A biweekly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.
First of a two-part column
The author has a son serving a life sentence, currently at the Stillwater Correctional Facility.
The anticipation, the anxiety, the control, the possibilities… It all causes many emotional and physical changes in my body.
Is he okay? How will he be when I see him? I have to control my actions — no normal, jovial moves of excitement. I can’t touch his hands, I can’t scream, I can’t stand in awe of his presence and just take time to look at him, appreciate him, love him, absorb the moment with him. Only a “Hello, how are you?” and a hug.
I kiss his cheek or neck, and then we casually wait to be pointed to where to sit, being careful not to touch, not to make quick moves, hands visible at all times. I can’t take my glasses off and put them back on.
I hope I didn’t forget to throw away the candy or gum I had in my mouth. Do I risk doing so now or do I hide it and hope it quickly disappears or hold the gum in position in my mouth? I have it to throw away, afraid there may be consequences for him.
I try to slow down my thoughts and remember all the things I want to talk to him about, but I am hit with a reality I knew but forgot it — how could I ever forget it? I try to pause so that he can remember all the things he wants to talk to me about, but the time flashes through me.
I watch the clock; my words come out confused, all my thoughts in pieces jumbled in my mind. I try to sort them. I try to pause, but I talk faster and less poignant, less focused.
I hold back tears; I feel disabled in my body and mind. I watch him as he tries to allow me to adjust while his eyes wander to every sound and every person around the room. He hasn’t been outside of his unit living quarters since I last saw him.
I watch the time. I think of the last visit. I feel powerless. I feel trapped in time on a clock, and I can’t really function. I fidget constantly. He tries to be patient and begins sharing his thoughts, anticipating what we can manage in one hour, watching me.
I feel him reading my anxiety and I am reading his while we both know this is not okay, this short time is not enough, never enough. We both fight to get into the present moment. We laugh, tell jokes, and prioritize communications by topic and by how long it will take to check in — the family news, his daughter, and important reminders.
We have always been an engaged family, intertwined cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. We have no grandparents or other immediate aunts or uncles or cousins here. Our family originated out East. My siblings, our spouses, our children and theirs are all we have.
So we have lived together, raised our children together. We have survived crises together and have overcome and accomplished amazing things together. When I visit my son, we talk about all of us.
By the time we are relaxed, have readjusted to all of this, these precious moments, my mind begins to clear. It begins to slow down. I begin to slow my breathing. My heart stops racing once again. I begin to accept the place, the oppressive suppression. We are both right now incarcerated together in this precious fleeting moment.
And then someone walks up and waves five fingers, and it all starts over. All the physical and emotional impairments return. I try to rush out all my thoughts in five minutes. I choke back tears, I fight for strength, I try to breathe. It’s over.
Where did the time go? How must he feel? Probably not far from the same as myself, but we can’t express it. We just see each other’s eyes. Our lips, our brows, our faces and our hands tell the story, and then once again we get to hug and embrace, now knowing and not knowing when it will be again.
Letting it go much quicker, not to feel the moment slip away, we go to our different worlds adjusting and readjusting again to all the physical and emotional hidden reactions in our minds and bodies, hidden from our worlds, and half hidden from ourselves.
As we try again to normalize and stabilize, living under the suppression-oppression as we serve this time together, I want time to slow when we visit. But with so much time yet to go that he will be away, I also want his time to rush.
Look for the conclusion of this column in two weeks.
Michele Livingston is a participant in Voices for Racial Justice’s “Bridging the Gap” partnership. Reader responses are welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the organization’s work, visit www.voicesforracialjustice.org.