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[ Personal Narratives ]

I Hire Only Prisoners…

Pulling the straw from my ice water, I stirred the creamer, observing the white kaleidoscope swirling and twirling in my cup of java. The waitress, Katrina, was just as inattentive today as she was yesterday. I felt like Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day, and thought how ironic it would be if Sonny and Cher’s “I Got you Babe” blared out of the ceiling speakers.

Her makeup accentuated the sadness in her eyes. More often than not, she had a collection of eyeliner in the corners of her eyes.  Her apron pocket revealed straws, papers, and tips—just as cluttered as her mind.

There was a mysterious gypsy-like persona she projected. With her dark roots and blonde hair, she resembled Stevie Nicks. I could imagine if she were to belt out a song, it would be Rhiannon—she had a darkness about her…

I felt like a stalker as I watched her every move. She looked frazzled and out of place and appeared to be in cruise control, making motion without thought. I wondered if she could feel…I wondered if her broken heart was going to crumble out of her chest to the floor…My heart was heavy with grief. I couldn’t even imagine the guilt and sorrow she carried.

I didn’t expect a repeat from yesterday’s inattentiveness. She apologized after I informed her she had forgotten my spoon. I debated on letting it slide, but I wanted her to do a good job. She needed this job to keep busy.

I had several more hours of time to kill. I sat with the customary bronze-colored carafe of coffee at my table and played Angry Birds on my IPAD.  I checked all the perfect lives on Facebook. I continued to watch her to ensure she was OK. I was extremely protective of her just as I was her daughter. But I carried this guilt that I failed her daughter. Death is not success…

I heard the couple next to me grumble amongst themselves that they had not received utensils as they were looking around for their waitress. In a stealth-like walk, I retrieved two sets from the grey tray in the center of the room. I had witnessed Katrina’s last duty of the day the night before, the “wrap-up” procedure.  She sat and paired silverware, rolling them tightly in a napkin papoose.

I explained to the couple that their waitress recently lost her daughter and she was struggling. I saw their faces soften with compassion. The word, “struggling” immediately took me back to a few nights before Kirstyn passed.

I was panicked with worry when KIrstyn wasn’t anywhere to be found when I came home from work. I had repeatedly called and texted her for hours on end. That morning, I was scrambling to get ready for work. There was an event that included over 50 customers that I needed to prepare for. As I said goodbye to her in the hallway at 6AM, I glanced in her room and saw an unfamiliar face peering from the corner of her room.

I sternly called her over and told her to get this stranger out of my house. She pleaded I didn’t embarrass her. I told her I didn’t care, I wanted him out and I would drop him off at home. She continued to plead that I stop. She said he was sleeping and to please not embarrass her. I told her there was no way he was sleeping. I looked in and he was lying down all of a sudden in a fake “deep sleep” with his hoodie covering most of his face. I told her he must think I am a fool…he was faking.

I didn’t have time to argue with her and she seemed sincere that he was going to leave and she was going to be in place that evening. I hesitantly left. My gut didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do…but I had to…

I was not aware until that evening, when I found a syringe in her garbage, how serious her addiction was…I snooped all the time to ensure drugs were not in my house and to see what she was doing. I wrote down names that I found, and tried to look into anything that looked suspicious. It now made sense why my black leather belt was always found on her closet floor…She was shooting up her pills?!? I was so unfamiliar with all of this. This was not a world that I was part of.

I was immediately in crisis mode. I called my son in England. I called her step dad and brother in California. I called friends of hers. I had this terrible feeling I was never going to see her again. I didn’t realize I voiced that to my step-mother-in-law. She told me after Kirstyn passed how eerie that was that I had said that…She knew I had premonitions from previous life events that I shared with her.

My phone finally rang with her name flashing on the screen. “Kirstyn. Are you ok?” I reminded her that she promised she would be home. I asked if she was struggling… She replied, “Struggling?”

“I Hire Only Prisoners” that is what IHOP stands for.” Katrina cracked a tiny smile. It was nice to see her smile. We had cried so many tears since Kirstyn’s passing.

She gathered her things and she was raring to go. She explained with excitement the awesome tip she got from the last customer. I rescued Katrina a few times.  I was a shield to rude customers unaware of her grief.  In time, she began to be a great waitress.  She even had her regulars.  

With her blue apron in hand, she nearly ran out the door. She hated that place. It was filled with many felons and drama.

I felt that job was good for her in a busy non-brain taxing way. Although she voiced it was menial (and it was considering she was an Account Executive in her non-Felon days) she was thankful despite her constant complaining and reminder she was better than that.

She knew she was felon. She knew she didn’t have many choices due to that fact, and she knew she gave up her rights. Unfortunately, our system isn’t lenient with that “F” word…

We got into my car and I drove her to her detention center. It was too quick of a drive, just a few miles down the road. I loved the time I could talk with her. It was a healing process that I very much needed.

I wished she and I could talk more and I wished she had a place she could grieve. She shared a room with 20 other detainees. She said it was so difficult to grieve and she began to cry.

I noticed a group of guys on the second floor staring out making rude gestures. She got out of the car, and in my old black coat that I gave to her, she turned around and waved and thanked me. She secured her cell phone in the outside locker and proceeded inside.

Although some may say she dug her own hole, I saw it differently. We are all children of God. She was a lost soul in a world that continued to be cruel and dysfunctional. She hit rock bottom. I was going to ensure she believed in herself. I saw her as an instrument to the epidemic that curses our nation. I knew it would take time for her to build her strength back up, but I knew once she did, she would be unstoppable with passion.

My brain began OCD mode. I was going to see if I could get her out on an ankle bracelet. We had a townhouse just minutes from our house in a very nice neighborhood. I could easily keep an eye on her. It would give her peace and the space to grieve. And we would let her stay there free of charge. That would be my “tithing”.

I began to write my letter…I was determined to make this happen. And I knew Kirstyn was smiling from above…