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LWOP 5 – Visiting Day at the (NOT) Arizona State Prison-Guest Blog by BWR

(or, EYES, EYES, EYES)

 Hi everyone, whatever your weather situation, Associate Professor of Real Life for Felons, BlueWhiteRed here.  Well, I made it through Wind Chill-gate 2015 (-3F lowest), but the three cars that wrecked onto my adjacent field, not so much. (They’re all ok although I have no idea why it happened since the roads are dry.  I think maybe a deer – would be likely.)

I decided to keep the TV off so I don’t get distracted and lose motivation about my super swell visit to my friend Susan’s Super Swell Home at the (NOT) AZ State Prison.  But I will disclaim that I’m listening to Juan’s incredible closing argument, so if I say something unintentionally humorous, you’ll know it’s because I reached the (paraphrasing), “…when you go to Pasadena, be careful if you go to Starbucks because you might meet up with (wait for it), a Gang of Screwdriver-Wielding ….SKATEBOARDERS!”  That line is almost as funny as during the mitigation close when he remarks what a great friend Stabby was for “adjusting” Ryan Burns.  Did you know English is Juan’s second language?  Mrs. BWR is from Argentina and same for her. I swear he/she make me appear to have the language skills of Tony Danza.

Right after the Journey to the Gurney 1.0 failed in May 2013, I flew to one of my younger-lands, Not AZ, to attend my niece’s high school graduation.  Side note: she was the Valedictorian. Her mom, my sister, was 8th in her high school class, so I had to rub it in to Sis that her kid beat her!  Susan’s prison is about an hour away so I told my sister I wanted to go see her.  She raised her eyebrows like I suspect most of you do with this whole situation I’m in and gave me the, “Whatever, just fill the car back up” response.  (My niece, probably not a future Trial Watcher, but a great kid and wisecracker, thought it kind of cool.)  And let’s be straight with each other, you’re GLAD I went to report back the scouting trip. You’re welcome, it only involved a TSA-worthy cavity search.

Til this point, Susan and I had been writing for a good number of years but hadn’t spoken to each other on the phone.  I had been really reticent (See, Stabby, I may have dirt under my finger nails, but *I* know how to spell and use $5 words, too.) to give her my phone number.  My family was a little too.  (see my previous post about phone calls from the State Prison).  She can have 12 visitors on her approved visiting list, so she-her ? I can’t think of the word but each unit has kind of an administrator type – and I were sending forms/verifications back and forth through the mail to get this visit approved.  Because I was coming from out of state, I would be approved for 2 hours instead of 1, which we both were happy about.

To give you some idea how tenuous ($10 word) this visiting situation can be, let me give you some insight.  All prisoners have a number.  Susan’s prison does an odd/even system.  Her number ends in an even number, so she has certain days of the week for visitors.  Since Saturday was an “even” day, I could come from 0800-1030.  Even coming from out of state, this whole visit was subject to change at anytime, for any reason, including:

Susan gets in trouble (this has happened a couple of times to her: mostly she says the trigger words and off to the padded room she goes (I’ll address another time)

Sickness (the flu breaking out, for example)

Security (this happens a LOT – an inmate is out of their zone, or a potential weapon is being located, unscheduled Lock Downs are occurring to spring surprise inspections, etc. )

Parole Hearings (this is usually scheduled and visible on the website)

There is a State website specifically for her prison and thankfully, it is kept up in a timely fashion, but again, I could be driving there and when Big Bertha decides to put Tiny in a headlock, this could be all for naught. ($2.50 word, ok I’ll stop).  I barely slept the night before; I was extremely nervous as I had only been a visitor to military prison (by visitor, I mean going in an official capacity), which is very black/white and uniform.  Although I was a brother to the civilian prison staff, which usually comes from the military, I knew civilian bureaucracy can be run with an unpredictable playbook.  So I knew I should leave Sis’ around 0530 to allow for traffic (a 24/7 delight), finding the prison (not too hard) and most importantly, allowing enough time to find the right parking area.  Once parked, I’d need to ensure I wasn’t taking anything unauthorized into the prison, check in, go through 2 security checks and wait for her to come to the visiting building/room.  I’m sure you’ve had an airport experience that made you inconvenienced and uptight.  Multiply that by 20, and that’s a GOOD visit to your State Prison.  All this for an 0800 visit, one hour away.

I found her exit and the prison compound easily and then my stomach started flip-flopping.  I take Ritalin, and did that morning because I wanted to stay focused and not waste 2 hours blabbing on about something.  But it was making my heart pound like I had 2 cups of coffee (I don’t drink coffee; love the smell, hate the taste.)  I turned onto the main road and encountered checkpoint #1.  I made sure I wore a short sleeve shirt because it was nice and warm that day and, I have a nice Navy tattoo on my forearm. Again, most guards are hired after military service; I was hedging my bets I’d be let in without too much BS by a bored Saturday morning guard.  Predictably, he saw it and brightened up, “Hi, Chief, who are you seeing today?” (I was/am a Chief Petty Officer). I gave him Susan’s name and number and he said, “Even number, right?”  He must have been Army, the genius he was, haha.  He asked for my license, the car’s papers and then directed me to the last row from the building to park.  You know, right by the barbed wire topped fence.  I thanked him and did.

I was so glad I actually read all of the Visiting Day website, because it is really well done and thorough. I knew there would be lockers right before the metal detector, to leave keys, etc.  EVERYTHING is considered a potential weapon.  Think about what you take with you or Ladies, what’s in your purse?  That box of Tic-Tacs?  Yep, break apart that plastic and you have a shank (an improvised Stabby Special).  Your brush?  Same-o.  I had nothing on me except my ID and the car keys. And 1 quarter to rent a locker.  I locked up my meager belongings and went to the movie theatre designed check in window. You know, with one of those cut slots in the glass between us. I gave Susan’s name/number and my ID. I swear the guard’s buddy behind her rolled his eyes.  Susan is a pain in the ass in there.  They call people like her a Jailhouse Lawyer.  I anticipate this for Stabby, except all the prisoners will love her.  Susan can’t hide that what she’s fighting for, rule-wise is really all about her.  Stabby can hide that and make her bunkies  feel like she’s looking out for them.  Susan is selfish.  Stabby is a Psychopath. Her expert, Dr. Goofball even said so a few weeks ago.  Oopsie!

I was directed to sit and wait (you know, like Stabby Sentencing 2.0). It was already 0800 and I was getting uptight but knew not to say a word.  When you go to the doc and the waiting room has a sign that says, “If you haven’t been called back after 20 minutes, please let us know,” you DON’T do that at State Prison. Any State Prison.  They have all the power and remember that.  Thankfully, I was raised right.  Around 0815, they called me up (I was the only one there after a pitiful Grandmother with her inmate daughter’s little boy went back. Wonder how that kid will turn out.)  and I approached a metal detector.  I knew I wouldn’t set it off but still I clenched my butt cheeks.  I had even taken my watch off, and it’s mostly rubber.  I had even taken my wedding ring off, please don’t tell Mrs. BWR.  Seriously.  After the detector, I was wanded by a very serious looking guard (they’re all called CO’s or Corrections Officers, but I’m too lazy to put on the caps lock or type those words out.)  I swear she was going to ask me to squat and cough but after a tense 2 minutes, I was GTG (military term: Good To Go).  I stood by a sliding solid steel door beyond their window and waited.  Zonk, Zonk, Zonk went a horn and it slid open in front of me.  I had to wait for it to retract completely to the side before I could move off the yellow line. I then could see I was going to be locked temporarily into a holding area with another solid door forward and glass to the side.  A guard sitting in an Air Traffic Control type enclosure watched me from the other side of the glass. I swear, folks, I thought I was going to crap my pants about 5 times in the 10ish minutes it took me to get back to the room from Checkpoint Charlie.  And I am squeaky clean with nothing to worry about.  I stepped forward, and the door slowly slid closed behind me. I was instructed over a PA system NOT TO MOVE.  Like I was going to.  I felt I was in boot camp again and snapped right into, “I will tell you when to move. I will tell you when to shit.  And you will, maggot!”  Once the door clanged and locked behind me, Door #2 with no Caryl Meryl (some of you will get that joke) slowly started sliding open in front of me.  When it did, I began to see Susan sitting at a high school cafeteria table in front of me. I was so relieved to have survived Boot Camp Prison that I smiled too much, I’m sure.  She smiled back at me and waved. I didn’t lift my arm; I was afraid they were going to pick me up by my arms, legs dangling and haul my ass back to my sister’s Volvo SUV. I told you she was smart, btw.  I swear, guys, I’m not embellishing this; it was scary.  A women’s prison was scaring me. YEP.  BTW, it’s staffed with both males and females – only the strip searches are female-female.  Same over at the men’s prisons.

Once Door #2 clanged and locked, ANOTHER control tower (with no glass) guard told me to go to the table.  There were about 20 “couples” there (10 inmates/10 visitors) and Susan sitting by herself.  I walked over, DO NOT RUN ANYWHERE, and we were allowed to meet halfway at the end of the table to BRIEFLY hug. I wasn’t about to give her the Welcome Home Hug, because I will say, in violation of my original rules, I think she’s guilty, period, and now she has to pay the Piper.  We took our seats across from each other and I got a good, long look at someone I hadn’t seen in 20+ years.  Bizarre.  She was  a very pretty girl/woman when I knew her and the best word I can tell you is HARD.  Lots of deep wrinkles and a little grey.  (PS – we have only been platonic, so it’s not like she was my Pinup Gal back then. We just knew each other.)  NO TOUCHING at the table – not like I was going to hold her hand but man, everything is dictated to you.  She had on yellow scrubs, no makeup, no jewelry (no watch, necklace, even a religious type one – choke hazard.)

We sat in stupid grin (mine from nerves) silence for a few seconds and then we started with the usual pleasantries, how was your trip here, how is your sister, how was her family, blah blah blah.  I talked about worrying the visit would be cancelled, or I’d blow a flat tire, etc.  I asked her if she thought this would be cancelled and she said she was worried, too.  Things got a little easier to talk but I was so aware I was staring at her in utter shock that the last time I had seen her she was wearing a business suit, appropriate makeup and was very pretty.  She has a post graduate degree and very smart. My dad had a term for who she was now. A Bowling Alley Waitress.  She never smoked but she looked and sounded like she was a 3 pack smoker for 100 years.  Rough.  How far she has fallen, kept going through my mind.

I was acutely aware of the ATC guard sitting in a raised platform and the strolling guards walking around, making sure we weren’t slipping each other sketches of Dior ads to replenish her “irrevocable” trust.  I can’t stress to you how much your movements are directed.  When in doubt, DON’T.  We started an easy conversation and without my watch, the time really flew by.  I finally got to the point where, when she was discussing her possible habeas corpus appeal with outright optimism, I asked, “Can I ask you something nicely?  How are you SO SURE you’re going to be released/paroled (from LWOP habeas appeal)?”  She took it fine and said she felt her Defense Team had about 5 solid grounds and I faked it and said, “Oh, ok.”  I have read her direct appeal and her petition for certiorari (review) to the US Supreme Court and folks, they turned her down for good, solid, law based and decisive reasons.  Did I mention she’s not in AZ?  No JSS on the Court of Appeals or US Supreme Court.

I was smart enough to not ask details, because anything overheard can be used against you in a court of law.  I tried looking behind her and watch the other inmates in various colored scrubs (see my earlier post about Holiday Shopping at the State Prison, where I discuss color definitions.) interacting with their visitors.  There was a play area to one side for inmates to play and interact with very young children.  I thought of my 2 sons and the thought of not letting them fall asleep against my chest while I’m reading broke my heart.  That’s when I started getting pissed off that most of these inmates…..are selfish and got there for making choices that benefitted THEM.  I looked back at Susan and really, I thought of money I’ve sent her, the cost to me, emotionally and energy/time wise with this visit  and my kids wondering how I can keep interacting with a convicted felon, and suddenly she starting annoying the shit out of me.  I realized the conversation had been me, me, me and what can you do for me for the previous 10 minutes or so.

“_________!” the ATC guard bellowed (Susan’s last name).  I swear I jumped in my cafeteria style stool and snapped back to reality.  “Time’s up!”  She flashed in anger at the guard and said to me that had only been an hour and we were approved for 2 hours.  But she didn’t say anything to the guard and I knew to shut up and move on.  And frankly, I was ready to leave, my thoughts were so jumbled and I wanted to get back to my nice, loving, non felonious ($3.50 word) sister and family.  I told her it was useless to fight City Hall, as she well should know, and we got up, hugged a second or 2 longer than we should and I lied and told her I would see her again.  I really don’t think so.  She sat back down and watched me until Door #2 clanged and locked behind me.

I drove back to Sis’ and showered and shuddered.

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10 Responses to LWOP 5 – Visiting Day at the (NOT) Arizona State Prison-Guest Blog by BWR

  1. slw600 says:

    Blue, that was so good. I was entertained and horrified at the same time. I would have been scared shitless. As much as I enjoyed your post, I hope you don’t visit her again. She doesn’t deserve visits, money or phone calls from you. She’s too far from being close to getting it.

    I don’t want Stabby to be popular with the other prisoners. That thought makes me sick.

    • BlueWhiteRed says:

      Thanks, I’ve only been wanting to lead a tour group through LWOP. I understand how you feel about Susan, but there’s a history, too. But my eyes are wide open.
      I say Stabby will be popular on Gen Pop for reasons above
      Very good chameleon, and draws in weaker one. I hope not too.

  2. renaes24 says:

    This is your best post yet. Nice to see you just let it flow…….I know what going ‘inside’ is like as about a year after Attica, the college I was attending sent some students to ‘teach’ in some prisons. Lucky me, I got to do a course in ‘practical math’. (Lots of funny stories from it). I know we got a thick packet of what we could NOT do (or wear) but there was NOTHING about what we COULD do……so, me, being me, I pushed the envelope ALL the way (to my professors’ horror).
    Actually, I never was frightened in there. (Truth is: the CO’s were creepier than the inmates) Course, this was back in the mid 70’s and CO’s were not all professionals then.
    Attica had benches w/ long banquet tables in the ‘visiting’ room (all bolted down, of course) and Elmira had tables + chairs like the ones you described. Neither were quite as restrictive to visitors as you describe, but again, it was the 70’s.

    • BlueWhiteRed says:

      renaes, made me feel great for feedback. Previous entries felt long but Kelly advised you all wanted more. Attica, I am sure was a visit like you said. I have the book on the upgrading. Thanks again.

  3. hbbeachbun says:

    Thank you Blue. I was completely riveted reading your post. Looking forward your next one.

    • BlueWhiteRed says:

      hhbeachbun, can’t know how much your words me; nice to feel like I’m providing something true that’s interesting. Hope I can do next one soon. Thanks much.

  4. Nancy B says:

    I agree with renaes24 that this is your best yet! I don’t make any negative value judgements that you have been a very good friend to someone with LWOP. You’re a good person. I have never been to any type of jail or prison. This piece made me feel like I was there experiencing it with you. The ending truly was riveting. Many thanks, Blue.

    • BlueWhiteRed says:

      Nancy, incredible and humbling to read your opinion on this post. Many , many thanks. Thanks for understanding that I have reasons for being here for Susan, and my family does understand them. There’s an important history and other non-interesting reasons. But I have given second thoughts to the cost to me. Thanks for letting me see what you thought; helps m me so much and I’m open to other views.

  5. Mama Via says:

    Great job, Mr. Blue! Surprisingly similar to my visit to Union Correctional at Raiford a few months ago….did you meet outside? I wasn’t clear on that…

    After the bra & panty check, being wanted, etc..I went thru a Sally Port like you did,,,and out one building and into a chain link fence maze…VERY WEIRD..you walk down a pathway that ques around in several directions, with TWO chain link fences topped with concertina wire on each side…you are escorted with a CO in front and one in back…when you get to death row building, the escorts open the door, let you in…and then slam the door behind you…

    Another Sally port affair…one door closes completely before the next opens…then yet another CO meets you and escorts you to another room…there are 20 tables in the room. They are steel, with steel stools attached to them. Each table is numbered, and you sign in and get the number of the table you are assigned to, then go sit and wait.

    I am only allowed to visit on Saturday, between 9-4…but, it’s a two hour drive, so I usually don’t get there until 11:30 or so…and I always leave at three…more on that later…

    Last time I visited, I arrived and was in the visiting room at the same time “Count” was happening. The inmates in Visiting broke off conversations, and all lined up against the wall (NO talking!) Visitors remain seated. Seemed like Count took a REALLY long time…FINALLY, Count was over, men returned to tables and resumed talking…I had been waiting 45 MINUTES! But, I stayed cool…finally a CO came over, he was VERY nice and told me he would see what the problem was…about 10 minutes later, he returned and said “Txxx will be here in a few minutes. Count took longer than usual because the CO with Txxx didn’t sign him out, and we hadn’t received him, so Count was off!” He chuckled a little bit… They must assign “nice COs” to the visiting Room, because the rest of them looked like their faces would break if they smiled!

    I’ve been to visit twice, but we’ve been exchanging letters for some time. (In case it hasn’t been obvious, I’m a little old white woman and Txxx is a 42 year old black man). He has been on death row 22 years, if I remember correctly. He’s never used a computer, never seen a smartphone or a large screen TV, hasn’t driven a car in 22 years (or had sex with a woman). His mother died a few years after he was incarcerated…and the brief hug I was allowed to give him when he came in, and again when I left was the first hug he has received since his mom died.

    We talk about Hodi…he’s very interested in the trial…and we wrote back and forth during the Casey Anthony trial! We DO NOT talk about his conviction, (he’s innocent, you know) but, we do discuss the status of his appeals. We talk about world events…and about things like the shooting in Ferguson, the elections, and the “world outside”. The majority of men on DR at Raiford are black…but all the visitors are white, and a few Hispanics.

    Txxx told me that most of the men on DR try to get penpals…first because they are lonely…second, a pen pal that is close enough to visit…he explained that “culturally” whites visit their relatives on Death Row but generally, blacks do not…..

    In the visiting room are 2-3 soda machines, a microwave and a consession window where you can buy a hot dog or other “ge-dunks”…

    I was allowed to carry my car keys and $15 in cash. I wore my yoga pants that have a tiny little zippered pocket right over my spine. After I checked in, I put my key and my money into the zippered pocket. I asked Txxx if he’s like me to buy him a snack for lunch…and he admitted to being hungry. So, I stood up, reached the back waistband pocket and unzipped it…I was AMAZED how FAST the COs were standing beside me, wanting me to empty my pocket and asking if “Admin” knew about my pocket and checked the contents? I hadn’t done anything WRONG…but I was shaking! They confirmed with Admin That I was telling the truth…but I was imagining wearing stripes for a few minutes!

    We each got a hotdog…and I got milk…Txxx had a hot dog, a Honey Bun, some chips and a cookie…I’m amazed at how much junk food these guys eat!

    My back was starting to hurt from sitting on a stool with no back support…and my but was freezing from sitting on stainless steel…so, I managed to make it until 3, and made excuses and went home…

    I’ll add more, if I think of something else…my good eye is bothering me, my pain pill is starting to work…and I’m getting the “pill aleepys”

    Love all of yall

  6. BlueWhiteRed says:

    Mama Via. Our visit was indoors, sorry not clear. Hope you can guest blog something like this soonest. Surely the gang wants to see DR visits, too. Thanks as always.

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