Adoption is a cold, sterile thing. No pomp. No ceremony. A child is born, a paper is signed, and lives are changed forever.

Sixteen years ago, in police custody, I gave birth to a baby boy. I named him Scott. My circumstances dictated my decisions and I gave him up for adoption. There was no choice. I was facing life in prison.

I was afraid to hold him or even look at him. I knew if I did I would not be able to let go. But how could I keep him? It was practically guaranteed that I would be going to prison for a very long time. His adoptive parents said if I wrote him a letter they would be sure to give it to him when he was old enough. So I did, but that was all. There was nothing else. Forty-eight hours after he got here, he was gone. I never laid eyes on him.

Sometime later I received a health report and two photos of him from his parents through the adoption agency. However, by law, after he was six months old there could be no further communication between us. I was a felon.

One night, right before I had the baby, a friend came to see me at the jail. She gave me a tiny, gold band and suggested I put it on the baby as soon as I had it. Then when it was time for him to leave, I could put it on my pinky. That way I would always have something of his. The ring fit securely just below the last joint of my left pinky finger. I thought it was a great idea. Initially, I intended to hold my child, thinking I could handle it with no problem. I was very good at shoving stuff and ignoring reality, but Scott’s arrival was too huge. I think my mind cracked when I signed the adoption papers. I know my heart broke. I asked the nurse not to bring him to me. I thought it would be better that way. Easier.

Some of the nurses were nice to me and some were not. I was in police custody after all, waiting trial—waiting to go to prison. And because of this I was not going to be in the hospital very long at all. Scott would only be there two days himself. He was hidden in the neonatal unit because of all the publicity surrounding me. One of the nice nurses agreed to put the ring on Scott’s tiny little finger and then bring it back to me when his parents came to get him. She said it fit nicely on his thumb. And there it stayed for about thirty-seven hours. When he left the hospital, the ring was on my pinky.

I wore that ring everyday for the next sixteen years. It never came off my finger—for any reason. And I never worried about losing it, either. It was just always there, part of my hand. Every time I looked at it I thought about Scott. He was always with me.

Then one night it was just gone. Game six of the World Series was on and I had been talking to C.O. Yearly about the seventh inning. I had a habit of rubbing the ring with my thumb. That’s why I realized it was gone.

Hoping it was on my desk, I flew back to my room. Nothing. So I charged back to the spot of my conversation with Mr. Yearly. We’d been on the top tier and I thought, “Oh man, if it fell from up here who knows where it wound up. It’s so small and light it could collide and bounce a mile.”

I was trying not to panic as I ran down the stairs but I could feel my grip slipping. Tears ran down my face as I stood there helplessly staring at the floor, overwhelmed by how big it looked and how small the ring was.

I don’t remember going back upstairs or what I told my roommate. Trio and I had been friends/roommates for a long time. She knew all about my ring. What I do remember is standing in the middle of my room suffocating under the enormous sense of loss I was feeling. I was barely aware of the edges of what was going on around me and truthfully I can’t say I actually helped look for it. The compassion of God filled the wing that night and touched the hearts of fifty-five women.

I had no idea everyone knew I lost my ring. Word travels fast in a place like this. One of my best friends, Dorian, came upstairs and helped Trio tear our room apart. They stripped the beds, emptied the trunks, took everything out of the desks, all the while reassuring me it was going to turn up—that they were going to find it. Those sweet souls literally went through every piece of everything in that room trying to love that ring back to my finger.

That’s only part of it. While Trio and Dorian were shaking down the room (and I was standing still, crying), more of the same was happening downstairs. Those girls crawled over every inch of the dayroom floor. They dumped out the trash and sifted through it. They sifted through butt cans. Mr. Yearly gave them a flash light so they could look in the shower drains. The washers and dryers were moved. People were even checking in their rooms in case it bounced and rolled under the door.

It’s difficult to write this now, years later, because of the odd mix of emotions it brings up. I hadn’t dealt with giving up my son. I knew it was the right thing to do for his sake, but emotionally I was completely incapable of dealing with it. So I didn’t. Losing that tiny, little ring jerked me into reality so fast I was instantly crushed by the ugliness of it. And it wasn’t that I’d just lost a ring. That ring was my only connection to my little boy. I messed up so bad I couldn’t keep him—but I could keep his ring. Losing it was betrayal somehow and it devastated me.

I am also touched again by the out-pouring of genuine compassion those women showed me. Their actions were driven by something I dare not try to describe. I am encouraged and renewed by the love in the memories.

In the middle of all that chaos, someone let out a shout that was nothing shy of victorious. It tore through my despair completely. What happened next is a blur. I don’t remember going downstairs or what was going on around me. I only remember Darlene standing in front of me, holding out my ring. The look on her face was wonderful—awed. People were cheering and hugging when she carefully handed it to me. It was unbelievable. All I could do was hug her tight and tell her I would always be grateful.

You may think this is just a story about a piece of jewelry with sentimental value, but it’s not. Not entirely. It’s also about the power that little ring held and how it brought a group of the most unlikely women together.

Prisons are a world of their own with codes and rules you’ll not find in any book. The worse of the absolute worst are thrown together and forgotten. Survive or succumb. Kindness does not exist because people have to look out for themselves. Caring is weakness to be preyed upon.

Most women here are severely damaged. They come from lives of violence, drugs and poverty. They learn to be cold and hard because that’s how they survive. Not all women here stay that way, though. Doing time is damn hard. It forces you to change. And if you’re even remotely honest with yourself, those changes bring out the good stuff. That’s what happened that night in the lifers’ wing. The good stuff came out in such a glorious way we all gave thanks to God. Everyone was hugging—some were crying. It felt good—we felt good, for one shining moment because of a ring.