This weekend was our 11th wedding anniversary. James and I dated for three years before we married so we’ve been together now for fourteen years.
Only, James isn’t here. On Friday he flew to Buffalo to visit his dad, who’s undergoing chemotherapy for Stage III metastasized throat cancer. I’m not usually the sentimental type but it felt sad to acknowledge our anniversary with nothing more than a phone call.
At least I know James will be back soon.
My friend Lori doesn’t know when her husband’s coming home.
Her husband, let’s call him S., is also a good friend of mine and my former editor. He’s not a threat to anyone, he had no prior record, and, what’s more, I do not believe he’s guilty of what he plead guilty to. It’s baffling to me that S. is even behind bars. Recently, for no fathomable reason, he was transferred to a maximum security prison.
The nightmare S. has been going through has taught me you shouldn’t believe what you read in the newspapers. It’s taught me that your whole life can be going along just fine until one day–bam! crash! ouch!–it can get turned completely upside down.
My heart hurts when I read Lori’s email updates. The last one she sent was so poignant and well-written I asked her if I could publish it. She agreed.
Here’s Lori’s description, in her words, of what it’s like to visit your husband in jail:
My parents surprised me with an airline ticket to Salem, Oregon this past weekend, and a much needed visit with my husband.
I was approved for two visits on Saturday, which meant I got to spend a total of five hours with him. Two hours in the morning, and three in the afternoon.
The process to get in to see him was pretty intimidating. They make you line up in groups of ten, and then put you in enclosed in rooms with bars on each side. But the visiting room itself is fine. It’s a big cafeteria-style room with vending machines.
There’s a guard posted at the entrance. The room is lined with red chairs sitting across from gray chairs and separating them are small tables.
The visitors sit in the red chairs and the prisoners sit in the gray chairs.
When I got there in the morning I found out that you cannot wear blue jeans or a bra with an underwire. I didn’t know so my father-in-law had to hurriedly drive me to the local Walmart for a pair of acceptable pants and a new undergarmet.
I grabbed some jeans and a new bra called to the fitting room attendant that I’d be wearing the clothes outside of the store.
“Visiting someone in prison?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m a novice. You guys must have seen this before.”
By the time I got back to the prison the visitors were already inside, and I’d wasted an hour of my time with my beloved husband. I was showed into the room and was expecting a minute to make myself comfortable in a red chair, but whose face do I see when I enter the room, but my husband’s.
It turned out that they had called him, and he had already been waiting down there for a half hour! I could only imagine what had been going through his mind. I completely melted when I saw him sitting there. There sat my gorgeous husband – more than 50 pounds lighter.
He managed a pretty terrific smile when I walked into the room, and he stood up. We were able to hug, and kiss, and it was so hard to let go of that embrace.
I miss him so much.
We sat across from each other and held hands the entire time.
We talked about family, kids, kids, kids, family, the city, family, family, family.
He is confined to his cell about 21 hours a day. He gets out for meals, and one hour. He said that the food is horrible, so he doesn’t go out for breakfast, or dinner. He only eats lunch because he said that’s when it’s less crowded.
He spends the rest of his time out of the cell in the law library because that’s pretty much the only place where he can sit down. There’s no chair in his cell, so his neck is pretty messed up.
I paid two dollars to take a picture with him in the visiting room. The picture is part of a program called Lifers. These are guys that are in prison for life. They take the pictures, and get to keep the money for themselves.
I showed the picture to our daughter.
“Oh, I miss my old Daddy teddy bear,” she cried when she saw it. “He’s not a teddy bear anymore!”