“Thank you for what you’ve done, to escape from prison,” I said to my housemate.
We were at the dining room table, both eating dinner late. He had served himself up a big, beautiful plate of food: roasted veg, dumplings, and spinach salad. We had just been talking about food justice, how crappy food is served to kids at school, and in prisons too.
The huge food companies have chicken nuggets and chicken strips, and the schools get the nuggets by default. My housemate explained that someone like the principal has to fight for better food, if they care about the kids.
“Some people care about the kids,” my housemate said.
“The prisoners are our kids too,” I said.
Suddenly I really saw my housemate sitting there in the late afternoon light, free and wild. The gratitude hit me hard, that he is here with us in our community. And the pain of the contrast, that not everyone is so free.
Many many prisoners are stuck in a system that keeps them trapped and separated from their families and so much opportunity, for horrible reasons of violence, racism, and power dynamics that are downright shameful.
This rich, beautiful United States doesn’t need to do this to its own people.
That’s why I was thanking my housemate for escape from prison. Not like a dramatic prison break–I mean escaping the situation.
Thank you for your hard work.
- running fast
- having a good lawyer
- showing up for court dates that get delayed and emptying your pockets on the metal detector conveyor belt every time
- making phone calls
- doing forms
- meeting with your probation officer
- biting your tongue when you needed to
- speaking up when you needed to
And all the things you might have done to stay out of prison, to sit at the dinner table with me in spring, enjoying nutritious home-cooked foods as Rome burns.
“Did I tell you about when I was arrested?” my housemate asked.
“No, I haven’t heard about it,” I said. “It’s just that every man I’ve ever loved pretty much has been arrested.”
My housemate took that in.
“Yeah,” I continued. “Doing things–being out–trying to help the world. Whether for justice or their own pocket or whatever.”
Ming is not a man–he’s a non-binary person–but he’s been arrested for peace, as have I. Many of my dude friends have been arrested for drugs, homelessness, sex work, protests, and other reasons both sacred and profane.
Are you free? If so, why are you free? Chance, money, ethnic background, that you “stayed out of trouble,” family name, that a judge gave you another chance because you were apologetic and young?
I wanted to do more street art, but I can’t run. Then I saw instagram videos of ladies wheatpasting in broad daylight. If I wore an orange reflective vest and carried my bucket with an official air, could I look like a legit artist who’s supposed to be there?
My hair is turning gray, and my smile is friendly. If I believe I’m not doing wrong, maybe others will perceive me that way.