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 Visit A Poem by Nikki Karen Kampbell Writes

The Visit A Poem by Nikki

The Visit A Poem by Nikki

(Year four – of six years three months prison sentence)

My daughter Nikki wrote this poem, The Visit, as part of her Senior Project at the University of Oregon. Nikki publicly bore the brunt of my crime. She finished raising herself and stood by me. I would have never wished this on her slim shoulders, the ripples go on and on.

~ Karen Campbell

The Visit

I am driving, past sheep and empty fields to visit my mother in prison.

When I get there I will sit at the stoplight facing the entrance of the prison.

The light is especially long and for every second

I can feel the family in the car to my right staring at me.

Dad in the driver’s seat, mom with the perfect hair in the passenger’s seat

and their two angels in the back.

They look over at me going to the prison.

They are probably going to a picnic or coming home from a soccer game,

and I am going into a building to sit under fluorescent lights with my mom

while we are monitored by cameras,

the always over-weight and lifeless looking guard.

Not to mention all the other inmates plus whatever humans choose to visit them.

It’s always the same people.

Some of them try to be friends with each other in the waiting room

and act like they can just shoot the breeze with wry expressions

as they slide between freedom and incarceration.

I just can’t take it that lightly.

I do not talk to anyone unless it is to tell them how to use the lockers,

because those sons of bitches steal your money

faster than any criminal is physically capable

and I know that at least 95 percent of visitors are living in poverty

so lost quarters are worth talking for.

Other than that I sit in the corner and I look at the floor

and I listen to other people’s lives in the waiting room.

I always look at the board to see  who got the officer of the week,

but I wonder who judges that and doubt they ever deserve it.

Anytime I bring pictures in they stare at them for far too long,

and it makes me feel completely exposed and objectified.

“Looks like somebody had fun.” Or “Where was this?”

They are just curious, but I do not want to talk to them about my life.

It is none of their business.

They think they are being nice, but they reveal themselves every time.

When they become the person in charge,

and they tell you to spit out your gum like a drill sergeant

and they are above you and they carry cuffs and a taser.

I try not to look at the children, usually kids make me laugh.

Their simplified outlooks on life make so much more sense,

remembering how to think like a child is my religion.

And as they are crawling around on all fours like dogs,

I can’t help but notice how hideous they are and how fat they are,

and I can’t help to think about how fucked up their lives are going to be.

You can just see their futures splayed out before them

like the mess they are making with the prison toys.

When I am finally released from this compartment of depression

I sit in another room and wait for my mom to come out.

She is always the same.

She reacts like she is so surprised and so happy to see me she can’t even stand it.

She is also dramatic.

I do it too, I think, I hate faking excitement

but we only have two hours so I match her energy without thinking.

When it is time to go we hug and tie knots on the ends of our conversations

so that we don’t feel terrible inconclusive feelings as we return to our segregated lives.

I wave to her like a child so she feels especially motherly.

It’s easy to humor her now.

In between the visiting room and the lobby with the lockers

is a transfer room with windows so you can see into both rooms.

It is the Earth between heaven and hell

and it is also the room where the young ones realize they are leaving their mothers.

That is the worst part by far.

You can see their smiles fade slowly and their tiny lips catch on their teeth

in that frozen moment when it hits them.

They all cry. Some scream.

Some even plead with the guards or their fathers to let them stay.

“Please! Please let me stay just a little longer.

Please, I just want to stay the night with my mommy.”

The adults or those who like to think of themselves as such

laugh at the little girl for wanting to stay the night in a prison

and I pity them because they do not understand her love.

We children would give anything for a sleepover.

Maybe they didn’t have mothers like that little girl’s.

Maybe they didn’t have a mother like mine.

I’d like to think that no one has a mother like mine.