Yesterday was my release date. Yet here I was, laying beneath the scratchy wool of my blanket in my cell. It had been pouring rain all day yesterday, I’d hoped maybe that was the reason Bridges didn’t send a bus to get me. They didn’t want to drive that far in a thunderstorm, and I understood.
I mean, a call would have been nice, but I wasn’t exactly in position to demand that sort of courtesy.
“What the hell man. My bin has been packed up since the day before yesterday, I already gave my shampoo and conditioner away, and I traded the last of my friggin snacks to Shelley for a phone call. Where the f*** are these people to pick me up?” I said as I pulled my uniform top off .
“Maybe they forgot about you” Sarah said, smirking.
“Helpful, Sarah, really” I rolled my eyes.
“No dude, Bridges is notorious for not picking girls up on time”, Charlotte said as she flopped down off the top bunk. “They never come when they say they will and the worst part is, every minute you sit here past your release date, doesn’t count for shit. You are basically stuck doing more time than the judge ordered for nothing.”
“Awesome, thank you guys so much for the reassurance. I feel a million times better”
We grabbed our dirty uniforms and headed toward laundry line. We got new uniforms 3 times per week, and I though for sure this was the last polyester piece of shit I’d ever have to wear. But nope, I’m about to get a new jumpsuit and who the f*** knows how many more I’ll have to wear after that.
“God, there is seriously nothing more frustrating than not knowing. Like, I feel like the past 4 months have been nothing but waiting and wondering, and having no say over what the hell happens” I said, inching forward in the line.
“Welcome to jail” Charlotte said as she grabbed a jumpsuit from the deputy and headed to the cell.
Before changing into the new uniform, I decided to take a shower. I didn’t want to put a new uniform onto my dirty body, so I borrowed some shampoo from Sarah and headed to wait in line.
I glanced nervously at the clock as each girl went in to take a shower. 6 stalls for hundreds of women meant a lot of sitting around with soap in hand, waiting for one to open up. Finally, with 10 minutes and no hot water left, it was my turn. I shut the door to the shower and glanced around the small area.
Pubic hairs and lint had collected at the drain and the walls were covered in soap scum and hair. Jesus, I couldn’t wait to shower in a clean bathroom. Thank God for shower shoes, lord knows how many diseases my feet would have collected by now otherwise.
I twisted the faucet and was hit with a stream of freezing cold water. It warmed up immediately, but never reached a temperature above lukewarm. I was shaking as I hurriedly squirted the shampoo into my hair and began rubbing it into a later.
As I leaned my head back into the water to rinse the soap from my hair, suddenly someone was banging on the shower door. I fumbled for my glasses and shut the water off to see what the fuss was all about.
“What the hell?” I asked, wiping condensation from the lens, trying to see who was interrupting my long awaited shower.
I wrapped my towel around my body and cracked open the door to peer out. As soon as the room came into focus I noticed that everyone, literally everyone….Was staring at me.
“1,2,3! Johnson! ROLL IT UP!!!!”
Goosebumps covered every inch of my body as I realized what just happened. Everyone began clapping and cheering as my jaw hung to the floor.
“Are you serious?” I asked, afraid to get my hopes up.
“Yes Bitch! They just called your name in your cell! Now hurry the hell up before they change their minds”, Tanya said laughing.
I didn’t even rinse the rest of the shampoo out of my hair, I sprinted across the day room in a towel (which was super illegal but, what were they gonna do? Arrest me?)
As I began throwing my new uniform on, tears of gratitude began filling my eyes. I excitedly looked over at Sarah and realized her hand was covering her mouth and she was quietly sobbing.
“Oh my God, Sarah” I said, walking toward her with my arms outstretched. She wrapped her arms tightly around my waist and cried into my chest. “How the hell am I supposed to make it in here without you? You are the realest friend I’ve ever had”, she sniffled.
“Aw, Babes. You are gonna be just fine! And I’ll be done with Bridges in 6 months and we can hang out. Maybe get dinner or go to the beach”.
“Johnson” a voice interrupted over the intercom. “You got two minutes or the bus is leaving“.
“Go, go. I’m sorry. I am so happy for you Tiff, and so proud. You are going to do amazing I just know it”.
“Thank you Sarah, and thank you for showing me what a true friend is supposed to be”.
Despite how grateful I was to be getting out, I suddenly found myself quite heartbroken about having to leave.
This had been my home for a long time, and I’d spent 24 hours a day with the people in it. It felt like summer camp had come to an end, and it was time to say goodbye to all of the wonderful friends I’d made.
Girls began flooding my cell. Some to see if I had any left over commissary, but most to say goodbye and wish me luck.
I gave a few quick hugs and excitedly pushed my way past them with my mattress and belongings in hand. As I headed toward the main door, I heard some of the girls begin singing and before I knew it, everyone joined in. “Nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goooooodbye“. I choked back the tears and exited the doors of Female Pod West accompanied by my own soundtrack, for the very last time.
I was brought down to the lobby where a deputy asked me to turn around. I will never forget the ‘click‘ as the handcuffs I’d been wearing sprung free. That was it. I was in a room of deputies and not wearing handcuffs. I was no longer an inmate.
“Here” a big male deputy said as he thrust a paper bag into my stomach. “You can change in there” he said pointing to a holding cell.
I shut the door behind me and ripped open the bag. The scent of my old perfume filled the room and nostalgia washed over me. It had been so long since I’d smelled anything other than mold, shit and grits.
I pulled the clothes out of the bag and up to my face and took a deep breath in. My eyes closed as memories of my old life came rushing into my mind, playing like a silent movie. For a brief moment, I was home.
A knocked at the door pulled me back to reality. “You okay in there? You got people waiting on you“.
“I’m coming!” I yelled as I yanked my prison clothes off for the last time and dressed into the clothes I was arrested in. I smiled at the sight of my flip flops. I had never been so grateful to slide my feet into them. No more shower shoes for this b***! I’m outta here.
“Where should I put these?” I asked holding out my crumpled uniform. “In there” the guard said pointing to an empty room nearby. When I returned to where he was standing, I glanced around unsure of what to do next.
“Here ya go” he said handing me a sheet of paper, “I’ll walk you out“.
Out. He will walk me out. Out of this jail. I couldn’t believe I was “out“.
He pointed to a closed door and told me “they were waiting for me in there”. I headed toward the door and when I pulled it open, my eyes grew wide and my jaw hit the floor.
“Let’s get the hell out of here” Ryanne said with a big smile holding the door open. “Wha…wait. What??? What are you doing here? I thought Bridges was coming?” A combination of confusion and worry danced around in my mind. I was thrilled to see her, but felt like this was wrong.
“It’s fine, everything is fine. Felicity found a loophole in your sentencing. It said ‘she is to be released to ‘A’ 6 residential treatment program‘ – it doesn’t specify which one. So, basically, it’s whoever gets here first and- SUPRISE!” She said throwing her arms into the air. “Now let’s go, Raquel is waiting in the car. A smiled crossed my face so wide that my cheeks burned.
And I ran. I ran past Ryanne, ran through the hallway, and pushed the exit doors open so hard they slammed against the wall. The chilly air and sunshine hit my face all at once and I dropped to my knees. I felt the grass under my skin as the breeze blew through my hair.
Tears began falling from my eyes as I took my first breath of fresh air in 120 days. I listened to the birds singing in the background, the cars zooming past in the distance and the hum of the air conditioner on the side of the building. It was the most beautiful moment I’d ever experienced in my entire life.
“I don’t want to ruin this moment for you, but uh, we have Dr. Danner at the house waiting for you.” Ryanne said in a whisper.
Nothing could have ruined that moment for me. I was free.
“Do you smoke?” Ryanne asked as she pulled out of the parking lot. I hadn’t smoked in 120 days, and I certainly shouldn’t start now.
“Yes, yes I do”.
“Here” she passed back a cigarette and a lighter. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I closed my eyes and took a long slow drag of my cigarette. The nicotine filled my lungs and my body started tingling with relaxation as it was carried through my bloodstream.
“What is the one food you missed the most while in jail?” Ryanne asked as she reached back to retrieve her lighter.
“Okay honestly? I know it sounds stupid, but I craved Taco Bell like it was nobodies business in there. Specifically a chicken quesadilla. I would have killed for one”.
She turned up the radio and a song I didn’t recognize began blaring through the speakers. The bass of the music was in sync with my heart beat, it felt like it had been years since I’d heard the melody of a song. The moment was so surreal. Not being watched like a hawk, wearing normal clothes and smoking a cigarette, and listening to music. I had taken so much of this for granted before.
I closed my eyes to listen to the words, and my eyes were still closed when she promptly turned the music down and I heard a voice say “Thank you for choosing Taco Bell, what can I get for you?”
I sat on the soft leather chair in Dr. Danner’s office and watched as her fingers danced along the file folders in her cabinet. “Ah-ha” she said, stopping on one and checking the name on the label, “this is you, Miss Tiffany”.
As soon as we had arrived back at the house, I was immediately sent to meet with the Doctor. My throat still burned from the acid in the tacos I’d just inhaled, but it was the greatest burn I’d ever experienced.
“Okay. Welcome to Leap of Faith, I’m Dr. Danner and I’m a Certified Addiction Specialist with a Masters in Psychology. I’d like to get some information from you before you get settled if that’s alright” she said. She was beautiful and I wondered how she could have all those fancy certificates, because she seemed younger than me.
“Absolutely” I replied, fidgeting with the bottom of my shirt. Why was I nervous?
“Alright. So. You spent around 4 months in jail, correct?”
“Was that your first time?”
“It was, yes, and hopefully last” I laughed nervously.
“Well good, we hope so” she smiled. “So what brought you to jail Tiffany. What happened?”
“Ha. It’s a long story”.
“Well that’s alright, I’ve got time.”
I thought back to when it all started, and knew that there was no way in hell this lady “had time”.
“Yeah, It’s… I don’t know. Hard to explain. It’s complicated and…It’s kind of crazy. It would be hard to tell you what exactly happened because it’s more like 1,000,000 shitty things happening to lead up to it” I said.
It had been a long day, I was tired and this lady was sweet. If I told her what happened right off the bat, she would think I was a lunatic.
“It’s okay Tiffany, I don’t have anywhere else to be. You can trust me, and I encourage you to talk to me about anything. In order to understand the type of treatment that would best suite you, I need to know what happened. Besides, there’s nothing you can tell me that I haven’t already heard before” she laughed.
This silly woman. She thought she had heard it all. She thought she was prepared for what I was about to throw at her. She had no idea what I’d been through, the things I’d done, the people I’d hurt. I’m sure she has heard her share of stories, but I know she hadn’t heard anything like this. I took a deep, hesitant breath and looked into her eyes and smiled…
“Welp” I started, “You asked for it“….