Looking all the way down into my blackness Karen Campbell Writes

Looking all the way down into my blackness

Looking All the Way Down into My Blackness

Day 21

The word on the Intake unit was, “if you want to get out of your cell, sign up for church.” My parents weren’t church folks; the last time I went to church I was wearing red tights and patent leather shoes. I couldn’t be farther than the innocent girl I had been then. So, what do I have to lose?

That night, I sent a kyte message and two days later was given permission to attend a church service in the prison chapel. But I was doubtful. That night at dinner I asked the women at my meal table what the allure was, besides the chance to get out of their cells?” They all agreed it was also a social activity, a chance for gossip and a chance to check out the women who lived on other units.

I go to cry

“I go to cry,” said Hippie Chick a co-worker from the kitchen. “I check in at the door of the chapel and go straight for the hankies before choosing a seat. I’ve tried to plan a good cry in the shower and end up standing under the trickle, nothing comes out. I turn off the water and keep going.”

“Church is not for me,” Rainy said. Her crime was similar to mine, we were both mothers. “It brings up all my crap. I about lost it the last time I went to church. Then what? Mental Health can’t help me. I don’t want their drugs. I tried taking them and I gained 45 pounds.”

Birdie, with her sharp nose and small mouth said,  “I was brought up in the Catholic Church. I went to parochial school and sang in the choir. It’s good for my mom to know I am going to services, it’s like we are together, going to mass.”

Creator of the universe

“I’m still not sure about the whole church thing,” said LaLa, a bawdy blonde. “But I’m pretty sure the Creator of the universe can handle a little doubt and a few questions.” She brightened, “They play music. It’s loud and they let you stand and dance.”

She was right. That first night, I could hear the music from the corridor. I stepped into the chapel, where the women were standing and singing, the lyrics projected on the wall. The pews were filled with prison blues and Intake scrubs. The women had their heads down or hands in the air, many of them in tears. I had been afraid to cry in prison, afraid I would be seen as prey.

A shipwrecked group of human beings

I walked toward the pews near the front, joining the Intake women. We were a shipwrecked group of human beings; we were at our worst and we knew it. I stood next to Hippie Chick. She was bawling. Through her tears she looked at me and laughed, then sobbed, then laughed again. She cried waves of tears and used her hands as a squeegee. As we sang and listened to the service, she just kept on crying and laughing. I felt safe with her. Maybe church was a safe place to cry.

But I didn’t think I could do it. I distracted myself with the words of the Pastor who spoke in complete sentences of proper English instead of prison slang. I distracted myself with the pews, which were padded and the soft carpet under my feet.

The Pain I Caused

Suppressing emotions for so long,  I didn’t know what would happen if I gave them free reign. The days after the accident were for survival, first to heal the wounds and twenty broken bones, then mentally prepare for a prison sentence. I couldn’t think of everything I’d lost; all the pain I’d caused. Instead, I gave away possessions both Tom’s and mine, I said goodbye to elders I wasn’t sure I would see again, and I said goodbye to my children. And I suppressed the guilt, grief, fear and self-loathing.

Looking all the way down into my blackness Karen Campbell Writes

But sitting in the collective misery of the chapel service, I saw something else besides devastation on the Intake women’s faces. Hippie Chick had her face lifted, her eyes closed. The tears ran down her cheeks but she wasn’t wiping them away anymore. He face was soft, as though she surrendered, no longer imprisoned by her emotions.

I wanted what she had. Do I dare open the door, just a slit? I took a ragged breath and closed my eyes; I felt a stream of emotions: grief, despair, guilt, and revulsion. I saw the faces of my family and Tom. I saw the family members of the woman I killed in the accident. My body collapsed inward as though I might melt where I stood. Deep within, there was warmth in my chest, expanding and growing brighter. The light was like a passageway to something greater. Karen. It was an invitation. Let it go.


Then I panicked. My eyes snapped open. I did not deserve grace and love. No, I didn’t deserve forgiveness. If I let go and let God in, I would have to be truthful. I would have to look all the way down into my blackness. What if I could not crawl out of that pit?

I was not ready.

Looking all the way down into my blackness

Looking all the way down into my blackness