From my front row seat

Thursday, September 29, 2016

My three miserable nights in jail

It's as if God said, "You know what?  I think you need to walk in her shoes for a while.  In fact, maybe for the next three nights."

God often speaks to me in my dreams.  Actually, the whole plan for Blue Monarch came to me in a powerful dream about twenty years ago - and just look at how that turned out!  But this dream I could have done without.

When my dream began, I was in jail getting booked for some crime - but for what?  It was a vivid, very realistic dream.  I had just undergone a humiliating body search, which left me feeling extremely embarrassed and violated.  The ink on my fingertips made me feel marked and branded.  I remember looking at my fingerprints and saying to myself, "Well, this is the only thing that proves I'm an individual because now I'm just a number."

I stood for a mug shot, holding my number in front of me while fighting back tears, and I immediately pictured my photo in the local paper where everyone I knew would see it.  I thought I just might throw up.  It even occurred to me that the numbers behind my head would tell the whole world how tall I was.  Not sure why that even mattered, but it felt like one more violation.

The.  Shame.  Was.  Unbearable.

Even though I didn't seem to have any kind of awareness of the crime I had committed, I can't describe the deep, intense humiliation and shame I felt.  Nothing I ever experienced even came close to it.  But this one moment somehow seemed to wipe out anything positive I had ever done in my life.  I saw how the officers looked at me with total indifference and then I realized I had become completely insignificant.  They were joking among themselves about something unrelated to my crisis and it hit me that this was just another day at the office for them while it felt like the end of my life for me.

Then I woke up in a cold sweat, relieved to discover I was at home in my own bed.  I spent the entire day sort of rattled and afraid that maybe my dream was a warning that I was about to get into some kind of trouble.  It was so real!  So I began paying much more attention to the speed limit and vowed to drive more safely - since that was the only thing I could think of that might get me into trouble.  Even speeding wouldn't get you arrested, though, unless you hurt someone so what was about to happen?

Unfortunately, the next night another dream picked up where the last one left off.  I was back in the jail and could smell that stale odor of too many bodies in an enclosed space with still air.  (It's an unpleasant smell that I've noticed lives at every jail I've ever visited while interviewing potential residents for Blue Monarch.  I've always wondered how folks working there avoid bringing it home with them on their clothes.)

They handed me the orange jumpsuit and "whites" that I had to wear and I could only imagine who and how many had worn them before me.  Clothing and creative style had always been important to me so handing my personal jewelry and belongings to someone to store in a paper bag seemed like the last hand-off of who I was.  Little by little, drip-by-drip, I was truly becoming a nobody.  A worthless nobody.

I was then taken to my cell, which I would share with a stranger, and right off the bat I realized there was no such thing as privacy anymore.  The nasty toilet was out in the open for the whole world to see.  At that point I actually wanted to be nobody and simply disappear.  I felt overwhelmingly empty and hopeless, and even crying didn't seem to make it better.  I couldn't get away from my terrible feelings.  I looked around and realized there was no place to go for comfort.

Then I woke up.

The fact I had this sort of dream two nights in a row was really unsettling.  Surely I was about to get arrested for something.  So I continued to watch the speed limit because that's all I knew to do.

Well, you guessed it.  The third night picked up right where the last dream left off.  Except this time the humiliation and shame accelerated to a whole other level.  

A group of us were lined up to go to court.  Our hands and feet were shackled together so even walking was embarrassing because it was impossible to do so with any kind of dignity, taking baby steps and lined up like cattle.

When we walked into court I was devastated and wanted to crawl into a hole.  I was especially embarrassed to be in public without any makeup, and my highlights were beginning to grow out leaving terrible dark roots.  (I know, I feel pretty shallow admitting it...)  The orange jumpsuit I was wearing was soiled - and from what, I was afraid to know.  The long-sleeved white t-shirt underneath was actually more of a dingy grey color, and my scratchy socks had holes in them that were visible in the oversized plastic shoes I was required to wear.

We paraded into the courtroom in single file and as I looked out across the room I immediately recognized people I knew - some were people I just happened to know from the community who looked shocked to see me.  Others were friends and family members who had expressions on their faces that were a complicated combination of disgust, anger, disappointment, hurt, grief, and even their own personal humiliation, which I knew I had caused.

There really aren't any words strong enough for what I felt.  The deep regret, the excruciating heartache, the agonizing shame, the anger toward myself, and the extreme hopelessness were so intense I thought I might pass out.  I cried and then struggled to wipe my eyes, which was hard to do with my hands connected to my feet, so I finally decided to let the tears just run down my face.  What difference did it make anyway?

Thankfully, at this point I woke up.  I sat on the edge of my bed just struggling to understand why I had been taken on this terrible journey over the past three nights.  What could it mean?  Please, Lord, what are you trying to tell me?  And please make it stop.

Truth is, as time passed and I was greatly relieved to see that my dreams were not prophetic, I realized they actually taught me a lot.  I've reflected back on them many times since then.  Some of the lessons were pretty obvious:  
  • God needed me to really feel how impossible it seems when the journey out of hopelessness and despair looks straight up and you're standing at the very bottom.  That road is extremely long and extremely hard. 
  • He needed me to feel the level of shame our women experience so I would know how important it is for them to receive constant encouragement and praise over even the smallest accomplishments.  Words matter. 
  • I needed to feel how tempting it was to become hardened and indifferent in order to avoid appearing weak and vulnerable.  So we must be patient.
But this is the lesson I didn't get until today:

In my dreams I never knew what crime I had committed, which has always been a little puzzling to me.  After all, wouldn't that affect the circumstances and outcome?  So today as I prayed for further understanding of these powerful and graphic dreams, I revisited this question.   Suddenly God pointed something out to me, which I now see is the most valuable lesson of all:

He doesn't care what the crime was!

What is important to God is that we understand we are new creations through Christ and that the old self is gone.  And THAT is what we must never forget to teach the amazing women we serve.  Only then does the shame truly go away.  After all, in God's eyes no one is a nobody.  No one.  Not ever.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;  the old is gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.                2 Corinthians 4:17-19