This is the fifth post written by my mom, with my permission. Other articles can be found: Looking Back (11/2/14), Looking Around (1/15/15), Looking Ahead (5/25/15), Looking Up (11/4/15).
Waiting is a hard thing. Waiting in line is especially hard. When we wait in line it’s for a purpose. We wait to purchase our items as we wait in a line at the cashier. We wait in line to get tickets we just have to have. We wait in line for our turn to go through the gate at the airport. We wait in line to go through the car wash. We wait in line to get into the stadium to see the big game. We wait in line for our turn at the amusement park. We wait in line to go through the drive through. We wait in line for the ATM. How many hours a week do we wait?
But recently there’s a new wait in my life. I have to wait in line in order to visit my son in prison. This is a line like I’ve never seen before. It’s a line full of all kinds of people….people of every age, nationality, color and race. Some people are just like me; others not so much. But we are all in line for one specific reason – to see a loved one who is serving time in prison. And because of that, we are all like one big family. We all have a specific goal in mind and we are all excited to wait in this line. We talk, we laugh, we share stories.
The line is a numbered line. Oh, we don’t receive numbers in our hands, but each person knows what number they are when they get in the line. There is usually one person at the beginning of the line who can tell you what number you are. That person is the designated line keeper, someone who you need to report to if you have to get out of line for something. It’s important you know your number because only five people at a time are called into the check-in room. The sooner you get in line, the sooner you will get in to see your loved one. And if there is arguing in the line about where you should be, the guards can shut down visitation for that day. So we get in line and stay in line and wait until it’s our turn. The line is outside, rain or shine. And I have stood 2 hours in the rain in order to get in. But it’s what we do as we wait.
When you pull into the parking lot…..usually about 2 hours before visitation begins…..you walk quickly over to the building where you check in. You don’t want to dawdle in the parking lot because others can get in line before you and that could mean a half hour or more of line standing and less time to see your loved one. So you take your car keys and driver’s license and hurry to the line. You are not allowed to take anything else with you……no wallet, no phone, no candy, no pictures, no fit bits. Just the clothes you are wearing and your ID and keys.
Speaking of clothes, there is a dress code. It’s interesting to hear clothes stories as we wait in line. We are not to wear shorts, sandals or any kind of open toe shoes, no high heels (they could be a weapon), no sleeveless shirts, no khaki colored pants or shirts, no brown colors, no solid green, no orange. And these rules can change each time you go, depending on what guard is working the gate on that particular day. We have seen many people leave the line and drive down the road to Wal-Mart to get something that is acceptable to the guard. Whether it’s shoes or pants or tight capris or leggings, they have the final say so and it does no good to argue. One lady told us she wore the same hoodie three times in a row, and the fourth time she wore it, it was not allowed. Why? Because the guard said so.
People come from all around the country to visit. Some drive in; many fly. There was a man in a wheelchair and his wife who came to visit their son. They flew from the west coast to Dallas because it was the man’s 80th birthday and the couple wanted to celebrate his birthday by visiting their son. Besides the wheelchair, he was on oxygen. The guard would not let them bring in the extra oxygen tank because “that’s the rules.” So their visit was short. But as they would say, “Well worth it.” Those who drive may leave at 4 in the morning in order to get in line. One family of an inmate (mom, dad, wife, sister) flies 3 times a year from the east coast and visit 3 days in a row. One of the days it’s only the wife that goes in so she can have some time with her husband by herself.
You take a chance every time you visit. There have been times when the prison decides to have a family day so only those with children can visit. Now if you have driven a long ways to visit and have no children with you, they could cause some aggravation. Or the time when the prison was in lock-down mode for five days, so no visitation days then. It’s a risk you take, but it’s a risk you must take.
Visiting an inmate is one of the most important things anyone can do for an inmate. Most inmates do not get any visits from family or friends. But for those of who do visit, it’s worth the hassles and the rules. Visiting allows you to actually sit next to your loved one and hug them and touch them. We see young wives visiting their husbands and sitting next to each other for six hours holding hands and staring into each other’s eyes. We see kids getting to sit on their dad’s laps and kissing him and talking and laughing with him. It’s good for both the inmate and visitor to have that contact.
As you stand in line with the others waiting with you, for that short time you are together, you are bonded with them. You all have a story to tell…..how many years your loved one has been in, how many prisons he has been in, how far they have traveled, how often they travel. You have something in common with them and yet you don’t share the details of the crime that was committed. You see, that’s not important. What’s important is that their loved one is loved and that those in line are eager to get inside to spend a short time with them, to see that they are OK, to hear how things are going, and to be reassured that life is going OK.
Any inmate will tell you that on a day to day basis, receiving mail lifts them up. But an actual visit in the flesh is truly priceless. It’s hard to visit….it takes several days from your regular schedule, it’s expensive to travel to see them, it hurts to see them in prison, it’s hard to walk away at the end of the day and know they are not coming home for a while. But I know it’s important to visit. God tells us that when we visit someone in prison, it is as if we are visiting Him.
We have visited Craig in three different places now. At the first place we were only allowed a 30-minute visit one time a week. Since we lived 7 hours away, we did not go very often. And when we did, we talked through a telephone and looked at each through Plexiglas. But it was good to go and see that he was doing OK. The next place was an 8 hour drive for a 2 hour visit. This time we could sit with him and touch him. Again we only went one time while he was there because of the distance. We have now visited Craig five times in the two years he has been at this place. It’s a 10 hour drive, but we do get a 6 hour visit. Definitely nice! And it’s nice to just sit and talk all that time. You may think you would run out of things to talk about, but it doesn’t happen. We are able to talk about important things, about not-so-important things, and about silly things. He shares with us and we share with him what is happening in our lives. It’s always a good visit. We get to meet his friends in prison who are just regular guys like Craig, and their parents who are just regular people like us.
Prison is a dark environment and nobody wants to be there. But when an inmate gets a visit, he knows someone loves and cares about him and that brings a light into his little area of the compound. And that may be what he needs to keep him hopeful until the next visit.
Waiting in a prison line is a good line to be waiting in. And as I look around and see all the different kinds of people, I imagine it will be like another line I will be in someone……the line getting into the Pearly Gates, where I will see people of every tongue, every tribe, every people from every land. All those waiting to see the King of Glory! What a line that will be!!