I hope the exit is joyful and I hope never to return.

I was laying there in bed, with my eyes closed, and I could feel someone staring at me. Sure enough, there were three someones peering over my cubicles ledge, grinning at me.

They wished me a happy birthday and scolded me for not having my things packed.

It was my 30th birthday, and I was in jail.

“I don’t even know if I’m leaving today,” I told them. I really didn’t want to get my hopes up that I’d be released from jail and into a rehab on my birthday.

“VANESSA! Be serious. You know you are being released today, c’mon let’s get your shit together.”

I very hesitantly started sorting through my commissary items like toiletries, colored pencils, pads of paper, and everything else I was going to give away to the inmates who don’t have anyone on the “outside” putting money on their books. I clung onto my birthday card that my inmate friends had made for me, the letters I’d gotten from friends and family on the outside, and the books my friend Mike had sent to me during my 3 1/2 month stay in jail. Everyone around me excitedly wished me a happy birthday and assured me that this was God’s gift to me, to be released into a program to get help. I wasn’t so sure.

I got dressed in my whites (my kitchen uniform) and got ready to go to work. The girls scolded me again.

“Have some faith, Vanessa! Today is your day.”

I sat on my bed and stared at my wall.

“Gomez! Bunk 22! Roll up!”

What the fuck. Am I hearing things?

The inmates, my friends, excitedly rushed me down the stairs, carrying my bags and books. I was still in a daze. Is this really happening? Have I really been in jail for the past 3 1/2 months? What the fuck…. Is this really over?

I went to the deputy’s station and she confirmed who I was and that I was leaving. I had to wait for another deputy to come and walk me to the ever elusive Release room. I waited, and waited, said good bye, and waited, said more good bye’s… awkwardly now because it was taking forever and I was just sitting there.

“Gomez, you’re still here? Just go, you know where Release is, right? Just go over there.”

Like it was so easy. Like I was supposed to know! All of a sudden, you’re about to be released and the deputies trust you to walk around by yourself.

And of course I knew where Release was. I had to walk past it everyday to work and chow, to see everyone else get released when I didn’t even have a release date. We’d all joke around as we passed, then sadly mutter someday our day will come. They can’t keep us forever…

So it appeared, here was my day. It had come. I waited for the main door to unlock, waved good-bye to everyone trying sooo hard not to cry, and walked out of 1B, the Kitchen Dorm.

I held my little brown bag full of books and letters and walked two doors down to the Release room. There, I recognized two inmates that had also been trustees but… they were wearing normal people clothes. They were smiling. They were dressed pretty provocatively, actually. Its so weird to see people that you’ve been locked up with in their normal clothes. It’s like, my humanness comes back and everything judgmental about me kicks back in and now I’m like “Oh, now I know how to treat you because of who you are by the clothes you wear. Its crazy how my mind just went to that.

I shrugged, and checked in with the deputy at the main desk.

“Go to the window and get your things and get dressed.” I walked to a window where a little man appeared, asked to see my bracelet, and handed me another brown paper bag. Inside, was my black and white dress, pink underwear, and black bra, along with some scuffed flats. The clothes I was arrested in. A chill literally went through my body. I wanted to burn these clothes.

I got dressed and turned in my jail clothes and dumped my orange sandals into a basket. I sat down with the deputy and she unceremoniously had me stick my hand through an opening at the bottom of the window, she cut off the bracelet that had been on me for the past 3 1/2 months, and pointed to the door behind her.

“You’re free to go. Push the door and make sure it closes behind you.”

And that, was when I heard my last door click open. I walked through it feeling triumphant as ever. And I made damn sure it closed behind me.

I walked into the shiny lobby of the jail. There was a man in a suit pacing near the entrance.

“Are you Miguel?” I asked him.
“Yes, Vanessa? Let’s go.”

Miguel was my appointed drug assessor through the courts. He helped me get into a rehabilitation program instead of serving an additional sentence in jail and was here to escort me to the program since I was technically still in custody until I finished my 90 days in the program. We walked to the parking lot to his car and I seriously could not believe it, I was out of jail. I was in the free world now. No more super expensive phone calls, no more jail uniform, I could wear perfume again, and makeup…. It was my 30th birthday and I was given another opportunity to do this life right.

That was the best birthday gift I could have ever received.

Oh shit, I’m free.