Tender Mercies of the Lord
yourLDSneighborhood News for 21 November, 2011
Comfort for a Grandma and a Princess
My father is in prison. There’s a great stigma attached to having a family member in prison. In the LDS culture it’s even tougher.
I was going south to deliver my granddaughter to a “princess party,” but I had to deliver something for my father. We would be going right by the prison at the exact correct time. However, I had never exposed my grandchildren to where my father was or why.
I really had no choice. I picked up my granddaughter in all her princess finery—dress, tiara and gloves—and started praying. Soon I came up with a plan.
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My father is in prison. He is 83 years old. Most likely, he will die there. There’s a great stigma attached to having a family member in prison. In the LDS culture it’s even tougher. Most of my friends don’t know about him. It’s just easier that way.
My daughter had been a freshman at BYU for about two weeks when she called me in tears. “I just lied to my roommates,” she said.
“Why, what did you tell them?” I asked.
“I told them Grandpa was dead,” she sobbed.
I was silent for only a minute. “Well, technically, he is dead, spiritually dead,” I answered, wanting to ease her pain—the same pain that I couldn’t ease within myself. “Some day, as you get to know these girls better, you may feel comfortable sharing more, and when and if you do, they will understand. Otherwise, they were really just wanting to know if your grandma lives alone, and she does.”
I know we aren’t the only LDS members with family in jail or prison. But it was something we never had thought about till my dad was sentenced. A couple years ago a sister in my ward asked me to substitute for her since she was going to be in Draper on Sunday. I just had a feeling about where she might be going, but didn’t I want to offend her by asking. I hardly knew this lady. I did ask if it was for something fun. She said no and then added with a downward gaze, “My son is in the prison.”
Quickly, I told her that my dad was there, too. She grabbed me and hugged me and said, “Isn’t it hard?” I nodded and told her I thought it had just gotten easier, knowing someone else had to go through this, too. We have been very good friends ever since. We don’t speak about it, but we share something very difficult, and it has become a bond.
The state provides prisoners with two sets of clothing, bed linen, a pillow, shaving gear and a pair of shoes. But my aging father needed shoes with better support. He got too cold in the winter and needed thermal clothing and a heavier jacket. In the summer heat, he required a fan, which was allowed in the elderly housing area, but it cost us $25. His co-pays for medications are our responsibility as well as stamps or anything else of a personal nature. My mother wants him to be comfortable, which requires us sending money to him monthly, but she’s become unable to do all this. It was confusing and painful, so I have taken over that job. In the Utah State Prison, you can’t send anything in to the prisoner. They need to have money in their account to order things themselves.
Last summer a new overzealous guard confiscated all the fans from the older gentlemens’ area. My father was told to mail the fan out to family or it would be sent to charity. I received my father’s fan in the mail and a few days later a letter explaining why. But after another week, the next letter said that that guard had been transferred and reprimanded, and prisoners could get their fans back, except that many had mailed them away as instructed. So my father was requesting more money for another fan.
I’ve actually always had good experiences communicating with the prison. So I called and left a message for the head guard in my father’s area to call me. When he called back, I explained the situation, the error of the guard costing us now another fan. He talked it over with superiors and they said I could bring the fan in if I were able to deliver it to the prison the very next day between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. He would be there personally to receive it. I thanked him profusely and hung up. As I checked my calendar I realized that would be great timing for me. I was heading south the next day anyway. However, it created a major emotional struggle for me also.
I was going south to deliver my granddaughter to a “princess party.” My daughter (the one who had originally told her roommates her grandpa was dead) was now engaged and having a special “princess party” for all of her nieces and her fiancé’s nieces as a way for these little girls to get to know each other before the wedding. We would be going right by the prison at the exact correct time. However, I had never exposed my grandchildren to where my father was or why, or even that he existed.
I really had no choice. I picked up my granddaughter in all her princess finery—dress, tiara and gloves. I prayed all the way down I-15 from Northern Utah about how to handle this. By the time we were in south Salt Lake, I had a plan.
“No, Grandma, I haven’t. I don’t think we have castles here in Utah.”
“Oh, Sarah, we actually do. And since you are dressed up like a princess, I thought we should visit one very quickly on our way to the princess party.”
“Oh, Grandma, that sounds fun!” This was the first time I had ever considered a trip to the prison as fun. I realized that at five years old, she didn’t know what barbed wire was. She didn’t know anything about jail or prison. She was dressed for a castle, and a castle we would visit!
As we got to the gate, I explained that guards had to make sure bad people didn’t go into the castle. We stopped at the gate and the guard was kind but business-like. He told me that no one ever brought anything in to the prison. He shook his head, saying that this had never happened before, but I could take the box inside. I thanked him and drove on.
We parked at the large gate. I got Sarah out along with the box. We were in front of a tall wire gate that moves across very slowly after you push a button. I pushed the button without Sarah noticing and told her to say, “Open sesame,” and the gate would move. She did, and she was so impressed. We came to the second gate and the guard inside could see us so he signaled for this gate to open, but I told her to repeat her words, and it opened on cue as she said, “Open sesame.” She was thrilled!
We walked through the door, and I told the guard that my granddaughter, the princess, was here to see the castle, and I winked as I said the word “castle” and he bowed to her and told her she was the loveliest princess they had seen all week. Then I had her sit on a bench a few feet away and explained about the box. He had the same reply, “No one ever brings anything in,” but he was willing to call the sergeant and once again, through the tender mercies of the Lord, he accepted the box.
Our trip to the castle ended. I told Sarah to talk to the door, and I again winked at the guard as she said, “Open sesame,” and the door miraculously followed her command. Out we went.
She looked around and seeing the high walls, the barbed wire, the guard gate, said, “Oh, Grandma, thank you for bringing me to the castle on the way to my princess party.” I couldn’t hide the tears of relief and gratitude to have her spared the knowledge of where we really were.
We stopped at the gate on our way out, and the guard had me open my trunk. I explained to Sarah that was to make sure no one had taken any of the King’s jewels with them. She waved happily at the guard and he bowed to her.
We headed to the party and she enjoyed sharing with the rest of the girls her trip to the castle. I had to take my daughter aside and explain it all to her. But for one little five-year-old girl and a very worried Grandma, Heavenly Father had prepared a way for us to accomplish a difficult feat and turned a sorrow into a sweet joy.
Marion Stewart married her husband Ken in 1974 and had six children in eight years (no multiples—“change one diaper, change three” was her motto for a few years). She was co-editor and reporter for the California edition of the Latter-Day Sentinel from 1984 to 1986. She has served in nearly every capacity in a ward or branch, having had four or five callings at a time—including playing the piano for Priesthood! She has lived in California, Michigan, and Utah. She is looking forward to her 11th grandchild.