Was he still following her?
She looked back over her shoulder. There was no sign of him, but this was December in Minnesota which meant the sun had already made its hasty retreat even with plenty of day left to be had. And cold. She didn't notice that, however. There was enough heat running through her veins as she walked quickly away from Walmart passing other shoppers on her way to who knows where. She didn't have a plan. There was never a plan. On her shoulder was the pink Victoria's Secret bag with the stolen items from Walmart stuffed inside.
Glancing down at her phone, she willed Charlotte (see footnote 1) to call.
Dammit. Where is she?
They'd gone into Walmart together needing only a few things, but if you're going to steal one thing you might as well steal ten.
She'd never done this before. Stealing. And she discovered she wasn't good at it. Not at all. They'd gone through the checkout lane together, buying a few small items to detract suspicion. Then, Charlotte had gone out to get the car while Bridget went into the women's bathroom to cut off the packaging from the items in her bag.
After she'd left the bathroom, an employee confronted her in the entrance/exit vestibule. She got around him, but another employee followed her out of the store. Charlotte was waiting for her, but as Bridget reached for the car door the Walmart employee yelled out, "Watch out! She has a knife!"
That spooked Charlotte because she stepped on the gas and left. Without thinking, Bridget turned left and started walking. Fast, but not too fast to attract suspicions. Her heart raced and she thought she might throw up.
"I didn't do anything!" Bridget shouted at the employee as he followed her.
She kept walking and looking back. Walking and looking back. Finally, she reached the edge of the Walmart parking lot. Ahead of her was a string of retail stores: Kohl's, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Old Navy. She turned left and walked to the back of the stores. She was sure he wasn't following her now.
What she was sure of was that the police would be on their way by now. If she could get far enough away before they did she might stand a chance. Why hadn't she gone right instead of left when she left Walmart? She wondered. If she would have turned right there were neighborhoods where she could have hidden until Charlotte could pick her up. There was no good place to go where she was headed. She couldn't turn around, she'd land straight back at Walmart. On her right was the backside of retail stores and beyond that was Broadway, the main artery through the city. Yeah. That wouldn't be obvious.
So, she continued south - further and further away from Walmart. She passed old pallets and dumpsters until she reached a fire station tucked back out of sight of street lights and cars. Behind it was an open marsh. That's where she'd hide.
By then, the sirens were ringing in her ear. She broke out into a run straight into the marsh. She thrashed through the thick grass that pulled at her feet willing her to fall. Pulling her way through she finally found a spot far enough away and crouched as low as she could. She took off her jacket and buried herself underneath. Hidden. Thank goodness there was no snow.
Where'd the bag go? She felt at her side and found it missing. She must have lost it somewhere in the grass. At least she still had her phones in her hands. Charlotte still hadn't called.
The sirens sounded like they were right on top of her.
Then they went silent and muffled voices came closer. She crouched down even further and held her breath. She peeked out from underneath her jacket as flashlight beams caught her eye between the blades of grass.
"Police! Canine unit! You can give up and come out or we'll send the dog to find you," a male officer shouted.
She wasn't a fool.
She threw off the jacket and rose to her knees then stood up slowly.
"We see the suspect. East side of Station 5," a female officer said into her radio. Soon, another officer emerged from his squad car and shone a spotlight on her; his gun drawn.
"Drop your items and put your hands up!" He shouted.
Breathless and scared she dropped her coat and phones as she raised her hands. The female officer approached, drew her hands down behind her back and placed handcuffs on her wrists and led her towards the waiting squad car.
As she was led over clumps of dirt and grass, the faces of her children went through her mind. What will happen now? What will they think? She could hardly stand under the weight of her own guilt.
But, still, another weight was lifting. It took over 35-years, but she finally felt like she had stopped running.
Glancing around the jail library, I quickly rearranged two of the plastic chairs around one of the small tables so Bridget and I could face each other. I would sit in the chair facing the doorway. Somehow it felt safer, in case something should happen. Reaching for the panic button attached to my belt loop, I forced the breath out of my lungs that I realized I was holding. One push and correctional officers would be here in seconds.
I knew it would take more than a few minutes for Bridget to get there. Moving around the jail makes a person feel like a mouse in a maze with eyes constantly on you and a trail of cheese leading your way.
There are three direct supervision units in the Olmsted County jail (see footnote 2): two male and one female, along with a special unit for detainees who need more intense supervision or isolation from the general population. Additionally, there is intake, meeting rooms, the gym, the library, laundry, the kitchen and dining area, as well as various holding cells. Overseeing it all is one lone soul in Master Control opening sally ports (see footnote 3), doors, jail cells and managing movement throughout the jail. A person doesn't move anywhere in the jail without Master Control's say-so. Whoever is on duty in Master Control watches more than a dozen screens at a time as well as ensuring the safety of everyone in the jail by observing detainee behavior. Most of the time, the system works like a well-oiled machine, but on one particularly busy day, I was stuck in a sally port for at least 10 minutes before Master Control noticed me. Ten minutes in a sally port, in a jail, feels like an hour.
Walking over to the bookshelves, my eyes glanced through the titles of the books on the wall. One section was entitled “Spirituality & Self Help.” There were numerous copies of the Bible along with the Koran and other readings of interest to Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus. I'd never held a copy of the Koran, so I pulled one off the shelf and began scanning the pages.
My thoughts were interrupted by the buzzer on the door at the end of the hallway, and I quickly returned the book to the shelf and went to my seat as the shuffle of jail-issued crocs met my ears.
I hate crocs.
By the time Bridget reached the library, I was in my seat as if I'd been there happily waiting. She smiled as she walked to the chair across from me. We shook hands and she sat down to begin.
From the beginning, conversation flowed easily between us though I had to focus intently as she spoke. Her thoughts poured out like a butterfly that flutters here and there before finding just the right petal on which to land. All the while she fidgeted with her curly brown hair, adjusted and readjusted her bright yellow jumpsuit, touched her face, sifted through her journal, and glanced around the room as she spoke. It was as if her mannerisms couldn't help but match whatever was going on inside.
With Bridget's permission, I opened her journal and began reading. The first three pages were filled with inspirational quotes and song lyrics written in big, sweeping handwriting.
"You never lose by loving, you always lose by holding back" - Barbara De Angelis
"Love is a little taste of always and a big bite of nothing." - Robert Fulghum
"One of the hardest decisions you'll ever face in life is choosing whether to walk away or try harder." - Ziad K. Abdelnour
Then, the entries shifted to self-expression.
"Time after time I sit down to write, 'Be accountable and responsible, Bridget' resonating thru my mind. 'Sit down, suck it up and write.' So I sit and sit and sit, mind racing yet my thoughts draw a blank. Letters from friends and family go unanswered. Letters started, but not finished..."
"Empowerment, declaration, ownership, clarity, perseverance, and truth. What is my truth? 'To thine own self be true.' I once questioned what that statement meant years ago. I now question what it means to me and what my truth is."
"Who am I now and where did I go? I was once brass, bold, fearless, and unafraid of anyone or anything. As the years have gone by, I've become a big chicken; afraid to oppose or go against the grain. Unwilling to fight for me, but willing to go to any lengths for someone else. Someone who may not be worthy of 1/10th of my energy, much less all of it."
While Bridget's entries allowed me to see what she was wrestling with they didn't tell her story or what led her to be incarcerated. So, I probed her with questions.
"Tell me how you wound up here, in jail?" I asked her point blank.
Without hesitation, she began sharing a part of her story.
She had been living near Pepin, WI with her fiancé, Dylan, her oldest daughter, and her daughter’s boyfriend. Life was taking the shape Bridget had always wanted. Stability. Roots sinking down that would allow her to withstand the hardest knocks of life. She was happy and had been sober for six years. But, then, a change began to take place in Dylan. He was becoming increasingly agitated, absent, angry, abusive, and distant. Finally, Bridget discovered a pipe.
As Dylan's behavior changed with his drug use, Bridget’s depression and anxiety reared their ugly heads.
Rather quickly, life began to spiral out of control for everyone. Bridget’s daughter and her boyfriend left the house, Bridget’s boyfriend was arrested, Bridget lost the house and every last ounce of stability she had established quickly vanished. When she reached out to those around her, the only people there were the ones enmeshed in the world of methamphetamines.
Communities of drug users are an easy and self-destructive replacement for real, healthy relationships and real, committed community. Drugs bind people together in the most sadistic ways and they create a co-dependency that propels the addiction. All while promising health, wealth, and well-being.
And, it landed Bridget in a heap of trouble. Not just the sort of trouble that beckons the police, but the sort of trouble that gnaws away at a person's sense of self, value, and purpose. It only took six months for Bridget to go from your everyday, run-of-the-mill homeowner to incarcerated meth-using thief.
She described a relationship she developed after Dylan was arrested and they parted ways. This new guy's name was Wyatt and Bridget described him as a tumbleweed. He was a meth user and like many addicts he'd moved 12 times that year - going from place to place, couch to couch, person to person. But, Bridget desired roots – to stay put and grow downward. The two were not compatible.
At one point, Wyatt was staying at his brother's apartment. Bridget was there doing his laundry for him and when she finished folding it, she realized he didn't have a decent place to put it. No dresser, no shelf. Nothing. For Bridget, this triggered a range of emotions. It upset her. To her, a dresser was the physical embodiment of 'place.' It meant he belonged somewhere and because she had attached herself to him, it would also mean she belonged somewhere.
She told Wyatt he needed a dresser, but to him, a dresser represented a ball and chain holding him back from whatever he wanted to do. In anger, he told Bridget, "You're a fucking apple tree. Why the fuck do you want to be stuck in the ground, going nowhere?" (see footnote 4).
His words silenced Bridget as she internalized what he had said. Every letter, every syllable fed into what she already believed about herself: she wasn't worth the trouble.
The tears coursed down her cheeks as she relayed the story. My first reaction was, "What kind of insult is it to call someone an apple tree? Bridget, have you seen an apple tree in spring? They are stunningly beautiful and fragrant. And, by the fall, its blossoms have become delicious fruit. It is asinine that someone would call you an apple tree and mean it for harm."
For the week's assignment, I encouraged her to write, very specifically, about the six months in which she went from happy homeowner to miserable detainee.
As I walked away from the jail that day, Bridget's questions lingered in my mind. What was Bridget's truth? Who was she? Was she a loving, caring mother? If so, how could a loving, caring mother allow the sort of person into her life who uses meth? Was she a petty thief? If so, she wasn't a very good one. Was she just another drug addict wasting tax payer's money?
But, then, what would be my answer those same questions? Could I answer them? What was my truth? What does that even mean exactly?
I knew the truth was buried somewhere within her words. Hidden.
And, I was going to find it.
1: All names, except Bridget's, have been changed.
2: Direct supervision means detainees, during most hours of the day, are allowed out of their cells into a common area and a Correctional Officer has direct contact with detainees on the unit. Meaning they mingle with detainees. As I understand it, this method of supervision creates a less-stressful environment for both detainees and Correctional Officers.
3: A sally port is a secured entrance. A person walks through one set of doors and the door is locked behind them before another set of doors is unlocked allowing passage through.
4: It is not my desire to offend with profanity, but rather, to speak the language as it is spoken.