We Have Learned that Prison Visits are Precious Time
Visiting a prison was never what I imagined would be a part of my life – yet here I am, a “regular”. My first visit was about 6 ½ years ago when a woman I met asked if I would like to meet her husband who was serving a life sentence. After a security check was run on me, I was approved and I tagged along on their next visit. Her husband tried to explain to me what it was like, living behind those walls. He had lost his freedom at age 19 and was now in his 40’s. It was incomprehensible to me – what life was like for him. I kept looking around at the other inmates in the visiting room, quietly playing with their children, sharing a look of longing with their wife, as they sat side-by-side holding hands, parents hugging their son good-bye after a short visit; Mom wearing a brave smile until she was out of site and then tears flowed down her face.
Shortly after that meeting, I met and began visiting a man named Joseph, and saw things in a more personal way. Prison visiting rules leave something to be desired as far as enhancing family visits and encouraging closer ties with loved ones. One thing I’ve learned – there are worse and there are better visiting rooms all across the country.
I first visited Joseph on “the hill”, the main unit of the prison. After checking myself in with the control room, I was told to take a seat and wait for my name to be called. It was a long wait as we were processed in one at a time, and there were several people ahead of me. When my name was called, I entered through a series of gates that opened electronically, one at a time, and clanged shut behind me as I walked down the long tunnel to the visiting room. When I reached the end of the tunnel, there was a second control room. I had to put my hand through a slot and have it stamped. Then another electronic door opened and I was in the underground visiting room.
In this visiting room couples were allowed to sit side-by-side and hold hands. No other touching was allowed and if you so much as wiped a tear away, stroked an arm, or gave a gentle pat on the back, a guard may come up and tell you to stop or your visit will be terminated. There are rules and they have to be respected.
Joseph and I had a close friend pass away a few years ago. We have so few mutual friends, and Mike had meant a lot to us. We both cried when I came for my visit and told him that Mike was gone. I cannot describe what it’s like to sit next to the one person you most want to comfort and be comforted by, and only be allowed to hold hands – to sit helplessly as the tears flow down your loved one’s face and not be able to hold him, wipe away his tears, put your face next to his. It’s a deep down hurt to not be able to do these normal things to comfort someone you love.
We learned early on of the preciousness of the time we share together, when one day I walked out on a visit. I was tired and being unreasonable, and apparently, he had not had a good day either. For some reason, I got angry, hurt, and stubborn and walked out. As soon as the door clanged shut behind me I realized how foolish I was. We hadn’t known each other very long, and we were still a little unsure of each other. It was a horrible moment as I realized that I could not go back and say I was sorry. I could not call him to say I was sorry. I had to wait until he called me or until he responded to the letter I would write as soon as I got home. It was a terrible time! Joseph, on his side of the walls, was afraid to call in case I wouldn’t accept his call. He didn’t know if I would come visit him again. It happens up there sometimes…”she” just never shows up again, leaving questions and no closure.
We had mutual friends who were able to help us clear things up in a couple of days, but we realized how precious our time together is and we made a pact to never do that again. For the first four years together we had an average of two visits a week for 3-3 ½ hours each time. Recently Joseph was moved to another prison 110 miles from where I live. The visits there are only 2 ½ hours (less after being processed in) and normally we visit once a week due to the amount of time it takes to get there and my schedule, not to mention the cost of gas and wear and tear on the car. Our time together has become even more precious and we rely on letters to keep up to date on the everyday things. Phone calls are rare since now they are long-distance collect calls.
I have many friends now who have family and friends behind walls. They are doing time with their loved one. The prisoners are being punished, but so are the loved ones on the outside who have done nothing more than love someone who committed a crime.