Saturday, July 08, 2006

an ordinary day

My husband and I went to visit our son in his new "home", the state correctional institution where he will serve out his sentence. We began by travelling 237 miles west (4 hours more or less), arriving at the prison where we leave all of our valuables in the car except for driver's licenses and change ($1's and $5's) only. We are careful not to wear too much metal, and car keys are placed in a locker. We sign in, pass through a metal detector, have our left hand marked with invisible marker and then go into a waiting room to receive our drug testing. A sort of circular wand is passed over our palms and the tops of our hands, and over our pants pockets. Then we wait to be called for our visit. This takes around 15 minutes or less if things aren't too busy. We pass through an automated door, walk down a long hallway out of which you can see the fencing and razor wire of the prison perimeter, like a large glass tunnel. We pass through another automated door, present a guard with our paperwork, have our left hands checked for the marker, and pass through yet another automated door into a large day room.

Once inside the dayroom, we again present our paperwork to the guard on duty and await our son's arrival in the room. Depending on the time of day, the room is quiet, and quickly becomes so loud you can't hear normal conversation with the steady stream of visitors. There are padded seats like a waiting room and round tables to sit at, eat at or play cards and board games. It is hard to not look around the room at the different types of people there, wondering why they are there and how they are related to the prisoners. Some are obviously girlfriends, mothers and children. Then there are others who don't seem to be related-especially white people visiting black prisoners. Some you might identify as pastors or religious people with Bibles or papers. Ordinary folks can't bring anything in with them except paperwork and money for vending machines. The long-time visitors seem to have a routine of eating and playing cards. Newbies seem to talk alot, or kiss alot!

Being that this was our first visit face to face in a year, we talked alot. Somehow the strangeness of the whole situation wore off very quickly and we fell into easy conversation about what's going on "back home" and in the new place. I came to understand this is a passage in my son's life, which would have had other rites of passage anyway. It isn't what I would have chosen for him, but he is becoming a man because of it, as he would have being separated from his home and on his own any other way. It seemed in that dayroom the whys didn't matter as much as just being in the moment, loving him, talking to him, enjoying him and reminding him we are there for him. Maybe some day those questions will be answered, but for now this is an ordinary day in our life.


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