No doubt, perhaps the highlight of any inmate’s day, week, or month is when his/her name is called for a visit. This is the time (in most prisons, I believe) when inmates are able to finally have the much needed physical contact with the people who mean the most to us. The brief hug and kiss we are allowed at the beginning and end can of the visit can be enough to sustain us for an entire month. It is a time of jubilant conversation and unbridled joy that, for moments throughout, can allow us to “forget” where we are. Ah, yes, the coveted visit. But what about when it comes time to say goodbye to friends and family? What is the impact of this part of the experience?
Please, allow me to explain what happened at a recent visit. I had a great time with my twin brother, older sister, twelve-year-old niece and eighteen-year-old nephew. We caught up on what many of my friends had been doing, what certain extended family members had been up to, and had fun discussing other trivial matters. We shared popcorn, drank soda, took pictures, and all-in-all enjoyed our three hours together on a Sunday afternoon. When the visit came to a close, I hugged and thanked them for traveling such a long distance to see me. I then sat down and waited for the remaining visitors to line up along the wall to be escorted out by the correctional officer working in the visiting room that day.
To my right (approximately five feet away) I noticed a small boy clutching his dad’s leg. The inmate hugged his toddler son with deep affection and told him, “Daddy loves you, Son. Now you have to go to Grandma so you guys can leave, ‘k?!” The small child reluctantly released his dad’s leg and jogged to his caretaker standing in line. As the line of visitors began to file out, the little boy was looking over his shoulder while continuously and emphatically waving to his confined father. Then, in a sudden flash, the child broke away from his grandma’s grasp and darted back to be with his daddy. He again clutched the man’s leg, only this time his grip was much tighter than before. The father again bent down to comfort his child as best he could, and I could see the anguish was just as powerful for the adult as it was for his child. The officers witnessing this human event, surprisingly, did not intervene, presumably because they understood interrupting this few seconds of profound emotion and connection between a father and son would have been nothing short of cruel and inhumane. After several seconds, however, the boy again returned to his grandparent for good at his father’s urging.
I returned to my cell that afternoon experiencing many emotions. On one hand I was filled with joy and peace for having just spent precious time with my family, but I also felt a sense of dejection as I was confronted with my own reality that while they freely walked out of the prison and returned to life as they know it–the same way of life I took for granted–I also had to return to mine. In conjunction with these emotions, I also contemplated the mental and emotional strain that that father and son were undoubtedly suffering in that very moment. Sure, having an opportunity to visit our loved ones is greatly appreciated and I’m thankful every time I receive one; but the agony that ensues when it’s time to depart, well, that part I could live without.