I woke up on a Thursday morning remembering that Dad’s parole hearing was taking place at that moment. We’d all been preparing for the last couple of years – hiring Dad’s parole attorneys (he was now on his fifth), gathering countless boxes of legal paperwork, organizing letters of support for his release, coaching him on the IRR’s (insight, responsibility and remorse.) Based on what I’d heard about parole hearings, I didn’t expect Dad to be released first time around, just like in Shawshank Redemption when the inmates keep getting denied. Man I loved that movie.
Dad had recently been diagnosed by the prison psychiatrist as having narcissistic behavioral disorder. The next time I visited him, he spent two hours explaining to me why he wasn’t a narcissist. I had this gut feeling that his hearing would not go well.
I was pouring my coffee when I get a text from my mom, “NEXT JUNE!!!!!”
I couldn’t believe it. No I LITERALLY could not believe it. I expected the day to be just like any other day. For about thirty seconds I was incredibly happy for my dad. I think he deserves to get out – he’s served the time given for his conviction and he’s been a stellar inmate.
But then as the day began to unravel, flashbacks of my life filled my mind. I thought about how life had been before my dad’s arrest, during his trial and conviction, and now sixteen years of seeing my dad in orange jumpsuits, shackles, Christmases in prison, collect phone calls recorded by the guards. And now everything was about to change once again. Oh God.
My body tensed up, my jaw locked, and I was full of nervous adrenaline. I took a yoga class to relax and got a migraine during the class. The teacher came over to me and told me she could see me holding my breath. What was happening to me???
I spoke to my dad later that day, he told me about the hearing, but not too much. He was paranoid of talking on the phone. He told me his release was given mostly “all due to him” also mentioning that his attorney stepped up to the plate. I asked him “What about the many letters of support that I organized for you?” “Oh yeah, yeah, that was great.”
Over the next week, my mind continued to wander as I daydreamed about how my life would change. My dad calls me from prison to let me know he’s still the head of the household. “You know I’ve noticed you’ve stopped running things by me. I have knowledge and wisdom that you don’t have. You don’t have to what I tell you to do, but you need to listen to me first before you make any decisions about life.” This is a recurring one-way conversation we have.
Dad told mom that he thinks his biggest hurdle once released will be learning new technology. I think about him trying to assimilate back into a family unit that has mostly dissolved. Dad’s conviction was like a death in the family. We got rid of nearly all his possessions. I kept a lamb’s wool jacket he used to wear in the 1970’s as a keepsake. The whole experience was so hard to move on from, but eventually I realized I had my own life to live.
When I think of Dad being released I think of the Mork and Mindy episode, where Mearth, played by Jonathan Winters, suddenly bursts out of a giant egg as their adult child. Anyone else remember that?? That’s how I imagine my dad’s release. He’ll have no clothes, no car, no driver’s license, no credit cards, few friends. He’s a convicted felon, he can’t vote, can’t visit many countries, and can’t even leave the state for a few years.
I think of all the things he’ll need to learn about – veganism, gluten-free, the return of froyo, venti half-caf-no-foam-soy milk lattes, über, Amazon, Google, emojis, iphones, on-demand TV, wifi, Game of Thrones and even email. He will have lots of time on his hands and seventeen years of no control just waiting to be released into society.
I was at Trader Joe’s in the seltzer section when Dad called me last week. He was talking about being released and I finally told him how hard it will be for me. Besides his fifteen-minute phone calls and my short trips to prison, he hasn’t been a part of my life since I was barely into my thirties. I’m now closer to fifty. There’s silence on the phone and I ask him “Are you crying?” “Yes,” he responds. “Why?” I say as I’m picking out my favorite raspberry seltzers. He says “Because I love you and I want to spend time with you.”
Wow that was a first and it took me by surprise. I was expecting another phone call where he tells me how it’s gonna be when he’s released. So this next year will be an emotional struggle for everyone in the family. How will this person adjust back into society? Our family? My everyday life? I’ll have this year to let it set in and figure out what I want without letting it take over my life again.
I hope for my Dad that he takes a step back and learns to appreciate the little things life has to offer, like the freedom of being able to pee without asking for permission.