There is a social colloquialism that really pisses me off- Shame on you. It’s generally used by unsophisticated parents to modify their kids’ behavior when they have done something wrong. Most people don’t think much about the term or the impact it has. I know I never really paid attention to it, until it became a phrase that nearly brought me to the brink of suicide.
In 2013 I became a widow without the death when my husband was sent to prison for forty-three years. Here, let me print this another way, 43 years. Does that help increase the significance of how long that is? Despite the impact this lengthy sentence may have reading it, it is far worse living it. After fighting an injustice for nearly six years, my 60 year-old husband was tried and convicted of a white-collar crime and sentenced to forty-three years in prison. In that moment I became Mrs. ARO174.
Before you write me off as a stereotypical prison wife, may I assure you that the prison lifestyle is as far from common in my lineage as is being a reality television star. I don’t have a long-standing criminal background, my children weren’t raised below the poverty level and we do not have street cred. On the contrary, my family is the sort of family you would want for a neighbor and we do not look the way you would imagine a prison-affected family would.
After the sentencing, things went from bad to worse. There is something about the stamp of guilty that opens the floodgates for hate, bullying and shame to be put on you. I call Shame On You the Voo Doo that is slung onto you from angry, self-righteous people who believe into their souls that you deserve all bad things when your family member has been labeled in a negative way. The pain of wearing this shame-blanket is so profound it covers your identity and hides your true self.
In the year following my husband’s conviction, I was fired from my eight-year reign as a court investigator, I was harassed on social media, through the mail and behind my back. My crime was standing beside my husband as he faced the fight of his life and then again as he suffered tremendously in prison. To date, he has been stabbed three times and is living in chronic chaos, racial tension and under the extremes of power-hungry men and women who work within the prison system.
By the time a year had gone by, I had reached my end. Despite having a Masters degree in Psychology and twenty-two years experience working with people in chronic crisis, I came to my own end. The constant sense of shame that was on me was too much. Visiting my husband, managing our lives without his contribution, trying to keep the family together and functioning was so hard under the scrutiny of the community that held my reputation in their hands.
I remember the time I decided to put suicide on the table as one of the options. It somehow comforted me to know that it was a resource that was there for me, should I come to the end of what I knew to do. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to leave the world, I thought I might have to. I had accepted the social ostracizing. I was willing to be laughed at, ignored, uninvited and scorned, but being fired was more than I could handle.
I recall the day I was let go. After years of stellar service, I was called in by my supervisor, a well-known man of God who went on mission trips and taught English in other countries. We had bonded over our shared parenting experiences and our love of girls basketball. He was a quiet guy who didn’t like any sort of conflict and preferred to keep our corner of the courthouse as inconspicuous as possible. I presented a problem in this area.
I had this knowing when he asked to see me that things were done. In my tenure, I had never once been in trouble, as a matter of fact, my reviews tended to say exceeds standards on many categories. I was an ethical employee with the trust of the judges I served. Nonetheless, I knew that a letter-writing campaign had begun after the conviction and the Shame On You Crew were hell-bent to see me ousted, homeless and hopefully publicly stoned for my war-crime of loving my husband and believing in his innocence.