As it turns out, this week’s blog post is on Thanksgiving.
So, Happy Thanksgiving!
Holidays are a bit new to me. During my time in prison, their significance faded completely away. When I started my stretch in federal prison, I faced twelve and a half years. That is approximately 4,563 days. I couldn’t think of my life in a number that big. It was too depressing. So, I had to take it one day at a time. As each day slowly passed, one became like another until they were all the same dull grey color of the walls.
Each prison has its own society. There are the Haves and the Have-Nots. There are the Powerful and the Dealers and Intimidators. There are also the Invisibles and the Passives. There are even the Medicated. And, of course, there are the Predators. Almost all the women were unhealthy in every way, mentally emotionally and physically. Not a surprise, I know. Whatever chance we had, as kids, to grow psychologically and emotionally had been stunted or aborted, depending on the case. As a result, we all had our ways of dealing with situations. The emotion-of-choice was anger. Everyone was angry, when they weren’t depressed. Anger manifested itself in many forms, including domination, manipulation, hostility and, one of my personal favorites at the time, rage.
Back then I was the unhealed version of my present self, so I found ways to take a very difficult existence and make it worse. I didn’t go there to make friends and I intended to dominate every situation. Nobody wants to deal with crazy. Therefore, before anyone started something with me, Rage and I would open up a can of “whup” on them. I picked fights with guards and inmates alike. One sideways look, and me and Rage went to work. As a result, the two of us spent a lot of time together in solitary, or the “SHU” (Special Housing Unit).
Rage and I spent much of the first years alone in a cold, filthy cell with only a metal bench to lie on. There was always a lack of toilet paper so my big decision of the day was do I use the paper to go to the bathroom or wet it and throw it at the huge vent to block the 60-degree air that kept the room so miserably cold. That’s where Rage and I were kept.
I always managed to sneak cigarettes into lock-down. When the cops got a whiff, they came in packs of three to shake me down. Rage and I were always ready for them,too. Living in a cage is not normal and certainly not what God had in mind for any of us when He watched us being formed in our mother’s wombs. It is de-humanizing.
There is no privacy in prison, for obvious reasons. Imagine if the entire front of your apartment or home was open to a busy street, with people walking by and peering inside day and night. In prison, you are never alone, even though it has to be one of the loneliest places on earth.
So, I got by, one day at a time. A holiday in such a place is nothing to celebrate. I didn’t have friends or family nearby and, unfortunately I couldn’t have thought of a single thing that I was thankful for anyway. To be honest, my life on the outside was all about survival even before I was arrested. It was a futile cycle of acquiring drugs, using drugs, selling drugs for money to acquire more drugs, etc. If there was a holiday on the calendar, it was marked by the way people decorated their homes and stores. “Oh, look at the lights! It must be getting near Christmas.”
Have you seen that picture by Norman Rockwell, the one with the family around the table and the picture-perfect grandma presenting, to the family’s obvious delight, a perfectly-roasted turkey? In my later years, that was not in my experience and anything similar to it had faded as if it had been exposed to harsh sunlight.
I’ve been free for 13 years now. It took Robert and me a long time to learn how to enjoy and celebrate the holidays again. In fact, a dear friend, who is a genius at decorating, showed up at our house a few years ago with a Christmas tree and all the trimmings. While Robert and I continued to work, she set up an amazing Christmas tree, with the sole purpose of teaching us to recognize and enjoy this special time of year.
Today, I have a long list of items for which I am deeply grateful. I am grateful to God, who looked down from His throne into that tiny, barren cell and saw a wounded, broken soul that only He could mend and make useful. People talk about peeling off the layers of an onion when they are trying to get to the root of a problem. In my case, God added layers to my life, beginning with Robert, my husband. Then, one-by-one, new layers of people have been there for me as His vision for my life and ministry increased. He has given me mentors and prayer-warriors and a phenomenal team who patiently scurries and hustles to keep me on track. He has also given me faithful Partners who generously support this mission.
To try and name them would be to invite trouble and, since I’ve separated permanently from Rage, I spend significantly less of my life inviting trouble. So, let me put it this way: Think of any good thing you have done for me, my family, our ministry or my team, and know that I am deeply thankful for you. Thanks for all the “layers” you contributed to our life. Because of Jesus, and because you are faithful to serve Him, I no longer endure my life day-to-day, I live it. I embrace every day as a perfect gift from God. That picture I mentioned before has returned to its full, magnificent, technicolor glory. My life is full of bold, vibrant colors, except for gray. My cup overflows.
Big Love, Katie