A Lot of Bread
When I was first incarcerated in 1987, the hardest part of doing prison time was being away from my children. This is common with most of the women in prison, so often stories of our children are shared among each other.
Renee, a friend I had met in prison, was doing seven years for drug charges. She had a five-year-old son that her parents were raising. She and the grandparents had told the five-year-old that Renee was away at school in order to protect him from the fear and humiliation of his mother being incarcerated. Renee would call her son often and promise him that it wouldn't be long before they'd be reunited again.
One evening, after talking to her son, Renee came to me with tears in her eyes. Her son had asked if she would be home soon. Renee made the regular promise that it wouldn't be too much longer now. The boy asked, "Can we go to the duck pond when you get home?" She assured him that they would.
In the innocence of a child, he had proudly announced that he was saving up the bread already. Renee's heart wrenched imagining the huge pile of moldy bread that would be piled up before she would be able to keep her promise to this trusting five-year-old.
We cried together, and she somehow made it through the crisis. I was shocked when only a few weeks later she came to me seeking advice. She had just received her state pay - twenty-five dollars for the month - and had the opportunity to buy a half of a pill for twenty-five dollars. It would leave her broke for the rest of the month, but Renee really wanted to buy the pill. It would be dissolved and shot up for a high. She felt that she deserved the "treat" because prison was so hard, she was so lonely and it was almost her birthday. I'm sure Renee had other reasons, but my head was still spinning from the fact that she could even consider it with a five-year-old son waiting to share her life with him.
Since I don't do drugs and never have, I couldn't imagine what kind of high could be greater than spending time with your child. Before I realized what I was saying, I blurted out, "You're grown, and you have to make your own decisions, but think how much bread that twenty-five dollars could buy." The statement was like throwing ice water in Renee's face. She caught her breath, whirled around and walked away from me before I could take back my statement. I felt terrible. It was cruel of me to have made such a statement, I thought. Who was I to judge another person? I knew I had ruined a good friendship.
I didn't see Renee for several days, so I wasn't sure if she had used the state pay for the coveted half-pill. I felt miserable. Finally, Renee joined me at a table in the lobby, looking sheepish. I hugged her without asking about her decision - it was none of my business. She volunteered the information, anyway. Renee had not bought the pill.
She said, "You were right, Lucy. It will buy a lot of bread." It's been ten years since I've seen Renee, but she still writes and lets me know that she still hasn't done drugs, although tempted. She always thinks about how much bread the cost of the drugs will buy. Renee and her son now visit the duck pond often. She continues to thank me for reminding her of what that one moment of weakness almost cost her.