Sandie Simply Says

January 2, 2009

Jail House Rock

Filed under: General — by Sandie @ 8:00 am
Tags: , ,

On our way out to Laredo this Christmas, we stopped in Beaumont.  We stopped so we could see my FIL who is currently a resident of Beaumont Federal Correctional Institute.  I’m not sure exactly what crime he committed (all information was relayed through The Tías who “softened” the blow for Tony).  My understanding is it had something to do with smuggling illegal aliens across the border.  The end result is my FIL is serving an 80 month sentence at BFCI.  He’s already served about 24 months and with time off for good behavior he should be out in another 24 months (at least according to him…don’t know if that’s when it’ll actually happen).  BFCI is actually a large compound with 4 prison facilities: high security, medium security, low security, and a camp (or ultra-low security).  My FIL’s current home is the camp where they have a surprising amount of freedom.  The obviously can’t leave the compound unless under lock and key, but they have pretty free reign around the facility they’re in and there are no fences (well, except for the one that surrounds the compound).  They also do work around the compound (landscaping, food service, laundry, and even some admin-type work).  Anyway, my point is none of the people are “hardened criminals” or violent offenders.  You have to earn your right to reside at the camp (FIL was at the low security facility until a month or so ago) by proving you are a model prisoner.

I’m sure many of you have never visited an inmate at a federal prison, so I’ll describe the process.  First, you have to be on “the list.”  If you’re not on “the list,” you’re not getting in.  We filled out THAT paperwork a year ago, so we were good to go there.  Visiting hours start at 8am.  The flood gates doors are opened at precisely 8am, not a minute sooner.  The doors open and the mad rush begins to grab a “Visitor Request” form.  The lobby at the camp was excruciatingly small.  There were probably 30-40 people crammed into this small area grappling to get a form.  Once you complete the form and clip your picture ID to it, you have to wait for the guard to open The Door.  Sometime around 8:10, The Door opens and the guard grabs the first round of forms.  This was much like a lottery as everyone just shoved the forms into his face and he grabbed a few at random (after that, a very nice woman near the front gathered everyone’s forms into a pile and handed them to the guard at once).  Once you are cleared for the visit, the guard open The Door again, calls your name and in you go.

I don’t know my FIL well.  I’ve met him only a handful of times and two of those times he’s been in prison (this last visit and the one before that).  Being so close to the holidays, the room was packed with visitors and the noise level was much like you’d expect in a school lunch room…almost unbearable.  After the initial pleasantries, FIL and I didn’t speak much.  Instead, he caught up on his son’s life.  I couldn’t really hear what was being said and quickly became bored to tears, so I took up one of my favorite pastimes: people watching.

The visiting room is very non-descript.  Just a bunch of plastic tables and chairs scattered about the room.  Off to one side is the Vending Area (here, you can get candy, sodas, water, sandwiches, salads, etc).  You can tell the Veteran Visitors because they have already been to the Vending Area and bought the food they’ll need for the duration of your visit.  The Novice Visitors (like us) don’t know this trick, so we end up sipping and/or eating whatever happens to be left in the machine (they run out quickly!).  The couple next to us have piled their table high with salads, drinks, sandwiches, AND dessert.  Obviously, this has not been their first visit to the prison.  I’m assuming they were visiting their son.  Being the nosey curious person I am, I tried leaning in to hear some of their conversation, but couldn’t hear a thing and otherwise they were pretty boring.

So, I turn my attention to the nicely dressed family off to the side.  I’d seen them in the lobby and wondered why they were so dressed up.  I felt like I had underdressed for our visit (can you really underdress when visiting an inmate?).  The woman obviously loved the man she was there to visit and I’m assuming the children were his.  So, I start to wonder the obvious: what did HE do?  What crime landed him in “the slammer.”  And I wonder about the woman standing by her man.  How long will she wait for him?  How can she wait for him?  I have trouble wrapping my brain around visiting/supporting/standing by a man in prison.  I suppose it would depend on the crime committed, but it’s difficult for me to picture my husband doing something that would land him in prison in the first place.

Soon, I see why they are so dressed up.  Another inmate enters the room with a camera.  In the corner of the room is a Christmas tree, nicely decorated (with nothing sharp or glass, of course!).  The family gathers in the corner for to have their picture taken.  They all appear happy and have smiling faces and I think how sad it must be to have your only family Christmas portrait taken in a prison.  Do you send this out with your Christmas cards?

Soon after that, our visit ended (thank goodness, I’d had about all I could take!).  I’m sure we’ll be back in April.  Oh joy.  I may make my husband go by himself next time!

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