The first time my biological father went to prison, I was fifteen years old. Perhaps it was not actually his first stint, but it was certainly the first of which I was aware. Since that time, the word itself has taken on expanded meaning; an institution that was once both elusive and alien became alive and threatening.
My fascination with reality based prison shows didn’t emerge until “Stanley’s” next sentence almost twenty years later. The interest was motivated by a temporary need to understand the full range of ominous horror that is prison life, but ended quickly once I realized I would never understand, nor did I really want to.
Then one night, in place of her usual pattern of bedtime rituals, I found myself in “Mackenzie prison.” Mackenzie prison is simply the title given by my eight year old daughter of the head-lock type hold she now regularly constructs around my neck at bedtime. As we are preparing to say our final goodnight Mackenzie hooks her arms around me with determination, beams a mischevous grin and then wriggles an ankle or two around my back.
“Mom, you’re in ‘Mackenzie prison!” The first time she said it my heart lurched into my throat with a wave of dread. Despite how widely out of context her statement was, and how long it had been since I had entertained the thought, an image of Stanley in an orange jumpsuit immediately flooded my mind. I winced.
“Mom, you can’t escape!” Mackenzie emphasized, hoping to jolt me out of my sudden disengagement.
Over and over again my children invite me to release, to let go, to heal what still needs healing. When I looked back into Mackenzie’s brown eyes, they were wide and expectant, like a fawn looking up from foraging among the grass.
At the sight of her, a loud laugh burst from my chest, the muscles now unclenching easily. I inhaled, releasing deeply on the exhalation, imagining the lingering pain and confusion burning up into glittering pixy dust.
“Wow, you are freakishly strong!” I mumbled. Mackenzie roared with satisfaction, pulling my face down against her neck.
I smiled and whispered in her ear, “Mackenzie prison is my favorite kind of prison!”