Thursday, February 11, 2016

What if Someone You Loved Went to Prison?

The gavel came down!  "Five years!"  How did my husband land in jail? I didn’t know any criminals. He was NOT a miscreant. I didn’t even know people who lived on the edge. What were we going to do?

I had no income and the lawyer informed us that Paul would be paid forty-nine cents a day during his incarceration. Actually, I didn't expect he would get anything, but, forty-nine cents a day? That was only $15 a month to pay for things like his toothpaste, chocolate bars, etc. Paul said he would send his entire check home to me. I laughed and cried at the same time. I did not know if I would cash it or frame it.

My hubby went to prison

They sent him to Oakalla Prison. I knew he was going to jail but I had no idea it would be to such a hard-core place. Even so, I expected some form of cleanliness and order. I expected to see some normal looking people. I was so wrong! On the way to the prison, Paul's mother and I were confronted with a sign on the wall explaining what to expect.

It stated that a physical search of all visitors would be made by patting the body with the hands and often by exploring bodily orifices in an attempt to find concealed weapons, explosives, drugs or other contraband. 
Sign on Prison Wall

To begin, we were body-searched. When I opened my mouth I thought I was going to throw up and choked back.  Then the contents of our purses were emptied and inspected. They removed my nail file and mother's rat-tail comb. They also threw away my package of gum and a candy mint.

The room reeked of body odor, stale cigarettes, and worse, unrecognizable smells. The cement floors appeared to have been swept but they were still filthy. The walls were in dire need of paint. There was graffiti on them, phone numbers and obscenities. The last thing I wanted to do was to sit in one of the chairs. They were torn and dirty. 

We were each given a number and told to sit down and wait. I felt queasy and worried I was going to empty my stomach contents. I remembered reading about Oakalla in the newspaper. The city was considering shutting it down because of its poor safety standards. Guard supervision was inadequate. Cells in the basement, which at the time were used for solitary confinement, contained steam pipes that made living conditions intolerable, posed fire hazards for inmates, and were infested with rats. Maybe that was the other smell I couldn't figure out. 

If I can make it through this....I can make it through anything

Conditions at Oakalla were decrepit especially the hospital area, which consisted of one section devoted entirely to active cases of tuberculosis, a first-aid office, a small room for violent and insane inmates, a dressing-room, a kitchen and an attic space filled with heroin addicts. 

The stench hovered in the air and I felt sick.  I said to Mother, “This is where my husband was sent. This is where our friends sent him. This is his new home.” 

We waited. It was so noisy. People were screaming obscenities at each other. Others were arguing with the officials. Mother's eyes were opened wide as she took it all in. It was surreal. It felt like we were in a low budget movie. The plot was weak and we didn't really know what to expect. 

“How do you think he will manage here, Mom?”

“I don't know, I just don't know.” Paul's mom was not prone to tears but they were welling up in her eyes and my heart went out to her in a new way. She was a strong woman who did not show her emotions. I never heard her say “I love you” as that would indicate a weakness. Now, I was seeing a softer side and my heart ached for her. 

My number was called. I was afraid of what was to come as I was led into a room with a row of seats in front of a thick pane of glass. Each seat was partitioned to give a bit of privacy. I sat down and waited. Then he was there, sitting on the chair on the other side of the glass. We simultaneously picked up the telephone on our own side of the glass. I looked at him. His hair was greasy and awry. His cheeks were sunken in and he had a three-day-old beard. His eyes – it was difficult to look at his eyes. There were dark circles under them and they were dazed. His entire body was shivering. It wasn't that he was cold; I could tell he was terrified.
Visiting my hubby in prison
How had it come to this?
“Hi, honey!” I tried to keep my voice as calm as possible as I, too, was scared.

“Hi. I am so happy you could come. I wish you did not have to see me like this. Is mother with you?” 

“Yes, she is waiting to see you.” 

“You can't let her know how bad it is in here. The two other guys in my cell are both murderers. I have not been able to sleep since I got here. I am even afraid to close my eyes. They gave me a filthy mattress to sleep on without a pillow or blanket. It is freezing in the cells and reeks of urine.” 

As he painted that word picture, my stomach turned and I felt sick again. I tried not to visualize him in that cell.

“Have you been able to eat?” 

“No. I don't think I could even if they served decent food but what they are serving does not even resemble food. It looks and smells revolting.” 

By now, I was struggling to hold back the tears by biting my tongue and trying to figure out what I could do to help him.

“Please tell my mother that it would be best if she didn't see me like this,” Paul begged. 

“You know I can't do that. She waited here to see you and I know she won't go home until she does. When she sees how bad it is, she will pray even harder for your release.”

“I think they are going to move me tomorrow but I don't know where. My lawyer should be able to tell you.” His voice was a bit steadier as I think I provided a temporary sense of security for him.

I assured him that this, too, shall pass and we would somehow be stronger for having gone through it. 

“TIME!” The guard yelled. I threw Paul a kiss and walked out.

Would life ever be the same again?

“Hey whore, wanna good time?” 

“Spread 'em baby.”

I could hear the lewd and vulgar comments and whistles directed at me as I walked back to the waiting area where Paul’s mother was sitting. 

My skin felt clammy. My eyes were tearing up.  I smiled at Mom as her number was called. Nothing had prepared either one of us for this. I knew her heart was about to be broken when she saw her baby boy. I held back the tears. I was determined to stay strong for her. I would have a good cry after she went home.

Yes, this was a true story taken from my memoir.
Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. That’s the challenge, here’s a fun twist; no one who’s participating knows who got their words and in what direction the writer will take them. Until now.

My words were submitted by My Brain on Kids

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