November 24th, 2019
“I hold the line, the line of strength that pulls me through the fear
San Jacinto, I hold the line
San Jacinto, the poison bite and darkness take my sight, I hold the line
And the tears roll down my swollen cheek, think I’m losing it, getting weaker
I hold the line, I hold the line
San Jacinto, yellow eagle flies down from the sun, from the sun
We will walk on the land
We will breathe of the air
We will drink from the stream
We will live, hold the line
Hold the line, hold the line
We will live, hold the line
Hold the line, hold the line…”
From the song “San Jacinto” by Peter Gabriel
The guard buzzed me through the entrance of the cell block. He knew me. I had been there to visit often in the past. The guard was a tall, young man. He had shaved his head, and he had a beard that was long and red.
I walked up to his counter. He was busy signing into the computer. It was the start of his shift. He barely glanced up as he greeted me:
“Hi. How are you tonight?”
I answered him, “Okay. And how are you doing?” I hung up my coat on the rack.
He was still looking at his screen when he said, “Oh, as well as can be expected. Thanks for asking.”
I pulled out my drivers license and laid it on his counter. I looked for a sign in sheet, but I found none.
I asked him, “Do you want me to sign something?”
He shook his head. Then he asked me, “And who are you seeing again?”
I gave him the girl’s name.
“Oh yeah. Got it. She’s quite the artist. Really talented. She’s always drawing pictures.”
I thought for a moment. “Yeah, she’s gifted that way. She has a degree. Actually, she has a lot going for her.”
The guard punched at his keyboard, and said, “She could really use that talent. She could be working a booth at the State Fair, and drawing people’s pictures at $25 a pop.”
“Yeah, I guess she could be doing that.”
Then the guard looked up, and said, “Okay, let me give you a token for the lockers. Hmmmm, there aren’t any. Uh, I got to go to the main building to get some more. What do you have to check in?”
I laid my cell phone, car keys, and wallet on the counter.
“Hey, tell you what. I’ll keep your stuff back here. You don’t need to put it into the locker. Okay?”
I had to go through the metal detector. I laid my bag of change on the counter before I went in. The thing beeped anyway.
I told the guard, “It’s probably my belt. Do you want me to take it off?”
He shook his head. “I’ll use the wand.”
He waved the wand over my body, and said, “You’re good. Go on through. I’ll call for her.”
He buzzed me into the visitor area, a small room with a few chairs and tables, and a couple vending machines.
I went to the vending machine and pumped some quarters into it. I selected a Kit Kat bar for the girl. I placed it on the low table as she walked into the room.
We gave each other a clumsy sort of hug. Hugs in prison have to be very brief.
She was dressed in her teal green uniform. She wore thermal underwear beneath her shirt. Her brown hair is getting long. She looked good, but edgy. She has always looked edgy. Her hands went to the Kit Kat bar. One hand was redder than the other, the result of a bad burn several months ago.
She started talking business. That’s how we do things.
“Because there’s a holiday this week, there is probably not going to be anybody in the office on Thursday or Friday for me to place an order. Can you put some money into my commissary account by Wednesday, at the latest?”
“I already did that. I did it before I forgot about it. I think I put the money in there on Friday.”
She smiled a bit as she bit into the candy bar. “Well, then, never mind.”
The girl trusts me to take care of financial matters for her. I don’t do other things very well, but I can do that much.
I asked her, “What did you do today?’
She munched on the candy bar. “We had group and independent study.”
“Are you still cleaning the classroom?”
“No, we’re done with that.”
“Are the crayons still organized in order, by rainbow color?”
“Well, nobody has used them lately, so I guess so.”
“How about the construction paper?”
“Yup, still in order by color.”
“And you guys earn ‘points’ for doing this?”
She put the empty wrapper on the table. “Yeah.”
I asked her, “So, what do you actually get for these points?”
“Well, we get to wear out ‘greys’ in class rather than this stuff.” She pointed to her green clothes. “Also, we get to bring a non-water drink into class. We also get to pick out a movie.”
“These ‘non-water drinks’, do you buy them yourselves?”
“Yeah, but I haven’t bought them yet. That’s why I wanted you to put money into the commissary account.”
She looked at me and asked, “Can you buy me another candy bar?”
I got her another Kit Kat. She ripped open the wrapper.
I asked her, “What movies do you get to pick out? Do they have DVD’s here?”
She nodded as she bit into the chocolate.
I asked her, “Do you want me to come to your graduation from this program? I think you said it was on December 20th.”
She shrugged. “If you want to.”
I sighed. “Okay, if you want me to come, I’ll come. Let me know.”
She asked me, “How’s Shocky (her dog)?”
The girl told me, “I bet she misses me.”
I looked at the young woman and said, “Yeah, I think you’re right. She does miss you.”
She smiled. “I knew it.”
The girl asked me, “Can I have a Diet Mountain Dew?”
I went back to the vending machines.
I handed her the soda. “What do you do at the graduation?”
“Well, we get a certification. We also have a ‘legacy’ to do.”
“Oh, it’s like a skit. We get to pick two songs to go with it.”
“You have to sing a song?”
She laughed. “No, these are songs that they can play from a machine. I want a song from the “Breakfast Club”, but they probably won’t let us have it.”
“I have never seen ‘The Breakfast Club’.”
The girl stared at me. “How can you not have seen it? Isn’t that from the 80’s? That was your time.”
I looked away. “I guess I’m not good at keeping up with the current culture.”
She smiled at me.
We sat for a while, silent. These talks always end the same way. We had run out of safe topics. There is much more to say, but it is all radioactive.
I waited for the guard to finish with a phone call, and then I motioned to him to let me out.
The girl stood all alone. I had forgotten to hug her.
We embraced for a moment. It was stiff and awkward and absolutely necessary.
I went out. The guard gave me my possessions.
He said to me, “She’s good. She has a good reputation here. She keeps to herself. Never any problem.”
The young woman is a model prisoner. Nice.
The guard was trying to comfort me. “She will get out soon.”
And then what?
I went out to my car. It wasn’t cold yet, but I felt a chill. The stars were out.
I drove home in the dark.
I felt the sadness, and the wrongness of it all. Those feelings come when I drive back home. They overwhelm me. How do we deal with this? How do we both keep going?
We hold the line. Hold the line. Hold the line.