Why I was there
Today when I went to prison, I wasn’t as nervous as the first time. Last year, when I first visited my granddaughter, an inmate at the women’s correctional facility on Oahu, Hawaii, it was spooky. I’d never been to prison before. I was worried about finding the facility, worried that I’d go to the wrong gate, worried they might not let me in. Today, I wasn’t as nervous, but I still didn’t get it right.
Catherine (name changed) is in for negligent homicide, a ten-year sentence. She’s housed with other serious criminals even though what she did was from stupidity, not from anger.
In order for me to see her, she had to enter my name on a list of approved visitors ahead of time–people can’t just go spur of the moment. They do some sort of a background check. Then when visitors arrive, we park our cars, lock everything in the car trunks except keys and drivers licenses, and line up with other visitors at the guard shack.
We sign the “guest book,” give our car keys and I.D.s to the duty guard and tell him who we are visiting. He verifies that we’re on the approved list and gives us a clip-on visitor badge, then motions us to the back of the shack. But we’re not in yet.
Other armed guards, a man and a women, pat us down, gender for gender, a pretty thorough pat-down. I’ve learned not to wear any jewelry: wedding rings are the only jewelry acceptable. I’ve been turned back for wearing a belt or sunglasses and had to retrieve my car keys and walk back to the parking lot to put them in the trunk, then go back and give the keys again to the first guard.
After doing it a few times, I got the hang of it–I thought. But today I messed up again. I’d locked my drivers license in the trunk of the car and had to repeat the first and second steps. (Do not pass Go. Do not get out of jail free.)
Inside the gate, what then?
It’s a long walk from the pat-down to the next gate and up the hill inside the fence. I’ve learned which gate to go through and which path to take, things I got wrong that first time. Then, another guard house, two more locked doors, and I’m in!
I take my seat among other visitors and the inmates they’re visiting and wait for Catherine. We’re sitting in a large enclosed plaza with chairs on two sides and no vegetation whatsoever. Today is cloudy, so my eyes are not hurting without my sunglasses.
Catherine shows up, I stand and we hug. It’s been a little over a month since we’ve seen each other. I knew her boyfriend was flying over from Maui to see her, so I skipped last month.
How’s she doing?
We have a great two-hour talk. We’ve really gotten well acquainted this past year. She’s in a special program with volunteers from a local church, Bible study, counseling, art lessons. She’s in charge of operating the audio-visual equipment for chapel. And she’s totally clean and sober. All in all, a good experience: but we hope she will be paroled long before those ten years are up!