Ezra (5) was noticeably stirred up. He said: “I really don’t like seeing that with my eyes. I don’t like seeing those cops, just TAKE some guy away, and what, HURT him? Or kill him with their guns? Because why? Because he doesn’t have a house to live in? What did he do to them?” His little hands made fists in his car seat. I quickly reassured him: “I don’t think they’re going to hurt him or kill him, Love. They might be trying to help him. We don’t know why they are arresting him. We don’t know the whole story, do we? But we CAN send him our prayers; that much we can do.”
Admittedly guilty in the past of unconsciously letting my own biases color their innocent impressions of police activity, I now feel the need to counterbalance that with a perspective grounded in a truer truth of objective openness, emphasizing the potentially positive, protective, helpful side of police engagement, and the reality that police are just people, with families and hearts too. Araela (almost 9) said: “Yeah, I mean, maybe that man is unwell in his mind? Like has a mind sickness? And they are taking him to protect him from getting hit on the highway, and protecting other car accidents from happening, too. We don’t know, right Mama?.” Ezra, still fired up, instinctively protective of the underdog, had another story going on in his head, his little brow furrowed: “What~ so people who have mind sickness have to wear handcuffs and go to JAIL?! Why don’t they just take care of him? Why don’t they try and heal him?” Araela answered: “Sometimes they take people to mental hospitals instead of prison, right Mama?” I said: “It’s possible. We really don’t know what the situation is, my Loves,~” Internally heavy-hearted as I felt into the immense dark weight and actual corruption of the system they were tapping into…and the huge, unfortunate gap often existing between “hospitals” and “healing.”
We drove along in silence for a stretch. And then Ezra asked: “In prison can people ever go outside, to feel the sun and air and the earth?” I said, “I really don’t know a lot about prison, Ezra. But I do know there are different kinds of prisons. In many prisons there is an outdoor space where the prisoners can spend some of their day away from an indoor cell, but I believe it’s usually concrete, and surrounded by high wire fences so that they can’t escape.” Araela said: “But isn’t it true that many people who go to prison aren’t even criminals? There’s a mistake sometimes right, Mom? And people go to prison who shouldn’t have to go there?” I nodded: “Yes, that’s right. Some of the world’s most courageous activists for peace and truth have been imprisoned.”
I found myself tempted to use this moment as an opportunity to encourage their consideration of the larger cultural dis-ease from which most criminal behavior sprouts, the deep human woundedness that leads most criminals to crime, but held my tongue intuitively, deciding it best to leave this inquiry until their minds were more developed, the precious innocence of their perceptions less prominent. I said instead: “Some people who are really passionate about supporting prisoners choose to volunteer in prisons and bring blessings~ yoga, dance, spiritual teachings, music, into prison...” The kids eyes grew wide. Araela said: “Really?” Ezra grabbed his sister’s hand, excitedly: “We could do that, maybe, when we get bigger?” I continued: “And some prisoners have written amazing books during their time spent in jail. They’ve been able to use that time to make gifts to bring to the world when they get out.”
This idea noticeably lifted the energy for a moment, as the children considered potential gifts that could come from such an experience. We talk a lot in our family about how to “make medicine” of everything that life brings. Then Ezra asked, frowning again: “But do some people never get out of prison, Mom? Just have to live in there forever? So they just DIE in there?” My mind flashed on phrases like “In for life” and “Death Penalty”, concepts that would stun my sheltered children. I said sadly: “Yes, yes, my Love, that is true, too. “ And then, a deep breath: “There are some very sad, dark and scary parts of our world, aren’t there? And it hurts our hearts to think about them?” The kids nodded, each looking quietly out their own windows. Then I added: “BUT, there are also some really amazingly beautiful parts of our world, too. And I sure do love being alive with you.” They each smiled kindly in my direction.
Then, suddenly, much to my relief, the conversation instantly shifted to how the fluffy clouds we were passing resembled dinosaurs and bunnies, morphing magically by the second. Ezra said: “Look, look! It’s an…elephant! See the trunk?! And Araela said: “Look how that one there is a GIANT HEART?” I breathed deeply in my driver’s seat, breathing into these world realities of prison and prisoners, the troubling collision of mental illness, homelessness and the police force, inquisitively intelligent children, privileged and sheltered, and save-the-day animal clouds; all these things stretching, stretching, stretching this giant heart of myself~ stretching wider to embrace ALL of what this world I’ve birthed children into includes. <3