I’m telling you this because I love you, and love requires honesty. Things happen… we’re not perfect. In this journey around the country we encounter all sorts of things. Some of them are heart wrenching, while others are absolutely terrifying.
We had come to Deadwood SD for some reason that I’m still not sure of. I was asleep in the back of the cab with a migraine during the drive, and when I woke up I remember asking myself, “who is going to need our help in this little tourist town in the mountains?” Little did I know… it would be me.
I looked out the window as we drove up and down the main street full of old cowboy saloons and Wild West storefronts. Deadwood is a historic place, marked with hundreds of stories about Wild Bill Hickock and Doc Holliday. Surrounded by the Black Hills, the little community of less than 2000 people probably hasn’t changed much in the last century, and people flock to these streets by the thousands to gamble at the casinos and throw their money into card games.
To me this is a lot like being in Vegas or New Orleans. Lots of interesting things to look at and pretty distractions from the epidemic of poor choices… I feel a thickness in the air, a sense of uselessness and waste. I think the wealthy must be bored, and this is a desperate attempt to entertain them and turn a profit.
We live in a truck. Keep that in mind when reading about my opinions. If they seem strange to you, it’s probably because living my life would be strange to you too. Shane and I hadn’t had a shower in over a week. We were uncomfortable physically and emotionally exhausted. Imagine setting out into the world with one objective… Meet people and love them. It sounds so simple, but love is just one of those things. Mother Teresa said “Love until it hurts, and then Love some more.”
There are moments in our efforts to Love that are full of sorrow, when we feel abused by those we are helping or hurt by the decisions of the ignorant. Empathy can be painful, and so can understanding. Giving stuff is easy, but giving of ourselves takes away a piece of us that only God can heal. This isn’t a burden, it’s a gift. But that doesn’t mean it always feels good. It just means it will always end well. All things work together for good when we Love God.
“What do you want to do?” I asked. My stomach was telling me that food should be a priority as I climbed down from my perch in the back of the cab. Too often in my relationship with my husband, I ask him questions with an answer already in my head, rather than just telling him my answer in the first place. I should have just told him I was hungry and that I wanted to eat. “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” He often does the exact same thing. The suspicion that he might already have an answer as well just makes me frustrated. Why can’t we just be honest? The migraine at the base of my neck throbbed and I glared at him. “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” I said. Not what I meant, but these are the stupid things we say when we are grouchy and confused… searching for the direction we’re supposed to go.
He opened his phone. I got out of the truck. It’s ridiculous, really, that neither one of us would confess what we wanted. In hindsight, it’s obvious that we both wanted the other person to decide so that we won’t hold the responsibility of the choice. Even something as simple as searching for food, isn’t always simple when you live in poverty and homelessness. In a town like this, food wouldn’t come easy. We would have to take the last of our money and spend it at one of the two fast food restaurants. Nothing is free in Deadwood. You can’t even drive into the cemetery without paying 8 bucks. Tourism is not for the poor.
Neither one of us wanted to fork up the money for food. It was given to us by a beautiful couple in Seattle Washington a few weeks ago. We trust God to provide for us, and neither one of us have ever had to go a day without food… so after two years, you would think I would be incredibly confident in God’s provision. You would think the Israelites would be confident after 40 years of manna too, but somehow… Spending the last of the money is still a little nerve wracking. It’s like yelling “God, you’re gonna feed me tomorrow, right?” and then waiting until tomorrow for the answer.
I sat down on the curb. As Shane fiddled with his phone in the driver’s seat of the truck, I was getting more frustrated by the second. Migraine… food… decision… I wanted to yell at him to decide, but I bit my tongue. Zuzu needed water so I stood up and reached for a water bottle in the back seat. I watched Shane out of the corner of my eye. He didn’t even look at me. And oh great, there’s no more water for the dog. And there isn’t any in the back either. Wonderful. Migraine… food… decision… water…
It’s moments like these that in hindsight I want to scream at myself “he doesn’t even know why you’re upset right now! Be honest!” but of course I didn’t do that. Instead I glared at him. “What do you want to DO?”
He looked up from his phone and glared right back. We spend almost 24 hours a day together 7 days a week, mostly in the cab of a pickup truck. We glare. He got out and slammed the door behind him. “Fine, let’s go.” He said as he started walking toward main street. I didn’t move, and with every step he took without me I was more frustrated. Where was he going? And why didn’t he just answer the damn question? And where would we get water for Zuzu? If you don’t live in a truck with your husband, then maybe you don’t argue. Maybe you’re arguments don’t look like ours. I don’t know why I didn’t just follow him… but I didn’t. I slammed my fist on the hood and he turned around to look at me. He marched back to the truck with my own emotions written on his face. Frustrated.
I should have just hugged him until we both found an ounce of peace.
Instead… I thwopped him on the arm with the empty water bottle while he was walking away. Yep… “Thwop!!” Two or three times to make it clear as he walked toward the tailgate. Dammit Shane. “Thwop!” migraine… “Thwop!” food… “Thwop!” water…
He opened the tailgate and disappeared inside the bed of the truck for a minute. I wondered what he would do about my violent outburst. He reappeared with a gallon jug of water for Zuzu. Magic. Where did that come from? I wondered as I poured it into her bowl. “Do you feel better?” he asked me with a smirk. “Yeah,” I gave him a sheepish shrug. “I’m sorry…”
I didn’t get the chance to say anything else.
Without our knowledge, someone in a nearby RV had witnessed the argument and made a phone call. We watched as two squad cars pulled in behind Jethro and 3 police officers stepped out… We rolled our eyes as the cops separated and searched us for weapons, and I almost laughed when I said “I popped him with an empty water bottle!” I just wanted them to know how silly the argument was…
But I learned how quickly things can go wrong.
In a few short moments I found myself in the back of a Deadwood police car wearing handcuffs and crying. Apparently in the state of South Dakota, hitting your husband with an empty water bottle is a violent crime. “Bound by the law” the officers were forced to arrest “the aggressor” in an effort to protect us from each other. Zuzu tried to bite the officer that cuffed me. I was crying, Shane was yelling… let’s be real. It sucked.The argument had gone from frustrating to funny to terrifying to traumatic in less than 20 minutes.
“Do you need anything from the truck?” the police officer asked me after he had buckled me in. I was speechless. I had no idea if I needed anything, or what. I stopped crying. It was a ‘whoa’ moment as the door shut and I couldn’t see Shane or Zuzu anymore and all three of the police officers were out of my sight. What do I do?
“Bout time for lunch,” one of the officers muttered as he strapped himself into the passenger seat a few moments later. Seriously? You’re talking about lunch right now? As the car pulled away, I saw Shane one more time… I’ll never forget the look on his face.
Our destination was only a few blocks away. The officers dictated every move I made. Step out. Thru the door. Straight. To the right. Turn around. A big blond woman wearing a khaki uniform fiddled with my cuffs. “She hasn’t been properly searched…” the officers told her as they walked back out the door. The cuffs came off. “Hands against the wall…”
I was stunned. As the woman patted me down, checking for weapons in my bra and beltline, I was trying to process a few things. So, all it takes is one phone call from a stranger, and an almost comical incident in my life suddenly becomes a complete intrusion…
Processed. Finger printed. Mug shots. Information page. Questions about my thoughts on suicide. As I took out all of my earrings and handed over my wedding ring, I was silent. As I was handed a pair of oversized navy blue scrubs, ushered into an open cell and told to remove everything but my underwear and place it in a bag, I was scared. Then I was pissed. “You’re bra too…” the blond guard said when she checked the bag. I rolled my eyes. “Sit down,” she glared at me. “Here’s the deal. You’re being charged with Domestic Assault. We’ll contact the judge in the morning and set your bail. Any questions?”
I’m being charged with what? I had a thousand questions. I just muttered the first one I could think of. “Wasn’t someone supposed to read me my rights or something?” I had never signed a Miranda waiver. “That was up to the police officers,” she said. Her eyebrows furrowed. I smirked. Yeah…
“Some advice,” she said “ditch the attitude. The girls upstairs won’t stand for it. Let’s go.”
Huh? The girls upstairs? I had been in an ugly brown hallway with this woman for the last half hour. From where I had been sitting, I could see a toilette, a shower, the processing station where she took my fingerprints, the small cell where I had changed my clothes… It had two yellow benches and yellow bars from floor to ceiling. This is Deadwood. There are only 2,000 people in this town. I didn’t see anyone else in here.
That’s when it hit me. This isn’t just Deadwood. It’s the county jail. The elevator opened and the large blond lady walked me down the hallway toward a steel door marked “women.” She handed me a gray wool blanket that she retrieved from a closet in the hallway before she opened the door. We stepped into a 4 by 4 foot space surrounded by thick brown bars. 7 women sat around a table in front of me. Damn. The steel door closed behind me and the barred gate in front of me opened. I stepped inside.
I didn’t look at anyone’s face. There were six women sitting at a picnic-style table in the middle of the room with a TV on the wall, and another girl sitting on the floor in the far corner. There were four steel doors with barred windows along the right wall. “You’re in cell 4 in back,” I heard the guard say before the steel door slammed shut behind me. The sound of the steel against steel as the lock slid across the door was almost deafening. I walked straight to the cell in the back and looked inside. A bunk bed with plastic-wrapped mattresses and a toilette. The toilette had a sink on top that had a water fountain nozzle.
I walked toward the woman on the floor outside the cell. I realized that there was another toilet and a shower, separated from the table and the television only by a partition. Only seconds after I had sat down, a petite dirty blond walked around the partition. “I’m about to use the bathroom, just so you know. I don’t want to freak you out,” she said. I was directly facing the toilet. Geez. I stood up and walked down to the other side of the four cells, in front of number 1. “Sorry,” I heard her say. “I didn’t want to just sit down and pee in front of you. A lady did that to me my first time in jail.”
How did she know it’s my first time? I wonder how people act when it’s their 3rd or 4th time. “Thanks” I answered, thinking about the times that I’ve watched homeless women pee in trashcans in front of 9 other people or pull down their pants in an open field next to a busy highway and squat. I remembered seeing people half naked on skid row trying to pee in an ally or the man that was bathing downstream in the creek just yesterday in Rapid City. This is life without dignity. A moment passed and the sound of the steel lock sliding open thankfully disturbed those memories. “We saved you a plate,” the guard said as she appeared holding a tray. She looked in my directions as she slid it half way through a rectangular opening in the bars.
Once I had accepted the tray and a small cup of milk, she was gone and the sound of the screeching lock accompanied me as I walked toward the table. Someone had gotten up and moved while I was receiving my tray, and there was a space available to sit. I took it. I stared at my food. Everyone at the table was chattering and watching something on the television. I couldn’t think. I was on autopilot. Completely blank.
Mashed potatoes covered in chicken gravy, corn, 2 pieces of cake, and 2 pieces of bread. I was far from hungry. But I picked up my spoon. A few bites of mashed potatoes and I could acknowledge that it was better than a lot of the shelter food I’ve eaten this year. I took a sip of milk and realized it was actually just water, with barely enough milk in it to turn it white.
What the hell do I DO? My brain was screaming at me. I had a migraine before, but I thought the one that was beginning now was going to kill me. I looked up from my tray and realized that a few of the girls at the table had gotten up. I could see a phone on the wall, surrounded by 5 or 6 pieces of paper with phone numbers and scribbles of writing. I didn’t have my glasses and couldn’t read it. I stood up and walked around the table to read closer.
Lawrence County Jail. Good to know. I didn’t even know what county Deadwood was in. What’s a bail bondsman? I know nothing about being in jail. Nothing. How do I find out what’s going on? I wonder who I should call? I don’t even know my husbands phone number!! I cursed the technology that lets me just find ‘Shane’ on my phone and press send. As I turned around, I realized that a dark haired, brown eyed woman was watching me. She smiled. “Hi, I’m Marie. What’s your name?”
Her smile was disarming. And a relief. I smiled back and shook her hand. “Shay.”
She introduced the other girls at the table. For the first time, I really looked at them. Amy is probably my age, with pretty dark hair and native skin. She’s tall and tiny. I found out later that she’s Lakota and grew up near Pine Ridge. Katherine is built the same way and only a year or two older. The other girls had disappeared. I sat down sideways at the table.
Marie was watching me, smiling, with her hand on her chin. I looked down at the bench and let out a deep sigh. I needed help.
“Whatever it is, it will all be okay,” Marie said assuredly. Her voice was peaceful. Almost cheerful. I turned to look at her. She was waiting…
“I hit my husband with a water bottle,” I confessed with a tone of confused anxiety. “Domestic Assault.”
Everyone at the table looked at me and laughed. “What?”
I tried to explain. The laughter continued. “Whop!” An empty, plastic, water bottle…. Yeah.
“I’ve gotten that charge before,” Kate said. “I threw the telephone at my boyfriend one time. It’s called Simple Assault Domestic.” I raised my eyebrows. Kate was someone who could tell me what was going on…
“So, what does that look like, I mean, I know nothing…” I wanted to beg her for information.
“It’s a misdemeanor. Pay fines. No biggie.” She shrugged. Fines!? “What’s your bail?” she asked me. I told her that I wouldn’t find out till morning. “Yeah, 8 o clock, that’s right… That’s when they’ll call the judge,” she said.
Okay. 8 o clock tomorrow I’ll find out how much I’ll have to pay to get out of here. Wait, and how will I pay for that? Shane and I don’t have any personal money. Kate must have read my face. “Bail Bondsman will put up bail and you can pay him back.”
Kate and Amy filled me on the rest of the story…. The next court date isn’t until Wednesday, so regardless of when I get out on bail, I’ll have to come back for court. Bail will probably be somewhere between 500 to a thousand dollars. There will definitely be a “no contact order” until after the court date. Meaning that Shane and I can’t see each other. So even if he manages to score bail money, he can’t bail me out, or pick me up, or be seen with me. If any of that happens, we both go back to jail.
If I choose to stay in jail until court, (because I don’t know anyone else in Deadwood that could come get me) they might let me off with time served, and I won’t have to pay anything. I guess a day in jail is worth 60 bucks to the judicial system, so 6 days would be worth 360 dollars. If I just plead guilty, the fines could be as little as a couple hundred bucks and I would be free and clear after court on Wednesday. But I’ll have a misdemeanor assault charge on my record. Pleading not guilty wasn’t presented as a viable option, and there’s a small possibility that the fines could be up to a couple thousand dollars. Ugh. What a mess.
As the story unfolded, I felt like I was getting hit with waves of confusion with each new revelation. Everything got screwed with a whack of a water bottle. For some reason, as the girls turned back to the TV, my mind wandered to the Street Dances in Rapid City tonight. I had been invited by a spiral dancer named Star… what a silly thing to think about under the circumstances.
“I was such a bad kid in high school, and I screwed up so much and so often and never got caught…” I marveled at the irony.
“Ah ha ha, and that’s why.” Marie laughed. Her smile was infectious. She had watched our conversation quietly. “A water bottle,” she repeated, and laughed again.
“Are you a Christian?” she asked.
“Yeah…” I said. “And I was just reading this passage in Matthew this morning that talks about ‘settle your debts with your brother before you get to court…’”
Her smile got wider. She lowered her head and giggled into her hands. Her eyes squeezed shut as she tried to suppress her laughter. I’m so confused…
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” she said through her giggles, as though she really wasn’t sorry at all. “That’s why you’re here…” she looked up at me. “I prayed for you.”
She lifted her hand up toward the sky for a moment and closed her eyes with her head bowed and a happy smile on her face. “He works fast. It was just this morning… I said ‘God send me a Christian sister, please!’ and here you are…” She took my hand and looked right into my eyes. “It’s my fault that you’re here, and I’m sorry, but I’m grateful.”
I did still hit my husband with a water bottle.
“I have a Bible, and you can read it if you want. Like tonight, while you’re here,” she said. I’ve never been more gravitated toward something in my life. I suddenly needed that Bible, but I couldn’t explain it. She must have read my mind because she went and got it from her cell and placed it on the table.
The next 4 hours were a blur of Isaiah, Peter, James, Luke, Matthew, Psalms, and 1 Kings. I wanted Jesus to tell me why the heck I was in jail. I told Marie and Amy everything… slowly I explained living in a truck, the project, how it came to be, and our miraculous adventures.
Marie told me about her own miraculous adventures. She used to own a bar & hotel here in Deadwood. She borrowed a ton of money from her mom to buy the business, and after it collapsed, her mom came to collect. She ran away to the Dominican Republic for 3 years, where God saved her and told her to go home and pay her debt. She came back and turned herself in. The legal system is pegging Marie with Grand Larceny, but Marie is in jail out of obedience to God. She’s facing 15 years on felony charges, and she’s not afraid. She has complete peace about it. Marie gave up her physical freedom because God asked her for it, and she loves him that much.
The conversations that took place at the table behind steel doors is still burning in my mind. Everyone makes mistakes. Some people get caught. Some people run. Some people face it. Some people grow. Some people die… and God is in the midst of this whole big mess. Marie said that she can feel the molecules in the air change with the presence of God. There was an electric energy in that room.
Of course, throughout the night we were perpetually reminded of where we were and the ‘reality’ of our situations. The guards come to check on us every 20 minutes. The screeching lock, the slamming of the steel door, it was like clockwork. There is no clock, so time goes only as fast as you’ll let it. Marie got served her legal paperwork, a novel of epic proportions. She has to read all of it to prepare for her case. She set it aside and prayed that God would give her the strength to set aside any grudges…
I didn’t fill out my information sheet very well, so the guards came back to bother me about it. I had been stubborn about the address (homeless) and the employer (me) and the job title (do-gooder) and the emergency contact (Amy suggested I write 911 and I thought that was funny). The headache that had been building in my brain remained at bay until it was almost time for ‘lights out.’
“Is that all they gave you?” Marie asked as she pointed to my blanket. I nodded. “You won’t be in here for long,” she smiled. “They gave me a whole little bundle, with extra clothes and towels and stuff. And sheets! You don’t have any sheets and you can’t sleep on plastic. I’ll give you my extra sheet,” she said. She jumped up and stepped into her cell before I could argue and returned with a white sheet for my bed. It’s the simple things that make such a big difference.
I never thought I would spend the night in jail. When they locked us in our cells at 11 o clock, my cell mate was reading a book by the intense white light of a huge florescent bulb positioned right above our heads. When I climbed to the top bunk, that white light was in my face and the only thing I could see. It definitely didn’t help the migraine. The lights stayed on in the cell for what seemed like another hour, but may have only been 30 minutes. Without the clock to put time in perspective, it was hard to imagine how many minutes had passed. I lie on my back, staring at this intense group of florescent bulbs only a few feet from my eyes and accepted my punishment. As the pain shot through my brain as though someone was stabbing me in the forehead with an ice pick, I felt the encroaching elements of despair. Someone once told me that feeling stress is like feeling that my present circumstances are going to be my future existence. As I lay on my bunk, I worried that I would spend tomorrow night staring at the white light, or the next night after that. I already had to swallow the truth that I would be waking up to that white light in the morning. Why hadn’t anyone told me what was happening? Why was I even in here? “For a water bottle!?” kept repeating itself over and over in my mind. “Why God?”
I wonder what God is doing with my life right now. This whole “going to jail” thing doesn’t make any sense to me at all, but God’s got a plan for it. I wonder if I’m really in here because Marie prayed for me to be here… That might make sense, but then why would I be facing all these potential consequences like fines and jail time? Not to mention having an assault charge on my record….
My mind traveled back to the act of hitting Shane with the water bottle. I couldn’t think whether it was funny or tragic. I tried to remember what I had said after that… I remembered saying I was sorry. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the small amount of light coming through the bars of the cell from the room where the picnic table was sitting and the TV was still yammering. I couldn’t hear what was being said, only the static voices of the actors making exclamations, like Charlie Brown’s teacher. We were blessed with this I know, because if it wasn’t for that annoying bit of noise, the silence would have been deafening.
The darkness in the room had a mildly blue tone to it, and focused on the texture of the concrete wall next to my head as I thought about the scriptures I had been reading. I thought about life in jail, and about Amy’s 3 weeks here already. I thought about Marie and the possibility of her 15 year sentence. I thought about the kids who were missing their parents tonight, and the system that thinks that locking people in rooms will solve problems or serve punishment. This just breeds anger. I thought about when the cop had tried to cuff me and I had jerked my arm away. I thought about the will power that it had taken to not run, or hit someone, or fight… I thought about the term “resisting arrest.” For the first time, it seemed ridiculous to judge someone for fighting for their freedom. We live in America. We love freedom. If someone tries to take it from you, you’re supposed to fight for it. So why would I, with full knowledge of the judicial system, go willingly? And say, “yes officer, here cuff my hands and lock me in a room for days on end…”
I thought about other times in my life when everything that I love has been taken away. At the time, it meant that I was loving the wrong thing. Could it be the same this time? I was just loving my life… But I thought about my choice to whop Shane with the water bottle and realized it demonstrated an ugly side of me. No one deserves to get hit with anything, for any reason.
I thought about Zuzu. I wondered what Shane was doing right now. I remembered the point in the conversation with Marie when I said that out loud. She told me that she hoped that he had a good Christian brother around him that was helping him find answers. She had touched my arm and said a prayer for Shane. She asked God to send him someone that would help him find solutions and peace. I said that prayer again in my cell. For a second I wondered what would have happened if Shane was the one in jail, and I realized that if I had been given the opportunity to pick, I wouldn’t change a thing. At least I knew what was happening to me. I had the satisfaction of knowing that Shane was free, that he was taking care of Zuzu, and that he was with Jethro. Shane must be so upset right now. He has never been to jail. He has no idea what’s happening in here.
Every 20 minutes, like clockwork, the screeching of the steel doors would break the monotonous murmur of the television, and the shadow of a passing guard would darken the small window in our cell. It was suicide watch, and just general observation, and it was creepy. I thought of the homeless shelters I’ve been to where the guards watch everyone sleep… Also creepy.
I said a small prayer of thanks to God that it was me, and not Shane. The gratitude that slipped into my mind brought life to another thought. I know that this entire thing means something. It has a purpose, it will teach me something or change my life. Curses are often blessings…. So despite the lack of answers and the thousand unknown possibilities, I lifted my hand up toward the ceiling and closed my eyes.
“Thank you for whatever happens, and the ways you will use this for your glory.”
Something in my spirit felt peace, and I suddenly relaxed. After laying awake for what felt like hours, I finally fell asleep.
I woke up and waited for the lights to turn on. They didn’t. The guards came, and went, and came again. They looked through the window and I waited for them to unlock the cell. They didn’t. The TV wasn’t on anymore, so they must’ve turned it off in the middle of the night. I watched the guards come and go 6 or 7 times, and wondered what time it was. Surely it must be 9am at this point. The guards darkened the window again. I hoped they would call my name, tell me that they had talked to the judge, tell me that my bail was set. They didn’t.
The lights came on as I stared at the ceiling. My headache returned instantaneously. Ugh. I rolled over and looked at the wall. The guards came again, and I heard the lock on our cell door. I scrambled into the main room and rushed the phone in the corner. Amy had told me that if we press 7, we can learn the time. I pressed the button….
As I scratched gray lines into a piece of white paper with a nub of a pencil for an hour, I wondered how these girls could sleep with the lights in their eyes like that, or with those screeching locks every 20 minutes. When the guard asked me if I wanted breakfast, I shook my head no. I still wasn’t hungry, even though I hadn’t eaten more than a couple bites in nearly 2 days. Marie spoke up from her cell. “I want breakfast. Give me just a minute.”
A few seconds later she appeared at the gate to accept her tray and take a seat at the table next to me. “Did you sleep okay?” she asked. I shrugged. For some reason I was unable to look at her this morning. My eyes wandered from my gray striped paper to her tray. Crispy Rice cereal with milk and toast. “Here, take a piece of toast with some grape jelly. Please. I’m not going to eat it. It’s cold toast, but with jelly it’s not too bad.” She slid the tray in my direction.
We didn’t talk as we ate. We didn’t turn on the television. She went to her room at one point and came back out with her Bible. She set it on the table and I opened it. I started reading more of Matthew, and came to the chapters where Jesus gives instructions to the deciples. Chapter 10. I was riveted, and I barely noticed Marie start to clean up the cell until she asked me move off the table so she could disinfect it. A moment later she handed me a broom. I realized that while I had been reading, the guards had brought in a mop bucket and a broom. “Will you sweep? If I do all of this myself the girls will yell at me,” she laughed.
I suddenly felt really inconsiderate for not getting up to help her before she had to ask me, but I also realized that this must be Marie’s routine. She’s like the den mother; awake before everyone else, cleaning, and smiling. She even cleaned the toilette. It’s humility and servitude. And in a place where people are hurt, scared and angry, it’s a demonstration of love that I wasn’t expecting.
“Kelley” the guard was back and calling my name. I figured it must be around 8 o clock, and I leapt to my feet. “Do you have a blanket?” he asked. I nodded. “Grab it.” I looked at Marie. “Do you have your piece of paper?” she asked me. It was a note that contained her information and the names of some missionaries that she stayed with in the Dominican Republic. The questioned confirmed to me what was happening. I was getting out of here! I grabbed the piece of paper and almost forgot my blanket as I rushed toward the gate. A smile was plastered on my face.
“Your blanket. Whoa. That’s all I wanted. Give it here.” The guard was looking at me like I was crazy. “Huh?” I said. He repeated, “give me your blanket.” I stuck it through the space in the bars. He handed me a bundle wrapped in a yellow laundry bag. My heart sank. This was the bundle that Marie had mentioned. The guard was watching my face and laughed. “Come on now, you’re not getting out of here for at least a month…”
My jaw dropped, and he laughed again. “Just kidding,” he said as he shut the gate behind him. I turned around and faced Marie, holding my bundle. “Did your heart stop for a second?” she asked with a comforting smile. One of the girls stirred from her bunk and looked at us through the open door of her cell. “Are you getting out?” Kate asked me. “Not yet,” I answered. The word “yet” echoed in my head for a few moments as Kate rolled back over and I sat back down. The truth was… I had no idea if I was going to get out of here today or tomorrow or next week. I needed to check my emotions; I was acting like a caged animal. I took a deep breath and set the bundle down next to me. Accept it. Patience. Let go of the anxiety but not the hope. “There’s a plastic cup in there, you should get some water,” Marie told me. I figured that wasn’t a bad idea and I did as she said. On the way back to the table I noticed a deck of cards poking out from behind the television. I picked them up.
I wonder if I remember how to play solitaire? I started setting up my cards and Marie asked if I knew how to play Rummy. I had forgotten, so I asked her to teach me. She slid over to my half of the table and explained the rules. We didn’t get very far. After two moves we were deep in conversation about her time in the Dominican Republic. She said that when she first lived there, she suffered from anxiety about the simple way of life. She always expected something more to happen. Finally one day she was lying in a hammock and watching the hummingbirds, reading a book. She was really happy. She said that after living there for awhile, she had mentioned to a friend that living in prison would probably be pretty easy. She was used to living without hot water, eating whatever was prepared, and finding things to do to occupy the time. She smiled to herself as she recalled the memory. “God was preparing me to pay my debt. Now I often remember the hummingbirds and the way I felt back then…”
I told Marie stories about my lessons regarding American poverty. She hasn’t been in the states for 3 years, so she had been praying that someone would come explain what was happening. She had been wondering about homelessness and poverty, and the best way to help. I was telling her about my travels and my experiences, particularly the ones in Chicago. “You must write these down! You just must! I would never have thought about it on that level,” she told me. “Tell this stuff to the churches. They need to know how to give…”
I told her about my blog. Kate came out and sat at the table with a cup of coffee. “You have a blog?” she asked with real curiosity. I nodded. Marie was adamant. “You need to write about this. No matter what happens, you need to write about it,” she said. The thought had occurred to me, but it freaked me out. “But lots of people read my blogs, and I don’t know how to tell them this stuff. People could take it the wrong way or judge me for it. I just got charged with assault,” I reminded her.
“So? Transparency is so important. You’re not Jesus. You smacked your husband with a water bottle! That’s just funny,” she smiled as she sipped her coffee. “And this is another experience that might make people think about something different. Trust me, you’re supposed to write about this…”
The screeching of the lock came again and I didn’t look at the door as it opened and closed. I wouldn’t look at them. “You have to call these missionary friends of mine in the Dominican. Let them know how you met me, and where I am…” she emphasized that part. “When I was living with them, I kept telling them that I thought God was going to deliver me from Prison. That I wouldn’t have to do hard time…” her voice faded off as she remembered. “Every time I said that, they would get very quiet,” her eyes twinkled. “They knew…”
“You guys should go overseas!” she said about me and Shane. “You could stay with my friends!” I told her about my dreams of international travel, and my hope to visit the poorest countries in the world. “You will. You can do anything with that kind of faith.” Her confidence in me was empowering. It was encouraging.
The screeching of the lock. “Kelley.” I turned. “Kelley.” I stood up. “Yeah, that’s me.” I said. There wasn’t any excitement. Only hesitation. What was he going to tell me? “Your bail is set at 500 dollars.”
I heard myself say “okay” with a confidence and almost cheerfulness that I didn’t recognize. It didn’t match my heart. I felt it drop through the floor. I turned back toward the girls.
“The bail bondsman will pay it. The number is on the wall.” Kate said. I picked up the phone and dialed my own phone number, hoping that Shane would answer it. Nothing. I called again. Nothing. I hung up the phone as Marie said “Shay…”
“Shay, come here,” she spoke softly and rearranged the cards on the table. She was smiling and held a knowing expression. “Sit for a little while. You need to let your husband get you out of here,” she said with a reassuring tone. “He needs to handle this. Your husband knows about the bail bondsman, and if that’s the route he decides to go, okay, but let him handle it. You don’t have any control over this situation, and you don’t have the right information. Let him decide what to do, okay?” She handed me my cards. I knew that everything she said was true. I looked around and took a deep breath. I heard a whisper in my mind. “Let go…”
An hour later as Marie and I chatted and laughed with the other girls around the picnic table, the door screeched open again. I didn’t look. “Kelley,” the guard called my name again. I stood up. “Grab your stuff. Time to go.”
Marie laughed. “See! He got you out! Give me a hug!” she stood up and I hugged her. I grabbed my yellow bundle, my plastic cup, and the piece of paper that she had given me. I bounced toward the door. The gate was open. As I walked through it Marie said ‘I want to meet your husband someday!” I told her she would.
As I followed this unfamiliar guard down the hallway, I told myself that I would write to her. I clutched the piece of paper and hoped that no one would take it away from me. What was happening? Had Shane called the bondsman? Had somebody scored 500 bucks? We walked around a corner and I was instructed to sit in a chair. When I sat down I was facing a doorway that led into some sort of office. A man was standing just on the other side of the door and staring at something. He picked up two pieces of white paper that were stapled together in the top right corner.
I didn’t recognize this man, or the guard standing next to me. But I’ll never forget the next moment of my life. This tall, dark haired man in a khaki uniform was looking at the pieces of paper with his eyebrows raised and a perplexed look on his face. “So….” He began. I held my breath.
“Your case was dismissed.”
The words lingered in the air for a moment. Tears sprang into my eyes. My mouth fell open. The man glanced in my direction with a sheepish expression. He flipped the top paper up and down one more time. “yeah… we don’t know why…. I don’t know why… but.” He shrugged. He was confused, I could see. GOD. My spirit was screaming. GOD. That’s why.
Only God can do that. Not once, in all this mess, was a dismissal ever presented as an option. I was being charged by the state of South Dakota. “The charges are dropped and you’re free to go. I’m sorry you had to stay the night,” he apologized.
“It’s Okay!” I said quickly. There was almost laughter in my voice. I was holding myself up with my hands on the edge of my chair because I felt so light that I could fall over or float away… “I needed to learn a lesson, so… it’s all good.”
The dark haired man jerked his head back, surprise written in his eyes. “Wow. That’s awesome,” he smiled at me. “He’ll take you downstairs and get you your things.” I thanked him, and in a moment I was in the elevator headed down. Did Shane know? In less than 10 minutes, a door opened…
I’ll never forget the relief on Shane’s face when he saw me walk through the door. I found out later what had happened on his end, and I’m sure he could write a novel as well. A woman named Brenda found him distraught in the parking lot shortly after the Police had arrested me. As grace would have it, she worked in the state government offices right next to the jail. At 7 am he went to visit the state’s attorney, and after explaining what happened, they shocked him when they dropped the charges entirely and dismissed the case.
We spent the morning soaking in the relief of the situation. At first I was so relieved and grateful that all I could do was stand in the sunshine and breathe it in. But as we walked around the jail, I was overwhelmed with sorrow for the girls on the other side of the wall. I know that people have to face the consequences of their behavior, but why are we trying to decide what those consequences are? Isn’t that part up to God? “Judge not… lest ye be judged.” I don’t think he said “except in the judicial system, whose job it is to judge everyone, decide what’s right and wrong, lock people up and treat people like animals in cages.” I didn’t read that in there… In fact he said to forgive because we are forgiven, turn the other cheek, give to those who steal from us, all sorts of radical things that are just ‘too hard’ for us to do. No wonder he never said that this was going to be easy…
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