Behind The Razor Wired Fence
I thought my days of visiting someone in jail were over, but they weren’t. Tomorrow I will go to Theo Lacy jail here in Orange County to visit a good friend, Matt.
Keven and Matt were in a cell together for six months and they became close. Luckily, they got along and Matt was like a big brother to Keven. A year and a half later, when they were both out, Matt was a very positive influence on Kev, and he and I became close. He gave me my all-time favorite tattoo (I have 12, so that’s saying a lot!)
Matt did his best to encourage Kev to stay off drugs. When Keven died, Matt was there for me more than anyone else. He messaged me every single day for the first 18 months. The messages slowed down but still came at least once a week. Then suddenly the messages stopped, and I was left to wonder why. Silly me, I never even checked to see if he was in jail because he’d been doing so great, I couldn’t imagine that he’d gotten arrested.
We’re connected again, writing, talking on the phone and tomorrow I will see him in person. I told him I was showing up to visit his mustache because he told me he has a “bad ass mustache” now. Almost everything we say to each other has a twist of humor in it. He cracks me up so much! His stories about Keven are almost as good as the childhood stories I get from Keven’s lifelong friends.
Phil is a guy that knows both Keven and Anthony. Like Keven and Matt, Phil and Anthony were together in a cell for many months and became close. Anthony introduced me to Phil over a jail phone call, then introduced me in person when they were out. At first, I wasn’t especially close with Phil and had heard some not-so-great things about him and admit I judged him on his reputation before getting to know him.
I got a letter from Phil shortly after Keven died and we started writing. That was over a year ago, and now Phil is part of my life. He would do anything for me! He takes me to lunch; he checks in on me; he offers to help me around my house. I even let him live here for two weeks when he got out of prison. We stay in touch every few days and a “Phil Hug” is like hugging both my boys at once. He’s the same height as Keven, so I close my eyes and feel Keven’s and Anthony’s love coming through Phil’s arms around me.
Matt had an upbringing similar to Keven’s. It was full of love and a close family. Phil’s upbringing was like Anthony’s. It was horrible. It doesn’t matter how you were raised or where you come from, good people are inside those walls. Almost every mom in my support group has had an incarcerated child because of drugs. The lucky ones get a job when they get out and carry on with life. But more often than not, the felony charge hangs over their head, making it difficult for them. Or like with Keven, prison does a number on them, and they come out far worse than when they went in.
Society will always judge incarcerated persons. It’s just how it is. But I’m sending you this as a reminder - not everyone who’s been in jail/prison (or covered in tattoos) is a malicious person with evil intentions. They have loving families missing them - spouses, parents, kids.
Many are caring people who messed up, pay their dues and then get out and are never truly forgiven or looked at the same again. They sometimes make terrible decisions because of difficult or desperate circumstances.
Getting back into society with a criminal record isn’t easy. Having a felony on makes it hard to find a job or a place to live. Often, this leads people back to crime, because they have no other options or support. It’s like a revolving door. I see it over and over. Once you’ve been in, you have a high risk of going back. Keven was 18 the first time he was sent to jail and was in and out until he died at age 29.
I share this today because you may have never known someone who was in jail or prison. It’s easy to misunderstand or be wary when you haven’t been directly affected by it in your family. And it’s even easier to forget about this population of people altogether.
There are tons of organizations that rightly remind us of groups that have been marginalized and mistreated, but not so much for the incarcerated. We assume they’ve gotten what they deserve. We also assume that they are being rehabilitated while they are in there - that is rare. Don’t get me started, seriously. The opposite is more true.
If you go visit - you will see family members just like you are waiting in the long lines to visit their loved ones. So, please don’t assume that everyone behind the razor wire fencing is someone to be afraid of, shun, or look down upon. And don’t assume that if someone is not smiling and is covered with tattoos trying to look like a tough guy - that they are. You have to live a certain way in there and it follows you back out here. Showing any sign of weakness is the worst thing you can do. It’s brutal because some people in there are the “bad guys” and they run the place.
To all the Kevens, Anthonys, Phils and Matts out there - I see you and I wish you only the best.