I spritz the money tree with water. It’s hot here today and the particles sparkle over the plant lovingly, and I hope it feels it is on a tropical vacation instead of dehydrating slowly in someone else’s house. The money tree– Dug– belongs to Donny and I am plantsitting while work that needs to get done gets done.
This tiny service brings me much joy. In the intonations of love languages, I prefer to show mine in acts of service. Small things I can do for the ones I value most. Dug and Donny both need very little, so I savor the occasional assists.
It’s hot here today, and my mind is a bit more muddled than I’d like, my ankles a bit more swollen. I have moved most things from my to-do list to tomorrow, this weekend, next week if there’s time. The only thing I have left to do is respond to a survey. It’s to help a friend’s friend who is researching those of us who do transformative justice work, or healing work, in our local community.
The questions are harder than I imagined. The very first one asked for a bio, and I realized my normal short bio doesn’t include anything about justice work even though it takes up an increasing amount of daily work for me. I’m not really sure what to call it. Most of what I do feels like Incarceration Awareness. Is that a thing?
I wish I could say I did abolition or reform work, but that’s not where my gifts or communities reside. The audiences I have often are only peripherally aware of jails and prisons. I spend the bulk of my time on the basics: that those in jail are not necessarily convicted, that phone calls cost a ridiculous amount of money, that you can’t just “choose” to go to school while inside, that you can lose church as a punishment, that libraries aren’t always open or accessible or even existent, that medical malpractice is more common than not, that being charged with a violent crime doesn’t mean you did violence, that work details are not optional for firefighters, that nearly everyone in the system is there on a plea deal so the idea that they were charged by anyone who reviewed case details is more of an urban legend than anything else.
And then there is a question that asks who my art/work is for.
When it comes to here, and the healing that happens here, my work is for me even as I hope my slow healing resonates with all of us.
When it comes to incarceration related work, I really don’t know. I would love a clearer path instead of one heat-muddled in the brain and swollen in the ankles.
It doesn’t answer the question at all, but for some reason I keep thinking about a rumor in jail that prison ducats could be saved and sold to Snoop Dogg. No one ever seemed to know how to do this, or why he would want ducats, but the information was repeated fairly regularly.
On long hot nights in jail, I’d sort my old ducats with my greeting cards. I kept them only because ducats are little freedom passes, and the only real recording of where I went while I was inside. You aren’t allowed to go anywhere without one that says where you started, where you were headed, and who said it was okay. Later, I told myself, I would make them into bookmarks and give them away with my books.
But back then, as I was sorting them, I’d think about Snoop Dogg and what he could possibly want with thousands of tiny slips of paper with correctional officer scrawl on them. I thought maybe he would wallpaper rooms with them, but what sort of room would the prison passports of strangers make sense in?
A museum, I decided.
What if he was collecting ducats because he was planning for the day when prisons no longer infected this country? Can you imagine a hallway full of tiny pieces of paper? How they’d be so unwrinkled that you’d know they were something precious? The guide would tell you about a time when the US was still hiding from its problems, hiding the people trapped in those problems. The guide would tell you that in the middle of political unrest and a pandemic, over 2 million Americans were incarcerated still, where more than we’d like to know were unofficially sentenced to untimely death.
It would be a solemn walk through the pastels of generic office paper cut into slips.
Maybe there would be other rooms for historic injustices within the system.
A cafeteria with a plate of prison food, white gravy over cold rice, perhaps. On the news overhead, an anchor on a new station saying over and over again that we spend too much money on inmates.
Perhaps a room of cold concrete, where your group would try to find a place to be comfortable, a few of you forced to lean on the toilet. The cold burning through your clothes. In the center of the room, with a spotlight on her could be a woman, battered and sobbing that she loves him, she loves him, she loves him, and it was all a mistake.
Being a victim of domestic violence, the guide would remind you, was a common incarceration offense at the time. Women were charged with the locking their husbands out of their house, with running away with children to safety, for disturbing the peace as he hit her.
“You have to see history, sometimes, to see progress,” the guide would say, and at least two women who didn’t know each other at all would share a look that said we hadn’t made that much progress.
I’m not an idealist in my dreams.
I think with Snoop dollars behind the project, it could even be in an old prison. Maybe the one where I was housed. As you walk in, they could tell you how they sterilized women there, once. You could walk past the piles of complaints filed by inmates and ignored by others.
“This was not that long ago,” the guide would say.
And the kids would laugh because it felt long ago. 2020, can you imagine?
All the way back then.
It was hot in my cell those days when I stayed inside, with just my sports bra and pants on. I’d sort my paperwork like I had a filing cabinet instead of a mesh bag, and half a cereal box rescued from the trash.
It’s hot today. I only have a few ducats left, tucked safely in a box of memories. One is in an envelope now, with Snoop written across the front. It’s a dream in the box of memories, a hope for the day when I can contribute to a place that exists to talk about incarceration– a thing that no longer exists.
It’s hot today and even the keyboard feels like it’s just come out of the dryer. My fingers are burning and the survey asks why I do the work I do. I need to think of something to write but my brain is muddled, and in the delirium of memory and sunburn, I think, I think, “I do this work because one time– a few times– I had this dream about Snoop.”