Monday, March 30, 2009


We took the trip to Somerset to visit Brandon yesterday. It's four hours from our house, thankfully a bit shorter because of the Route 99/220 add to the PA highway system, but still the day is always long. The entire family was supposed to come, mom, dad, grandmother and both sisters, but my older daughter simply could not muster the emotional equilibrium at this time in her life. It's understandable. As much as I want to love these trips and be totally there for my son while we're in the prison, I fight my emotions. This time I felt like I needed a punching bag. I'm simply out of gas. The younger daughter slept through her alarm and didn't make it. Again, I know that happens, not every family goes through this and it is so much to ask from an 18 year old who is a whirlwind and in love with life, but I was angry. I tried to turn it over to God, let it go, but it took the day for that to happen.

We were the first family at the prison, and while the weather was not too bad, at four something in the morning, rain slicked roads are confusing and fog can come up at any time and blind you. The light didn't help until we were almost there, and it rained all the way home. There is a new metal detector at the intake desk, and clothes that I usually wear set it off. I was just not in the mood. I told the COs the only metal I knew I had on was the zipper on my jeans, and I was not taking THEM off. I already have to wear a hugely uncomfortable sports bra with no metal. It's not every women that has a "prison bra" in her undies drawer, LOL! Well, we got in immediately to see Bran, and he just looks smaller and more fragile every time we come. He's lost about 80 pounds, and has a full beard. He's also rather short and wears glasses, so instead of looking like the hulking mountain man he used to, he looks like an elf accountant.

I suppose after we got into conversation I could see the wisdom of it just being the old folks. The vending machines were either not well stocked or out of order, which thankfully changed as the day went on-I could feel my temper rising again-"if my kid wants chocolate milk after three months, by God he'll have chocolate milk or else" we had a good time. It's so hard sometimes to make the shift into funny and natural conversation after months of separation, a long and tiresome ride to the prison and the hour wait to get in. But we do it. And Bran needed to just talk about his life there. It's frustrating and hard, and he doesn't have a chance to speak freely about how he feels often. Commissary prices are through the roof, stupid stuff, working in the dirty side of the prison laundry for basically nothing-it's not supposed to be Club Med and he knows this, but for a 23-year-old to live with no hope of things changing or getting worse every day, that's hard. He needs sympathy and encouragement, some normalcy and the reminder that there is a life "out there" that time will bring about once again.

It was good to get home and get back into the routine, but visitation is a "normal" part of our lives.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

white letter recent update: letter to mum

Brandon wrote me a letter. I can feel the tiredness in his words, life sort of dragging and being pulled along just because the moments are passing. In prison, tensions rise and fall, come to a head and settle, only for it to happen again, simply because it is life at the most minimal level in so many ways. But I'll let Bran tell his story. He starts off:

I just found a white hair embedded in one of the earpads of my headphones. Better not be one of mine. Although, I'd rather my hair turn white than fall out. Must be under a little more stress than I thought. I'll never stop dreading baldness until it actually happens or something trumps it and I no longer give a damn. Events over the last few weeks have been conspiring against my letter writing efforts: my most recent move, the perpetual clothing exchange crusade, BS down at work, getting sick or distracted, etc. It's almost as if the whole thing's out of my control and all I can do is wait for the proper planetary alignment and a good word from the jail witch doctor.

He writes on: With work, it's money and politics as usual. The higher ups increased the weight goal that determines the bonus. Last month, we made 40 cents per hour, the bare minimum I believe. The normal take is 60 cents per hour. With our work worth less, there's less incentive to work harder. We already knew we were losing contracts, thereby making it more difficult to reach our bonus goal, but they raised the pound requirement anyway. We net them nearly $1 million annually and they tell us we're lucky we get paid at all. What a slap in the face! Naturally, all this does is fan the flames of long-burning indignation between the shifts, and to a lesser extent, the clean and dirty sides. Accusations fly ("1st shift is lazy, 2nd shift speed washes to get more loads per diem, why can the dirty side leave when their work is finished, it's not fair"), everyone is punished, nothing is fixed. Speaking of things needing fixing, machines are allowed to completely break down before any consideration is given to their maintenance. Luckily, nothing has ever failed catastrophically resulting in injury. One washer has been broken for months, with no effort to get it running again. It can process nearly 400lbs/hr, a rather sizeable loss. After all this, the bosses have the audacity to complain. Have the time to gripe when your CI shop burns to the ground by disgruntled prisoners.

On the whole, tension around the prison rises. A huge brawl broke out on B-block, locking down the jail last weekend. A number of people were stabbed, and a gret deal of weapons were found. A slug-fest in the yard the other day almost ruined this weekend. They at least gave us unit rec,
so we can get out of the cell. Eventually, all this is going to reach a head and it may get ugly. Hey, they wanted to test the waters, take away this and that, pester, poke, and push the inmates. The when there's dire consequences to reap, no one seems to know how it happened.

Back to mum-we hope to visit Brandon on his birthday, March 29th. He'll turn 23. The time sort of shuffles by slowly and I pray somehow to be past this part of it. Still, there are reasons for everything.

Saturday, March 07, 2009


Brandon called today. I missed him last week, and he usually calls weekly. His birthday is coming up at the end of the month (March 29). He will be 23 years old. If the weather cooperates, for the first time in a very long time the three siblings will be together. My daughter, Dena, has a very hard time getting away from school and work, but she's coming home for a visit and we plan to all go to Somerset on that Sunday. It should be a good time. Maybe these are the times I simply take for granted. The time is going by and I don't think much about how much is left. I just can't. But I do look forward to these times where we can visit.

I asked Bran what he wanted for his birthday, and he mentioned two books, The Monkey Wrench Gang and Trainspotting. So I just ordered those. I wish the prison had a food visitation day or something like that so we could bring some special things in for his birthday. I guess we'll have to make a cake out of vending machine food!