March 23rd marked two years since my father was released. Two whole years have flown by and everything has changed. The person writing this doesnt look or act or even think the way she did two years ago. I feel drained and tired but I still feel strong. My family doesn’t seem the same as they were either, we are almost all unrecognizable. The atmosphere in the place I once called home has become such a depressing place for me. It reminds me of who we were and where we had planned to be today but unfortunately haven’t made it to yet. Change is inevitable in this situation. This I accept and I understand, it just happened too fast for me.
I remember the week my father was released like it was yesterday. Every memory from that first year replays in my mind so vividly. It’s still unbelievable the timeline of events. I showed up in New York expecting to visit my father then head back home once the weekend was over. The trip started off rocky to say the least. See we always try to get to the airport very early so time wasn’t an issue for us. Instead, our issue presented itself when my brother lost his wallet in the security area. Not only did we nearly miss our flight but without his wallet that had his license in it we wouldn’t be able to get into the prison for the weekend stay. After a few minutes of freaking out we hear what sound like angels singing my brothers name over the intercom. Someone actually found his wallet and turned it in immediately. Thanks to them we were able to catch our flight and that was the start of our journey to dad.
Once we arrived at JFK and got our rental we drove up north towards Sullivan county to settle in at a hotel in Newburgh, NY. The next morning we would be undoubtedly running around like chickens with their heads cut off quadruple checking everything to make sure all goes smoothly at the prison.
This visit was a little more special only because instead of meeting my father in a visiting room for a few hours we would be spending 2 nights and 3 days in a trailer home with him on prison grounds. The “family reunion” program is what this kind of visit is called and we were approved to participate. We all looked forward to seeing eachother outside of those brick walled rooms. They all looked the same to me dull painted walls, a murral on one for photos, 4 or 5 vending machines along another wall, and then a bookshelf near the officers usually with board games, cards, and things like that . This would be our own personal trailer home for the weekend.
Now, everything is planned out months in advance for this visit and because my family and I were coming from out of state there were some extra steps we had to take. There was an interview that we had to do the day before our stay which really just consisted of our photos being taken and making copies of our documents.
We also had to do the groceries for him to have when we went back home and for the visit which can be a bit tedious just because there are so many little restrictions with packaging. For example any sandwhich meat or bread we bring in has to be double sealed. So our second day in upstate New York would be as busy as it was expected to be. First we had to drop off my fathers package (groceries), complete the “interview”, and then head back to the hotel to rest before the weekend stay.
Everything and I mean everything was on a schedule when I was in New York so this time was no different. But this time we stepped out of that schedule and stopped by a nearby mall just to look around, try on some stuff, and play with my new camera a little bit.
We finally make it back to our hotel and started making sure we have all things in order so we could make our last trip to the facility early that saturday morning. The scenery was always pretty much the same no matter which facility we were driving to. If you’ve never been upstate New York you would be surprised how many trees and farms you are on your way through it. When we arrived there was a secuity trailer specifically for the family reunion program which my family and a few others dragged their luggage and groceries to for checking. Once everything has been searched thoroughly we were directed to start loading the van. There must’ve been 7-8 of us helping eachother into this white van. Everyone was really nice and helpful to one another and during these visits its a huge breathe of relief to be treated so kindly in such a nasty place. There’s this sense of community with the visitors. For those who live in state they usually know eachother alot better which isnt surprising since most of them are there almost every weekend standing in line waiting for processing together. For the most part everyone was very kind and helpful to eachother at these visits. It could be that everyone’s really trying to make sure the process goes as quick as possible so we could get to the visiting area.
It wasnt far we would only be passing through a few different gates before reaching the trailers. They had someone at every gate to open and close it for us to go through. The second gate we stopped at stopped right next to an area where a man stood in what really looked like a cage made of thick rusted metal. It wasnt wide but it was tall, it looked like he could take at most 4 steps forward, back, and on both sides. There were alot of spaces open but only he stood out in that cold air. Quickly I realized he was in solitary confinement and this was the time given to him to be outside. That’s the first time I really realized how animalistic the treatment is in these prisons. It almost strips away their humanity.
Sometimes I had to remind myself that I wasn’t in a place where the men were innocent like my father. Some of these men are true monsters but even then aren’t they there for some sort of rehabilitation? At correction facilities isn’t the behavior that put them in there supposed to be corrected? What does treating them like animals or worse and stripping away their humanity solve? These sort of questions grew bigger and stronger as I got older and more observant of the environment my father was in.
While running through all of those thoughts I realize we are passing the third gate and finally we are pulling up to the trailers. I was so anxious before any visit so this one was just as any other time. Once the van stopped I could hear what sounded like salsa playing. At this time all of our phones were in a locker in the trailer we started at so it couldn’t have been any of us. It was freezing but you would have thought we were in little Puerto Rico with how loud the salsa was blasting.
As we all step out of the van we notice all the inmates were outside waiting for us except my father. Not more than 30 seconds pass before he shimmys his way out of the only trailer with the door wide open and his hands moving as if he had maracas in his hands. He was in his green jumpsuit and he looked like he had just gotten a clean cut. With a big cheesy smile he made his way towards the van and I couldn’ help but laugh because I should have known it was him playing “Che Che Cole” by Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe so proud and loudly. He made it so easy to forget where we were. My father was always good about taking us far from our reality and into the one he created for us. Just like that all my anxieties were gone and this was the beginning of an unforgettable visit.