For the prison family, some days are harder than others. The journey begins the moment you get the call, of course, but it continues throughout your loved one’s incarceration. Sometimes I think it is more difficult for us out here.
I waited in a particular long line yesterday to visit my son. When I arrived I noticed a new crew of faces, must have been some transfers over the last few weeks.
It was hot yesterday. Near 100 degree temperatures and a relentless sun beating on the long line with very little breeze made it almost unbearable. Today I noticed 2 women each holding a child. One was about 8 months old, the other maybe 2. Their little heads were soaked with perspiration. The mothers bounced and rocked them for the hour plus that they waited. The baby fell asleep in her mother’s arms. As usual there were teenagers, middle aged women, people with canes and men dressed in outfits that are not conducive to standing in this heat. The line slowly began to get more vocal because of the particularly slow process getting in. As I pay attention to the faces, I notice the teens. They are sullen and withdrawn. Angry inside and wishing they were anywhere but here. I could relate to them today.
Suddenly an elderly man collapsed. The heat was too much for him. The crowd was scared and screamed for help. The officer on duty got him inside and cooled him off, then the family left. I have no idea who they were, how long they drove or if anyone would let the man who they were visiting know what had happened.
I always think to myself what does the average American think about what this prison visitation line looks like. As I looked at the faces I realized they looked just like anywhere USA. Perhaps a Walmart.
We are the invisible people. We really don’t exist anywhere in any system. We all have the same solemn look on our faces and we all are on the same journey. Some are just longer journey’s than others. We all get frustrated, sometimes we laugh, and sometimes we get just plain angry. But it does no good at all. Our main concern on this day is to get inside without incident. That didn’t happen to one woman. She was turned away to go buy a slip for her skirt. I looked at her skirt and I thought that it was perfectly fine. The last time I came there was a woman with a very short skirt inside. Who makes the rules?
But today was one of the most absurd days of all. Besides the man collapsing, besides the skirt, besides the extreme heat there was the baby. The sweet angel girl who when she woke up she made us all laugh with her giggles and cherub cheeks. The pure innocence of a child who didn’t know where she was and didn’t care. They were finally let into the security booth – only to be turned out. The baby needed to have a shirt that covered her shoulders… after over an hour in line the mother had to go all the way back to her hot car and change the child, then come wait outside for another 10 minutes or so in order to get in. They did get in, and I saw a family bonding in a crowded, hot visitation room. Daddy got to meet his sweet girl for the first time.
As I write this blog, I realize that all of the families and loved ones I encounter feel the same way I do. They suffer along with the system in order not to upset things. They threaten to take action, but after the visit, which is emotional, and the long car ride home, it is easier to let it go. Maybe next time will be different we think. In reality, we know it won’t be the same, but there will always be some kind of situation to make visiting our loved one’s exhausting. The saddest part is, that sometimes families give up. I can understand why.
And then there are the officers on duty. The very people who must work in this environment. They need to become numb to the outbursts in the line. They need to show us they have control in order to maintain control. They have no reason to care about us. Their primary function is to maintain security, of course. But it seems to me that we could all work together to allow the most important people to an inmate’s rehabilitation to have a pleasant experience. It also makes sense to teach the teenagers and young adults in line that a system of compassion is a better way to do things.
What we all need to understand is that this story unfolds in every prison across our country. Each prison has its own set of rules but the stories are all the same. Countless faceless humans herded like cows to the slaughter house, and all we did was love someone who lives behind the razor wire.
Kate Boccia is founder and CEO of The National Incarceration Association and has a son in prison in Georgia.