Food visits in prison, create an atmosphere of familiarity and freedom. It is an opportunity for both the incarcerated and the loved one(s) left behind to embrace and forget, just for a moment, that they are separated. It brings the illusion of normalcy to a place void of its quality; for there is nothing normal about prison. But there, for a few hours, you can look into the face of the one you love and forget the loss.
Sometimes there is an even deeper reflection. In the photo above we see the subject longing to make contact with who she used to be; the image of a care free child now becoming a distant and fading memory amidst the annals of time and loss. Or perhaps she refuses to let that child go and the reflection is who she really is despite life’s tragedies. Maybe she is stuck and cannot emotionally mature past a tragic point in life, destined to remain chained to that loss?
However the photo plays out for you, for me, it invoked the duality of who I used to be and who I am now. All of the aforementioned scenarios, at some point were manifest in my life. But when I walked though the prison visitation gates last Sunday, there only twenty feet away, was the main gate which I too came through eleven years before.
The emotions and routine that an inmate goes through prior to a visit played out in my mind. I knew exactly what they were thinking and doing. For the visitors awaiting their loved one(s), they can only speculate as to the goings on behind closed doors. Anticipation builds as the visitor patiently waits for his or her loved one to emerge from some unseen corridor. The anxiety and mystery dissipate as relief floods in through the face of their loved one as he or she comes into view. And for a while anyway, all is well.
The inmate has been preparing for his visit for weeks now, in his or her mind anyway. But the night before, he or she is busy preparing their attire. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? How much preparation can go into a wardrobe that consists of a two piece solid orange outfit that resembles a nurses set of scrubs, or a one piece jump suit for that matter? As I’ve stated before, there is nothing normal about prison, county jails are even worse. But, for the inmate trying to hold on to their sanity, the small attempts at normalcy can make all the difference. So he or she, the night before, will take their best, newest, and most brightly colored suit and gently lay it beneath their mattress. They will take great care to make it as straight and flat as possible and by morning, “voila!”, a perfectly pressed garment. “Ah yes, it’s the little things. . .”
Anyway, for me, it’s been a struggle returning to the very same prison yard I once was part of as an inmate. Apprehension would fill me to the core as visit day drew near; by the time I was in the car for the three hour long drive to Florence, well, let’s just say I was a nervous wreck. I had an overwhelming fear that I would get in for the visit and then they wouldn’t let me back out. That was five years ago we started visiting. It wasn’t until just this year that I have been able settle down and enjoy the whole process.
So as our loved one appeared from the unseen corridor, I knew exactly where he had come from. I knew exactly what he was thinking and feeling. Our eyes met, a sixteen foot tall fence between us, and I thought to myself, “It’s good to see you again.” They padded him down and opened the gate and we embraced. And for a time, there was no loss, no separation, just the love shared between two human beings that have trodden the same road of sorrow.
My friend who my wife and I visit is more than a friend. He is my spiritual father. He is currently serving out a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. Yes it’s true, he is one of the innocent who have been caught by an unseen force trying to destroy them. But he is strong and will not yield to the enemy. We are all working very hard to set him free, and as you can well imagine, forty-three years into a sentence means a lot of restoration from the state.
But this isn’t about payback, it’s about answering your call. He was called to endure as a minister of Jesus Christ in one of the darkest places on earth. And he has not failed. It is because of his fierce dedication to duty that I am what I am today, (a minister myself.) An Associate pastor actually and an author. He was hard on me because life is hard. He didn’t relent because life doesn’t. He pushed me because I need pushing, and for that I thank him from the bottom of my heart.
If you are reading this and have a loved one who is incarcerated, you now have a glimpse into their heart. They have done wrong and are paying for it. But if it is within your power to visit, especially on food visit days, then go. And when you see them, look into their eyes and say, “It’s good to see you again.”
Reverend Joaquin R. Larriba