I went to visit Vince on Sunday, for the first time in over eight months.
Given my last experience with visiting, my subsequent six-month ban, the fact that my last four letters to him were destroyed, and that he’ll soon be released, I thought I could skip this visit. But he really wanted me to come. I’m his only visitor, so he hasn’t seen anyone from the outside for a long time.
Friends made suggestions for what I should wear to prevent a repeat of the unfortunate “low-cut blouse” episode. A nun’s habit, suit of armor, a sleeping bag, a burqa … the list went on and on and it was all very ha, ha, ha but I was really very anxious. It’s indescribable unless you’ve experienced it firsthand—the feeling of being at the mercy of a stranger in uniform—the powerlessness, uncertainty, and fear. And I’m not even in prison.
Problem was, I don’t own a T-shirt or a button-up shirt or a turtle neck. I don’t like clothing that constricts around the neck. I was inspired to put on one of my uncle’s dress shirts—the uncle who died in December whose shirts I took for Vince. I could have fit two of me inside it. The sleeves fell down six inches below my fingers and the shirt tails fell to my knees, but it I could button it up to my neck. Maybe it would bring me good luck.
The hour-and-a-half-long drive to Willow River went smoothly and I arrived a few minutes before visiting hours. The gate was closed so I pressed the intercom button. A voice told me to leave the grounds and wait on the highway until visiting hours started. I looked at my cell phone and said, “You mean, in four minutes?” “Yes,” he answered.
A year ago I would have made a sarcastic remark but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I said, “Okay” and backed down the drive. I killed the engine and reflexively reached for my cell phone, then realized I had not left the grounds so I started the car up again, drove out to the highway, and sat there on the side of the road with my emergency lights on as cars and trucks zoomed by me.
After four minutes I drove back in and the gate was open. This facility is much smaller than St. Cloud or Moose Lake. There were no bars, metal doors, metal detectors, or guards behind plexiglass. My hand was shaking as I filled out the visitor-request form, but within 10 minutes I was waved into the visiting room and there he was. When I hugged him I could feel how much weight he had lost. “People would pay to come here!” I said, laughing. “I know, mom, I’ve never been in such great shape in my life,” he said.
“And by the way, I just got a demerit because you arrived early.”
What a splash of cold water! Vince got a demerit because I arrived four minutes early. It would be one thing if I had known this was a no-no, but I had checked the visiting rules online the day before and they said nothing about it. “Don’t worry about it, mom. That’s just how how it is. There’s no way of knowing what the rules are until you break one. They’re looking for a reaction, and I won’t give it to them. Just don’t show up early when you come to pick me up on my last day.”
“If I were staying in longer, you could do a video visit,” Vince told me. “They’re promoting it heavily—one hour for only $99.95!” We burst out laughing at the absurdity of it, but he explained that a hundred bucks was cheap for the many families who had to drive from Chicago and pay for hotel rooms.
Our two hours together flew by. I drove home and felt completely drained. Two hundred miles, two hours with my son, two weeks til he comes home.