Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Memory: Prison Visit

Pressing my greasy forehead against the car window as we parked, I asked mom if I could go into the store this time. “But I’m only getting Jolly Ranchers. Besides, we’re running late,” her exasperated voice could not empathize with my boredom. I was spared this errand because the next one would take hours.

I was 10 or maybe 11 as I walked down the cracking concrete path that lead its way to the sterile building marked only by a rusting battleship anchor that had been recycled as a landmark. On base all buildings are dingy, steel over concrete masses, but the location of our Saturday morning ritual was particularly dismal and dreary. The waiting room fell eerily silent under the buzz of the imperceptibly blinking florescent light scheme.

I had a journal and a sketch pad with me to document the trip. It helped to have something to look at that wasn’t the pale blue tiles of a prison waiting room. It helped to listen to the soft scratching of my pencil against the paper grains, so that I could become absorbed, so that I could drowned out the obnoxious jolt of sound that marked each time someone entered or left the facility. “Put your things on the counter. No metal. No electronic or handheld devices. No…” the voice droned into the distance returning to the beginning each time we approached the counter as if a record needle had been caught on a track for the 16 months we had been visiting. Maybe this is the career for all the people who like telling you what not to do. Maybe mom should apply.

“I got it,” I whispered sheepishly, wanting her to stop, but afraid of the unremitting aura of authority she effused. This had become rote to her just as it had to me.

I quickly made my way through the metal detector, sure that I had worn my “Brig pants,” the only ones I owned that would not go off under the scrutiny of detector.

Entering the visitor’s room reminded me of entering a middle school cafeteria, except the men all had uniforms and sat in a panel at the other side of the table. Everything from the disgruntled public servant with an aggressive stance blocking the door way, to the musty frigidity of the concrete walls, to the abrasive light which cast shadows under his eyes, was familiar if discomforting. I tucked my hair in front of my shoulders as I sat down to ensure it wouldn’t get caught in between the bolts and the plastic backing.

There was nothing to say and so much to avoid. Why were my mother and I here? Why was he here? Couldn’t she have found a boyfriend who wasn’t in lockdown? Long before the term prison-industrial complex entered into my vocabulary, I wasn’t totally willing to believe that all these people actually belonged here. Glancing out the slit in the wall that served as a window, I drew the haphazard designs that the shadow of the barbed wire carved into the concrete. I wasn’t sure anyone could belong here.

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