stephanie jones

Between Security and Freedom

In Uncategorized on March 13, 2009 at 9:56 pm

The driver’s seat of my red Datsun wasn’t properly bolted to the car floor. I think there were four points at which the seat had once been firmly secured to the car body, back when it was a new, brightly-painted auto on the lot, but now only one bolt managed to hang on. The result was a mixture of rocking and swiveling that made for perilous driving, though also for freedom in reaching into the back seat for a sweater or into the glove compartment for some gum, and all with the seat belt still firmly attached.

I sat at the red light on the corner of 34th Street and Archer Road in my Datsun, feeling jubilant and safe. But why did I feel this way? After all, my forehead was still stinging from the blow received from the windshield when I braked too quickly for the light and my unhinged seat launched me forward. So why was I feeling secure and happy? I looked down 34th street, to where Fred, my “older” boyfriend, lived and then up at the sky. Like Louise Mallard in Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour,” I felt the answer to my question “creeping out of the sky,” gathering in the humid air, and pushing itself toward me. A realization. An illumination. I said it out loud, “Free, free, free!” and then my face turned hot with shame.

My sister Jo was the original owner of the Datsun. As a down payment, she used the $3,000 my mom squirreled away for her from the government survivor benefits we received after my dad died. Like my sister, my brother Rick used his $3,000 to buy a car when he turned 18. Always the odd one out, I took my life savings and went off to the University of Florida. A car or a college education.

In a beautiful twist, my sister’s Datsun became my college graduation gift from my whole family. Rick agreed to sell Jo his old car cheaply, so Jo gave the Datsun to my mom and step-father to fix up for me. They took it in for some new tires and a tune up, wrapped it in a bow, and handed it over to me as I headed back to Gainesville to pursue my master’s degree. It was already on its way out; in fact, in two year’s time I would pay a scrap dealer in Cranston, RI $100.00 to tow it from the street where it finally breathed its last. But the Datsun was a welcomed gift, an unexpected luxury.

Throughout my undergrad years my only wheels had been those of city buses or a bicycle. I lived far from campus-cheaper that way-and worked nearly full time at Captain D’s and later at the Cinema Drafthouse-turned out that $3,000 isn’t really enough to buy a college education. I got off of work sometimes well after midnight when the buses were already down for the night, so except for the occasional kindness of a co-worker who could throw my bike in his trunk, I rode my bike to and from work every night, miles down the unlit Archer Road from 34th Street to Tower Road. This was always a dangerous trip, fraught with close calls with tipsy or ticked off drivers who seemed to view the presence of a young woman biking down an unlit road at midnight a nuisance.

When I started dating Fred near the end of my junior year, my midnight biking trips ended. Fred was five years older than I, already graduated with his master’s degree, and working in a real job. He began dropping me off and picking me up from work. I liked him, and I was grateful to him. I lived so far out, it was just easier, he said, to stay at his place.

It wasn’t until I got my Datsun and was idling at the red light on the corner of 34th Street and Archer Road that it came to me from the sky, that it gathered in the humid air, and pressed into me with a heat of a shameful revelation: I was free. The Datsun made Fred less essential. I thought, “I don’t need Fred anymore. I will be secure without him.” I pushed it out of my mind, and shortly thereafter I pushed Fred out of my life.

  1. As always, your writing is a breath of fresh air. So on a tangentially related theme of freedom, I saw this about American Violet, and I thought you would enjoy this movie trailer. Here’s what the organization Color of Change wrote:

    “Too often, police drug raids in low-income communities across the county sweep up innocent people. Once in the system, it can become nearly impossible for these folks to prove their innocence. They lose their freedom; their families are broken; and the true story is rarely told.

    American Violet is a new award-winning film opening in your area today that can help shine a light on the problem. By going to see the movie, you can help it get more exposure–it will run longer in theaters if it does well at first.

    You can view the trailer and find your local theater, here:

    If you’re able to see the film, please let us know what you thought by emailing us at

    American Violet tells the amazing story of a young, single mother swept up in an unjust, out-of-control drug raid that targets the Black community in a small town in Texas. The film is based on true events and it examines how our country’s drug laws and enforcement practices target African-Americans, and how the justice system uses threats and intimidation to steer people towards guilty pleas, regardless of their innocence or the evidence against them.

    You can watch the trailer by clicking here:

    The film is inspired by the real life story of Regina Kelly, an African-American, single mother of four girls who was arrested in 2000 in a military-style drug raid. The raid resulted in the arrest of nearly 15% of the town’s young Black male population for felony cocaine distribution. Kelly was innocent. Her name, along with the names of many others arrested (nearly all African-American), were given to police by a single, highly unreliable informant with personal reasons to antagonize her. Despite Kelly’s innocence, she was urged to plead guilty by her family and even her public defender so that she could return to her children and receive a minimal sentence. A felony conviction, however, would have resulted in the loss of her right to vote and the public assistance programs on which her family depended, not to mention the tainting of her personal reputation and her ability to obtain employment. She chose to maintain her plea of not guilty. American Violet tells the story of her fight for justice. “

  2. Hey Lori! This piece of writing was posted by Karen Spector – my dear friend and colleague who also posts on the blog. She’ll love that you liked it:)

    I’ve heard of this horrible story out of Texas before, but not this particular film. Here’s a link for the documentary: Tulia, Texas

    I’m pretty sure it’s the same horribly unjust story…

    I’ll check out the movie you suggested very soon!

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