By Ben Hall
October 22, 2010
I met my second cousin Jackie yesterday for the first time. The last time I saw her in a picture she was just a small child. We have been writing for a while. Jackie feels comfortable sharing her life with me she says, she knows I will not judge her. They pull me from a writing workshop in the chapel and the visit is unexpected. I am a little disappointed to leave the workshop but excited when I find out its Jackie. As I enter the visiting room I see a slender auburn haired girl sitting with her back to me. I approach knowing it’s Jackie and I’m reminded of the array of emotions I’ve felt over years for Jackie and her sisters without even meeting them.
I think about Collin serving his 20-year sentence for the years of torment he put Jackie and her sisters through. When Jackie was big enough she fought back, so Collin had his friend hold her down. What was wrong with this guy who couldn’t even admit what he did and had no remorse. I am one who believes in forgiveness, but it’s hard! Every day Collin gets to get out of bed when really maybe someone should have just put a bullet through your head. But I don’t want to think about you right now Collin.
Jackie looks up and gives me a nervous smile as we shake hands. Its always a little uncomfortable in person for the first time, especially inside a prison. Jackie is tall, beautiful, and only 21 years old. We talk like old friends cut from the same fabric of life, exchanging family war stories and laughing about our aunt’s mannerisms.
We take two photos together, one for each of us to keep. I am so happy to meet her, but my heart begins to feel heavy as she speaks of the “brothers,” referring to an outlaw motorcycle club she runs around with. Lifting her shirt, she shows me a tattoo I’ve seen on countless other convicts; it is a pistol on her waistband, the way gangsters do. My heart is broken as I leave the visit because I see what she cannot: the end result of a lifestyle that takes your beauty and sucks dry your vitality, leaving you betrayed and alone.
But I’m not going to be pushy. I simply tell her, don’t let anyone abuse you cousin, that she is family and always has a place with me. We hug and she tell me she will come again. On my way back to my block, I push my anger for Collin down and one thing I know for sure, come what may for Jackie, I’ll pray for her and I will be there if I can.