As I promised Mike at yesterday's sentencing, I showed up tonight at the jail to visit with him. I was the only one in the visitation room -- evidently Wednesday night visitation is not well attended -- so we visited almost an hour. Visits are typically thirty minutes in length only. I have previously been critical about the ways visitors (like myself) are sometimes treated by law enforcement center personnel, so I need to balance my previous words with words of appreciation now for the opportunity to "extend" the visiting time. It feels much more humane to me, and I appreciate that.
"So, did you like what you heard in Court yesterday?" were Mike's words of greeting to me.
"Umm. Well, not really. Did you?"
"I don't know."
"I'm assuming you probably knew what the judge was going to say before he said it, right?"
"Yeah, my attorney talked with me about it beforehand."
"So, tell me, what does it all mean?"
"It means that if I don't follow every single thing the judge said [and at this point Mike elucidated his understanding of the numerous terms to his sentence] I will go to prison for twenty-two months."
"So do you think you'll be able to do what you are required to do?"
With no hesitation on his part Mike answered, "No."
We pause in our conversation to absorb his candorous remarks, and then I pick up our interaction again.
"So, you're saying that you know yourself well enough that it's not going to work or you're saying that no one could possibly do all that."
"Well, both really. I don't know how I'm supposed to work, find a place to live, do eighty hours of community service within twelve months, finish school and stay out of legal trouble."
"You're right. That's a lot to do. It's going to be hard."
"So, I think I'll probably end up executing my time."
I have heard Mike use this insider language before, but I've never been quite clear on what exactly it means. So I ask him to try to explain it to me once again.
"It means that when I get out [on Monday] I'm done serving my time for now, but if I break any of the terms or probation I'm going to prison. But I think I'm just going to save some money, stay out of trouble and then execute the time."
I am more confused now than ever. "I'm not getting this, Mike. You mean you're going to plan to screw up so that you can go back in?"
"Nah. What it means is that I can ask to serve my time, and because the prison system is so filled I would be able to sit in the county jail for seven months and finish it all up."
"Oh. So you can decide to come back in and serve the time locally, on work release, and within seven months you're done with the whole sentence. If, I mean, you are able to complete the others terms ... restitution and stuff?"
More silence ensues as I consider how much about our criminal justice system my nineteen-year-old son has learned, and how much he has taught me in just the past year.
"Well, in your situation that might be the best thing for you. You'd have a place to live, you'd be able to work, and you'd be able to get your time done locally."
Our conversation wanders into other avenues. He is trying to assess how much assistance from us he can garner in the next few weeks. It is awkward for me because I want to help him get on his feet, but I will not put myself in a situation where I and our family members will be taken advantage of once again. He has repeatedly stolen and taken from us over the years, and I will not do that again.
I agree to purchase some underwear and socks for him, since he has one pair of each. I do not agree to help him find a place to live. (Been there, done that, bad results). I do not agree to provide him a cell phone. I do not agree to provide him with transportation (although I may be willing to help with that within the city limits if it means a ride from work to his place of abode). I agree to consider helping with fees so that he can test for the GED.
He asks about family members, and I give him updates person by person. He decides to tell me that he smokes, something I am not surprised by. "It helps me relax when I'm under stress," he tells me. "And you're paying for these how?" I question, since he has just told me he has limited clothing and no place to live. "I draw pictures and people pay me." "And you're not concerned about your health?" "Well, I figure I have to worry about skin cancer before lung cancer" (Mike is very lightly complected). "I know you don't like that I'm doing it, but it helps me."
"Well, Mike, I guess everything is relative."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean no father wants to be visiting his nineteen-year-old kid in jail, so in terms of context your smoking isn't probably the biggest issue we're talking about right now. Of course I care about it, but I think there are probably some other things that are more important at this point in time."
"Oh, you mean like my having a place to live and stuff?"
"Yeah. That's what I mean."
By the end of our conversation there are several barbs that I refuse to be snagged by. "Well, I've learned a lot about jail since I've been pretty much locked up since I was thirteen." "Yes, Mike, you've had a difficult few years."
"I couldn't finish treatment because you guys took me off your insurance plan in the middle of it."
"Mike, no one in our family over the age of eighteen who is not in school or working is able to stay on our insurance. Are you chemically dependent?"
"And since you are not chemically dependent, there is no way that Mom and I could have afforded to pay the $25,000 not covered by insurance for you to be in treatment."
Mike has aspirations. He has goals. He wants to get his driver's license. He wants to get his GED. He wants to work and make money. He wants to purchase clothing. But he knows he can never do it all, especially on his own.
"So, I've learned that I have to do what I have to do to survive. When you're starting from the bottom up and you're completely on your own you do what you have to do."
"So what are you saying, Mike?"
"I'm saying that I don't plan to do anything criminal, but if it means I have to do something that will prevent me from living in a box on the street, I'm going to do that. I'm not going to be so desperate that I'm going to be homeless."
And that pains me to hear because I know that for months before he and his birth brother moved in with us ten years ago his birth mother and her four children were, in fact, often homeless. They lived in a car for a while, with relatives, with whomever she could find.
He continues. "I mean it's not like I want to do anything illegal, but if I have to then I have to."
I cannot tell whether he is playing me or whether he is simply stating facts. I suspect it's a combination of the two.
"Well, Mike, Mom and I have always wanted you to be able to succeed, and we are looking forward to the day when you'll be able to move beyond this chapter of your life into a new one."
He says little more. It has been nearly an hour. He is tired of talking, fidgeting, ready for the word that visits are now over. "Well, Mike, I love you," I say as he stands to hang up the receiver. "Love you, too."
And with that we separate. I return to my home with my children, my spouse, my dog. Mike returns to his quarters.
Will they be temporary or permanent?