Dad, Cars, and Jail

The best thing about cleaning is that you begin to appreciate all that you have. So, I decided to get everything in order and take my car to the carwash today. While I was waiting for my car it made me think of two things: teaching at the jail and my dad.

I’m part of an extracurricular program where UCSF students go to the county jail and teach health classes to the female inmates. I’ve taught on topics on nearly everything from diabetes, to sleep issues, to harm reduction for sex workers. I always wonder if someone would have told any of those women that they were smart, or worthy, or didn’t deserve being abused that it may have prevented them from making some of the choices that they made that landed them in jail.

For instance, last week the topic was female anatomy. So of course we talked about sex, and how things work, and what does it mean when things aren’t working. One of the ladies shared a story where her sex partner did something without her knowing, but she felt that it was o.k. (In other words, she consented to sex, but some things were done to her body that she was unaware of. She said she was o.k. after the fact, but I don’t think she was because she chose to share this experience). I try not to pick on people when they share something like that and they become vulnerable to the group and possibly criticism and judgment. At the same time, this may be the only time when someone says to that woman, “that is not o.k. and you deserve to be treated better and have full consent about what happens to your body.” (I learned pretty quickly that they won’t listen to me if I tell them what they “should and shouldn’t” do, but I will tell them that other people aren’t allowed to do harmful things to them. They may choose to self-harm, but other people have no right to hurt them.)   Later, another inmate made her cry because she was pleading with her to not use heroin when she leaves the jail. The reason I didn’t regret that one lady being so exposed in the class was because she had this realization, “maybe I end up here over and over and over is because I keep doing the same thing over and over again.”

So what does this have to do with my dad?

One thing I’m very aware of is that I’m not where I am in life because I was born with the right genetics and the right mindset. Honestly, I was born to the right parents with the right resources and the right opportunities… and I chose to utilize it. While many of the women in the jails (and outside of the jails) never knew their fathers, my father has been a very constant and vocal part of my life. While many of their fathers harmed them in unthinkable ways, my father protected me.

I remember when I first started college there were many people who just dismissed their parents because they didn’t live with them anymore. I feel as if my dad did his best, he never did anything intentionally to hinder, harm, or stagnate my life. Yes, he still is opinionated even though we don’t live together; however, he did right by me for the 1st 18 years of my life so he earned the right to have his opinions be at least heard.

So what does this have to do with my car?

I’ve never had car trouble (aside from the couple of times I crashed it). Every so often I get the oil changed. I check the tires to make sure they aren’t balding. In the 9 years I had my car I never had any real issues with it. When my dad purchased this car for me, he was thinking of a car that would support me and be reliable for a very long time. He knew what to look for in buying this car. I can’t tell you what was going on in his mind 9 years ago, but I knew his focus was making the best decisions for my wellbeing for the long run (and I’m not just talking about the car).

I was thinking about that today because I was thinking about what life is going to be like in the next year. In all my worries and in all my concerns, reliable transportation isn’t one of them. That is a benefit to my daily life. I think about how the women in jail made bad decisions (or just got caught up in drugs) because your mindset isn’t different when you are always trying to survive.

Think about how much you don’t have to worry about… Is your car going to get you to work. Do you have work to go to? Does the pay cover the gas it takes to get there? Will you eat today? Will you have lights tomorrow? Do you anticipate the next season of Orange is the New Black or do you anticipate another dark cloud coming your way? Never judge someone who is making decisions to survive. And yes, often times choosing drugs is an emotional survival method.

So, what does my car, my dad, and the jail all have to do with each other?

I always think about what decisions led the women to jail. We all make bad mistakes, but why did they make worse mistakes that had more serious consequences than the rest of us. We can talk about how some people are just bad and do bad things. We can talk about how poverty and racism and social injustices and economic injustices and unfair policing and predatory affluence and current laws and policies ensure that private prisons stay filled. Or we can talk about (as my Uncle Jerry would say) people’s 1st 4 walls- their homes, family structure, and community structure. I didn’t wake up in nursing school one day. I had people make decisions on my behalf before I was even born that I would be safe, happy, and have some level success and self-assurance. (You read my May letter, right?)

As always, I would love to hear back from you!

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