This one is hard because I wasn’t sure what to write about. This open ended category. It was like I could write about anything. But I wanted whatever I wrote about to be good. To mean something.
I have decided to talk about what it is like to have a brother in prison.
Simply put. It is hard. Very hard. My brother was arrested in November 2006. Right before Thanksgiving and my birthday. Worst birthday ever. The day I learned of his arrest was by far the worst day ever. Until I saw him in his orange jumpsuit, behind a glass for our bi-weekly 20 minute visit. Those were both the best and worst days of every week. I looked forward to seeing him and getting to speak to him face to face, but when they came for him at the end of our visit and they took him away. Back to his cell. Away from us. It was heartbreaking. The saddened look on his face when they knocked on the door to come get him. For a year we saw him like this. A year he was behind that glass. It was awful. I actually looked forward to the day I could see him in prison so that I could wrap him up in a big giant hug. A hug I had to wait a year for. But it was the best hug ever. And I cried. Tears of both sadness and joy.
I all but stopped my life for him. We went to court almost monthly for one reason or another. I went to see him every week. Tuesday and Saturday. When he was up here. When he was in other county jails around Virginia we saw him as often as we could. I waited for phone calls. I never wanted to go out just in case he called. I spent a lot of time crying. I googled my brother and read and re-read the articles in the paper. I rarely talked about it, at the beginning, because I wasn’t sure what to say. People weren’t sure how to act around me or what to say. It was understandable, but it hurt me. Deep down I wanted my friends, I wanted to talk to them, I wanted advice but I wasn’t sure how to get it. And truthfully? No one I knew could really understand what I was going through. I didn’t really either. And this is something that you can’t understand unless you are going through it or have been through it.
And then there was sentencing. Hearing the testimony, minimal since he’d plead, but it was still hard. It was hard to hear my mother get up on that stand and talk about her baby. I didn’t know she was such a strong woman. When the judge read his sentence I lost it. I didn’t even hear anything past the first charge. I don’t remember anything until we walked out of the court room. I had been preparing myself to watch my brother walk out of that room and into prison for 10+ years. Preparing, but not prepared. You can’t prepare yourself for that. I was so confused as to why everyone was overjoyed with his sentence. It wasn’t until I realized he’d gotten 6 1/2 years. I was over the moon. Which is strange considering my brother was still going to prison for a long time, but it wasn’t that long considering what we were expecting him to get. At that moment I knew we could get through this. How? No idea. But we could do it. We’d already done a year and as hard as it was it was just as quick. And we only had to go through 5 1/2 more. We finally had an end date. There was an end in sight. I could work with that.
When he finally got moved to his prison home and we could finally go see him I was excited. I could not wait. To sit in a room with him. NOT behind a glass. To hug him. To “share a meal” even if it was out of a vending machine. We’ve had several good visits with my brother over the years. I enjoy the time we get to spend as a family even if it’s only for a couple hours and not as often as we’d like. He’s always been far away. Too far to see him all the time. Recently we were hoping he’d be moved much, much closer but in the end he didn’t get to come closer. I was devastated. I was so sure he would be close. That I would be able to see him more often. I, am, so incredibly disappointed by the fact that he is still so far away. I have little hope that he will be close to home until he is actually home. I still hope, but I no longer hold my breath.
In the last 4 years I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve learned the value of a hand written letter. And getting that letter in the mail. Those letters mean a whole lot to me, and I can only imagine what they mean to my brother. I’ve learned the importance of a phone call. Sometimes we don’t have much to say, but we spend 20 minutes a week on the phone talking about anything and everything. I’ve learned it is ok to tell him I am disappointed and sad and angry and hurt. And sometimes he gets angry, and will even yell at me, but he’s not angry with me just his situation and that everyone needs to vent. That took me a long time, and some therapy, to learn. I was always afraid to tell him what I thought. I was afraid to upset him and that he wouldn’t call me back. Or write. And I wouldn’t see or speak to him until he got out. But he will always call back. And he will write. And take my visits. I’m glad now that he knows how I feel and that I know that no matter what he needs me as much as I need him.
I’ve had good days and bad days. I’ve had worse than bad days. I’ve had many sleepless nights. Nightmares about my brother. I’ve had dreams that my brother had been released and that this whole thing was over. And then I woke up. And those wake-ups were worse than after the nightmares. I’ve spent days in a fog. But had really awesome happy days and then felt guilty because of where my brother is. I love the holidays, but they are so hard because he’s by himself eating prison food and spending holidays alone and sad. It’s been heartbreaking. But when I hear the hope in his voice and his plan for the future I know it’s been good for him even though it’s been really hard on him too.
The whole thing is hard. Very, very hard. But we are getting through it. One day at a time. We’re going to make it and we’re going to be ok.