Keys

February 8, 2006

Keys; have you ever thought much about them? We seldom carry just one unless we pin them to our bathing suit at the Y.M.C.A. We carry them in our pockets or around our necks these days. Some people clip them to their sides, some spin them on their fingers and fidget with them, but have you ever thought about what they mean? I know what they mean- power. They say I have control over this set of doors or this vehicle or this classroom or this part of the institution. I hate the sound of keys. I learned to hate them in jail. Every time I heard keys it meant my keeper was coming. He was coming to wake me or take me to court or to feed me or deliver a new inmate or to order me back into my cell. It wasn’t all bad when my keeper came, sometimes she was good looking, for a guard, or she brought the mail or took me to a visit or as I said a meal. But she always delivered control.

If you’ve never been in jail you will not understand how loud keys can be and how attuned you become to them. Firstly a jailer’s keys are as big as your hand so when they hit each other or fumble in the lock you really hear the brass. Jails are empty of anything that absorbs sound so everything carries and seems louder than sound on the outside. Secondly when you’re in jail you always want to know where or when the jailer is coming. They usually do a “walk about” every half-hour (there are no clocks or watches in jail) and you could hear them coming from the keys hitting their sides. If you wanted to share a smoke or worse, you timed it well but still “kept six” or listened and watched for a guard as they could show up at anytime to deliver someone to or from court or the nurse or a visit.

The morning I came back from escaping to the Sarnia hospital, I opened the doors coming into the jail myself as they were electronically locked. I had a great sense of power to be able to open those two doors on my own. They were heavy but I know I flung them open as I shambled through cuffed and shackled in my hospital booties.

Now when I hear keys I still hear control. You see I still don’t often have keys in my hands and I have to turn them back in to people with many more keys than I. They have keys to my room, to outside doors, to medication drawers, to shower rooms, kitchens, etcetera. Even when I went to school I would cringe when the teacher threw her keys on her desk. I liked her but she had keys; keys to freedom like a car and a house and a mailbox, a bike, even the school. Not me, I had only one key, a key to my brother’s bike. But hear this, no one has felt as free and as happy on a bicycle as I have on many occasions on that bike. The bike is barely worth locking up but to wear that key around my neck is priceless.

2 thoughts on “Keys

  1. Thank you so much for this; the insight into what must have been such a strange experience is something I think we all need.

    I have never, ever experienced what you have. But I have known the power of keys. For years my mother – control freak extraordinare – withheld a front door key from me. Until the age of 20-something, I had to rely on somebody answering the door. This meant I had to have a curfew of 11pm, even though I was an adult. Having that freedom denied… a key is such a small thing, but it has such significance. I look at my door key every day now, and it symbolises power to me, so thank you for sharing this. It’s given me a lot to think about.

    Keep writing. You have amazing stories to tell.

    • Thanks so much for your reply. I was quite sure my experience was only something a person who was incarcerated could identify with. It saddens me to know you can identify with it but your comments have made me realize there are common themes and parallels in each of our experiences. We have all stood behind someone who opens a door we would like to walk through. I am pleased to sense that you have endured. Thank you for your kind words and authenticating some of my pain and frustrations. Keep well !

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