My First Prison Experience
Many peoples’ most poignant memory is of some joyful occasion with loved ones, learning to ride a bicycle with Grandpa, Graduating from high school with everyone there watching as they cross that stage. In my most vivid memory I am alone in a dirty bathroom on the third floor of Downstate Correctional Facility's "Welcome Center". If I had to choose one word to describe this, “welcome” would be last on the list. What am I doing here with these women? I don’t feel like I have one thing in common with any of them. How can they be laughing and joking after this hell we’ve gone through in the last three hours. I’m holding a crumpled paper bag containing my bra, watch, and hairpins, all of which sent the metal detector into a frenzy; therefore, they must be removed regardless of comfort, embarrassment, or the three hours I spent doing my hair. “Well at least this beats Rikers”, a woman with a thick accent said through the wall of the stall to the left of me. ”ANYTHING Beats Rikers”, I hear a girl in the stall to the right of me say. As I hurry to put on my bra and fix my hair, I wonder could I ever be as immune to this situation as these women are? I guess the beginning would be a better place to start.
On November twenty first of 2005, we entered the court room clinging to the hope that the judge would look at my husband and say “You’re a good kid, go home and don’t mess up again”. We sat through two hours of cases until we heard the bailiff shout “Case Number 2611“. My husband let go of my hand, kissed me on the cheek and walked to the front of the court room. A woman I had never seen before stood up when the judge asked who was representing the defendant. My heart broke when I realized my husband’s lawyer hadn’t bothered to show up. My husband accepted a plea bargain in exchange for his sentence being reduced from eight years to a year and a half to three. Right in front of the entire court room they put my husband into handcuffs and started to lead him out; before he got to the door he turned around to look at me and made an "I Love you" hand sign.
My husband’s best friends lead me out of the court room. I was crying so hard I couldn’t see where I was going. I went home and didn’t eat, I couldn’t stop crying. I thought I had lost my best friend.
That night I received the first of a thousand collect calls the next year would bring. "This is a collect call from an inmate at the County Correctional Facility". I was so excited to hear his voice that I started to cry. He was calling to let me know I could visit him that night.
To go into a room and look at my husband through a plate-glass window, audible only through a phone attached to the wall, wearing what looked like a suit of orange striped pajamas, was the worst feeling I’d felt to that point in my life. The hardest part was to look at my husband’s face and see the tears he had always been too strong to shed running down his cheeks. I thought "this is going to break him". My fun-loving, humorous, wonderful husband is going to come home to me only a piece of the man I fell in love with. I went home that night knowing I had to be strong enough for both of us.
My husband was moved the next day. I went for two months without seeing or speaking to him I never knew where he was or if he was okay, not one day went by when I didn’t write him. Finally, he was moved to Downstate Correctional Facility an hour from New York City. I had no way of telling him, but I was determined that I would go that week to see him.
I arrived at the prison after a nine hour drive. To my disappointment, I was an hour too early to go into the building. More and more cars drove in and parked. By the time I got through the doors I was in a line of at least thirty people; little did I know this was the first of five ever growing lines. I went through the metal detector three times before I realized, to my dismay, it was my bra setting the machine off. I was given a white button up shirt and a brown paper bag and was told to go into the bathroom, take my bra off, and put it in the bag. I walked out of the bathroom with my white shirt over my shirt, a woman behind me was nine months pregnant, her maternity pants were setting off the detector so she was ***** searched. One question kept running through my head “Who’s really the inmate?” I was terrified.
Finally, after I’d made it through the detector without setting it off. An officer came to bring us to the third floor. "WOMEN WHO NEED TO REDRESS INTO THIS BATHROOM!" the officer shouted. He let us through a sliding glass gate that opened with a loud buzz.
After we'd left the bathroom we were let back through the door and sent to the front of a large room with at least twenty five tables in it. There were three vending machines and men in green uniforms at one side of every table except two. The officer in the front said “F13”, I said “Excuse me?” he said “row F thirteen back.” I went to the table and waited after about fifteen minutes a man came to my table.
I didn’t recognize him at first dressed in a green jumpsuit and about 15 pounds lighter. It was my husband. We hugged and cried and spent the next five hours enjoying what we‘d missed for the last two months.
After that day I thought I could do anything. Eventually my husband was moved closer to home. He was only an hour and a half away so two days a week for a year and a half I was with him, I wrote him a letter every night, and was home for his phone calls at least three nights a week. I brought him packages of food and clothes every other week. Essentially, we kept each other sane. We went through what felt like hundreds of different disappointments, but we survived. We held onto each other and thank God and we made it through. Finally on January 14th we received the news we had been waiting for; my husband would be coming home on Valentine’s Day, only a month away.
On February fourteenth I arrived at Watertown Correctional Facility at 5:00 in the morning, much the same as I had been doing every weekend for the past year and a half. Two hours later my husband came out the prison for the first time since the day in the court room without shackles. All the stress of the time he had been gone was lifted off my shoulders.
From time to time I think about my first visit and why those women seemed so jaded. I’ve come to realize those women were trying to maintain the strength they needed to keep their families going, I realized if you let the procedures get to you they will drive you crazy. The situation can’t be justly described unless you’ve lived it. I thought I didn’t have a single thing in common with those women. I found out the man waiting for me in the visiting room was my link to these women. The razor wire, metal detectors, and locked gates all faded into the backdrop. My focus changed from the trails I had to go through, to the reward at the end of them. My Husband!