Empty bottles stood at attention in tidy lines like toy soldiers at the ready. Eight, ten, a dozen—the number continued to grow by increments of two each time his mother returned to the table. My bladder developed a sympathetic ache in having to witness all that Mountain Dew being consumed. Soon it was every fifteen to twenty minutes that the Dew drinker had to be shuttled back and forth from his table in the visiting room to the bathroom. The two officers in charge of the visiting room exchanged exasperated sighs and glances as the inmate waved for their attention once more so one of them could unlock the bathroom for him. While he walked towards the toilet, his mother stood and headed back to the vending machines to replenish supplies.
My experienced eye easily recognized the inmate’s twitchy, disheveled appearance as that of an individual on some serious psychiatric medication. Those inmates with severe mental health issues are housed in their own specific section of the prison, so when I later saw him being escorted back to that area, the conclusion I’d drawn was proven true.
Caffeine and sugar, especially in large amounts, can have adverse effects on those using prescription psych meds. Often they work in direct opposition with those meds, and for this reason both items have been extremely restricted or outright banned amongst the segment of the prison population under special psychiatric treatment. This goes to explain why Mr. Mountain Dew gorges himself on the caffeine and sugar-infused elixir during each visit where dietary restrictions aren’t enforced. However, it’s his mother who keeps feeding the vending machine and fueling his addiction.
The mother had been told of the side effects. On numerous occasions, she’d been admonished by different officers. She knew better. Since she persisted on providing her son with the banned items on visit after visit, one of her son’s doctors finally intercepted her before she could go into the visiting room on this particular day. She was told in unadorned language that she was hurting her son. It was further explained that the copious quantities of stimulants were directly contributing to his manic thoughts and behavior. Then the doctor informed her that her son was having bladder control issues, he had wet himself more than once, and all that Mountain Dew as only exacerbating the issue. The stains on her son’s clothes made me believe that the doctor’s statements were void of hyperbole and embellishment.
Watching this interminably thirsty inmate guzzle yet another 20 ounce bottle of Dew, I felt a certain degree of ire and disgust towards his mother. All I could think about was her willful disregard of medical expertise and the resulting damages to her already compromised child. However, after a closer look, I saw in their smiles and gestures an abiding affection and love. There was no malice in her actions.
I can’t fully fathom the myriad conflicting emotions that a loving parent must experience when visiting their child in prison. I can imagine that sadness, anger, shame, and regret are probably merely a few sensations that rear their ugly heads. I do know that having to deny a loved one something, even a simple Mountain Dew, is a terrible feeling. The general deprivation that prison foists upon its inhabitants makes such refusals even more unbearable for both parties and leaves each feeling especially helpless.
I would never doubt that this mother loves her son, but, taking his mental health into consideration, it may be that her love would be better used in protecting her son from himself. I’d even venture to say that this type of love without borders or limits is imbalanced, unhealthy, and misguided.