Paths not taken

  • Joshilyn Jackson
July 07, 2017
Bob Andres

The first person I see at the maximum security women’s prison is the sergeant. I take off my shoes and hand over my clear plastic backpack full of books and student papers and the kinds of pens that don’t have a spring mechanism. The sergeant runs them through the X-ray machine while I step through the metal detector. 

I arrive at the same time as volunteer Wende Ballew, executive director of Reforming Arts,and this is a relief. I don’t like this next part. We go out the door behind the sergeant into a narrow courtyard, bisected by an unapologetic metal cage. It is small and square, and the bars are thick. It looks like something from a 1950s zoo.

An unseen human hand presses a button, and the cage door buzzes. We open it and go inside. There is an identical door on the other side. It is locked, and it stays locked until the first door clangs shut behind us. It only takes two or three seconds for us to cross the cage, and then, to my relief, the second door buzzes and lets us both out of the cage and into prison. It’s like an airlock system, meant to let people cross securely from one environment to another. Those seconds in the cage are how I know, every week, that I am leaving the world.

I am here because of the night I didn’t get arrested, the day my grandmother danced in a wig, a drug deal in a Waffle House, and an epiphany in a downtown Atlanta Sears department store. I am here because of history, my own, and that of this troubled South I love so deeply. I am here because I am a product of all its pieces.

Click below to learn how these disparate moments have changed the way Joshilyn Jackson views the world.

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