For the first few months in my time in jail, as a joke to keep himself entertained, a deputy would tell any inmates that were curious about me, that I was in for hiving.
Hiving, he’d explain, is the illegal capturing and breeding of bees without a license.
I didn’t know this.
I was busy acclimating to a new world. I still stood out and I was working on settling in. I hadn’t even begun to wonder if others were wondering about me, and what brought me there.
One day, waiting on a bench to visit with Dave, a girl scooted close to me.
“Hey” she said. “Hey. I, uh. Well, I like bees.”
She was in a red jumpsuit, the type assigned to the women who were held with mental health restrictions. She was cuffed for her visit, whereas I was not. Her neck was covered in prison tattoos and her eyes were kind, and curious, hazel outlined in orange.
I liked her immediately.
“Bees are awesome.” I replied, not knowing why this was our starting topic, but not minding it.
“It’s bee season now, outside, probably,” she said, wistfully looking at a brick wall. From where we were sitting, I didn’t even know if we were on the ground floor of the building, or several stories below, or even above.
As many times as I’d passed Orange County jail, I never really looked at it. I looked at the wall now, and pretended with her, that on the other side, the world was blooming and buzzing.
It was July. A friend of mine is a bee-keeper and had been writing about her farm and her life, so I had random information in my head. “Bee season actually begins in winter,” I said, “so it’s coming up.”
The girl brightened, saying, “I’ll be home by then, if I do everything right.”
“Say hi to the bees for me.” I said, knowing that I would not be.
She understood and nodded.
A day later, I was in the shower and a tall woman in her seventies pulled the curtain back. She was in for stealing copious amounts of shampoo, repeatedly.
“How much honey can a bee make?”
My three minutes was almost up so I turned off the water and answered. “1/12 teaspoons. It takes about 12 bees their whole lifespans to make just one teaspoon. Precious, no? The kind of precious we don’t even notice.”
I don’t know why I knew this. It might have been from Jessie’s letters. It might have been from too many trivia games. I have a memory for random facts.
The woman beamed a toothless smile at me while I dried off, agreeing. “It is precious.”
At court the next day, the judge delayed my hearing, citing that he didn’t have the energy to read out 247 felony counts that day.
The woman handcuffed to me in the courtroom cell whispered. “Damn this place takes bees hella serious.”
I had no idea what she was talking about, but I nodded, sad, solemnly thinking about how I’d have to come back again to even get started. How much longer it would be before I could get home.
“I miss bees.” I said, meaning, I miss outside, I miss freedom, I am sad that I don’t even get to know when I’ll be able to go home to my husband.
She looked at me, sensing my vulnerability, and her eyes filled with tears of empathy.
In my letter to Dave I write, “Please send me more information about bees. For some reason, it’s a recurring topic in here.”
It wasn’t until I received my final sentencing– three years to be served in a state prison– that someone directly asked about my bee enterprise.
Was it worth it? Will I hive again?
As the puzzle unraveled, I laughed and laughed. I like it when jokes bring joy and conversations, when they guide you to precious moments.
Will I ever hive?
Most likely, no,
but I’m glad I did for awhile, even if it was only in the imaginations of the people around me.