August 19, 2011: Random?

Today I’d planned to attend Frank Soffen’s parole hearing. In Natick.

One small problem: I never made it. God knows I tried!

Google maps seriously led me astray, instructing me to drive along congested, mall-heavy Route 9 (so there seemed no point to stop at a Big Box/chain outlet to ask directions) before making a right onto Mercer Road. Easy, right? Wish it were so. (Upon coming home, I consulted some other sources which showed I’d been real close. And also showed that Google maps was nuts!)

But here’s the thing: As the 10:00 hearing time came and went and still circling the general area a few more times (Route 9 is a divided highway so “circling” is a challenge!), I felt myself sinking into the mindset Bobby Delello had been trying to explain to me earlier this week. Bobby, co-author of When The Prisoners Ran Walpole: A True Story in the Movement for Prison Abolition, is a returning citizen (my favorite euphemism for a formerly incarcerated person), a major leader of Walpole’s short-lived and amazing reformation story of 1971, and prison reform activist. He’d agreed to meet with me Tuesday to give me some background info for a novel I’m working on.

But what he really wanted me to understand was this: the whole system is rotten to the core. The Powers That Be will never give up control. The Department of Correction et al “play games,” i.e., mess with your mind. (He also had some truly sobering thoughts on surveillance.) So while vainly looking for Mercer Road, the paranoid, confused, frightened (I’d just passed a nasty accident so was feeling vulnerable) Me whispered: “They don’t want you to find it.” (Turns out the “They” was Google maps. NOT the Parole Board.)

So very briefly, in an air-conditioned Volvo, I experienced that paranoia, that powerlessness, that confusion experienced by incarcerated people every day, every moment. Was it a random act that there’s no street sign for Mercer along Route 9? Or a conscious effort to keep people like me from finding the damned place?!

What is Spirit asking of me, I wondered, as I finally got back on the Mass Pike.

Maybe, to write this?

So I have.

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