"If you don't like my attitude, STOP TALKING TO ME!"
"I'm up. I'm dressed. What more do you want?"
"Jesus is coming. Look busy."
I realized this weekend that homey bits of commentary don't have much of a place in prison, certainly not of the temporary kind. Tattoos are a different story altogether. But the t-shirts and bumper stickers of the world outside of prison don't make it past the fences here.
Given the wide variety of bumper stickers and T-shirts, I should probably be grateful I'm not assaulted with them all day. Instead, I pay more attention to the spoken word. I don't cringe too often, but I'm tempted to say, "Language, gentlemen, language!" and sound like a school-marm.
This morning I listened as a young man begged his father not to give up on him. It was just one screw up, he pleaded. His father had asked him to tell the truth, and he was telling the truth. No, he hadn't spent the night at home as the probation officer directed. Yes, he had had a beer or two and smoked a little weed. "But please don't give up on me!" He crumbled into the chair, yanked several tissues from the box, finally said goodbye. Then he sat in silence. He's here for a violation of his probation. He may be looking at several more months in prison, and this after he just served two years. It was too much freedom, he said. He needed treatment.
"I screwed up so badly. My dad is so upset. I knew it as soon as I was arrested." He vented for a while, trying to sort it all out. The circles he drew got tighter.
Finally, we talked about the language we use when we're upset, when we really don't have the right words to encompass the feelings. "Your dad is upset. He's disappointed. He invested something of himself in you and your life after prison. He's feeling used, as if all the effort went for nothing. The only words big enough to get your attention aren't swear words. They are words like, 'I can't do this anymore. I don't know why I bother. You can't come home.'" He nodded.
Too bad there's not a t-shirt that says, "I'm sorry!" on it that I could issue. Maybe a little time will create space for them to talk again, try again. Maybe.
Thank God we don't get just one chance, one failure doesn't doom us. Or do we believe those "big words" that seem to send us to exile?