How ever do I interpret what happens in here and what my “real” life was on the outside? As much of a toll that this train wreck has caused me I see some of the damage when my family comes to visit.
When at the maximum security facility, where you can have a visit at any time, I was drugged up much of the time that it wouldn’t have mattered if anyone came or not. As I was weaned off them I only had one visit, My pastor’s husband was in the area and scheduled a visit. It was good to see him though I honestly do not remember what we talked about and remember doing a great deal of crying. Just the whole visit procedure was scary. Escorted by a guard from my dorm down the maze of hallways to the visiting room. Strip searched going in to make sure we were not smuggling something out I guess. Then sit looking at the guard with legs fully under the table, hands resting on it at all times. Not knowing anything different, I made the mistake of initially sitting in the wrong spot and immediately was yelled at to move. Then the wonderful strip search with the mandatory bend and spread on your way out, the escort back to the dorm and resume “normal” life.
When I was moved to this medium facility it is much easier though maybe not for visitors. Only on weekends or holidays are visits scheduled, and then only as room allows. There is an outside courtyard with tables and chairs and real grass, mainly where the smokers go. Once I received the call from my dorm CO, I would make my way unescorted down the halls and outside walkway to the visiting room, or “dance floor” as inmates have for some reason dubbed it. The same preparatory procedure applies to the inmate as before when we prepare to see our loved ones.
I had to contain myself as I went down through the whole procedure and waited patiently to get in and see my family. During this time, I would attempt to prepare and “suck” up my emotions as others had told me to do so as not to have them think I was not being treated okay in here. They were also going through a very rough time without me and it was better, I was counseled, not to unload on them all that went on and all that was happening to me. So I “put on a happy face” and did my best which usually during this time wasn’t all that good. Kleenex were in short supply but required when people came to see me. Nothing was mentioned about fights or near misses or CO’s who unloaded on me or others close by.
Here I was in prison because I was pretending everything was all right in my world on the outside and it was seriously not. Now I am on the inside, again pretending everything is all right when it is not. How is that progress? I had felt such an unburdening when I confessed to God, clergy and counselors my crime and arrogant, self centered actions, freeing myself from the chains of the secret life I had led. A huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt the relief even in my chest.
Now I was again hiding from my family my true feelings, acting as if I was simply “away” from them for awhile, in what my daughter aptly named a Jumanji World, soon to return and wasn’t it great to see you again? We have to keep playing the “game” in order to get out. And like that story, we have to put up with all sorts of craziness along the way. What was wrong with this picture? Dare I tell them of the horrors I feel and had seen, how scared I often am or man’s inhumanity to man that I witness almost on a daily basis and have to look the other way? Or the grievances which I preside over that made my gut wrench because I know there must be some truth to them? After all, not all of the complaints against authority can be written off as bogus especially when the same CO’s names keep popping up. But I am not to get involved, not my job.
That certainly was not my nature. I was more like the good Samaritan who took pity on the downtrodden and helped those in need in whatever way I could. But in here I was another person, inmate 07AVW1651, not really myself. Would that ever change and I become a really free man? I am not all that good I admit at totally hiding my emotions down here in the dance floor though that too was at my own peril. Maybe that is how the name came to be, as everyone “dances” around issues with their visitors – as well as the guards who patrol there.
For you see, any weakness is sooner or later exploited in here by someone, inmate or guard. Inmates will cozy up and feign friendship to get something. Some threaten if you do not comply. Others use your weakness, showing fake compassion again in order to obtain something even if it is over the long haul. Others know far better than I that we will doubtfully ever see one another again so take all you can right now. Guards use it as a control measure and to keep us weak, especially against each other. It makes their job easier if we are fighting one another rather than turning our rage against them. Weakness displayed is like blood in the water to sharks. It attracts them and makes them a little crazy. That certainly is the case in here.
So I guess I let down too much at times, on the phone, in my bunk or on the dance floor. Heck, we could easily wash the floors with the water we shed when my family gets together. I try with limited success as did they, trying to hold it together, keep feelings in check, wear our masks and trudge onward. But the schlepping is difficult, for me and for them, so we talk of old times and what they have been doing and how I yearn to be out with them once again.
I do not have frequent visits because of the distance – about 5 hours from home– but I am grateful for what I get. My son is closer, about 2 hours. I was all ready last weekend for his planned visit, waiting for that call, in the dorm rec room looking out the windows as if I could will him there. Hurry son, before count or they shut off visits for about 45 minutes while the count is verified and no one has escaped.
Well, soon I reasoned, the train up may have been delayed or he had trouble getting through clearance to get in, often a lengthy process. I waited, waited and waited. I am still not used to waiting but am getting more and more used to it having to do that in here all the time. Was I going to have to write my own grievance because I could not see my son? I waited. Only one hour left but I would cherish any time with him. He was going to be traveling away soon and not be available for several months. So I waited till the end had come and gone and no trip down to the dance floor.
Late that night I was able to connect with him on his land line that he had installed just for me as we are not able to call cell phones. Turns out he lost his wallet on the train ride up and only realized it when in the taxi to the correctional facility. He had a harrowing experience, trying to figure things out and get home. Far worse than mine and the phone call gave him an outlet to express his anger, disappointment and hurt. I was hurting too but I masked it best I could.
I work at staying positive and looking at the bright side. For him I am sure it is difficult. It was for me too, but at least I didn’t have to fake it for him, strip twice for guards to peer at me and “dance” on the dance floor. Progress I guess.

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