Blending memories of Christmas with an imprisoned spouse, the need to forgive people, the prison sisterhood and personal gratitude is a tricky blend, but here we go. Christmas was sadly unique when my wife Patty was two states away in Federal prison for a couple of years. Well intentioned people would ask, “How was Christmas Gerry?” I would answer, “Good, and yours?” Many responses would include statements like, “Amber got an iPad from Santa, our annual ski trip was a blast, the new truck is great in the snow, Billy got promoted, blah, blah, blah. How about you, what did you do for New Years Gerry?” I would respond, “Well it was great visiting Patty after four weeks of not seeing her and it is good to get back home and catch up on life.” It’s just another year…. and so it goes. There never was enough time or energy to catch up and explain all the logistics, heartache and interstate reflection involved with those Christmas visits. I can’t blame people for not understanding or even caring for that matter; I get it. However, for those that did care, who wrote or visited Patty, sent money to her commissary account, prayed for her, or cut me some slack when I just did not deserve it, thank you. Each of you is a quiet hero, truly. Those notably absent from the prior group have been quite a source of discussion, disagreement and reflection for Patty and I. She forgives them, and I’m working on it. Frankly I am upset by those who dropped the ball by choice or by convenient omission. Perhaps they’re hoping that the passage of time will revise history. This may be harsh, but cowardice doesn’t have a stale date in my books. Please know that this isn’t anger, bitterness or rage. It’s just laying out facts, what actually did and did not occur, what we experienced; some of it wonderful, some truly disappointing.
Moving on from Duluth to Africa; as we all know, sadly a historic loss took place. We recently lost Nelson Mandela, a stunning inspiration to millions. He once said “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Talk is cheap, Mandella walked the walk. He was able to forgive those who treated him so poorly on Robben Island for 18 years, those who kept him behind bars for 27 years. So perhaps I should measure up and forgive those who deliberately sought to set an example and really judicially pound my wife. They all have plausible deniability of course. Her case went Federal, not state. There were the sentencing guidelines and a tough judge, whatever. However our struggles are molecular in comparison to Nelson Mandela’s hurdles, but believe me it is big when it’s your life, your wife. This all is a very humbling realization for me, worthy of serious introspection during walks, snow shoveling or ice fishing. Forgiveness, I just know it’s the right thing to do.
Speaking of my wife, who is adept at forgiveness and sharing feelings, upon her release in 2011, I was amazed at the deep bond Patty shared with many of the ladies with whom she served time, especially her podmates in Pekin, Illinois. I think this was based on shared suffering, humiliation, loss, separation from family, close living quarters; you name it. When Patty was released, she joyously celebrated her freedom, yet grieved the realization that she would never again see many of her “sisters” still behind bars. There are times I just do not understand what Patty went through and I’ve had a front row seat from start to finish. Missing the entirety of what Patty has gained or lost in this whole experience, all I have done is stand by as her husband and loyal protector. I quietly watch as she gradually regains her footing, regains her bold, slowly gets one modest victory after another. How does that make me feel? Good, really good. Native American Chief, Dan George put it best; “My heart soars like an eagle.” I am elated, but that is tempered knowing Patty is sad for her prison sisters, grinding through another day behind the wire. There is a sisterhood behind bars.
Christmas should be a time of time of reflection, a celebration of Christ, with prayer, generosity and gratitude. Me, I am very grateful to have survived myself. I’m happily married, a proud father of two good sons, blessed with a wonderful sister and brother-in-law. I enjoy going to my church, it makes me a better man and there was serious room for improvement. Thank you to those who have supported Patty and me over the years, despite public perception, that takes guts. I am grateful to the musicians who provide invigorating worship music at our church every week. While Patty was gone, I soaked in the music from the back row, a parched man on a long trek; it cut through my armor, it was respite. I worry about my sister Elizabeth who is fighting cancer. I am thankful for the only sibling in my life and daily I pray we have many years left to laugh and squabble about politics. My sons Jason and Erik have been a blessing in my life, complete game changers for a hardened man. I hope I have measured up as a father.
In closing, anything I have given up for my wife I have received back tenfold. She is a true gift in my life; I don’t need Christmas presents. I believe Patty’s ability to forgive her jailers, prosecutors and those to this day who still want her to fail, reflects what Mandela said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Patty has courage, humility and the resolve to make a difference helping those behind bars, those who are out of sight, and sadly out of mind in a broken system. Patty and I like to help others, especially those up against it, perhaps behind physical and emotional bars. To those reading this modest blog and especially those alone behind some form of bars, Patty and I wish you a Merry Christmas with hopes and daily prayer that 2014 provides you hope, safety, sustenance and another chance at the American Dream. God bless you.