Hippie Chick My First Friend

Hippie Chick My First Friend

Hippie Chick My First Friend

I was new to prison. I didn’t trust anybody. I was out for my one hour of yard time and saw the woman I sat next to in church the night before, Hippie Chick. She was the first person I met in prison that didn’t scare me. I walked over, hoping she would remember me. Hippie Chick My First Friend

Hippie Chick My First Friend
Hippie Chick

“Dude!” she smiled when she saw me. We circled and talked about the shock of arriving in prison and discovered we were just a few cells away from each other. She told me she had a few skirmishes with the law but had never been to prison. I told her about my daughters, Nikki and Haley, how they were mucking along motherless. That hit home. A gut-wrenching sob escaped her throat, tears gushed down her cheeks. Her daughter was stranded as well. I wondered how she dared to cry in prison.

“Sorry, I cry all the time.”  Then she laughed and cried again, using her squeegee hands to wipe her tears as she had in church.

“Aren’t you afraid these thugs will see you as weak?” I gestured to my twiggy arms. “I got nothin’ to defend myself.”

Hippie Chick rolled up her sweatshirt sleeves and curled her bicep.

“My God!” I said and tried out some slang. “Girrrl, I hope we can be friends, I need a bouncer up in here.” I sounded ridiculous. I could just imagine my daughters’ revulsion: “Mother. Please!” But my daughters were far away from me. Hippie Chick was pleased with my compliment and flexed her arms and laughed. She had a wide smile and held nothing back.

“Yeah, dude. I got guns!” She threw her head back and howled. She just kept laughing. She laughed too long, it was awkward and that made me laugh.

We circled the yard and stopped in front of the window that looked into the unit. It rose from ground level to about ten feet. From the inside, it was a godsend and provided a view of the sky and in that portion of the room, some natural light. From the outside, with the sun reflecting on the green glass, it was a mirror. Our only other mirror was a wavy plastic 8×10 above the sink. The window was the only way to look at your body below the neck.

“Oh my God, is that me?” I stammered. “Look what has happened from the prison food. I have never had skinnier arms and legs and a rounder middle. I look like a squeezed the toothpaste tube, from the arms and legs in. Gross.”

She laughed and bent forward slapping her legs, “Dude! That’s not O.K.”

“Why do I care?” I asked her. “I shouldn’t care, I am incarcerated.” I waved my arm around the yard, “why do these girls even bother with the cheap eye shadow and all that hair braiding?”

“For a lot of these girls, their looks are all they have,” Hippie Chick said, suddenly serious. “I’d say at least half of the women on G Unit have turned a trick, danced, or used their looks to con someone out of money. They need the money to feed their kids or get a fix. Now they’re stuck in here, young and horny, hittin’ on each other, gay for the stay, straight at the gate, yee-op.” She looked at herself in the window. She had the enviable kind of hair that comes with a mix of Native blood. She had one of those bodies that could have been honed into an Olympian. She turned side to side, “How come no one’s hittin’ on this? Huh? I’m not gay, but I’d like to be asked to the dance.”

We looked at ourselves in the green window, side by side, the athlete and the hausfrau. It felt so good to laugh, really laugh.

I turned to her. “I think my daughters would like you, and I know they’d like to know I had someone I could laugh with.”

Hippie Chick’s tears welled up again and looked at me unashamed. “I heard one of the Old Timers in the kitchen say, there are no friends in prison. But I would really like a friend.”

“I would like that too,” I said, now letting a few of my own tears leak over the brim. Then we both laughed. I felt a little stronger. “I’m countin’ on those guns.”

Hippie Chick My First Friend

Do I still have a home in their hearts

Hard and Fast Graduation from Childhood

Hard and Fast Graduation from Childhood

What have I done? My children Nik  and Haley were 16 and 13 years old at the time of the accident. A fierce kind of wisdom was forced upon them that day, and they would never be the same. I had more to teach my girls. I wasn’t done yet. Who else was going to explain about heartbreak, or how to use silverware from the outside to the inside of the plate, or how to walk in New York? Me, their mother. They needed me.

Hard and Fast Graduation from Childhood
Central Park

After the accident, awaiting sentencing, I decided to take my daughters to New York as a graduation from childhood. As Frank Sinatra sings, If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere… I went through their wardrobe and selected solid clothing, mostly black, and bought them cross strap purses. I laid out a map of Manhattan.

“It’s easy, it’s a long thin island.” I pointed to Central Park, “Uptown, I pointed to the tip, Downtown.” I marched them up and down the hallway of my apartment complex, giving terse instructions on how to walk in New York: quick pace, eyes straight ahead, never up at the buildings or a down at a map. Jaywalk.

They were good students. The girls ate up the city with their long legs. We let ourselves have the time of our lives. We had to, there wasn’t a day to waste. Nearing the end of our trip, we were coming up out of a Midtown subway. Haley emerged first and took off like a native New Yorker. She turned her head backward toward Nikki and me, “Uptown.” She turned back around and strutted away. She was confident that we would follow her anywhere. Nikki and I were stunned. The baby? She can’t possibly… without stopping, Haley looked back and saw us trying to peek at the map in the top of our pockets. “GA, Uptown!” We shoved the corner of our maps back in our pocket and followed. That’s it. I can go in now.

Hard and Fast Graduation from Childhood

Because prison was certain, I had to send my younger daughter, Haley, to California to live with her father. She moved after her freshman year in high school so she could settle in with her dad, be ready for a new school and try out for the volleyball team by fall. It was the only thing to do, the best thing, we thought, for Haley. She told me years later, that it broke her heart that she had no friends to celebrate her 15th birthday. Before she left, to console us both, I wrapped her in a blanket on the couch. I cuddled next to her and stroked her glossy brown hair and held her feet, the same way I did when she was a baby. 

When the time came, I packed Haley’s life into duffles, childhood toys and teenage make-up all jammed together. It all had to go or get thrown out, there would be no family home in Oregon. Nikki had gone on to her Freshman year at college. Her best friend, her best friend’s mother and I took her to the airport. We walked her as far as security allowed, and said goodbye. Helpless, we watched her pass through scanners, leaving behind her house, her sister, her friends, her left outside hitter position on the volleyball team, and her mother. We watched as she turned and waved, walked down the concourse, turned and waved again. She turned a third time and stood there, crying for all to see. She finally turned and we watched until the very last sight of her duffle bag disappeared.

On the night before my sentencing, Nikki, who was 18, came back from college and spent the night with me. Just as she had done when she was a little girl, she slept in bed with me, one hand on my cheek. Even as we shifted in bed during the night, she sought me out. I slept poorly and as I lay awake beside her. I memorized her face. In sleep, she was a young angel with tangled curls and rosebud lips that mumbled in a restless sleep. She would wake as a grown woman with the weight of the world on her slim shoulders. As I watched her sleep, I begged silently, Please, please give me a chance to make this up to you. Their graduation from childhood didn’t happen in New York. It happened on the day of the accident.

Hard and Fast Graduation from Childhood

Hard and Fast Graduation from Childhood

The child Raccoon Doesn't Want to Go to School

The Child Raccoon Doesn't Want to Go to School

The Child Raccoon Doesn't Want to Go to School

Day 795

When Haley was a child, I read her the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. The story is about separation. The child raccoon doesn’t want to go to school, he wants to stay home with his mother. The mother raccoon kisses the paw of her child and tells him to place it on this cheek when he misses her, and she will be with him. LIke Nikki, my younger daughter Haley was deeply hurt by my actions. She was so young and tender and her life was ripped away from her. She left her friends, her sister, and her mother and went to live with her father in Southern California. We couldn’t place our hands on each other’s cheeks, but Haley and I sent drawings of our hands through the prison mail for comfort.

~ Karen Campbell

Haley Hand Drawing Karen Kampbell Writes