I was 24

My time in jail isn’t what you think.  

Before sobriety I had one little five minutes of it…I won’t go into the story because it’s not nearly as risqué as it sounds…but know that I walked out of it with a slap on the hand, no record, an eventual fine and a date with the officer who processed the whole thing. 

Yes…that’s what I said. A date.

Now I won’t go into the right and wrongs of that because there are just too many to list, but it was 1984. I just know that he smoked cigarettes and had a calendar of beer babes on his office wall that made me feel uncomfortable…but I was 24 years old and oblivious to all the things that made all of that wrong.

I also know that he was kinda cute, and I was kinda in trouble and there seemed to be something betwixt the two of those realities that might work in my favor.  

Like I said, I was 24 years old. I did a lot of stupid stuff when I was 24 years old.

My time in jail now has been different, of late. Some Thursdays, when I’m in town, I go there on purpose…with purpose…to lead Red Boot Meetings.   

And every Thursday that I do, I walk out a truly different person.

Each Red Boot Meeting, whether held in the jail, the local coffee shop or the 6th grade class at John Sevier Middle School, is what we call a Step Study. For one hour, we share, from the heart, the challenges we experience trying to practice the Red Boot Eleven Steps…trying to love in spite of the hate and downright meanness that now swirls about our world. 

It was about a year ago, I was at the jail. We were discussing Red Boot Step Two. “We came to see, that despite sometimes feeling small and powerless, we possess the power to positively influence all those with whom we come into contact, which on any given day can be literally hundreds of people. We are Empowered.”

So you get the gist of how this all looks, we sit in a circle on ordinary chairs. Red Boot Meetings have become the most popular meetings in the jail. We’ve had, on our busiest days, up to 25 people. Today was no exception.  

The women are dressed in clothing that all looks the same. Imagine the clothes a surgeon wears in the operating room, but in a variety of colors. They all wear socks and jail-issued flip flops. There is nothing…no thing…to distinguish one person from the other, except for their name and their personal physical traits. 

Toward the end of the meeting S…a white female, in her mid-20’s shared that she would soon be headed to prison. Her hair is neatly pulled into a ponytail…she looks like she just walked off the varsity soccer team at the local high school.  

“My mom is dying from cancer and my Dad just had his third heart attack. He’s got a lot on his plate right now.” She lowered her head…and began to cry. I could tell that she didn’t want to cry. S. was a tough cookie. “I will never see them again…never see them alive.”

With ten minutes remaining in each Red Boot Meeting, we always share one specific way we plan to “be Red Boot”. Because we are covering Step Two, the closing question is, “What is one thing you CAN do to positively influence the world you live in?”

I went first. “My name is Molly and this week, I’m going to love S. S., I’m going to love you. I’m going to love you, honor you, think about you, open my heart to you. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Another woman shared: “S., I’m going to love and pray for you too. I know this is hard.”

A third, “S. I can so relate to you. I will hold you in my prayers also.”

The room was still and quiet and wonder-full…when D. spoke.

“I’d like to sing a song for S.”

“Go ahead,” I said.  

“We’re not allowed to sing,” she said. “Will you ask the guard if I can sing a song for S.?”

And so I did and she said “Yes…as long as it’s not too loud.”

And ya’ll…what happened next is truly a moment I will never, ever, EVER forget. I can feel the joy well up in my now as I write.

D., a very small and frail woman, took several deep breaths. She couldn’t have been older than 35, wore glasses. She had aways been reserved in Red Boot meetings. 

And then she began. 

D. sang opera.  

YES, opera. Powerful, beautiful, heart-opening, soul-wrenching, jaw-dropping opera…her angelic, powerful voice began small…and with each passing moment became stronger and more robust…each note filled the rafters with its grace, its love, its cry, its joy, its wonder. 

For four minutes, D.’s voice filled the building.  

The guards came from everywhere to listen. The other inmates too. The cleaning staff. The other instructors. It was a reckoning to behold. 

When she was done, we all stood…everyone of us…on our feet and cheered and clapped and laughed and shouted. 

We were shocked. All of us. Amazed. Stunned. Awed. Overcome. Joyful, Impacted. Changed.   

Turns out D. has a Masters in Music, from Oberlin, one of the best in the nation…used to make a living singing opera, NYC. 

Until she got tangled up in drugs and alcohol…like me. 

This morning I ponder it all and can’t remember whether my date with the detective was good or bad…but I was 24 and had no idea.

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