02 Nov “Shared Experiences” by Linnea

Linnea Groom is a Volunteer Coordinator at Alouette Correctional Centre for Women. 

Let me introduce you to my friend Kate*.  Friendship, by my definition, is made up of shared experiences, shared interests, and mutual care and respect for one another.  By that definition you might be surprised that Kate and I are friends.

There are obvious things that you’d see that we have in common, like being in the ripe old age of our fifties. Lord knows that middle age goes down much better with a sense of humour, and we’ve both had the time to develop one of those, so that’s another thing that you’d find we have in common. We’ve shared the common setting where we’ve spent our time together, which has been inside a women’s prison.  (Now THAT would be another situation where it pays to have a sense of humour but where humour can be a bit “thin on the ground” at times).  The way we’ve shared that setting hasn’t been quite the same though.  I come in through the locked gates each time I see Kate, and I go out through them again at the end of the day.  That’s not quite the same way it is for her.  She’s been there for about five months this time and she’s still not sure how much longer she’ll be around to enjoy our friendship (that’s something called “being on remand”).  When we first developed our friendship, the last time that she was there, her stay lasted for several months.  That detail makes for a different perspective.

The reasons for our different access to the women’s prison would be another difference in our experience.  My friend Kate’s been using drugs since she was about twelve.  I’m quite sure that it wasn’t a case of her deciding that listening to music, going fishing, giggling with her friends about boys and making her first money babysitting (my life experiences at that age) weren’t exciting enough, that drew her into drug use at that age.  I’m pretty sure it had a lot to do with escaping pain.  One of the reasons I think that, is that she’s not interested in revisiting any of that in her memories.  Heroin has done a pretty effective job for her of shutting down emotions of any kind . . . and she’s good with that.  Last time she was in she coped by being on methadone and that, she tells me, was a positive thing because she can hardly remember any of it.  I had enough pain in my childhood to understand the need to make it to go away.  There was pain in being a visual racial minority, the pain of being excluded.  I ended up not needing to use drugs to make the pain go away because the love that I received from my family was a salve that soothed the pain.  I’m pretty sure that’s another difference in Kate and my experience.

This time in, Kate hasn’t got the aid of methadone in keeping the demons at bay and she’s told me that she would just as soon have her one cure for all her pain, physical and otherwise. She never wants to talk about the possibility of finding a way to live life without her drugs.  Forty years of using the same means of coping . . . .  You might be surprised that I can relate to that. Yes, menopause, PMS, (PBS, ABC . . . whatever those letters are) this isn’t the time of life when we eagerly say “bring on the challenge, I’m up for change”.

Yesterday Kate and I had another shared experience.  It was only a moment in time, but it was a special moment.  Sitting on a couch together, we simultaneously erupted into a belly laugh. I think all shared laughs with friends are special, but this is one that I treasure.  Laughter, it’s a positive feeling, a real feeling, a moment of positive emotion in Kate’s scary non drug cushioned world.  Can a moment such as this be a building block of friendship?  Can a moment such as this plant a tiny germ of hope?

Linnea Groom

*name changed

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