I was sent this very moving essay by a mother in Illinois. It moved me greatly. It is about her son Luke who is struggling with addiction.
“I am here to see my son Luke.
What is his number?
His name is Luke.
Mam, what is his number?
His name is Luke. Luke…Luke.
Lady, if you don’t give us his number, you will have to leave.
But his name is Luke………………
And his number is M164874”.
John Mayer has a song that says:
When you’re dreaming with a broken heart
The waking up is the hardest part
You roll outta bed and down on your knees
And for a moment you can hardly breathe
But I wasn’t dreaming…I was talking to the guards at Statesville Prison in Joliet, Illinois. Luke had barely turned 21. He was sentenced to two years in prison for criminal destruction to property over $300. His probation was revoked because he didn’t do what was mandated. They put a warrant out for his arrest. I remember the day he called to tell me was running because he couldn’t go back behind bars. He had spent two weeks in the county jail before his hearing, and he was like a trapped animal. I would visit him at the county and talk to him on a phone with glass in between us. Just like you see on TV folks. And I would put my hand on the glass and he would put his hand on the glass and I knew my heart was never going to beat the same. Luke has always been a free and creative spirit. When he told me that he was going to run, the fear took my breath away, but I also couldn’t tell him not to do it. We met on the sly for lunch a couple of times. I could have turned him in. I should have turned him in. Instead I would give him a hug and watch him walk away down an alley never sure if I would see him again. I knew he’d get caught, and he did.
Enter Statesville Prison in Joliet. Two hours drive there, two-hour visit, two hours drive back home. Every single week-end. They would call him up from his cell. His room was in a huge building at the end of a courtyard the length of a football field. I would hurry into the visiting room and go to the window so I could watch him walk across the courtyard. I watched every single step he took. My baby. And I would try to get my tears out before he entered the room. But I also knew that before he could enter that room, he would first have to go into the guard station to take down his pants, bend over, raise his balls. And after I left from the visit, he would again have to take down his pants to bend over, raise his balls.
He would call me non-stop during the week. Sometimes we’d only say a few words. But he needed to hear my voice and I needed to hear his. On my visits on the week-ends, the first time we talked and talked. But with each visit, the talking became strained….his world never changed, and it was difficult for me to talk about the world outside that he was missing.
I could purchase a card to get food out of a vending machine for Luke when I was visiting. I know it sounds so minor, but it was a major event and one of the things that would make me cry. Momma bear knowing that food was a comfort. Luke longed for the food…crappy microwave sandwiches and Mountain Dew and some chips. But half the time the card machine was broken or the vending machines were empty. And I would sit there and cry because it meant something, and Luke would look at me and say “Mom, don’t worry about it, just please don’t cry.
As time went on, I continued to be a mess on the inside. Some friends and family changed the subject if I mentioned his name. It was awkward to talk about my son being in prison. I became two different people…I went through my days as normally as I could, but I was also heart broken by his imprisonment and by the system. And I knew the importance of visiting each weekend, but it was SO difficult to get into my car and drive the long drive and endure the pain of seeing him in his prison jump suit, losing weight, and losing touch with the outside world. And Statesville…it’s like an Alcatraz in Illinois. Frightening.
So with each visit I became more and more agitated. The guards sitting at the front desk, watching every move we made in the visiting room while they sat there with their feet on the desk, eating food and tapping on the window if I got too close to Luke. It got to the point where I felt like the scene in Terms of Endearment when Shirley McClaine becomes a maniac when her daughter, dying of cancer, needs pain medicine. If you haven’t seen the movie, she screams at the nurses “I don’t see why she has to have this pain it’s time for her shot, do you understand? Do something…my daughter is in pain! Give her the shot, do you understand me? GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!!! Just like that, I wanted to scream:
WHY IS THE CARD MACHINE BROKEN AGAIN AND WHY AREN’T THERE CHIPS IN THE VENDING MACHINE, AND WHY CAN’T I TOUCH MY SON, AND WHY ARE YOU TURNING AWAY LOVED ONES WHEN THEY HAVE A SHIRT THAT’S TWO LOW CUT, AND WHY DO YOU KEEP POUNDING ON THE WINDOW IF I REACH TO TOUCH HIM, AND HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME TAKE MY TWO YEAR OLD GRANDSON’S DIAPER OFF TO “SEARCH” HIM BEFORE HE CAN SEE HIS DAD, AND WHY DID YOU TEAR MY SON’S CELL APART BECAUSE HE SNUCK A COOKIE FROM THE LUNCH ROOM BECAUSE HE WAS HUNGRY…HE WAS HUNGRY!!! AND WHY DO YOU INSIST HE IS JUST A NUMBER???
The Dalai Lama once said “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” I wish I could post that at the guard station at Statesville. But this isn’t about the prison system per se, it’s about the understanding of pain which is always trumped by love.
Where he is today:
That was in 2011-2012. Luke did really well the first year and a half out of prison. Fast forward to today, 2017. Luke is a mess. He is probably the worst I have ever seen him. He admits he is addicted to drugs and alcohol, so much so that without either in just a day’s time, he begins shaking and having withdrawal. He refuses to get the help he needs. He recently went for an involuntary evaluation prompted by the police, but within 4 hours he was released.
He has five felonies, two active. He also has two Orders of Protection against him. He will most likely be sentenced back to prison. That’s if it even gets that far….because, as in the past, he’ll run. He’s like a wild animal that can’t be caged. And if he does run, he will end up dead because he can’t keep doing the abuse over and over again to his body. And how will I know where he is? And how will I know if he is dying?
This was his latest text message to me from last week:
“You are fucking stupid.
You’re the worst mom ever.
I hate that you’re my mom.
I hate you.
I FUCKING HATE YOU.”
And an hour later:
“I don’t hate you.
I am going to kill myself.
I am going to kill Rachel.
I wish my son would die so you all know how it feels to miss someone.
I’m going to fucking kill myself and you all have yourselves to blame.“
He is terrorizing every one that he loves. You are watching him terrorize himself. You take him for food because he is hungry. You drive around for hours listening to him talk, watch him cry, then watch the anger return, and you’re paralyzed when he pounds the dashboard, pounds his own head, and pulls at his hair. You give him a hug and he is filthy…that smell of alcohol, BO and cigarettes. And you actually go home and don’t want to take a shower because that disgusting smell is all you have of him.
Mental illness and drug abuse. I don’t even know how to begin to understand it. But it is the devil. I don’t know how to kill it. I don’t know how to help my son. I don’t know…and I am exhausted and terrified.
I attend a support group. I listen to similar stories. These complete strangers instantly become your life line. They tell their stories and it somehow gives you comfort that you aren’t alone. You cling to their every word. You hug, you cry, you exchange emails, you give fake smiles, and you tell each other that it will all be okay. And you walk out the door believing that.
For a moment. For a moment.
But then you get in your car to drive home, and the pain returns immediately. The fear returns. The hopelessness returns. You hear a siren and wonder where your son is. You get in bed and toss and turn. You fear your phone will ring in the middle of the night. You wake up the next day and he is the first thing that enters your mind.
Every once in a while you see him and he looks healthy and he is smiling. Or you get a nice text. And he tries to say something meaningful and thoughtful because he knows his own mom is afraid of him. And just when you are feeling calm, you get a text from the demons inside his head and the euphoria-hope-please dear God moment you had comes crashing down.
Lyrics from Hate Me by Blue October about a son singing to his mom so she will hate him and it will take her pain away.
“Hate me today
Hate me tomorrow
Hate me for all the things I didn’t do for you
Hate me in ways
Yeah, ways hard to swallow
Hate me so you can finally see what’s good for you.”
But it doesn’t work that way.
The pain never goes away.
And neither does the love.