There but for the grace of God

police line

This is the graphic they used in the media when describing my friend

In August 2011 a friend of mine shot and killed her abusive husband.  When she was arrested she was allowed a mental health evaluation only if her own private insurance would pay for it, even though she told them at the time of her arrest that she was mentally ill.

Last November, after a fifteen month wait, she was convicted of “voluntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.”  This was a deal – her original plea was “Guilty but Mentally Ill”.

My family and I have tried for a year and a half to contact her.  Almost everything we sent was returned, though the more expensive items like Christmas gifts simply vanished.  We have no evidence she ever received anything, and never heard a word from her.

Until now.  We’ve received a letter.

It’s nothing fancy.  Just a few lines to let us know she’s surviving.  She wants to tell us what happened, but all her mail is read before it’s sent.  All she could do it tell us that she’s alive, she loves us, and where she was – or at least where she was when the letter was written.

cat heavenIt was enough.  We’ve been in overdrive ever since.  All the letters sent to that address were returned – she was transferred.  Again.  A call to the prison she was sent to resulted in more red tape.  Transferred yet again.  But finally, this morning, I think I have her address.  I spoke to the sweetest lady who was so exasperated.  Not by us – apparently I’m not the first person who called!  But by the system that can’t even give a straight answer about the location of a prisoner.  I *think* I know where she is.

I’m sending her this picture.  She loves cats – she had about a dozen at the time of the shooting.  They’re all gone now, of course, along with everything else she ever knew.

Why did it come to this?  I keep thinking over and over that had things gone slightly different for me, it could be me in that cell, not her.  I’ve been on the wrong side of the locked door 5 times.  But I was always let out in the end.   I got the help I needed.  I was given the time and space to try to heal, without anyone threatening me.  I had a strong support network in my family, and those friends strong enough to remain in my life.

She had no one except a guy who beat her, and her cats.

If “there but for the grace of God” means anything to you, give your family a hug tonight, and an extra cuddle to your pet.  When one is mentally ill, so little stands between you and her fate.

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