I’m Not One of You


The officer told me that Vince would have to eat and shower before being allowed to come to the visiting room. Eating and showering would take me at least an hour and a half, but I figured they didn’t linger over such things here. I found the lockers and deposited my car key.

I exhaled and was finally able to take in my surroundings. The visiting room was “decorated” in 80s colors—oak furniture with teal and mauve upholstery and grey carpet. All very run down. Not skanky, quite, but shabby. I looked around for interesting details I could write about in the blog but there were none. The only reading material was a rack with brochures about support groups for children whose parents are incarcerated.

And there are plenty of them, if this waiting room was any indication. In the half hour I waited, five kids under the age of three or so waited with their mothers. Four of them were black. Was it good that they were too young to understand? Or by bringing them to visit daddy in prison at such a young age, where they being conditioned to think this was normal and acceptable?

There was an elderly couple. They looked like they were straight off a farm. I wondered who they were here to visit—their son, grandson? Their name was called and he had to clutch his pants to hold them up while they went through the metal detector, since he had to remove his suspenders and place them in a tray to the side.

I felt a strong urge to stand up and yell, “I’m not one of you!”

I know this about myself: One of my defenses when my life feels like a pressure cooker is to adopt a smug, superior attitude to everyone around me. But I keep it inside my head.

It was quitting time, and a stream of employees came out as I waited, scanning their badges, waiting as the bars slowly rolled open, then skirting the metal detector and vamoosing for the weekend. Five or six attractive women came out and I wondered what they did here and why they would work here.

There was a bank of security monitors along one wall. In black and white, hundreds of men inside streamed from point A to point B. The perspective was from above them, and tilted at an angle. It reminded me of leaf cutter ants I had seen in Costa Rica, marching along blindly, down one tree, across a path, and down a hill into a hole.

My last name—Vince’s last name—was called over a loudspeaker, mispronounced as usual, and I shot up to walk through the metal detector. The wall of bars slid back and I was inside a sally port—a controlled entry way with glass guard booths on either side and sliding walls of bars on either end. The guard told me to put my hand under a black light so he could see the number stamped on my hand.   He escorted me through two more doors of bars, then I was in.

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