Back in the Saddle

After I moved “across the street” from the dark prison block of the medium/maximum side to the single fenced Minimum facility, I received at letter from a paroled bunkmate describing a downhill bike ride. It was the first time in years she went faster than a walk. My heart fluttered in a flash of fear. Then I saw me on the bike, out of control, picking up speed. All at once, I am in a pale blue car with large windows. It is unlike any car I have been in. I am riding in the passenger seat. We are going faster, too fast. I feel my throat close, dread. There is an impact. The car is flying through the air, twisting to my side. I am about to land. I snapped out of the vision. My knees buckled and I sat abruptly on my bunk.  Back in the Saddle

Then I realized and said out loud, “I am terrified to ride in a car. Absolutely terrified. What am I gonna do?” Then it dawned on me. I held my cheeks in both hands. I hadn’t ridden with Haley. She learned to drive in Southern California. I’ll probably freak-out on the ride out of prison. I pictured myself hanging out of the car that is literally driving me to freedom and waving my arms, hollering for help. Seven years later and no memories of the accident but every time I rode in a car or prison van, my body remembered it. 

I worked in the maintenance department in the Minimum side. Each Monday morning, we gave Big Buck, our boss, the weekend update. When it was my turn, I talked about my terror of riding in a car again. 

“Sounds like you need to get back on the horse,” said Big Buck. 

I nodded, but couldn’t imagine it. 

Back in the Saddle
photo by Annie Spratt

The next day, my work partner, Kalik, and I were landscaping at the back of the compound. We were pulling hoses and creating drainage troughs, when the female Crew Boss approached. She was about my age but looked a whole lot better. She was fit and tan. She wore her silver hair short and stylish. Kalik and I stopped working and turned toward her. As she approached we could see that her blue eyes were dancing with mischief. 

“I heard that a part of your rehabilitation might be preparing to ride in a car again.

“Who told you that?” I laughed.

“A little bird.” 

“How about a ride in one of our carts?” She poked her thumb over her shoulder at a golf cart with a shovel in the back.

“Look at that, Kalik,” I nodded to the car, “wheels and speed.” I walked over to the cart and looked at the saggy driver’s seat and the well-worn pedals. I took a step back and looked at the golf cart from the side. The beast might have been tamed but my stomach said whiplash!

“I dunno. I’m scared, Ma’am.” 

She looked at The Kalik. 

“Do you want to drive?” 

“Oh sure!” said Kalik, the cowgirl. She hitched up her jeans from the yard work, turned to me and said, “Let’s ride!” 

Crew Boss smiled, tickled with herself. I looked at her wide-eyed. 

“Go on,” she gestured with a wave of her arm. “Give it a spin.” The yard was closed and the sloping hill of grass were ours. We climbed in.

I drew a breath. Not at all sure, I grabbed the sidebar and the dash, “Okay.”  

The Kalik nodded her head, all business, and we lurched away toward the wide-open prairie. My tender bones rattled with the bumps. Kalik drove like a cowgirl. I whooped and hung on. The wind was in my face, my hair plastered back. I smiled so hard, my lips stuck to my teeth. Kalik went as fast as she could, just shy of ripping up the sparse lawn. I dared to look around at the scenery. I forgot to be afraid. 

Then she stopped. “Your turn.” 

I looked back at the Crew Boss and motioned, may I? She nodded and held up her hands, as in, that was the whole idea. 

Respectfully, I tested the brakes. I wiggled the steering wheel left and right. Inhale, exhale. I looked over at The Kalik, who was red-cheeked and pleased. 

“When all this is settled,” I told her, “one day, I’ll have to drive. I will have to get myself to work and get to my family. I don’t want people to have to drive me around. I need to do this.” I stepped on the peddle. We lurched and stalled, our necks snapped back. “Sorry, nervous, I guess.” 

Kalik wrapped her hands around the back of her neck, “Let ‘er buck!”

We turtled along, feeling every bump. Then I stepped on the gas and we moved onto a trot. The peddle was only half-way down but I felt safe and in control. 

I pulled up to the sidewalk like a driver’s ed student. “Mission accomplished.” I was smiling, not shaking. We walked over to the Crew Boss, who was smiling with laugh lines around her blue, blue eyes.

I fought back tears of gratitude. I didn’t want to embarrass her. “You and Big Buck did a grand thing today, Ma’am. Thank you so much.” I stood up and patted the hood of the cart. Their gesture was more than corrections. It was a restoration. Another piece of the release from prison puzzle was in place.

Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle