Sunday, October 25, 2009

Four Doors Away

"And these here, they're in for life..."

I'm inside the medium-security section of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. I'm here to do a radio project that gives a special troop of Girl Scouts the chance to voice their stories of living life with a mother in prison.

Around me moms and daughters are sitting close together, laughter tinkling around the room as they spread the peanut butter on their sandwiches with plastic knives. The coordinator of this program is explaining to me that the 'N/A' next to some moms' names on this list means this is all they're gonna get. There will be no more comparing this time in here with what they might someday do out there. They are here for the rest of their lives.

Only a few names say that -- most will get another chance to raise their own daughters -- but there are those few... and for them i stand in total amazement. What a feat of strength it must be, to see your daughter leave through the locked doors after just a short time.

Four locked doors away is the sweet still air of a sunny Saturday in Oregon. In a couple hours, the girls here today will say a sorrowful goodbye to their mamas, and wait another two weeks to come back. Even if they do come before that--on a regular visit and not one with Girl Scouts--they won't be able to sit on their mom's laps like they are today, or hug them for as long as they want to. The special rules for this Girl Scout troop are just one of the ways these mothers are getting back their basic humanity, even while behind bars.

As a parent, I can't comprehend the idea of not being able to embrace my own daughter. It sets the hairs on my arm on end to think about it. I want to tear up or run out of the room, or call my daughter on the phone just to see how she's doing. I have a profound respect for these women for what they must go through, when the fourth door slams shut.

I can hear the more traditional people in my life whispering, "well they're in there for something, so don't feel too sorry," but I don't think of it like that. Convictions or not, overworked DA's or not, three-strike-rules or not, racial profiling or not, suspended sentences for petty crimes or not, Measure 11 or not -- it's unnatural to look at your baby through a layer of glass, or have restrictions upon how and when you can snuggle them.

In just a few minutes, I'll leave through those four locked doors. I'll be grateful when I get to the other side, watching the way a puff of smoke rises above the parking lot, in a place where nothing else moves, the way the October light plays on the dappled back of a horse, ridden by a little girl across the street from the prison, and how everything out here seems to move so slow and so fast... and how freedom feels different, after only mere moments of not having it...

The mothers and daughters from the local Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program will be featured on my radio show, Bread and Roses, on KBOO 90.7 FM in the coming months. Stay tuned for times and dates right here, or at and

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