Yes, I do know yesterday was Day 6, but I realized that I had counted Sunday as Day 5. Sure, technicalities. And I have never done this before, actually counting Lenten days and making Lent truly count.
Walking in the shoes of prisoners is exhausting. No, really. As I mentioned last Friday, I bought the real deal uniform, shoes and all. It’s a far cry from my scrubs and Vans that I began this adventure with. So, after a day walking around on cardboard during a quick vacation with my family in San Antonio, my feet were killing me. The shirt and pants (the jumpsuit didn’t fit, but rest assured I will have one soon!) feel like I am wearing a mix between that cover they put on you when you get X-rays and an orange traffic cone. I may be exaggerating a bit, but don’t expect a new fashion trend in this material anytime soon.
It made me think of how it might feel for the millions of men and women in our nation’s prison system as we strip them of comfort and any form of individuality. I am beginning to understand how exhausting it must be. Physical comforts stripped away, individuality crushed, let the dehumanizing begin.
But it is also exhausting mentally and emotionally. For the first few days of this Lenten journey, I was able to stick pretty close to people that I know and who would understand and support me. So on Saturday when I ventured out into the general public and took my daughter to a movie, it started getting real. And then to go stroll the River Walk, visit the Alamo, dine at a couple of local favorites.
So that’s what it is like. Stares, questioning glances, avoidance. And some genuine curiosity and conversations. But mostly stigma. Or at least in my head it was. What is that father thinking as I talk with his son and my children as they play in the store together? What does that woman think about me as I walk holding my little boy’s hand? Are those people judging me? Will they accept who I am in spite of my “uniform”? Are they afraid of me? These are questions I have never before had to ponder. I am now beginning to taste and see, albeit in quite a limited way, what it might be like for the stigmatized in our society. And it wore me out. I don’t know how to begin to change our penchant for stigmatizing and ostracizing others, but hopefully next time I won’t add to the burden.
But y’all, let’s be honest. My experience isn’t real. Not like the experiences of millions of our brothers and sisters. So please remember and always remind me that this journey is not ultimately about my experience. It is about the stories of real suffering and rejection, dehumanization and bearing of our burdens. This practice of mine is my small part in using what power and platform I have to point to those whose stories truly have the power to confront, transform and ultimately heal our collective wounds.