when pictures fail me…
I wonder if they see me struggling. Inserting the same quarter into three, or four different lockers, I read and reread the same instructions inside each door. My summer purse and miscellaneous metal objects are about to be secured so that I can enter the correctional facility. Only—I can’t get the locker door to shut, the lock to accept the change. I am stumped, and sweating.
I turn to the three women employees, all younger than I, at the desk. The one with the tightly pulled-back hair I have already exchanged prison-style pleasantries with upon entering.
“I’m here for an 11:30 visit,” I said. She looked at me like I had grown the proverbial two heads. Or maybe I was just fresh meat.
“We’ve been open for visits since 8:30.”
“Okay, what I mean is that I’m here to visit someone and he told me that after 11:30 was best. After ‘the count’.” I didn’t exactly get ushered in like Dorothy, while trying to enter Oz. (“Well! That’s a horse of a different color!”) But she acknowledged this—I knew part of the vernacular—and I sensed that my goal might now be possible. But not dressed the way I was.
“No tank tops.”
I have a long-sleeved shirt that I’ve planned to wear over it. I put it on as a show of good faith that I know the rules, even though it is sweltering in the room.
Back to the lockers. After jiggling more quarters into more slots with no jackpot—a key release—I finally ask the closest woman who is not behind a counter, or barrier, if she can help.
Nope. Not her job. She has “nothing to do with lockers.” Okay. The one with the tight hair decides to soften a bit, and comes down off her perch. She suggests some other lockers, and her mere presence validates me somehow, that I am not just an inept newbie to the system. With her somewhat begrudging guidance, #30 works.
I put my purse in and turn the key, then place it in my pocket. I look to her/them to see what comes next. Every step is like pulling teeth. If it isn’t clear by now that this is my virgin voyage into maximum security, it should be. Or maybe it is, and this is all part of their day as bored cats. I am the new mouse, but they’ve been doing this too long to get very excited about batting me around.
“Do you have your photo I.D. and prisoner DIN number?” Well, no. That’s back in the locker. I retrace my steps and reopen it, retrieve them, and grab a tissue, too. I seem to be the only person bobbing along the maze of concrete for violent offenders, whose razor wire is nestled against a pristine summer sky in the bucolic farmland of New York state. I get to the next station. A dark-haired woman with flashing diamonds on her left hand, in stark contrast to her utilitarian uniform, takes my driver’s license and I sign something with my finger, etch-a-sketchy. The photo I.D they take is scarier than any mug shot, but I have no time for vanity. I am going to meet, for the first time, an inmate for whom I’ve been a sort of creative mentor, going on two years now. I think I am ready, if I can just get past the preliminaries.
Armed with an ultraviolet stamp on the back of my hand just like at old high school dances, I am eventually admitted from one building to the next, through an outdoor area dotted with petunias, perky and incongruous. I am feeling my way along this complex of cement, hardened feelings, and low empathy for anyone who enters—heavy gates closing behind me with a bang that I have only heard in movies.
How much worse can it get?
copyright sharon watts 2018