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Prison Visit

After 8 1/2 hours in the car, I ended up back where I was. That feels like a good metaphor for a prison visit. The visit was successful... in that we all got in to see Jorge. 
We did run into some problems:
My wonderful friend who had to change shirts. Twice. Once because her shirt was “transparent.” Her shirt was white with pretty embroidery and in no way transparent. At all. None. Also, the poorly photocopied rules that they referenced say that you can wear a tank top as an undergarment if the outer shirt remains on at all times. But then it says that clothing cannot be layered. Not sure which trumps the other.
Her second choice shirt was navy blue. They say not to wear blue denim and not to wear “blue that can be confused with inmates’ shirts” which are light blue. So still don’t know what the navy blue problem was. The shirt was neither blue denim nor light blue.
So she had to go borrow an ugly extra large shirt for the visit. I’d show the picture but our picture got confiscated because you couldn’t see all of our hands. This was confusing because several guards saw us taking the picture and OK'd it.
Apparently It’s a rule buried in the essay of photo rules and we didn’t know. And the guards were NOT nice about it. I get that working in that kind of place changes you and I don't think I could do it every day, however... 
They kept telling me the rules were in my "visitor's pamphlet" which I think is this poorly photocopied paper below. I don't see the rules in there; just in the corner of the visiting room, where I would have never seen it if I hadn't gone back in to look after they told me.
Just getting in is more of an ordeal than before. They’ve ramped up security so you have to check in and show pockets, belt, etc. Then you have to take off all jewelry and hair bands and shoes and belts and go through the body scanner. Then the metal detectors. Which seems redundant, but we did it with no complaints.
After checking, you go through a bunch of little cages with razor wire and barbed wire both. Then walk down a long pathway to the visitors center where you’re checked again. I had an interesting conversation with a woman walking down the pathway. She was visiting her ex-husband because "he has nobody." She said she could have just washed her hands of him, but a person needs human contact and needs hope.
The staff almost didn’t allow Jorge's sister to come in because when their grandma got the custody paperwork, social services messed up on the sister’s name and switched her first and middle name. I explained and they let us go in but not happily. That's a process I'm helping Abuela correct and will blog about soon. 
The actual visit was wonderful. Jorge is happy and hopeful. He's reconnected with a young woman who he knows from elementary school and she visits him once a month, which is a lot for an 8-hour round trip. He's studying to be an electrician now, which is a very useful skill and I'm excited for him. I told him that people are waiting for his voice in this book we're writing and he promised to start writing again. He looked joyful.
As always, my favorite part of the visit was seeing Jorge and his sister interact. It seems so... normal. They tease each other just like siblings do. They argue over what to get out of the vending machine. They both make fun of the other's love life. Sibling bickering has never been so beautiful to me.
The visiting rooms are probably one of the better parts of the prison and they are so institutional. There are some halfhearted efforts to make them cheerful: kids' toys and games, etc. And there is a lot of love in the room along with the sadness. The families have to concentrate their love into just a few hours and you can feel it.
You know the smell of that one communal microwave at work that has never been cleaned, ever? That's what the whole visiting room smelled like. Between that and the claustrophobia of not being able to open a door for yourself or ever put your hands out of sight, it took me hours to stop feeling slightly nauseated. I can't imagine living or working there.
Also, I can see a difference in his Abuela between when we leave (anxious but stoic) to after we visit (a little sad to leave but joyful and relieved).
My friend and I left after a bit to give them family time and we visited Jorge's previous cellmate who is now in another yard. We didn't have his prisoner number memorized so the guards gave a great heaving sigh and said, "Now we'll have to look it up and this could take a while," when we already didn't have much time left. I explained that we had it on our phone and just couldn't bring our phone in. Mostly I was just trying to make small talk and treat us all like we were human. She said, sarcastically, "You could *memorize* it." I made a joke about how it's harder to memorize things the older you get and she just stared at me like I was saying something totally ridiculous. 
Then, after the deep sigh and warnings about how long it would take, they had us write down the name and looked it up. That's all that the "look up and take a while" process meant. My friend pronounced the last name slowly for the person looking it up, saying "My handwriting isn't great," and the guard just said, "I REALLY do not know why you are pronouncing it for me." 
Again: this place is not good for the human heart. Not for workers, not for prisoners, not for visitors.
It was good to see the former cellmate. He speaks very very quietly and in Spanish, so it's hard to understand him but honestly, he just wanted to be listened to. He has no one to talk to. He has a very sad story full of violence until he came to prison. He converted and spends his time reading the Bible and praying now. I believe he's serving a life sentence, and his life won't be a lot longer... terminal lung cancer. 

This is the paperwork that you have to read before a prison visit to make sure you are not doing/bringing/wearing anything wrong. Can you imagine being a non-native English speaker and trying to figure this out?


dkzody said…
Oh, Corcoran. Down the road aways. We are the prison factory here in the San Joaquin Valley. Corcoran, Chowchilla, Coalinga, Avenal. Then there is the Federal prison out in Firebaugh that was never opened. I think it's been turned into a marijuana factory.

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