That’s how much time until N, former student and assistant, paroles. It’s such a bittersweet moment for me, their parole date and all its attendant excitement and anxiety and uncertainty. The only thing that is certain is that they are leaving, prepared or unprepared, and the nature of our relationship changes with their freedom and newly recovered autonomy.
Now, they have the freedom to stay in relationship or not, and that is as it should be. We should all have the freedom to choose our relationships but, in prison, that freedom is removed. Even though I try to be someone they want to listen to and learn from, there’s always the underlying question – would they be doing this if they didn’t have to? Would they be so cooperative and willing if they had a choice?
Most of them don’t stay in touch when they leave, or they stay in touch only briefly. That is sad, but I think it is also right. They need to live their lives and make their choices on their own – rebuild their confidence, and trust in their decisions without my support. While part of me would love a regular email update, the other part of me thinks “they need to take the lessons they learned and move on, find new teachers and mentors, and create new futures for themselves” and that can mean they completely break their ties with friends and staff.
It’s all part of the ritual of leaving. The promises to keep in touch that are only sporadically kept, giving away belongings, parties and sharing spreads, making beautiful, elaborate goodbye cards – all sentimentality at its finest. But the grief is real, the loss is real, even if the gratuitous displays of emotion are a bit much. I’ve spent so much of my life leaving or being left, and it still feels as if I am standing still, while the person leaving is accelerating away, faster and faster til they’re just a speck in the distance.
I feel a “happy loss,” I suppose. I understand and accept the change, with both a sense of loss and hope for their better future.