Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Serving Six: Prison Visits

I wrote about visiting my brother in the county jail system a while ago. I encourage you to read it. But I’ll sum it up here so you have some background anyway.

We spent a year visiting my brother in several different counties around the state. He moved all the time. All visits in county jails are non-contact visits. They were 20 minutes twice a week when he was “home.” And when he wasn’t it was whenever we could, but it wasn’t even close to twice a week. It was an extremely difficult time.

After he was sentenced we knew he would be transferred to a prison where he would likely remain until his time was up. That was comforting. He really didn’t like all the moving. It was annoying to try to figure out a different system every place we went. We knew it also meant that we would be getting contact visits. For the first time in a year I would be able to hug my brother. I was so looking forward to that.

We had no idea where in the state he would end up, but there were a lot of possibilities. Anywhere from 2 hours to nearly 8 hours away. I didn’t even realize you could drive 8 hours and still be in our state. I prayed and prayed and prayed he would not go that far away. Because I knew that meant our visits would be few and far between.

He ended up about 4 hours away. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t all that great. It meant we would spend the night because with an 8 hour round trip drive and we usually ended up with a 4 hour visit so that was a long day of sitting - in the car & in the prison. We usually went down with my parents and we would spend the entire day road tripping! There was usually a lunch and some shopping (for my mom and I, but sometimes we stopped at places like Tractor Supply). There wasn’t a whole lot in the town he was in, so we usually stayed in the next town over. We’d get up early in the morning and head over to the prison.

The first time we went to see him we had no idea what to expect. It was scary. These places held dangerous criminals and now this is where my brother lived. We had read the rules on the webpage - fill out this form, bring in nothing except your driver’s license and $20 in quarters. We filled out the form, we got our quarters and our licenses, and headed inside. The lobby was full of people. There was a desk in front of us that we checked in at. After that we were taken in groups by a same gender guard to be searched. Freaked me out. Because we went in to the bathroom. And I was not sure what the fuck was about to happen to me. Luckily, we were just patted down and they checked our shoes and the bottoms of our feet. I quickly learned that easy on-off shoes were the best. After the search we went through the metal detectors and got a hand stamp (important, because should anything happen they check the hands and no stamp means you stay because they also have your driver’s license. Needless to say, I do not wash my hands until after we’re back on the other side.) After all of our searches were over we headed in to the visiting room.

We had to walk outside to get to the building where visitation was. Which means we walked through the prison grounds. I was surprised how much like the movies this prison looked like. There were very tall fences with barbed wire around the top. A pit of rocks down at the bottom of the fence covered by a 3 level high (taller than me at 5’2’’) wall of barbed wire. It was surreal. And I almost threw up. I still almost throw up from the time I walk in the building until I’m sitting at the table with my brother. Once we were in the room we were told to go sit at a short almost little tykes type table with plastic chairs. There were several rows of these tables & plenty of people of all shapes, sizes, races, religions, ages, etc, etc. It was a people watchers dream. I am always curious as to what every one of those guys did. But part of me doesn’t. Because. Well. You know. They’re in prison. It was something bad. And some of them even killed people. I don’t really need to know. I’m just nosy as shit.

We usually get in to the room about the same time and that first time. That first hug. After over a year. I cried. I don’t cry anymore, but they still are very much looked forward to by me. By this point we pretty much know the vending machine selection so someone heads there first before we sit down and get him some food. I think aside from seeing us the food is the thing he looks forward to the most. He doesn’t particularly enjoy the food inside & he usually eats ramen soup so he’s plenty sick of ramen & said he wasn’t going to be eating ramen when he gets out ever again. The vending machine food isn’t all bad. There are frozen pizzas, steak & cheese sandwiches, pork BBQ, BBQ chicken sandwiches, chicken sandwiches with onions & peppers, and there has even been fried chicken. That was by far his favorite because it’s been so long since he’s had fried chicken. Some of the places have had pie or strawberry shortcake, and one of them even had ice cream. That was my favorite visiting room even though the facility was my (and his) least favorite.

The first place he was at we usually got about a 4 hour visit & we usually ended up leaving before they asked us to because we’d run out of things to say & he was done eating & our asses hurt because of those awful plastic chairs. We’re only about 3 hours away now so we make it a day trip, and we get about a 3 hour visit. It’s always really nice to see him and I think I’m going to try to see him about every other month from now on. Each place he’s been in has been different; with its own rules & procedures but it’s fairly easy to get used to them. We’re hoping he’s at his final place. Finally. I really love seeing my brother, but I will not miss going to see him at a prison.

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