Thank God for the many volunteers across the country who devote countless hours to traveling and time spent inside prison walls. We have one here who recently started a support group-type class for parents and grandparents who have lost a child or grandchild. The official name of this group is The Compassionate Friends (a renowned national organization). Unfortunately, I became a member of this category in 1997 when I lost my eleven-month old son, but I can say the experience of this group today–nineteen years later– has given me a measure of strength and support that I’d not found in all the years leading up to this time.
There are only seven of us (including the volunteer) who meet once a week for one and a half hours to discuss both the fond and painful memories of those we’ve lost. We meet in the chapel where we are secluded from the housing units and general population, allowing us privacy and serenity otherwise not offered in prison. It’s extremely refreshing to be in such a peaceful, quiet, and surprisingly comfortable setting within these walls. Perhaps it is the assurance of knowing there are others who share in my unfortunate loss that brings me a level of comfortability–I’m not really sure, but I appreciate and cherish it.
Because we share our very solemn personal stories of how we lost our children, emotions run heavy high. But the beauty of this meeting is that men who are otherwise forced to wear a mask of toughness and carry an air of bravado finally feel free to be vulnerable, honest, and thoughtful. Napkins are regularly passed around the table to help us through our toughest, most poignant moments. But we know we are among friends and supporters, people who share our pain and will not judge us when we break down and show raw pain. I cannot illustrate how powerful those moments are–you’d have to be there to witness it–but it is palpable. In fact, one member–perhaps the most stoic one of us all–managed to say through his streaming tears, “Man, it’s just nice to be able to cry . . . I don’t get to do it very much in here.” Indeed, prison does not “allow” for this type of vulnerability for obvious reasons, so to say that this group is incalculably important is a gross understatement!
The stark reality of where we are was soon felt once the group ended and we all headed back to our respective housing units. As we all filed out into the corridor, the tears were immediately wiped away and demeanor’s were instantly transformed to those more conducive to social survival in this setting. There was no more talk of lost children, pain, or unanswered questions that parents of deceased children are fraught with for the rest of their lives. But I understand. As much as I would have loved to carry on those painstaking conversations outside of the group (with those who are a part of the group, of course), I know it’s just not going to happen. And that’s okay; again, thank God for volunteers like ours who create safe havens like ours and make these rare opportunities available for people who need them the most.
For me personally, perhaps the number one take away from these groups has been for me to remember that there are people all around me who carry burdens of immense grief and unexplored pain from having lost family members–children no less–or suffered other unspeakable trauma. Behind the tough exteriors and masks of indestructibility are men who hurt for many reasons and simply need an avenue–a safe haven if you will–to freely and safely express this grief. No one (inmate or not) should have to carry such heavy burdens and have no one to talk to and lean on when they need it the most. How inhuman!
I will concede that the tattooed long beards can look scary. The stone-faced demeanor’s that refuse to crack a smile, even when provoked, can be quite intimidating. But before we judge, we need to keep in mind there is a human being behind those masks. And I’d venture to say that nine times out of ten, when that person feels it’s okay to remove the mask–even if only for an hour and a half a week–there is a hurting person who simply needs someone to lean on.
Martin Lockett is serving a 17 1/2 year sentence for a tragic car accident. Martin has substantially turned his life around by completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, published his first book and is currently working on his Masters in Psychology. Martin plans to counsel at risk youth when he is released. He hopes his insight, thoughts and experiences from prison will help those who have a loved one incarcerated or someone facing prison time.
To read more about Martin, CLICK HERE
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