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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Visit With My Father -- June 11, 2009

Once a week, I will get to visit with my mother, father, sister, or a combination of them. Occasionally, a relative will come to see me, and on rare occasion, a friend. When I was at the Cook County Jail awaiting trial, and possibly a little while thereafter, I had a much more diverse and greater number of visitors. However, as the years go by, you see less and less of people, until only your family visits you. I appreciate them, and am touched by their support over all these years, even when at times I tried to push them away because I wanted them to get on with their lives without me. I thought my life was over.

It is for that reason, I am not at all happy when they are forced to wait for hours to see me when visiting. At Stateville, it is common for visitors to wait two hours or longer to see their loved ones or friends. This is due to a number of factors including the incompetence, laziness or unconcern of the staff, as well as the excessive rules and procedures put in place by administrators. To be fair, I must add that not all staff are as described, and Stateville does receive more visitors than any other penitentiary in Illinois due to its proximity to Chicago. Having wrote this though, there is no reason why Stateville cannot timely process visitors and bring inmates to the visiting room.

A prisoner is typically notified that he has a visitor by an announcement over a loud speaker. Once a visitor checks in, the name of the person they are coming to see is sent by computer along with a pass to the control center. Staff are then supposed to call the cell house you live in, and then your name is announced. After hearing one's name, a prisoner must wait for a guard to let him out of his cell. This can take a few minutes or a few hours. It is common to hear prisoners yelling repeatedly throughout the day to be let out. When a guard does open your cell door, you just do not walk to the visiting room. You must go first into a holding cage at the front of your cell house, and wait until an escort is found or one who is willing to take you to what is called "gate 5." At gate 5, an inmate will typically be put in another holding cage until he is sent to the strip search room. You can be waiting in this holding cage for up to an hour.

A strip search involves an inmate undressing completely while a guard goes through his clothing, and then does a thorough examination of his body. You must raise your arms, open your mouth, lift your tongue, go through your hair, and move your head from side to side so the guard can check your ears. You are also told to move your genitalia, turn around, bend over and spread your ass cheeks. What the purpose of such an extensive search is, particularly before you go on your visit, makes no sense to me. It seems like just another unnecessary indignity.

Today, I thought I would speed up the process by leaving my cell before my name was called. My thought was that my family would not have to wait as long. Surprisingly, I did not have trouble getting an escort and was strip searched without much delay. However, I was then told that my visitor had not been processed yet, and I had to wait back at gate 5. I waited for about an hour until a guard came looking for me. My father had already been processed and had been waiting nearly 30 minutes just in the visiting room. So much for my plan...

I did not visit in the "zoo" with everyone else today, but in a side room. The main visiting room is extremely loud and my father cannot hear well, even with hearing aids. For this disability, he has been given permission to use one of these rooms. It is much better visiting with family there. The noise in the main room is almost maddening to deal with. It can be so loud that you have to lean over the table and yell at each other to be heard. Visitors often complain of getting headaches or earaches from the loud yelling among over a hundred people in the basement visiting room. My father would never be able to hear me under such circumstances.

Upon seeing my father, I gave him a big bear hug. It was good to see him, and although I like to see my mother and sister as well, I was glad he was alone today. My father tends to be a thoughtful, quiet person in contrast to my mother, who is very social and talkative. When they come together, she will dominate conversation.

During my teen years, my father and I did not get along well, and our relationship was distant. Since my arrest though, this has changed. He is no longer the authoritarian, stern parent, and I am no longer the youth wanting to break free and be independent. We are on equal footing now, as adults, and I have noticed even from prison, that we share a lot in common. We have many similar interests, opinions, and values. Our personalities are also alike in many ways. I get along well with my father now, and it was good to talk to him, one on one. I wish we could have had a better relationship before my arrest, and I am saddened by all the years that have went by that we could not share time together. My father is now 64, and on the way back to my cell I was troubled with the thought that I will probably never have a real friendship with him. If you happen to read this post Dad, Happy Fathers Day.