The Visit


Hello, I’m back from my travels and eager to write about my visit with Vince from a few weeks ago.

First, this photo is not Vince. It’s a photo I plucked off the internet of some guy wearing “Instant Weirdo Glasses,” a gag gift I have bought myself to give to nieces and nephews. But Instant Weirdoit does look very much like Vince with his prison-issue glasses, and I laughed out loud at my first sight of him, thinking it was a joke, then realized they wouldn’t sell Instant Weirdo Glasses in a prison commissary, caught myself and felt guilty.

Being taken aback by his appearance after not seeing him for a long time is kind of a pattern. I remember after his relapse after five years of being clean, when he had been MIA for months using meth somewhere, I found him in Lanesboro and was thoroughly alarmed by how black and bottomless his eyes were. Another time, I came home from Kenya to find he had lost his job and everything he owned, including his apartment and all his clothes, and he was wearing an old tattered snowmobile suit and boots with no socks or, presumably, underwear. At least the glasses were good for a laugh. At least he can see.

I had assumed I would cry all the way to St. Cloud, so I’d stolen a box of Kleenex from work and thrown it in the Mini. I left from work to save time, and yet it was still a six-hour undertaking. Two-hours up, a half-hour wait, two hours with Vince, then an hour and a half drive back home.

But it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. I didn’t cry at all. I choked up twice but I didn’t cry.

The first choke up was when I caught my first look at the prison. Picture the grimmest, bleakest, most Dickensian-style prison you can imagine, and that’s it. Granite is grey, after all. You see the wall first.

Prison Wall

There are no signs telling you where to go but you can’t miss the main building. Yes, there are bars on all the windows. I had read and re-read the visiting instructions, so I left everything but 50 cents and my car key in the car, hoping my purse would be safe in a prison parking lot. The 50 cents was to pay for a locker in which I would put my car key, because I couldn’t bring anything into the visiting room, not even a Kleenex. Although I’m sure other people smuggle all sorts of stuff in, I wasn’t going to drive two hours and then get busted for trying to smuggle in a Kleenex.

I felt uncertain walking up to the foreboding main doors but with no signage it was my best guess. I was anxious that I wouldn’t be let in, even though I’d been approved, according to Vince. Visitors don’t get any notification from the prison saying they’ve been approved; they leave that up to the inmates. Not the most reliable communicators.

I climbed two flights of stairs and found the reception area. Before I could even think about what I needed to do next, another woman visitor asked me, “First time?” How did she know? She waved me over to a desk where I filled out a form, which I then slid into a drawer with my ID to an officer sitting in a glass booth. He did something on his computer. My anxiety spiked, thinking he’d turn to me and say, “We have no record of your visitor form being received.” But he asked me to put my fist into the drawer so he could stamp it with something invisible. Why invisible ink? One of many “whys?” I will not bother to investigate. All that mattered was that I was in.

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