligible for re-sentencing. He had already been incarcerated for over 17 years. The court finally reviewed his case this year, and last Friday he was released from prison.
I opened that business envelope addressed to me and discovered that it was a letter from Mr. X, sending a “note of gratitude.” He wrote, “I hope to be able to do good by you and everyone else who has helped me along the way.” This is an individual who was going to serve a minimum of 27 years in prison for possession of a controlled substance before he would be eligible for a suitability hearing with the parole board, if not for Prop 36. I know a lot of people believe that there is no point to voting, but know that it can make a difference. It did for this man.
I returned to the courtroom this morning for jury duty, just as the judge ordered last week Friday. He informed us that both parties had decided to settle out of court. So he was dismissing the case, and we were free to go. Hooray!
On the way home, I stopped at Picking Daisies to check out their fabric sale. I saw this pre-cut fabric and immediately thought of this fabulous placemat I recently made. Of course I had to bring these bad boys home with me. They’re the perfect size for napkins and will make for the most badass dining companions.
On the drive back down to Ventura today, Sean and I stopped at the best independent bookstore in Santa Barbara. He went straight to the fiction section, and I remained at the front of the store. I was browsing through the blank journals and telling myself not to buy another one when the phone at the front desk rang. It was only several feet away from me. The cashier answered the phone and even though I didn’t catch his exact words, I could tell from his response that he was talking to a customer who had a question. Then I clearly heard him say, “Are you in the store right now?”
To my right, not ten steps down from me, a woman stood in the aisle with a cell phone to her ear. “Yes,” she said. “I’m standing here in the Health section.”
I looked above her head and sure enough, she was standing underneath the sign that read Health.
To my left, the cashier said into the telephone, “Okay, I’ll send someone over there to help you.”
He hung up and said something to a second store employee standing nearby. Moments later, that guy walked past me and headed toward the woman standing in the Health section. I took a good long stare at her, because I had to see exactly what sort of person would make a phone call to the front desk of a bookstore when she was within both walking and shouting distance of said front desk.
“Oh, good,” she said to the employee when he reached her. “I can’t seem to find the bibles.”
“We moved them over here,” he said, leading her to the section of bookshelves right at my back, which was also in the direct line of vision of the cashier who had just answered the phone. “We needed to move them closer to where we could see them.”
“You don’t mean…?” The woman’s voice trailed off.
“Yes,” the store employee said. “People have been taking them.”
Last year, I quit drinking soda. Even though I love me some cold Coca-Cola, I made a conscious decision to stop drinking all carbonated beverages. People have said to me, “Just drink diet Coke!” But it’s not the same. First of all, diet Coke doesn’t taste half as good as the real stuff. It is a poor substitute. And second, we all know that soda is bad for you. So if I am going to consume something that will rot my teeth, make me fat, and leach out the calcium in my bones, then I might as well go all the way. If I’m gonna have a soda, it’s gonna be Coca-Cola, and if I’m gonna eat bacon, it ain’t gonna be soy or turkey. None of that low-fat, non-fat, lite, sugar-free, calorie-free nonsense for me.
So anyway, yes, I made a conscious decision to quit drinking soda. It was a smart decision, because I can’t drink a Coca-Cola without wanting some Cheetos or kettle cooked potato chips or a hamburger and fries to go with it. Coca-Cola is my gateway drug.
I switched to iced tea, which wasn’t so hard because Sean grew up in the South and he makes the best pitchers of fresh-brewed tea. We drank gallons of the stuff, cold and unsweetened, and so much of it that I started buying different brands and flavors of tea bags for variety. Then I discovered Lupicia. If you have never tried fresh-brewed Lupicia loose leaf tea on ice, you are missing out. Come over to my house, and I will pour you a glass. Seriously. This stuff is so good that it is worth the significant portion of my grocery budget that I pay for it.
Since I am such a regular customer, Lupicia sends me their newsletter every month with a Fresh Tea Sample. Our pantry shelf of assorted teas includes several of these tea samples. Sean was washing dishes this morning as I surveyed the shelf, trying to decide what flavor tea to drink next. There were a lot of choices. Then the tea sample packets caught my eye. Among them were Muscat Decaf, Matcha Kirara Rice Tea, and January’s Tea of the Month, Happiness.
I picked up the packet and looked at the label. “Sean, what do you think Happiness tastes like?” I asked.
He didn’t bother to look up from the bowl he was rinsing. In his typical dry, deadpan manner, he replied, “I think there’s your answer right there.”
For Christmas, Sean bought me yards of cute fun fabric (including this wrestling mask print), and I got him a skateboard. He actually selected the board, trucks, wheels, and bearings, designing it specifically to go fast around the hills in our neighborhood. The guy at the skate shop assembled it, and then I paid for it. They packed and boxed it up, and then we took it home where I wrapped the whole shebang in Christmas paper and set it under the tree.
The Monday after Christmas, we were up and about, lazily considering our breakfast options and discussing what we would have that morning.
“I can make eggs and potatoes,” Sean offered. “But we’re out of eggs.”
“I don’t feel like driving,” I said. “Do you feel like going to the store?”
“Sure,” he said. “I’ll go.”
It didn’t occur to me at that point in time that he didn’t put up a fuss, because usually he disliked driving to the store as much as I did. If I’d thought about it, that would have been a red flag that he was up to something. But I didn’t, and I kept sewing, or knitting, or scrolling through Facebook, which are usually my top three activities to do when I’m sitting around the house on my day off from work.
About forty-five minutes passed, and I thought it was pretty strange that he was taking so long to make the one mile down to the supermarket and back. But I wasn’t too worried. He’d probably chosen to drive to another local grocery store a few more miles away. Several more minutes passed, and then he was coming in through the front door with his backpack and baseball cap on, looking sweaty and suspiciously like somebody who did not just drive his car to the store.
“What’d you do?” I said. “Ride your bike?”
“No.” He started unzipping his backpack to remove the groceries. “I took the skateboard.”
That’s when I noticed the side of his pants looked like they’d just been dragged through the street at about twenty-five miles per hour. “Did you take a spill?”
“Yeah, it’s no big deal… Look! The eggs aren’t broken!”
He made us breakfast (a really good meal of over-medium eggs with country-style fried potatoes), and then I went back to doing my thing and he decided to watch one of his Netflix DVDs. The movie was only halfway through when he got up and said, “I kind of am actually in a little pain.”
I stopped the sewing machine. “Do you need me to take you to the hospital?”
“No… But maybe to Urgent Care.”
We went to Urgent Care and sure enough… the eggs weren’t broken, but he couldn’t say the same for his elbow.