I thought I’d be nervous.
I thought the bars and the razor wire and the concentrated mass of humanity would make my insides shake, and I thought my hands would show it and my voice would betray me.
But they didn’t, and I wasn’t.
I saw your little sisters there, all innocent and smooth-skinned with ponytails swinging and doe-eyes smiling. I saw them shocked when we cheered and greeted them with high-fives and hand shakes.
I saw them cry because they were the center of our attention.
I was shocked, too. And surprised when I saw your grandmas there in wheelchairs, or trudging slowly with toothless grin, gray hair all astray. With cloudy eyes squinting to see a familiar face or a fresh hope, they came last in line and headed for the bits of shade.
I may have cried.
Your moms were there, and your daughters and granddaughters. Your neighbors. I don’t know what age I expected them all to be, but it was the sheer range of years that affected me first.
Then I thought for a split second that there were men there, but there were not. Women with stolen identities and shaved heads, women with huge biceps and angry eyes, women trading beauty for power were there, everywhere, but I expected that.
We gathered in the yard (and I may never say go play in the yard again) and there was division, and light battled darkness because some ladies wanted to sit and listen, to follow the rules and be respectful regardless of their tattoos and girlfriends and stereotypes, and some stood out on the fringe and ignored the program. They ignored the requests from the front to please sit down, please enjoy the speakers and the music, and please listen because God has a message for you.
We wore purple as if we were royalty and they wore prison-blue, a blanket of bruised humanity all spread around in the bleaching sun.
By the end of our time there was nothing shocking anymore. A docile lady in her 60′s, with white hair and purple shirt, was surrounded by 5 or 6 girls with tattoos and shaved heads, and the smiles and conversation were as though they had just shared milk and cookies together.
Some sat in groups of 10 or 12, some were one-on-one, and God met every personality and every phobia. People with similar life experiences, similar interests, similar languages, all had a place to minister regardless of the color of their skin or hair or shirt.
Women in blue brought chairs to the tired and scorched visitors. They were concerned with our water and with the bugs in the grass and with our long trip home. They were thankful for listening ears and bolstered by messages of Hope, but this was real life to them.
“You’ll be gone tomorrow, Tresta, and I’ll still be here.”
I want to leave Hope in the places I can’t stay.
Of course the enemy was there.
There were those who refused to listen , who crossed their arms and averted their eyes. There were those whose only purpose was to intimidate or separate or discourage, and they will always be there trying to mingle among the Hope-ful.
I saw you and I there, too. Because bars are real and man-made and all of us have chosen to be in or out of them, at one time or another.
And maybe still. Good girls and boys, all of us on the outside imprisoned by the bad girls and boys on the inside.
They live for justice or mercy or re-trial or letters to the governor or pardons or next week’s program or maybe a visitor.
Some live in truth and are free, walking the hardest walk.
Some live in denial and won’t cross the Nile where Egypt is purged, won’t face the Promised Land because they know about the 40 years of wandering, and their eternity started already and it ain’t pretty.
But you and I are there, believe me.
We want justice but need mercy and forget that He said there’d be trials and maybe someone will write the Govern-er for us, and we work for a pardon so we get ready for next week’s program and then we’ll visit an orphan or widow. Or prisoner.
And a run-on sentence followed by a fragment is such irony here.
A death sentence made you free and it lasts forever. Let’s not live a fragmented life or even a fragment of death.