Tag Archives: department of corrections

Stories from the visiting room project

Greetings faithful readers,

This post is going to be a bit different than my normal blog posts because I’ve been struck by inspiration. My last blog post had a lot of views(way more than usual) with a lot of positive feedback and it got me thinking about a project I would like to undertake. My idea is still in the very early stages, but I`m putting together the puzzle pieces and putting out a request to anyone who has experience with prison and prison visiting who would like to participate.

Do you have a story from the visiting room that tugs your heart, makes you laugh, or pisses you the fuck off, that you would like to share? I`m looking to hear from you(anonymously or not), from anyone who has a story to tell. Initially I`ll just be reviewing stories and making contacts with anyone who submits, but I`d really love the project I have in mind to go somewhere and for voices and hearts to be heard.

If you have a story from the visiting room or one that is prison related that you think needs to be told, please submit to Storiesfromthevisitingroom@gmail.com

Until next time.

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Visiting vicissitudes

Having the ability to put on a mask when things are bothering you is a gift. Or is it a curse? Or is it both? All I know is that my gift of sublimation has somehow melted into a puddle of retreat and inability to cope externally. The pause on life is definitely on right now.

Prison will do that to you, and me, and many people. Sometimes you just stop caring and sublimating and having your proverbial shit together and you just ..hide. Only it isn’t really hiding so much as it is self preservation and recharging and just being. Also, eating chips and reading, but those activities are a given when you decide to hermit. If they aren’t for you, you’re  hermiting wrong.
That’s where I have been, inside my head and inside the comfort of my little domicile, where it’s ok to not want to see or talk to anyone, where it’s ok to breathe in the biggest, deepest, most exhausting breath and let out a blood curdling scream into a pillow. My cat doesn’t care. She is used to my moments of insanity dubbed as an “awakening”. So, me in my little bubble of avoiding the outside world and the heat and any plans, but then comes visiting. I want to go and I don’t want to go. I go. I always go. I’m always happy I go but also not so secretly despise my time at the prison.
While waiting to enter the prison for visiting last week, I think my layered exterior, that I spent nearly 15 years building, started to crumble a bit, or peel. It was peeling, like old wall paint and what lies beneath is starting to come to the surface, visible to the naked eye. Or ….was it less crumble and peel and more I don’t give a damn anymore about being contained? You can decide.
Being out in the morning Summer Las Vegas heat while waiting in a line full of people to get into another line to be physically searched to get into a prison visiting room will do things to a person. 1. The first part will make you sweat. It is God awful hot in the Summer here and I loathe it with all that I am. I have always hated the heat, just ask my mom. 2. You will be irate, or at least I will be because sometimes the excitement of visiting is no match for the utter pain it is to get into visit sometimes. I grit my teeth, literally, and sometimes go into a meditative trance to separate my mind from my body.
Sometimes while waiting in line, I see these young girls, full of hope about seeing their man and I think about how if they stay, that feeling won’t last forever. Not that they will stop loving their inmate or that they will stop being excited to some degree, but this shit sucks and it’s hard and to do it for years and years wears you down. It’s nice to see the beginning, though, the naivete that maybe I had once when I first started to visit Jeremy shortly after my 18th birthday. I watch these girls with curiosity and misplaced jealousy because I want to be excited too. I want to exist in a place of hope, but the honeymoon of anything new does not last forever and I want to take these girls by the shoulders and shake them. I want to shake them and hug them and tell them to run. It’s human to feel conflicting emotions and to want to act in conflicting ways and prison shines a light on those human pushes and pulls.
Anyway, it must have been the heat and the unsuspecting future struggle I was seeing all around me, but I found myself talking to some of the regular women I usually pass the time chatting with and I just blurted out “I’m sick of this shit!”. My ridiculous outburst was met with laughter and head nods rooted in understanding and the dreaded question, “How long does he have left?”. I respond with “I don’t know” because I am too tired and surprised by my own blatant proclamation to craft a good answer. But it’s true, I don’t know. For some reason I add that I’ve been doing this for nearly 15 years, the visiting thing, and I feel heads whip around and eyes are on me. One lady looks at me like I’m some sort of freak(and maybe I am) or maybe she is surprised because I look relatively young still(this is me trying to make myself feel better). One lady just says “Wow” and another “What!”, not really a question but an exclamation of disbelief.
It dies down quickly as we move ahead in the line, but internally I’m reeling from what just happened and I start to panic(this is what happens when you have anxiety). The rest of my visit feels weird and off. I’m agitated and luckily I’m married to someone who knows when to press me for answers, but not too hard. Jeremy knows this situation is tough and we strategize to navigate the choppy waters together. I tell him about my outburst and he laughs because while he is sympathetic to my discomfort and suffering, he knows that laughing makes my heavy heart light again and his laugh invariably makes me smile. I am grateful for this and that he lets me spin out in my head while I stare off into space and he eats a bag of Doritos. During the spacing out and chip eating mini marathon, we keep one hand free to hold onto the other, an anchor of a sort in a situation that can sweep you under and away at any given moment. Sometimes land is too fucking far away and you need to learn how to swim in the waters you are in. Holding hands means we are together, we are swimming with one another.
I was doing a health assessment for my insurance recently and it is divided into sections about your history, diet, exercise, preventative health, and emotional health. I scored not so well on my emotional health section(because I was honest when checking those stupid little bubbles) and at the end it said next to my emotional health section, “needs work” with a sad face and a cloud over it. I literally burst out laughing at this ridiculous “measure” and scoring system. How do you measure the emotional health of someone whose spouse lives in a prison and all the work and baggage and madness that comes with that? I want to write to the evaluation people and ask them to include a section that will not paint my emotional health as “needs work”, but rather “Hey, kid, you’re doing the best you can. Hang on and hang in there”.

Sunday January 22nd, 2017

I’m not going to lie. I never imagined that being the wife of an inmate was going to be this hard. I used to watch shows about prison romances and I thought to myself “This is great! I get tons of time to myself and I get to be married to someone amazing who won’t steal the covers”. You see, before Jeremy I never wanted to marry. I didn’t. I told my mom I didn’t want to get married. I didn’t think it was in my cards to be with anyone for many reasons. Mostly because I thought I was too difficult, or too damaged, or too much. I needed someone who was everything I needed them to be without question and I knew I wasn’t going to find that, so I didn’t want anything.

Last night I was paging through this book I got on Palmistry(read: Palmistry. Not fortune telling, but an art that CAN tell about a person. Did I lose you? Am I nuts? I prefer open minded to life’s mysteries) and it explains that your non dominant hand(for me, my left) is the hand you look to see what was there at birth for you and your dominant hand is the hand of “now” and the path you’re on(there is a whole explanation of why, but you can read the book if you want to know). Anyway, my birth hand does not have a heart line. I compared my hands and just looked at them for a long time. No heart line. My “now” hand has a strong heart line and I believe wholeheartedly that it is because of Jeremy. We found each other by chance. By the chance of me being some strange teenage girl who wanted to write people in prison. By the chance that someone I talked to online told me Jeremy was a nice person and that I should write him. By the chance that I wrote that letter and I mailed it 17 years ago. By chance. Or by design?

Back to the present, though. The last few years have been difficult for me. I have felt more depressed, more lonely, and more lost than I ever have. Being in Nevada and away from my shore of home(I don’t know what home even is anymore. I guess it’s Jeremy but I still miss…somewhere)has taken a lot out of me. Sometimes it destroys my spirit to ashes and I am left with some form of myself that I don’t recognize. This all sounds dramatic, I know, but I’m a person who feels a lot, all the time, and I know my story and my relationship and the trials we go through are powerful beyond measure and I think it’s important to share that. Anyway. What rises from the ashes? The Phoenix. It sort of feels like that, all the time, and it is emotionally painful, and then I’m rising. Funny how that works. Life pushes us to the very brink and then backs off so we can repair. Or does it not back off and we just get so much stronger?

I keep thinking of this quote I read somewhere, “The greater the affliction, the greater the reward”. Now, that really sounds strange, doesn’t it? But…this quote. It gets me through sometimes because I have to believe in my cause and if I’m suffering, I have to believe that it is for a reason because I’m still here, still doing, still waking up and working my way to the end of the tunnel where the light is.

Which brings me to present life. I’m looking for a new place to live that has a bit more space and I went to see one yesterday and for some reason I just blurted out “I like this place. It feels safe and I want to feel safe because it’s just kitty and I. My husband is incarcerated”. I told the realtor that. This realtor I had only met once before, briefly, for about 5 minutes. I usually try to get a better read on people before I drop that bomb, but I dropped it right there in the kitchen of that rental.

There is always a moment, where I’m sure someone is going to verbally crucify me with their words or give me a look that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. My mouth got super dry waiting for her to say something. I was so nervous. Her response? “I get it. It happens”. She proceeded to tell me a story about how someone she knows is in prison and that things happen sometimes and humans make mistakes and she is not judging me.

After the showing, on the walk out to the parking lot, she commended me for sticking by my husband and let me know how “cool, strong, and sweet” she thought I was. She offered a friendly ear if I ever wanted to talk and she said she had to hug me and she did.

While my life feels like an uphill climb somedays and I am absolutely battered emotionally by the missing parts of “us” right now, there always seems to be a little nudge, a little sign, a little voice that tells me “the greater the affliction, the greater the reward. Keep going, you’re almost there”.


I`m only one call away..

I like that song. You know that song, right? “I`m only one call away, I`ll be there to save the day”. Yeah, yeah. Cheesy, but goody. My song would be “I`m only one prepaid call away”, or “I`m only one collect call away”, or “I`m only one call, that has a 30 minute limit, away”.  Or….no call away because of a lock down because prisoners in GP cannot stop stabbing each other. “It’s how they show each other love” Jeremy says and then laughs.

“Do you know what I want to tell you every time we have to say goodbye?” I asked him.. . . .

“I want to tell you not to go. I want to tell you to please not leave me”.  That was difficult for me to say to him. It almost felt too raw and too hokey for me. I have difficulty with emotional exposure, believe it or not. Give me a blog and I will bleed my heart, but I feel even more center stage and nervous when I have to expose myself to my husband over the phone line. Funny how that works. It’s true, though, that the older you get, the more chances you take. Life chances, emotional chances. You say “Fuck it. I`m all in. I LOVE YOU and this hurts and I`m here”.  I`m here, across the telephone wires, and my voice is carries over the air to you and I hope you call me back even though it’s time to lockdown for the night. The feeling that comes to mind is helpless.

Anyway. Not leaving. Not hanging up. Staying with me. I know that isn`t a reality right now. I know that after we get that 1 minute warning, that it is only a matter of seconds counting down that we have to wrap the phone call up and I`m usually not ready, I have more to say, so many things, things left unsaid. So frustrating. Even if the phone call starts off normal enough, somehow we tumble through becoming infatuated with each other all over again and I want him to stay with me. *click. disconnect*

Sometimes he can call back, but when he can’t and I know he can’t, I stay on the line until it disconnects and I keep the phone up to my ear sometimes, waiting for his voice to return. It doesn’t return and it doesn’t matter how many years I’ve been doing this or how many phone calls have ended and started, my heart is still lost when we have to say goodbye. More silly hokey love stuff. You can vomit. Unless you’ve been in this situation and you have the guts to really lay it all out on the line, the vomiting doesn’t bother me. I hope, if anything, that my exposure is embraced and that someone doesn’t feel so alone or stupid or ridiculous because of me.

Anyway again. For a while there, we stopped saying goodbye, and instead said “Later” or “I`ll be right back”, but then we started to say goodbye again. It’s weird how cycles start and stop and start again. It’s weird how some prisons have 15 minute phone calls once a month and some have 30 minute phone calls that are limited only be tier time and how many people want to make calls.

The phone calls, though. They become my lifeline to my best friend. They become a stand in for every moment that we miss out on together. They become the light in the dark, my shoulder to cry on, my coffee with a friend when times are tough. I spend my days on the phone as part of my job and I absolutely hate it. I loathe talking on the phone usually to anyone. I have a weird phone phobia that I’ve had to overcome to communicate with Jeremy the way I do over those recorded calls, exposing myself completely, unapologetically.

He said he’s out on the tier tonight and he’s calling and I’ve already lined up all the things I want to tell him and ask him and I hope he can call back so we can talk for an entire hour because today is one of those days and an hour is so short, but I need every second of it to bridge that time between when we hang up and the next time he calls.

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I`m your huckleberry

Did you ever see that movie? Tombstone. It’s one of my favorite movies and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday is my undoing in life. Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday as some fantastic gun slinging, fearless gambler. I often think about the masks we wear, the names we give others, and the names others give us. Are you someone’s huckleberry and are they yours? Is that all a lie? Did you tell yourself you were something you’re not or does the world not see you for who you really are?

If you’ve ever had a connection with prison culture, you know that nicknames and “handles” run wild and everyone has a name that tells a story….whether that story is the truth or a lie or doesn’t make any sense.  I used to laugh when my husband would refer to someone by their handle, but now I just ask “What’s his real name?” and it’s usually an unexpectedly normal name, unassuming in the way the letters weave together.

Do you know how many Pee-wees I’ve heard of since I met Jeremy? Dozens. Ghost (a guy that sounded like Mickey Mouse). Shorty (multiple; sometimes not because of their height). City (Soft spoken and had a cool way about him).*Insert city where the person is from here*. Jeremy used to know this guy named Boston a long time ago. You guessed it. He was from Boston. Sometimes it’s their middle names they prefer, or their last names. When I hear an actual first name straight away, I ask “but what’s his nickname?”. Sometimes the nickname is all I know and I become confused when someone is referred to by their actual name. “Oh, that’s Ghost. You know him.” Yeah…I do know him. Or does anyone really? I never did find out why that was his nickname. Usually a story follows the reveal of someone’s handle, but not Ghost. Maybe Jeremy didn`t know either. Who knows.

Smiley is the guy I’ve never seen smile. “That’s Restless” my husband says. “Wrestle? What? What does that mean” I ask. “No, restless. You know, like you’re restless..”. Interesting. Shaky. No idea why. He doesn’t shake. It makes me think of Shakey’s Pizza. Did you ever go to Shakey’s Pizza? Yeah. Anyway, Shaky. Shakey? Shakee? I don`t know.

“What’s your nickname here?” I ask my husband. He hasn’t really had a solid one over the years and he is definitely no Pee-wee or Shaky or Smiley or any other misplaced prison nickname. “Doc”. I want to laugh and I think I actually did. He knows I love Tombstone and he knows I am his huckleberry and he is mine.

Every nickname has a story.

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I love you and I hate prison

This is a statement I make so often that it almost comes out automatically, thoughtlessly, sometimes even as a filler in conversations during difficult times.
“I know, baby. I know”. He says this every time, but not automatically or thoughtlessly or as a filler. He just knows and then he is quiet, thinking of the next string of words to step on, hoping they aren’t a land mine. Sometimes success, sometimes a lost foot. You can’t argue with facts, but you can chock life up to something more.
“I love you and I hate prison”. Not BUT I hate prison; AND I hate prison. I don’t know why I choose to say it that way. Maybe because I don’t like to say I love someone but, because but means conditional and I hate conditions. Too much of my life is spent in a conditional state, under conditions.
Quite often I wonder how we got here to this loving the human but hating the prison place. Not you, the reader, and I, but Jeremy and I. I’m a poser of questions there are no easy answers to, but I ask them anyway. Somehow the you in “I love you and I hate prison” always has the answers for me. What’s my favorite answer to my question about why we came to be? Why did we come down this path? Why did the pieces arrange this way and why have we clung to each other for dear life all these years?
That fate exists. That sometimes souls come together because they were meant to be and not randomly. Is this a designed path? Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? I don’t know, Freddie Mercury. Prison feels a bit like both sometimes.
“Whhhyyyyyyyyy???” I ask and whine or I ask and then laugh and then whine.
“I have loved you since before you were born. I have always loved you.” He says.
How can you argue with that?
Prison or not.
love-universe

Shaking bras and vending machines

Life seems incredibly shaken out of place for me some days and mostly when I have to face down the prison and all of its ridiculousness, I go into auto pilot mode. I know what needs to be done to see my husband and I do it. What bothered me initially, while still annoying, has become some version of normal.

Some version of normal that includes a female guard asking me to “shake out your bra”(reach under your shirt and lift it to the band of your bra, pull the band away from your skin, and shake what your mama gave you. Or didn’t give you, in my case). Then you stand there with your tits out of place or you quite casually reach into your shirt and scoop each breast up, on by one, and adjust them in front of the guard. “Sorry. I’m all out of place now”. Only I’m not sorry but I say it anyway.  I`m not fucking sorry at all. I`m fucking angry that I had to shake my bra out again and I`m pissed off that she is asking me to shake my hair that I ‘ve just done. You won’t understand unless you have unruly hair that is hard to tame but easy to love.

This version of normal, my version of normal,  also includes buying $4 cheeseburgers made of soy fillers from a machine that often tries to take your $4 without dispensing the fucking soy filler filled cheeseburger, causing you to shake the shit out of that machine until the prize drops. Have you ever shaken a vending machine for any reason at all? Have you shaken one in a room full of prisoners and their visitors? Yeah. I’m determined, so I shake that machine that is 10 times my size and I get that cheeseburger. VICTORY! Then I walk quickly, with my long legs, to the microwave clear across the room, before anyone else can get to it first because ain’t nobody got time to wait 5 minutes for someone else’s burrito or hot pocket or soy filler filled cheeseburger to cook and the other microwave is “out of order”, of course. This whole alternate prison reality is out of order.

I take my alternate reality lessons with me, though, and I have been known to adjust my breasts in my car, at stop lights, if they feel out of place and I’ve, on more than one occasion, helped people on the outside retrieve a stuck vending machine item. You’re fucking welcome.

Skills are skills, yo.

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