this morning on my drive up to LA i was listening to This American Life
. a radio program that documents “everyday” Americans and their simple little lives.
except that none of the stories ever come across as simple or little.
these are stories of desperation, destitution, hope, obscenity, obscurity, love, fear.
the show cuts open the chest and the wounds of what it means to be human. with a scalpel it inspects our relationships our vocations our unspoken inner workings. it’s a documentation of stories nobody else will take the time to document.
today’s show’s central theme was prisons within america.
prison life/ a prisoner’s guide to survival/ female prisoners (80% of which are single mothers) and their affected children.
a Houston public radio program that airs friday nights where relatives of prisoners call in and communicate to their loved ones in the slammer.
no joke. it actually happens.
according to this program, prisoners are only entitled to use the telephone once every 90 days.
so for this texas prison, the primary way that relatives communicate with loved ones in jail is by calling in every friday night and telling their loved ones, and everybody else listening to Houston public radio at that time, what they have to say.
a third of the callers call rarely. they disclose (typically devastating) news like the death of a loved one, or the retelling of a recent trauma. (the show has become notorious for girlfriends and wives calling and breaking up with boyfriends and husbands).
another third are regulars. they call to say hello, and i love you, and they mention the news of family and friends; the occurrences of their daily lives.
and the rest call to say “i can’t come this weekend,” or to communicate timely information to an inmate.
but my explanation just isn’t giving it justice.
these individuals, these callers, launch into the transgressions and realities of their lives almost without hesitation. there is a spontaneous quality to their awkward monologues, it’s like we shouldn’t be hearing what we’re hearing, we’re eavesdroppers by default:
a kid tells his father “daddy, i just got my school schedule. i’m taking shop.”
the listener can picture the dad smiling when he hears the words.
a man tells his brother, “we got your letter. you kept telling us that you are so blessed to have us in your life. but no. no. we’re the ones who are blessed to have you.”
a woman calls her son regularly. then she tells him she got cancer and she’s sick and the chemo’s not working. then she stops calling. then a sister calls and says, “momma passed a couple weeks back.”
i can’t really say just how moving this was.
i live in a world with no prisons.
my family and my friends are free.
or so i think.
this program made me question (more than ever) our justice system.
and it made me realize no matter who you are or what one defining and deafening act somebody may have engaged in, that doesn’t mean we should stop loving them, stop fighting for them, stop hearing their voices and valuing their lives.
i live in a world with prisons
i live in a world with sad voices
get incarcerated for the drug deals
their boyfriends did.
i live in a world with meadows and madness
with yellow flowers and wind chimes.