I had to take my brother out of town so he could get to work tonight. The roads were dark and slippery so Hubby drove. I sat in the passenger seat, thinking about this story. I’d love to hear what you think 🙂
“I don’t even know why I gots to be here,” Donna said to the terse woman looking back at her. The prison guard ignored her statement and asked her again, “What is your name?” She clicked her pen against the clipboard and looked at Donna, obviously agitated but unable to do anything about it.
Donna huffed and pushed herself back in her chair. She crossed her arms and legs and looked off to her right. This was a complete waste of time. Not that there was anything else to do around here that wasn’t, but this was the worst.
The prison guard continued asking the other inmates their names and then came to Donna. “I guess you must be Donna, then,” she sneered. She walked off to the corner of the room, pulled out a chair and plopped down on it as if she were going to be waiting for quite a while. The lady seated at the far end of the circle smiled and thanked the prison guard for her help. “My name is Mrs.Clancy and I’ll be your group therapy leader…” There were a lot of groans and complaints. “I know that none of you want to be in group therapy today but this prison gets it’s funding from the state and the state has decided that it would like to try some actual rehabilitation for a change. Instead of just keeping you all locked up for years, you will be required to deal with the real issues that brought you here to begin with.”
“My issue was that my husband kept beating the shit out of me and the cops wouldn’t do a damn thing about it,” snarled an inmate from the other side of the circle. Many nodded their heads and agreed with a simple “mmhhhmmm”.
“That’s definitely something worth discussing.. uhh.. Miss..,” Mrs.Clancy brought her spectacles up to her nose and looked at the clipboard of names. “Missus Blight,” was the answer she got. “He might be dead now, but I still gots to keep that bastard’s last name.” There was a breakout of laughter and even the guard in the corner smiled.
“Well, Missus Blight, I’ll just make a note and we can discuss that later once we get to know everyone here.” Mrs.Clancy took a few minutes to write on her notepad and ignored the obvious groans and whispers of dissatisfaction. She noticed movement out of the corner of her eye and looked up to see a sickly skinny inmate raising her hand. “Yes?” asked Mrs.Clancy, bracing herself for an off hand remark.
“Mrs.Clancy, I really think this is a good idea..,” the girl began to say as she rubbed her arms with her hands and looked about the room, “I would like to work through the stuff that has brought me here. Maybe it can keep me from coming back.. maybe it can help me to have a better life once I get out.”
There were guffaws and whispers. “That is exactly the right attitude we are looking for!” Mrs.Clancy looked around the room at the other adults as if she were scolding a group of children. “It helps to have willing participants such as.. ah, Freeda over here. This is going to happen whether you like it or not and we are doing this for your own good so you may as well take advantage of it.” She used her pen to point to each of the inmates as she spoke, making firm eye contact.
“Now Freeda, tell me dear.. what is it that you want to talk about?” Mrs.Clancy leaned a little further into the circle and clasped her hands closed.
“I thought we was gonna get to know one another before we started..” Mrs.Blight was cut off by Mrs.Clancy. “Do not interrupt someone else’s therapy session. This is a group therapy but it is important that everyone have a chance to speak about their issues.” She was looking tersely at Mrs.Blight and pointing her pen, as if it were a scolding finger. Mrs.Blight rolled her eyes, crossed her arms, and muttered under her breath.
“Now Freeda, what is it that brought you here, dear?”
“Well,” began Freeda, looking about as if she were unsure of how to begin, “I uh.. I killed my father.” She looked down as her eyes began to well up with tears.
“Mmmhhmm, mmmhhhmm. And why, dear?” Mrs.Clancy pressed her.
“Because he was doing things he shouldn’t have been doing to me!” Freeda was up out of her chair, screaming and spitting, shaking her hands at Mrs.Clancy. The guard came rushing over and pushed her back down in her chair, hard. “Now you sit still like and I won’t have to taze you and take you back to your cell.” The guard jangled the cuffs that Freeda had on and made sure they were still latched onto both her and the chair. “Be a good girl, sweetie.”
Freeda looked like she wanted to tear the face off the guard, but the guard put her hand on Freeda’s shoulder. It was as if this was a dance they had both done a thousand times. You could see it in Freeda’s eyes. She was mulling over the options, the consequences.. she decided to stay in her seat, her head in her hands, sobbing.
“Did right by him, then didn’t cha?” A voice piped up.
“And how might you know?” Mrs.Clancy asked. She was still recovering from the outburst. She had jumped out of her chair and run to the other side of the room. She was now putting her spectacles back on her nose and setting her chair aright. She may have been physically recovering but it was obvious that she was now much more mentally and emotionally.. aggressive.
“Cuz of Mama, that’s how.” Donna looked back at Mrs.Clancy and thought what a fool she was. Here she was, walking in here with her nice clothes and probably driving some fancy car. Just rubbing it in that much more that these gals will never see the outside again, not that way at least. And yet she expected them to just spill their guts to her. Donna thought it over a bit. Mrs.Clancy was rattling on about how something didn’t make sense. Donna got an idea.
“Mama,” Donna said as she leaned in as far as her restraints would let her, “was the best damned woman I ever did know.”
“And was she your real mother?” asked Mrs.Clancy. She put a strange twist on the word real, as if only dignified people had real mothers. As if all these inmates had some kind of animalistic mothers that didn’t count as real.
Donna chuckled and leaned back in her chair. “If you mean did she give birth to me then yes, she was my real mother.” She leaned forward a bit when she said the word “real”, as if it was some sultry secret that could only be shared between her and the group therapist. She laughed and sat back in her chair, more relaxed now.
“Well good, at least you had a stable home life,” Mrs.Clancy began.
“Sure did,” Donna interrupted her, “get home and locked da door straight away cuz Mama didn’t come home til late in the night and neighbors couldn’t be trusted. Get schoolwork done and don’t break nuthin’ less you want your ass to look like Barney the damn clown.” A few people giggled at this, as if they had experienced the same thing growing up.
“Domestic violence can be a cause of a woman in.. your position.” Mrs.Clancy said, narrowing her eyes a little.
Donna just huffed out a laugh and slid down in her chair a little, leveling her gaze with Mrs.Clancy’s. “Get my ass whooped was probably the one saving grace I had. If it weren’t for that, I woulda done ended up like my dumbass sister Bella.”
“So you have siblings?” Mrs.Clancy was writing in her notepad, which irritated Donna a little but she continued anyway.
“I have a sister, yea,” she said. “Her name is Bella and I’m Donna. Don’t take a genius to figure that one out.”
“So you two didn’t get along, then?”
“Let’s just say Bella’s wheel was a spinnin’, but that hamster done died long time ago.” The inmates smiled a knowing smile and some even laughed. The guard told them all to keep it down, she didn’t wanna have to get up.
“So, your mother left you alone quite often then?”
“Mama done worked two jobs. She got knocked up twice in on damn year and had me and Bella. There was no daddy..” Mrs.Clancy interrupted, “Ah, a lack of a strong male figure in the home can be another..” She looked up at Donna whose face simply read “Really, lady?”
“Oh, there was some male figures alright,” Donna continued. “We had one neighbor who was specially nasty. I remember one day Mama telling Bella over and over to lock that door and make sure it stayed that way. She said not to open it for no one, no how, no when. Bella was funny like that though.. you tell her one thing and an hour later she totally forget you tell her something.” Donna shook her head and looked at the ceiling, remembering her frustrations growing up with her sister.
“And this caused you a lot of hardship?” Mrs.Clancy looked confused. Of course she was confused, thought Donna, she didn’t understand what real, hard life was all about.
“Only time it caused me too much hardship was when she outright opened that damn door and started playing out in the hallway. Just after Mama done yelled at her to keep it shut. Well we had just gotten a new neighbor, ya see. I don’t remember his name but I never forget his face.” Donna shuddered.
“This man hurt your sister? Is that why you’re here, Donna? Did you protect your sister?”
“Hell no,” Donna spit out, “ain’t nothing worth protecting. She’d yell at ya for ruining her fun or some such bullshit. Damn idiot.”
Donna sat up in her chair and bent over to rub her forehead with one of her restrained hands.
“Bella was playing out in that damned hallway. We didn’t have Barbies and such nonesense. Mama took good care of us. We had food, a warm bed, and clean clothes but we couldn’t afford them fancy toys. All we had was eachother to play with.” She chewed on her lip for a bit, thinking about the past.
“Anyway, Bella had found something out in the hallway to play with. Someone had left a doll out there, right by that creepy guy’s door. He done did it on purpose. That door flew open so fast I thought the hinges would done come off.” Donna’s arms flew open as wide as they could with the restraints. “He lunged after my sister and she ran, stupid idiot, she done ran for me and pushed me towards him. Well he was a creep so he done got me and did his creep thing.”
Donna still remembered it and she always reminded herself that it was her body now.. she wasn’t little anymore. She could control who did what. She was thinking this when she saw Mrs.Clancy staring at her.
“Ah shit, don’t feel sorry for me, I ain’t like skinny floo floo chick over there.” Donna made a waving motion towards Freeda with her fingers. “Mama done took care of him.”
“How so?” asked Mrs.Clancy.
“When Mama came home, that place better be ready. Chores better be done, homework better be done, and supper stuff better be put out.”
“She made you cook supper for her? How old were you?!” Mrs.Clancy looked aghast, as if asking a child to cook supper was akin to them starving in a third world country.
“Pff, hell no,” said Donna, “we wasn’t allowed near the stove. Mama wasn’t no fool, fool. We just had to get the stuff out and ready to go for when she got home. Cuz when Mama got home she head straight for the shower, cook supper and then we eat and go to bed.” Donna could still remember Mama pouring boiling hot water in a dish pan and soaking her feet under the table while they ate.
“Doesn’t it hurt to put your feet in that hot water, Mama?” Donna had asked her once. “No, child,” Mama had responded, “it feels damn good.” She winked and they all went back to eating. Mama was always winking at her daughters, it was her version of saying “I love you”.
“That’s awful,” Mrs.Clancy said, “you never had the chance to properly develop through play or social interactions at home…” Donna interrupted her. “Now don’t get all hippo-crit-a-call on me!” she yelled as she pointed a finger at Mrs.Clancy. “Mama took care of us. Why, when she done came home that night, she was pissed. The door was shut but it weren’t locked. I was in the bedroom closet crying and Bella had hidden God knows where. Mama stood in the kitchen screaming our names for what seemed like hours before she stomped her way to the closet and pried me out. I thought she was going to beat my ass every color of the rainbow..” Donna trailed off.
Donna bent down and chewed at one of her fingernails.
“But she didn’t. She took one look in my eyes and she just.. she changed. It was like she knew. She hunted Bella down and gave her a whooping and then she asked me what happened. I told her. I told her everything. She just stood there, staring at the wall with her fists clenched so tight that I thought her knuckles were gonna pop off.”
“Is that when she started to beat you, Donna?” Mrs.Clancy actually looked concerned now but Donna was annoyed by her foolish assumption.
“She didn’t beat me, fool. She swung me up on her hip and we headed down to that creeper’s door. She made me promise to stay quiet while she banged on his door. The fool idiot answered that damned door. He took one look at me and tried to close it again but Mama shoved her body between the door and the wall. She dropped me on the floor and rushed at him, like some crazed wild cat gone mad.”
Donna stopped and thought about the images in her mind. She remembered the man’s face.. not so much when he harmed her.. but when Mama got done harming him. She remembered what his skull looked like crushed in and his eyes swollen shut. She remembered his tongue hanging out of his mouth.
“Did your mother call the authorities?” asked Mrs.Clancy.
Donna looked at her like she had just been told aliens had landed. “Hell no, fool. Mama beat that creep so hard, she done broke three of her fingers and most of her toes. I dunno she killed him. I just know that he wasn’t movin’ when she got done.”
The room got quiet. Most of the women in it were there for reasons that could easily be seen as self-defense. But most of them were of the wrong sex, race, and socioeconomic status. The courts hadn’t listened and they had been punished for protecting themselves. They knew. They all understood what Mama had done becauase they had all done it themselves, either for themselves or for their family.
Mrs.Clancy was asking some questions and getting irritated at not getting a response. She wouldn’t get one, not from anyone after that day. The State’s group therapy sessions had an unexpected result: it brought the inmates closer on a common bond – injustice. Thye didn’t talk to Mrs.Clancy after that, not even naive Freeda. They all just sat in the room, thinking about their burden to bear. They all knew, knew they had done the right thing. And they all knew that deep done in each one of them, there was a rough and tough Mama who was just doing what needed to be done to survive in this jungle called life.
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