Twenty-Three

Over time I moved from the miasma of depression into a shameless acceptance of my substance abuse. I defined myself by my addiction, believing that if I was stuck in this particular cesspool, I might as well get my hands dirty and enjoy it. I associated solely with other addicts and criminals, and began to adopt the habits and nuances of that culture. I became a liar, a thief, someone who took pleasure in destruction and decay. I saw myself as having moved from one fringe-group of society to another, from the church to the streets, the concept of a balanced life so far from what I could imagine that I never attempted to dream of the possibility. Absurdly, this lifestyle of the infamous and insane was lead to reform by a large pair of bolt cutters.

During an earlier stint in a remand facility, I overheard two other inmates discussing a lucrative scheme that they had, ironically, just been arrested for. They would take bolt cutters into leisure centers and public gyms and then break the latches off the change room lockers. On a good day, they could walk out the front doors with as many as ten or fifteen wallets and car keys. I considered this and thought of all the things that one might keep in a public locker, and when I got out of jail I invested in a pair of bolt cutters and a gym membership. With my golden ticket in hand, I headed out during the early morning hours and signed in to the gym, doing an obligatory 5-minute run on the treadmill and bouncing once or twice on a yoga ball before heading into the locker room to retrieve my industrial-sized bolt cutters from my bag. There was only a handful of people there, most of them employees, so I found the only locker in use and cut the bolt. I exchanged my backpack for hers and took off, streaking through the gym and shouting, “I’m late for work!” to the stunned employees as I passed by the front desk and body-checked myself through the front doors.

I flagged down a taxi, but the gym employees had already uncovered the broken lock and had dutifully called the police. The cab driver, who had been notified via radio and was in on the whole thing, drove me straight to a waiting cop car. I was oblivious to the impending take-down, and got comfortable in the back seat of the taxi as I rifled through the stolen backpack, where I found a wallet, car keys, and a clean pair of yoga pants. What a score! I thought as I deftly slid off my jeans and tried on my new pair of pants. I didn’t wear them for long.

The taxi pulled up beside two waiting police cruisers, and I was read my rights and arrested. To further implement justice, or maybe to amuse themselves, the police drove me back to the gym, where the unfortunate victim was waiting for me to return her belongings. I was told to get out of the police cruiser and hand the backpack to its rightful owner, and once she had it in her hand she looked me in the eyes and said, “Why would you do something like thaaa….hey, are those my lululemons?”

I had built a habit of doing things that were just as fun as they were illegal, but this was different. Nothing took the joy out of doing crime more than meeting my victim. And returning her belongings that I had just stolen. And changing out of her clothes as she watched with a mixture of pity and contempt. That day, the police charged and jailed a disconcerted and debased crook, whose lawless ways had reached a level of shamelessness that could not be justified.

My experience in jail was never difficult. In fact, it reminded me a lot of my old high school, where conduct and conformity were top priorities. As long as you put on your grey uniform and behaved in accordance with the jailhouse rules, you were guaranteed to stay out of trouble, at least with the guards. The inmates, many of whom were unstable and treacherous, could cause trouble, but the jail was organized and divided in such a way that this rarely happened. The inmate population was segregated, first by gender, then subdivided based on the temperament and character of the inmates. The clinically insane were housed in one unit, independent of the rest, as was the unit containing the instigators and those facing murder and extortion charges. The other three units were reserved for the more mainstream criminals, the drama queens, the newbies, and the introverted offenders who chose to bide their time minding their own business and enjoying their temporary sobriety by reading, writing, and cleaning their cells. I fell into the latter category, and although I had managed to find myself in contact with inmates from other units during my career as an outlaw, not one person tried to hurt me, and I was able to make and maintain friendships with some of these women long after I’d left this life behind.

My parents, who never knew where I was or what I was doing when I was not in jail, took advantage of the opportunity to visit while I was in a secure location. While I was incarcerated they came to see me every weekend without fail. My mother would come one day, my father the next, and while it did not seem so at first, their presence in my life was beneficial in several ways. Their consistency in coming to see me assured me that they did, in fact, still want me to be a part of their lives, to the point that they were willing to leave their own environment to be a part of mine. They became my strongest link to the outside world, so that when I thought, as inmates often do, of what my life might be like if I was not in jail or on drugs, it was my parents who came to mind. They also provided me with a normal perspective, which was important because our weekend conversations were often the only sane and rational interaction I had.

Just as my scandalous life of crime had jerked me from the fatal precipice of suicide, jail, in the same unconventional way, had managed to take me one notch closer to the top of the pit I was in. After three long years of drug abuse and incarceration, I had finally developed the will to move beyond it, and when I was released on probation, I returned, not to Vancouver, but to my parents house, where I was welcomed back just in time for my favorite holiday, Christmas!

About Beth Chara

Mother, sister, daughter, and writer... the four words that capture the essence of my life as a whole. View all posts by Beth Chara

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