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Wearing My First Mask


This post isn't really about wearing my first mask. It's about why masks are so irrelevant. 

* * *

I began exchanging letters about two years ago with a young woman in jail. She is my age: twenty-four. All this time she has been awaiting trial for murder. Due to COVID, she hasn't been allowed to see her family (including her young son) in nearly a year. Even before that, though, she wasn't allowed to touch or hug them.

Her mother contacted me last month. "Her sentencing is beginning of April."

I'd heard Biden had mandated masks in federal buildings, no exceptions. "I don't think I'll be able to come." 

What am I basing right and wrong on? I wondered. On whether or not a mask was to be required? 

I laughed at myself. Here I was submitting to all sorts of other outrageous violations: TSA and paying car insurance, among many others. And yet I couldn't wear a mask to be there for a friend who really needed support and comfort? 

Scripture and martyrs' stories rebuked my pride. Men and women who were so blind to man's laws they didn't even concern themselves over the pursuit of freedom. Rather they rebelled against sin and pride. Their stand was noble. Mine... was beginning to feel quite selfish. 

Within a couple hours, I had contacted my friend's mom. "I'm going to take that week off. I'll be there, even if I have to wear a mask." 

* * * 

Once I decided to do it, that was it. No stressing, no more thinking about it. In fact... in some ways, I felt rather nonchalant. As if by wearing my first mask I was just putting on a pair of old flip-flops the first day of spring. 

"See if you can get out wearing it," one of my friends encouraged.

"Enjoy the mask," another friend said. "Not for reasons that other people wear them but because our own stubborn self-righteous resolutions are much more dangerous than government mandates." 

You know what? 

It felt quite good to realize that my liberty is not held in the hands of men, but of God. One could say it was as if I'd given up fighting for my rights and turned the other cheek. Yet there was no sting. 

I doubt many of my readers have been to jail, or know what it's truly like in there. Here is a bit of what I've gathered from Shayla. 

Doesn't really matter why you are here. Maybe for supposed murder. Most likely because of drugs or some driving violation. No matter; you are stripped and searched. Your cell is small and cramped. One shouldn't worry about privacy after all that's happened up to this point. Yet... one shared toilet with strangers who may or may not have diseases... eats away at you. 

Unending hours fall onto you. Should you work out? You receive only one change of clothes a week. You've learned that period pads help keep your underwear from soiling faster. Sweating up a storm wouldn't help. Yet you don't want to just sit... 

Perhaps you get books and letters. Hopefully, no one has recently tried to swallow their ink pen; you may draw and write if there isn't a current ban on pens. Often basics are taken away. Girls will try anything to kill themselves and forget the violations on their bodies and spirits. When you aren't depressed, you must delve deeper into your creative side to find some way to better yourself. No matter your crime, you will feel unworthy and devalued. But maybe, maybe there is hope. If only you find the right pastime to save your soul. 

 * * * 

Shayla was in solitary confinement often. Sometimes because of COVID or fighting. Usually on suicide watch. She hadn't been allowed visitation since July 2020. Imagine being deprived of your family, guilty or not, because of a long-lasting pandemic. 

* * * 

Once we arrived in Oregon things fell into chaos. Face shields weren't allowed. Half of the crowd was angered. Once we were in, the judge stopped the proceedings. "We must have six feet between every household." 

Half of the people were kicked out due to "inadequate space". 

"I'm sorry there is a pandemic going on," the judge explained, not sounding sorry. 

Mostly the room was only full of the victim's family and court staff. Very few of Shayla's support group were allowed in. I remained, resolute, unwilling to volunteer that I wasn't a part of the family I sat next to. I was wearing their mask; that was as far as I would submit. 

I remained firm in my seat, too uncomfortable to pull out my embroidery but at ease enough to slip off my shoes. I have this thing for liking to not wear shoes in a court building. My silent protest of sorts.

Court recommenced.

Shayla rocked orange. I think anyone would have thought, "Now, I wouldn't mind having some pants like those!" Chains wrapped around her waist, wrist, and ankles. She wore a mask, turned to us and looked at each of us, signing love with her forefinger and pinky extended.

The evidence was given, some of it black and white, some of it twisted. But that's a prosecutor's job, isn't it? To present the facts so they condemn. I have never like prosecutors. I really didn't like this one.

Shayla's stepdad said, "Why are prosecutors always bald?" 

I said, "Because God would never see fit to bless them with hair."

The prosecution summarized: "Christian [Shayla's boyfriend] was a great young man who deserved a woman much better than Shayla. She stabbed with a knife after months of relational tension. He had cheated, yes, but had confessed. He'd lost a brother. She was diagnosed with cancer. She was suicidal. He hid all weapons. She found the kitchen knife. After stabbing him in the heart, she waited twenty minutes before dialing 911, then spoke 'eerily calm'. She took a father away from her son. Yes, Christian lied and said that he wasn't killed by her, but by gang members. But he lied to protect his son. Not Shayla. None of them deserved to have someone like her in their life."

On he went about her worthlessness and how she deserved as much time as the court would allow.

In any other situation, I thought. These men would be classified as a prime example of toxic masculinity. What law gives them the right to tell a young girl she has no value? 

They played the 911 call. 

I don't know about you. But whenever something traumatic has happened in our lives, we've done our best to take care of the issue ourselves first. Shayla's family did not trust outside help. And the recording itself? It was not "eerily calm". It was a girl in shock. Where you are detached because you must do something. Emotions are put on hold. The moment is all you have. Later, as in hours or days later, once everything has settled, that is when you scream and panic. 

Eerily calm? I scoffed. These men understand nothing of women or of psychology. What imbeciles. 

Christian's family spoke. Oh! Shayla was already shaking and sobbing. But now, the convulsions came. 

"We hope you get fifty years or more!" 

"You took our son. If only he had not known you." 

"I hope to never see you again." 

And on it went. His family was quite large.

So many tears, everywhere, all over. My eyes fell on the women who worked here: typists, translators, security guards, etc. Their faces were caked with make-up. As if they knew they wouldn't cry. These women, who made money off of people's misfortunes, didn't have the decency to think they might cry. No. Instead, they dressed confidently as if there would be nothing to weep over throughout their long workday. The nerve. 

Shayla's lawyer delivered his short spiel. "I don't mean to dislocate my shoulder by giving myself a pat on the back, but Christian lied to the ambulance because he loved Shayla and knew she was in a poor state. If he really loved his son, not Shayla, he wouldn't have wanted her to continue raising the child. There was no intent to kill. This is not a murder case, but a manslaughter case. 

Shayla's lawyer said, "Anyone who has anything to say on her behalf may. Anyone." 

"Anyone?" Fear gripped me. "Me too?" 

I was told yes. 

Shayla's mom spoke first. Then she went to get more people outside. I stood and went up in socks. "I don't know Shayla very well, but I've enjoyed being her pen pal these last couple of years. And I just want to say that I think it's awful how these grown men are telling you that you have no value. It's not true. You are so, so beautiful. You have inspired me with your desire to better yourself through scripture, books, and drawing. Don't believe them. I know God forgives you."

I looked at her, let my mask (a scarf) relax. Her red, wet eyes met mine. "Thank you."

With satisfaction, I watched the prosecutor's and his lawyer's heads hang. I do not know if they had enough man left to feel shame. But I hope they felt it, all the same, realizing how despicable their view of justice was that it held no room for salvation. 

* * * 

The judge gave his verdict the next morning. He allowed even fewer people inside. I was one among five there for Shayla. 

I asked the security guard, "Is there a way we can open up the jury boxes for more sitting?" 

"We don't allow people there. People can watch in the conference room." 

"But we are not here to see Shayla so much as to be seen by her."

"There will be a screen and she'll be able to see who all is in here," I was told. 

It was a lie. There was no such feed playing for Shayla. 

The judge tried to be kind. I'll give him that. And yet, the whole thing was such a sad picture of justice.

Justice builds and restores. It does not demolish or degrade.

Justice is not make-up, high heels, and bald heads. 

Justice is not people of power psycho-analyzing lives for their own profit. 

What is justice? Men and their standards and stipulations mock justice and God by being more wearisome and burdensome.

As soon as Shayla was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to ten years with time served and the chance of a possible eight-ten percent decreased for good behavior, paperwork was handed around and laughed over. Suddenly social distancing didn't matter among these people as they checked finances. None of them noticed the girl hunched over, sobbing. 

* * *

I waited at the top of the stairs as Shayla's mother asked to see Shayla. Of course, she was told no. I overheard the security guard laughing with her co-workers. "The judge must really trust me. I was nervous trying to manage all these people. But he didn't send me back-up." 

What a sick pride. To think you did great keeping people away from supporting and comforting someone in complete despair. 

Shayla's testimony was the most tragic, the most heart-wrenching part. One could hardly understand her words. But her love and guilt and shame were evident. "He was perfect and didn't deserve anything bad. I wish I had died instead. I just wish I had died instead. I deserve whatever I get." 

* * * 

I walked out of this place that claimed to practice justice feeling confused. Shayla was guilty. But... this felt nothing like justice. Putting someone into a cell and depriving them of all human civilities for ten years doesn't heal what was broken. How is that even a punishment? How is it anything but soft, legal torture? Obviously, she wasn't innocent and needed judgment. 

But judgment is not a business transaction performed by women with plastic smiles and caked mascara. Judgment does not tell us, "You are the worst person that has ever lived." 

* * * 

"Your mask needs to cover your face while you're in the building," the security guard told me as I was leaving. 

I stared at her. She'd just bragged heartlessness. I turned my back on her and walked out, unwrapping my scarf from off my face. Would now be an appropriate time to spit on the ground and shake the dust from my heels? 

* * * 

About thirty of us waited at the curb to wave her on. 

But even this was denied of us. Later we heard they'd taken her down many strange backroads, afraid we were going to break her out. 

Even we were treated like criminals. 

Some of you will argue, "That's their job." 

What an evil job that only prolongs the loss of community. There is no justification for stripping a young woman of her dignity and humanity. Don't call it precautions, justice, or "for her own good".

* * * 

The day after returning from my trip I had to go to the AT&T store to activate a new phone of mine. They'd told me it had to be done in person. 

A young man told me, "You can't be in here without a mask."

"I can't wear them."

I said I'd wait outside while he worked on my phone. Soft snow fell. "Yeah, wait outside."

As I went out, he said, "You don't need to go outside."

Ah! A gentleman, I thought. He's changed his mind.

But no. "I actually can't do anything with this phone because it's not made by us."

"Oh." So he hadn't meant to save me from the cold. I took my phone. "Thank you."

He held the door open for me. I'd accept that gesture, at least.

I suppose you could say I don't identify as either a mask wearer or an anti-masker. I'm simply Keturah trying to do whatever is right as God leads me day-to-day. 

Shortly after I wore my first medical mask for a few seconds. Only an hour later an older woman mocked me for not wearing a mask. Ah. Such it goes and shall continue to go until we let go of our own pride and silly dogmas.

* * *

COVID and masks are irrelevant. What matters is how we have lost the strength to love our neighbor, how we have become distrustful, how leaving our homes makes us uncomfortable, how we believe men when they say they have the authority to tell us what we deserve. 

Who are we to play God? Who are we to disobey God and refuse love to our brothers and sisters? 

Who are we, mere men, dabbling in something so divine as justice? 

May my pride be forgotten along with self that I might face every uncomfortable truth as I leave the safety of my personal freedom far, far behind. 

*I didn't get a selfie of me in a mask, because one is technically not allowed to have a phone turned on in the court house. 


Comments

  1. Keturah, you were brave and bold and Shayla really needed to hear your words that day! She is doing well in her new home and will never forget your kind encouraging words!

    ReplyDelete

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