Prison visits were both wonderful and terrible moments in our lives.
Wonderful because we got to be together, hold each other (however briefly) and talk to each other while we looked into each other’s eyes. Terrible for so many other reasons – the location, the atmosphere, and the reminder of the reality that prison was a part of our family’s story. For fifteen long years, every visit was that way – bittersweet.
The beginning of our prison-visits journey was marked with so many firsts! The first time we stood in line to see Ron, the first time we smelled that stale, musky scent of prison air, the first time we heard the big mechanical doors close out the world outside, locking us inside the prison with a loud hum followed by the clank of the metal lock engaging. As we walked into the prison visiting room, the sight of so many families packed into a room, all crowded around knee-high tables, sitting in old stained chairs assaulted us. Worn-out looking mothers and grandmothers were trying to keep children quiet, distracted, and calmly sitting at the tables while they talked with the men sitting across from them in prison blues.
I didn’t want to be there, and yet I was so happy to be there.
Soon, we would be able to see Ron, hear his voice, and see his smile! The time between sitting at our assigned table and the moment Ron walked into the room was tortuously long. The vending machines and microwaves boasted long lines of family members seeking the best tasting meal they could find to enjoy together. We would make good use of the waiting time by joining the crowds to choose our family meal for the day. This was an important part of our visits – and not just because I am a total foodie. It was during the simple moments, like family meals at home, that we missed Ron the most. We did our best to create a family meal experience while we were all together. The processed food from the vending machines was amazing when shared as a family meal!
Finally, the door that separated the prisoners from their families opened to reveal Ron smiling as he walked confidently into the visit room. Every time I saw him walk into a visiting room, my heart skipped a beat and emotions flooded over me – relief, joy, and grief – all at the same time. I was now minutes from being in his arms for a full 5 seconds. Five whole seconds! It is so crazy how much difference 5 seconds can make. I would hold him so tightly while the boys held onto us as tightly as their little arms could squeeze. Those family hugs carried us through so many years.
We spent the next few hours completely focused on each other – talking, sharing, crying, and laughing as a family.
When we visit, we made beautiful, meaningful memories together. I cannot begin to explain how poignant those hours were for us. All our actions were guided by the knowledge that we had so little time to be together. No distraction was important enough to penetrate our time with each other. The costs of coming to visit, the sacrifices we had to make to be there, none of those things mattered. Even our surroundings faded into the background as we connected over those small tables. We changed our family, our marriage, and our legacy by investing in our family for those three hours, three times a month for 15 years.
The circumstances and the environment were not ideal. As a matter of fact, they were the least likely conditions to foster family strength. But it didn’t stop us. I sadly watched so many families fall apart in those visiting rooms as they let the prison experience keep them from building a new legacy. Tragically, I now watch the same thing happening to families out here who have never had to endure a prison visit. How can you stop the distractions? Take control of the things you can control. Determine to take advantage of every opportunity to connect and build happy memories together. Fight for your attention to be directed toward the things and people that matter most. I promise you will not regret it!
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