Feature image of Wurlitzer Electric Piano by Matt Patrick
I had done the best I could. There were a few spots that didn't feel complete, but the bones were good. Bridget's song was finished and I'd decided to call it what it wanted to be called, "The Apple Tree."
After check-in and walking through the main sally port leading into the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center (ADC), I turned to the right and took the ten or so steps it takes to get to the door that leads to the laundry room, the library, and a utility room hallway.
It was a minute or so before Master Control opened the door. I clutched the cold metal handle and pushed the door open. The windows looking into the laundry room were on my right. Bridget had been on laundry duty when we first began our sessions but got caught passing a note to a male detainee in a stack of his laundry, so was removed as a discipline. Now, as I walked by, I caught the eye of a detainee transferring a load from a washer to a dryer; tattoos covered his arms, neck, and scalp. He doesn't smile. Neither do I.
At the end of the hall, the library waits on the left and the utility room on the right. With no door, the library feels like the least confining space in the jail. A place of freedom for both body and mind. I flip on the light switch as I walk into the room. A green cartoon worm painted on the wall greets me as it holds an open book. I head over to the Wurlitzer electric piano, pull back its fabric cover and turn it on. A popping sound is followed by a subtle whirl of electric noise.
"It'll do just fine," I think as I run my hands over the keys playing a few blues riffs.
Moving away from the Wurlitzer, I arrange two chairs around a table. Then, I wait for Bridget. After a few minutes, I get restless, so I stand up and walk to the fiction section. A wide variety of titles line the shelves. I'm glad detainees have the opportunity to read such books and it appears many are well-loved. One title, "Songs in Ordinary Time" catches my attention. I pull it out and scan the back. After reading the description, I mentally place it on my "must read" list.
My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of the door at the end of the hallway as it buzzes indicating Master Control has just unlocked it. I return to the table I'd arranged as Bridget walked through the doorway. She casually smiles and then looks away; a defense mechanism that allows her to hide her emotions.
"Bridget! How are you?" I ask enthusiastically sitting down.
"Good. Good," she says as she sits down opposite me and begins to fidget with her pencil.
"What has your week been like?"
"Oh, it's been all right," she says unenthusiastically. "I met with Michael, again." She sounded more optimistic as she continued. "I decided not to plead guilty and we're taking it to trial. Michael feels strongly that I'll most likely end up with a simple shoplifting charge. The 5th-degree (from Wabasha County) and introducing contraband into jail (from Olmsted County) will probably get me six months and I'll get credit for time served. I should be done with Olmsted by the time my trial here is done. Best case scenario, I get out for treatment; otherwise, I go to Wisconsin, sit my 60 days plus whatever I get for violating and absconding."
I'm not sure I understood everything she said since she was talking so fast. What I'd learned about Bridget is that she can move through her thoughts more quickly than I can keep up sometimes. By now, I had researched the charges that landed her in jail, but I wasn't aware of the introducing contraband charge. I wasn't going to ask her about it as I didn't want her to incriminate herself.
"Do you have a date for trial, then?"
"No, but it should be soon. I hope."
"How was journaling this week?" I asked changing the subject.
"Honestly. I didn't really write anything. I wrote some letters to people, but that's about it. The unit had a lot of drama this week, so that kept me distracted. I got to see my daughter, though. She's looking pregnant and cute."
"Well, that's good, at least." I said as I flipped through her journal to where we left off.
Bridget was right. She hadn't written much of anything; however, what she wrote was important. It indicated to me that she was ready to move on; that she was practicing some forward thinking.
- Praying more
- Work on meditating more and calming my body and mind
- Find a good church
-Ask for help when I need it.
-Work on forgiving myself
As a volunteer at the ADC, it was against the rules to have contact with detainees for one year after working with them; however, I could connect with them in a professional capacity such as in my role as pastor. So, like any good pastor, I invited her to the church I serve since "find a good church" was on her list. It could serve as a way to stay connected with Bridget since I wanted to see how things went after her trial.
"Would it be all right if I came to your trial?" I asked cautiously. I'd never been to a trial before, but I felt like I couldn't miss something so important.
"Yes, of course. That'd be awesome."
"I'll keep an eye on the court schedule." Though I wasn't sure how to go about doing that.
"The more support I can get the better."
Shutting her journal, I knew we'd come to the end of our sessions.
"Well, are you ready to hear your song?"
"Really? It's finished?" She exclaimed.
"Yep. Pretty much. There are a couple spots I'll probably change, but for the most part, it's ready."
"Oh, my gosh, how exciting. This is absolutely amazing." The smile spread across her face gave away her emotions.
As I walked to the Wurlitzer, the sensation in my belly told me I was nervous. Gosh, why was I nervous?
Sitting down, I paused a moment before beginning to play. The song was in the key of Eb. Comfortable and easy. The words flowed as I began. One note to another. There were equal parts anticipation and hesitation in my voice, I was sure. I didn't dare look at Bridget. What would she think? Would the hours of work be worth it?
When I turned to face Bridget, tears were streaming down her cheeks as she let out a sob. "Oh, Sarah. It's so beautiful. I don't deserve this. Any of this. There are no words. Thank you."
All the emotion we felt hung in the air.
"Now what? What do you do with this song?" Bridget asked.
"I have no idea, really. We'll see what happens in the coming months."
We both stood and began walking toward the door as we sensed our time was up. Bridget with her journal, me with my notes.
"This time has meant so much to me, Bridget. Thank you for sharing your story with me. For trusting me with it. I want only the best for you and I hope everything goes well at trial. And, of course, enjoy that grand baby when you meet him!"
"Oh, I will," she responded with a smile.
We paused at the door and when it buzzed, we smiled and went our separate ways.
Not long after my final session with Bridget, Detention Center staff asked if I would come in and meet with Bridget again as they recorded her sharing what our sessions meant to her. The goal was to use the video as a promotional piece for other detainees who might consider participating in the future.
We met in the library, and when Bridget arrived she was all smiles. Something in her seemed brighter and more alive despite the fact that an abscessed tooth had caused half her face to swell.
As she had been in our sessions, Bridget was open and vulnerable as she shared. What a blessing she was to me. It was against the rules, but when Bridget was finished we wrapped each other up in an embrace of endearing friendship. To heck with the rules.
Later, I would tell my husband, "No matter what happens from here on out, I can know that my life has mattered. My life has mattered to Bridget - to one person - and that is enough." One person to another.