I just received a phone call.
“Governor Brown signed her release!”
My heart soared. It was Silvia’s sister, Veronica, telling me that after twenty years in prison, Silvia was going to be set free.
I met Silvia in 1996, at Central Juvenile Hall, where she was awaiting her trial for a murder committed by her older, abusive boyfriend. She was accused of being an accomplice. She was sixteen years old. Along with seven other girls, Silvia was in my creative writing group. Twice a week I taught them at a steel table in a big room called Omega Unit. The room was filled with forty girls sitting on bunk beds, or walking around, laughing and talking. Baywatch was usually blasting from the television. It was chaos.
But somehow, we blocked it all out and let loose our imaginations. That steel table was like a little boat sailing us away to beautiful shores. There was magic at that table.
Silvia had a powerful voice and her words haunted me when I returned home at night and typed up the girls’ prose and poetry. Through Silvia’s writing, exploring how she became involved in abusive relationships, I was able to face the truth of my own life. It was the beginning of a hard road.
There are many roads, either easy or hard, and myriad reasons why we travel them. Silvia and I parted ways when she was twenty. She went from being chosen prom queen at the first-ever prom at Central, to serving a twenty-five years to life sentence at Chowchilla Women’s Prison. It seemed that the years would never pass. That the road she had been propelled onto would be endless and filled only with despair. There was no reason to believe that she would ever get out.
But the spirit can be incredibly strong. It can overcome the greatest obstacles and lift us from the darkest prison into the heavens. Times change. Climates can turn from icy cold to warm and caressing.
In one single moment, hearing those words, “Governor Brown signed her release,” all the sweat and the agony, all the tears and depression, all the climbing of the mountains, all the enduring of the dangerous quicksand, the stormy darkness, the feeling of losing one’s way–it all fell by the wayside.
For myself, the doubt and the pain that I have experienced over the years, well, I now know it was worth it.
At the end of that hard road, there is another beginning.