by Diane S.
Visiting Day 6.1.15
It’s now been a full week since I visited my husband at his new living quarters for the first time. The thing that seems to keep coming up in most of the posts is the fact that I was unprepared. I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t even close.
I knew visits would be hard.
I thought there would be some happiness in the fact that I got to see him, talk to him, hold his hand, etc. I try not to think much because I am usually not right. I kept telling myself that even though I am seeing him in prison it’s much better than many wives who visit a grave for their husbands. It really is too bad that the things I know to be true can run so far and so fast out of mind in the middle of a stormy situation. It’s usually not until after the fact that I remember what I told myself I was going to remember during the middle of the situation to help get me through.
A brief summary of my 3 days of visiting with my husband: they were sad, curious, a little small bit of happy, more sad, and the realization that I don’t think I will ever be prepared for anything coming my way in the next 8 years. It’s going to have to be a take as it comes type thing, otherwise I end up not being able to get out of bed for days. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I try to be prepared I never am so I think I’m going to stop stressing over it.
So here are some details about the actual weekend: We left at 4pm on the Friday before Memorial Day on our 6.5 hour drive to Chris’ aunt’s in Shreveport. My mother in law was concluding her move to Shreveport so she was in her car, I was in my car and off we went. We had a few hurdles, nothing major but when you get two women on a road trip there has to be a few “oops” along the way. After a detour through downtown Shreveport at 11:30 on Friday night around one of the biggest ‘mud bug’ festivals they have there, we made it to Chris’ aunt’s about midnight.
That’s a great time to get into town when you have to get up to drive 2.5 hours at 3am to get in line for visitation.
Let me say right here, I had greatly underestimated the dedication of these prison wives, mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles. We had “heard” people start lining up for visitation about 6am. We arrived to the ball field around the corner from the prison at 6:40 on our first day to visit. We were the 17th car in line. We weren’t sure we were in the right place, but you find many kind souls in the cars around you and they are more than happy to help out first timers. It turns out; visitors are not allowed onto prison property to the visitors’ parking lot until 8am. To circumvent that problem there is a very small ball field around the corner and you just pull up and get in a single file in your cars and wait until 8 am. And by wait, I mean you sleep until 7:30 and then get up and put on your make up. At exactly 8am the first car in line starts their engine and line moves slowly from the ball field to the visitor parking lot at FCI Oakdale I.
Again, once you get out your cars here you find more nice folks who are happy to tell you how it works. In this case, it is important to notice who you are in line behind in the car line at the ball field because that is who you line up behind when you form your single file standing line at the edge of the prison parking lot.
You can find at out some really good information while standing in that line. We found out that a lot of wives get in line at 2-3am to make sure they are first in line. That’s dedication (most likely won’t ever be me). We also found out that if you aren’t in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd (on a good day) group of 10 in line you will likely not get processed in before the 10am ‘count’. The ‘count’ stops everything. If you do find yourself not being processed by about 9:30 you can take a seat on the ground because you won’t be going anywhere until after count clears which seems to be about 10:45-11am. We made it in before count on the first, after count on the second day, and before count on the third day. We haven’t found any rhyme or reason to the times people arrive. All three days we arrived at different times and all three days we were in very different spots. We have decided it’s just a game of chance.
We also found out that rules change….daily. The first day ladies were allowed to wear white pants in for visiting, the second day they sent them back out to change. ALWAYS have a complete change of clothes for everyone in your visiting party. The first day our bras were ok to pass the metal detector, the second day they weren’t but they gave us a warning. If you showed up on third day and couldn’t pass you didn’t get in to visitation. I think the prison and Wal-Mart right down the street has an agreement because after the second day we saw 4 other visiting groups correcting their bra situations by purchasing new ones before the next day’s visit. They also turned people away for not having the right shoes on the first two days but the third day several people were allowed in with sandals. I’m not sure how anyone could make sure they follow all the rules when they are different every day.
Overall the process to get into visitation is mostly painless; it just takes a little time. We figured out on day 2 that if someone goes in and gets the paper work you have to fill out and it’s completed when they call your group it does go much faster. Once you are called you go in, give them your id, do the metal detector, get your hand stamped (I still don’t understand the reason for that one) and then you are lead through 2 locked doors, across a breezeway, through 2 more locked doors and in a large room with 150 plastic chairs, and 6 vending machines. That is all the excitement for the next 6 hours. Well, other than trying to pick out the seat you think will be the most private in a room that large with many other people and then making the decisions as to what the menu is for that day from snack machines. You better go to the snack machines early, prison food must not be all that great because the food in those machines goes QUICK and it’s really not great food. Who knew chicken wings could be in a vending machine and just be heated up in a microwave.
The first day was the most difficult for me. I was in tears before my husband ever came in, and in more tears when he did walk in. The tears were off and on all day. He looked the same; he hadn’t even started to lose weight yet. He had got a haircut and pretty much shaved it all off, it was so short it didn’t look he had any hair at all. He had to pay 3 mackerels for that hair cut (we’ll chat about mackerels in another post). Leaving was HARD that day even though I knew I’d be back the next day.
Leaving that place and leaving him there WILL NEVER BE RIGHT. EVER and I HATE IT.
I had a complete and total meltdown later that night after we got back to his aunt’s house. It was an overwhelming sadness and sorrow I have never felt before. I had to leave his aunt’s for a while and just be alone to pray. Knowing that was the best it was going to be for 8.5 years is a very difficult thing to try to accept.
If wasn’t real before the first visit, it gets very real after it.
The next two days were better, we laughed, we joked, we talked, we held hands…it was almost normal, I guess it is the new normal. I don’t like it. I am thankful they aren’t strict and you can hold hands, hug and be close (within reason) throughout the entire visit. Very grateful. The worst part was leaving Monday afternoon, not knowing how long it would be before I would be able to afford another trip. It was heartbreaking. It was like saying goodbye the first day all over again. For two entire days I didn’t think I’d ever want to visit again. Entry Twelve went further into the horrible week last week was.
I almost let it take me down and not get back up, but I did.
The visiting room is a very interesting place. I learned that once in the visiting room you don’t talk to the people you made acquaintances with in line. In the visiting room it is you and your inmate, no one interrupts anyone else. It’s almost like everyone has a little bubble that appears around them and their visitors and no one really notices anyone else. Even the inmates that know other inmates don’t say more than “what’s up”. It appears it’s an unwritten respect that everyone knows and follows. You also know by the second day that some people must come there often and have certain seats they sit in. So you don’t sit there if you see those people in line for visiting.
I have a curious mind, a very curious mind.
My mind wandered all day wondering what brought all these very different men to this one place. Everyone has a story. You see these men with their wives (that you probably talked to in the waiting line) and kids and how they light up when they are with them and it’s hard to imagine they did something that truly warrants them being there. Then again, I sit in the same room visiting my husband. I observe a lot, like the guy who had a different woman visitor every day and they all appeared to be his girlfriend by how friendly they were.
I probably observe too much actually.
There is a lot to observe, there is also a lot of hurt in a lot of eyes you see in that room. I came to the conclusion that overall the visiting room is a happy place, at least most everyone puts on a happy face. Everyone seems genuinely happy to be there and be able to spend time with their inmates. I didn’t fall into that category this first visit. I pray that one day I will, but the first visit was far more sadness than happiness for me.
It’s comical the amount of times I have been asked “is it like TV” since last weekend. In a short answer, NO it’s not like TV at all…at least not at the facility where Chris is. There is nothing but 150 plastic tan chairs in the visiting room, no tables, no board games, and no card games. You can’t go outside to picnic tables or anything else. There is a small playroom for children that has 1 table, 8 small plastic chairs, and some books. It’s funny how easily kids can entertain themselves. There is a desk in the front with a monitor, I assume it has feeds from all the cameras around the room. A CO sits pretty quietly at that desk and during the 3 days I visited was pretty nice to everyone. We didn’t have to sit and talk on phones through a glass wall, although I do think at higher security prisons that does happen. You are in that room sitting in those chairs for 6 hours, no cell phones, no iPad, no TVs.
I kind of liked it that way, no distractions. You actually communicate with each other. My first experience is that the visiting room is a very calm and safe environment.