At a scorching ninety-eight degrees tempered by a maniacal 70% humidity (or so I guess), in which I drove from the south side of Nashville to the northwest side of Nashville, twice, sans air conditioning, and that only after having run five miles and sweated what I thought was every drop of hydration my body could squeeze out of itself and learning, instead, that there is in fact a deep well of reserved perspiration available for pore-leaking only during such drives as these (in a strange, but typical, bit of irony)…well, you can imagine it was not a particularly comfortable start to what would become one of the worst afternoons of my life.
I was heading to Northwest Nashville to visit Gina in prison (she’s there for another six months – but that story is best saved for another rantablog) for my second time. I hadn’t seen her in two weeks and hadn’t been able to get a letter to her in as much time, and I had promised her during my last visit that I would be there to see her on both Saturday and Sunday. Prison sucks; visitors are really the only thing that keeps you going sometimes, so I wasn’t about to flake, despite my exhaustion and the heat.
I realized just two miles away from my destination, though, that I left my driver’s license with Paul who’d been holding onto it for me at Friday night’s Fleetwood Mac concert. I called him in a fit, and he confirmed that he did indeed have my ID. But because it was already 1:20pm, and visitors are not allowed in between 1:30 & 2:30, I knew I didn’t have time to go all the way home and get back in time to visit for a couple hours. So I tried my luck and went to the prison anyway, hoping that I could get in without ID since they did require a recent professional photo attached to all visitation applications, and thus, presumably, had my picture on file (which they could easily match to the person standing in front of them). But alas, the guard said she couldn’t allow it. She said ID was absolutely and unconditionally required of all visitors.
Funnily enough, as I walked out of the building, head hung low but intent on getting home and returning with my ID before the 3:00pm official daily visitation cut-off (“No visitors allowed in after 3:00pm; Visitation hours are over at 3:30pm”), she allowed a woman and her son/grandson into the visitation area without much more than a “hey, how’s it going? Good to see you made it today…” I.e., she didn’t have to show ID.
Anyway, I let it go, rushed home, pocketed my license and hurried back to the prison wanting not to waste one of those precious 60 minutes I’d have with Gina. When I arrived for the second time that day, the guard was all smiles, welcoming me back with a condescending grin and eye-roll, holding me off for “just a second” as she rounded the desk to remove the “closed until 2:30” sign from the door…
At which point she “realized” I was wearing a t-shirt and long black yoga leggings.
Which are not allowed.
Our conversation went as follows:
Guard: “Oh, honey, why’d you have to change your clothes? Leggin’s aren’t allowed here, you know that!”
Me: “You have GOT to be kidding me. I didn’t change my clothes. I’m wearing the exact thing I was wearing an hour ago, when you said I couldn’t enter without an ID. I didn’t change. Perhaps the sweat-soaked discoloration of the shirt is what’s confusing?”
Guard: “Hold on, I’ll check.” [Calls boss guard man.] “Nope, they’re not allowed.”
Me: HUGE, obvious, discernible sigh, as a glint of tear fills my exhausted eye.
Guard: “Boy, you’re not having a very good day now, are you honey!?”
At this point, all I really wanted to do was punch her in the face and say, “No, in fact, it’s been a horrible day. Maybe you’d like to give me a bit of a break? Or maybe, if not me, you’d like to give your prisoner a bit of a break, since I am here to encourage her, pray with her, and otherwise help make her life better and thus easier for YOU to deal with?”
Instead, I simply said, “No, no I’m not having a very good day.”
She offered me a rulebook before I left for the day. And I swear she was wearing a smirk as I walked away.
Poor Paul got MORE than a few earfuls as I drove home that day. And when Sunday rolled around, it took every second of that 30 minute drive to determine and will myself to follow their arbitrary rules without argument, be kind and courteous to the guards who I’ve come to believe are just as miserable – if not more – than the prisoners my taxpayer dollars are paying them to watch (and by the way, I really wish there were some kind of “Citizen’s Fire” sister rule to the whole “Citizen’s Arrest” thing), and do whatever it took just to get through the locked doors in to see Gina.
And it was good and right that I’d willed myself into that mindset (or, rather, that God graciously granted me the patience to deal with them) because they were neither kind nor helpful in the least when I came in for the third time in two days.
But ten minutes later, when Gina finally came through the prisoner door into the big visitation room with a roaring smile on her face and wearing the tangible excitement of having her first visitor in over two weeks…
Well, if she can handle daily life in prison with these people, I will handle a few minutes with them each Saturday and Sunday.