Thursday, December 21, 2017

Only Allowed One Ring

My friend Mitali and I went to visit Jorge in prison again, this time, much farther away. As I explained before, the visitor appointment system leaves something to be desired. But we finally got appointments and got to bring Jorge’s Abuela also.

The trip down was long. Very long, and very dull, driving down I-5 with nothing to see. Abuela only speaks Spanish, even after over 35 years in this country, so Mitali and I were trying to speak Spanish, which requires a lot more concentration for both of us than speaking English! Probably because of this, we missed the exit.

Unfortunately for us, I-5 didn’t have another exit for almost 20 miles. Fortunately for us, we were running early. But when we pulled up to the guard gate and weren’t sure which yard to ask for, I think we all got a little nervous. I remembered writing “D” on his letters and asked for D yard, which turned out to be correct.


Getting in to see him was more difficult than before as well. They took an inventory of all our jewelry for us to carry with us, to make sure we didn't give anything to an inmate. There were limits. For example, I could only wear one ring. Fortunately, Abuela was not wearing any, so she wore one of my rings for the entire visit so I could get in. I'm not sure what danger that second silver ring posed, but the limit was one.

There was a much longer walkway than in the other prison, but it wasn't raining this time, so we walked for what seemed like a very long time to get to the building with the visiting facilities. Once we got there, we handed our jewelry inventories and IDs to another guard, and sat and waited. And waited, and waited. We had an appointment and they knew when we signed in and were checked at the first processing center that we were coming, but they don't.

I get the feeling that inconvenience for families is not something that anyone in prison administration cares about.

As we waited, I could see Abuela looking every time a door opened. Finally Jorge came in and walked over to us. When they hugged, I was so glad we had brought her and so ashamed that I hadn't thought of it, but that Jorge had to ask me.

Talking to him was wonderful, and Mitali and I talked to him about his cellmate (he doesn't get any visitors, not any, ever. Apparently he's a pretty positive person), and writing, and more. We left after an hour to let his Abuela have time with him.

She was a whole different person on the way home. She didn't seem to mind the drive, or her tiredness, or spilling soda on her jacket. She was so happy to have seen Jorge. I imagine that it's quite the roller coaster - being happy to see him and then missing him and worrying about him, but at least they got to have time together.



Thursday, December 07, 2017

Prison Visits


The paperwork that I got from the prison where Jorge is incarcerated mentions that visits are essential for inmates' morale and rehabilitation. One would think, then that they might make visits feel a little more... possible.

I've been trying to set up a visit for myself, my friend who graciously drove me last time and will do so this time (3.5 hours one way!! She's a saint), and Jorge's grandmother, who hasn't been able to visit him since he moved to the prison farther away. She was his guardian for most of his childhood and it's breaking her heart that she can't see him.

Trying to get all three of us to visit, I called the prison's visiting appointment hotline. It is only available for three hours a week (Tuesday mornings, 7-10 am) and you can only make appointments two weeks in advance. If you don't make an appointment, you can show up for "open visiting" but it seems to be first-come first-served (I can't get a straight answer on how it works) and as it's 3.5 hours away, that's not idea.

It took me a while to get everybody's drivers' license information, and I had it ready and called shortly after the window opened on Tuesday. Busy signal. I tried again. Busy signal. I had to call SEVENTY-FOUR TIMES before I could get through and make the appointment.



This leads me to a number of frustrations:

The three-hour-a-week time period to call doesn't work for anyone who works Tuesday mornings and isn't allowed to make a phone call.

If you are allowed to make a phone call from work Tuesday mornings, it's highly unlikely that you'd be allowed to stay on the phone for over an hour hitting redial.

If visits are important for rehabilitation and morale, shouldn't they be, well... important?

I'm furious, but we got the appointments. Now I just have to call Saturday morning to make sure the prison isn't on lockdown. If anything happens, we will have made the whole drive for nothing.




Monday, December 04, 2017

Abuela

My student who is in prison, Jorge, has a very dedicated grandmother. We’ll call her Abuela. Abuela took over raising him when his mother couldn’t, and like all of us, she’s made her mistakes and had her struggles, but there is no doubt that she loves Jorge and her other grandkids and will do anything for them.

Abuela came to the United States as a young woman; I believe about 18 or 19, with a toddler. I may be a little off on the ages, but I know that Jorge’s mom would be 38 if she were still alive and Abuela is only 54, so she was a young mother.

I don’t know much about her history before she came to the United States, but I know school was not a part of it. Abuela was not taught to read or write in any langugae. She cannot speak English, although she can understand some, and she cannot read and write in Spanish. She is an intelligent woman who never had the chance to study.

When I had Jorge in my class, he forged his grandmother’s signature on permission slips because she couldn’t write her name. I knew this, and I just didn’t know what to do. I’d call her to make sure she knew about the trip and would get verbal permission in my not-great Spanish.

I’m now trying to help Abuela go see Jorge in prison. The prison he got moved to has a very difficult appointment system, that is hard for me to understand, and Im’ a native English speaker with a college degree and a teaching credential.

In trying to make appointments for us, I had to get her state ID card number, which she has memorized and was able to get to me. I had asked her the day before and she had time to prepare. But when I asked her how to spell her first name (there are two possible spellings), she paused. She told me to wait a minute, and went and got her granddaughter. Her granddaughter had to spell her grandmother’s own name, because Abuela didn’t know how.

I say this not to shame her, but for the exact opposite reason. The fact that this woman has been able to survive and raise children in a country that does not welcome her, where she doesn’t speak the language, and without ever having been taught to read or write: THAT is bravery. She is a hero.