During the year of ’85/’86 we settled into our life on Willow Grove and began to feel stable. Micheal got to complete fourth grade in one school. He joined CYL and played ball that summer. I continued to work at the liquor store. Together, Chris and I didn’t have much money, but we could meet our basic bills. I could spend every penny of my $142 a week on groceries if I wanted to, and I often did.

Shawn and Brandon spent every other weekend with us. We had a routine. We had a family and we were beginning to have a life. At the end of summer, Chris and his friends decided it would be great fun to have a hog roast at a nearby pond. We chose a weekend when we didn’t have Shawn and Brandon. Micheal loved to fish, and eating pork and fishing sounded like a great time for him, too. During that day we ate, played, and drained two kegs of beer. It was late in the afternoon when Chris brought Micheal to me. He was weaving and staggering.

“What’s wrong?” My hand went to my son’s forehead. No fever.

“What do you think is wrong?” Chris asked. “We caught him sneaking beer. From the looks of him he’s been doing it all day” I was flabbergasted. My son was only nine years old. How could I have been so oblivious? I was so wrapped up in myself I hadn’t even noticed my son was getting drunk.

“Are you kidding me? How much did you drink, Micheal?” I was none too sober myself, but how could I have missed my son sneaking drinks from idle beers all afternoon?

“I don’t know. Just a little bit.” His words weren’t slurred, but his movements were slow and rubbery, his walk uncertain.

“You need to take him home. Get him out of here.” Chris handed me the keys. I put my son in the car and drove the short distance to the house. I wasn’t in good enough shape to drive, but I counted on law enforcement being scarce on the country roads. I lectured Micheal on the way home, berating him for his sneaky behavior. Once inside the house, he stumbled to the couch and collapsed on it. It was more than disturbing to see him inebriated so young. I didn’t know what to make of it, but I hoped it was an experience unpleasant enough that he would not soon repeat it. I don’t know if he ever snuck alcohol again, but in later years he would explore far more unpleasant things.

December 18, 2018

I like to wait for a week or two before I visit him in jail. He is usually sick and surly for a while after he’s gone to lockup. Sometimes it’s dope sickness, but this time he has been binging on meth so it’s way different. Before parole got him, he was becoming gaunt, but he didn’t have sores on his face. I’ve never seen him with sores on his face, though he has been on long enough meth runs to start picking himself like that. He doesn’t ever pick, he just becomes paranoid.

I set up my video account in the jail visiting area. It’s a touchscreen, and this screen has been touched far too much. There are fingerprints smeared in snot or slobber or god-knows-what. I don’t want to put my hands on it. When I do, I think to myself that I need to remain conscious about putting my hands to my face until I can get home to wash.

When I get set up, I start typing his name, ‘t-o-w-n-s…’ and that’s enough to bring his full name up on the screen. I choose him and wait to see his face. He answers the “call” and his face comes into focus. I lift the receiver from the hook, wishing I had a handkerchief with which to hold it. Heaven knows who’s been hacking all over it.

He looks better than when I saw him last. He has a few days growth of beard, not bad, and the creases in his face are beginning to fill in. It doesn’t take long for him to put on weight again. He tells me he’s been ravenous. I say I’ll put money on his commissary so he can get extra food. I know it isn’t good food, but it will at least put weight on his starved body.

Remarkably, he is in a good mood. He seems almost happy. He is smiling, and he tells me he asked to be a trustee and they let him do it. He is working in the kitchen. He says it makes the time go faster and it gives him something to do. There is reason to be optimistic, he says. Even though he didn’t stay clean, he thinks he has a better idea how to do it now. He hopes the parole board will let him go to treatment instead of back to prison. He learned that he will get a new parole officer, but he hasn’t met him yet. The officer is supposed to visit soon after the parolee is arrested. The board has 30 days to decide whether to send him back or not. He will know his fate right after Christmas.

We talk a little bit about the girl he was staying with. I’ve learned her name. She contacted me on Facebook to ask if I’d talked to him. He is curious about what we have said to each other. I don’t tell him, but I’ve asked her if he has been violent with her, if he has treated her well. I need to know if he is a good person or not. I don’t know him anymore and I want to be sure I’m not helping a bad person do bad things in the world. The girl tells me he hasn’t been violent, but he has made a point to let her know he could be. She said they used meth together, but there were also stretches of days when they didn’t use at all. She said they were happiest on those days, and he was good and kind to her then.

Fifteen minutes can be either an eternity or a fleeting moment when it comes to prison visits. This visit comes to an end in a flash. We didn’t get to complete the business we needed to attend to. Each inmate can have a visit every six hours, and I promise to coordinate my next visit with the girl. He blows me a kiss and I hang up the receiver. As I leave, I walk past other visitors in front of other dirty touchscreens. I notice the grime along the floor where it meets the wall. I smell the stale cigarette smoke that permeates the space even though no one ever smokes there. The scent mingles with the cheap cologne and the misery in the air. At the metal door, the turnkey buzzes me out into the cold.

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