Holidays on the inside are just like those on the outside, but they aren’t. The feelings are the same but the sterile setting, armed guards and air of control are stifling. And for these thanksgivings, there is a time clock ticking, with shifts of visitors coming in in and out.
But part of it feels the same,
Families crowd together in their best clothes, hugs sometimes (depending on the rules) are exchanged. And those dinner table conversations are held across institutional seatings, with food coming out of vending machines and microwaves replacing ovens. There are a lot of kids.
How is this person, how is that, how is the job, the family? From him
Are you Ok? From me. I know better than to ask whether he is good.
I am so glad I didn’t have to go visit this year.
The painful ritual of visitation
For Santa Rita, you had to get up at the break of dawn, a line forms before the doors open, and folks bring folding chairs which form a gauntlet from the parking lot to the entrance. Sometimes you could wait all day and the vising hours would just run out—so nothing.
I looked at visiting in Beaumont Texas, but they made that about as hard as possible, and nobody ever visited him there in the couple of years there. Then it was Terminal Island.
You drive out past shipping berths in Long Beach and there it is. But nothing is promised. Your shirt has “colors” on it. You can’t come in.
Your pants are khaki, can’t come in. You drive back to town and buy a new shirt—it’s a corner store and they just have UCLA USC stuff, you drive back. No sports teams the guard says.
There are no written rules, they just tell you when you have violated the dress code—that’s it. Time is ticking, you are trying to make dinner at your place, have another couple hours drive back, and have spent an hour or so trying to dress right to get in.
This is the bullshit I am going through and I am a civilian. Can only imagine what these guys go through.
Getting frustrated can get you booted out too, and I am getting frustrated. A guard pulls me aside and says to turn the shirt inside out and it will be OK.
Why couldn’t they have just said that? Why do they make this so hard?
But I can’t complain, both because it may get me kicked out, and also because this is nothing compared to what he goes through.
Where your good time, can be yanked from you for looking at someone wrong. Where grudges are deep, and correctional officers sometimes facilitate them.
Almost everyone on the inside is getting out, sometime. Most of them went in young and dumb, making bad or desperate choices, or a combination. Who they are when they come out depends on their experiences and what they have waiting for them. And that’s what I worry about.
Holidays on the inside are a lot like holidays on the outside, but they aren’t.