Heart on the Wall
I can’t believe this, I thought. It’s as though two worlds are colliding.
I was walking around the track with my teenaged brother and sister, and my mother and grandmother were also on the yard, sitting on a bench alongside the track, taking a rest break.
Today was Madison’s annual Family Day event. Usually, inmates could receive visits only in the small, crowded visit room. Today, we were able to visit with
family and friends down at Recreation, both inside the building and on the yard. There were other special features of Family Day: the staff would prepare a special meal for us, the inmate bands would play music, and games were available for the kids to play.
As my siblings and I were walking, we examined the artwork drawn on the track. The staff had provided chalk for the inmates and their kids to use, and they had drawn all over the track and the wall to the handball court. “Check that one out,” my brother John said, pointing.
“Ugh,” my sister Brandy said. “That’s wretched.” I looked and saw that somebody had drawn a large confederate flag on the track.
“Idiots,” I said, shaking my head. “They’re going to ruin it for everybody. I heard that’s what happened last year: somebody drew something disparaging about a CO, and they took the chalk away from everybody.”
Brandy asked me, “Do you want me to draw you something–before it’s too late?”
“Sure,” I said. “That’d be great.”
After we finished that lap, we went over to the handball court, where the chalk was located. Brandy took a pink piece of chalk, went up to the wall of the handball court, found an area that wasn’t already marked up, and drew me a large heart. “So, what d’ya think?” she asked.
“I love it,” I answered, smiling.
My family and I enjoyed ourselves the rest of that afternoon. My siblings and I played frisbee; we got a picture of us taken; and we had a good meal, which included burgers and cookies. Most importantly, we got to talk to each other, face-to-face.
Unfortunately, a sad reality about prison life is that, due to the prolonged separation, ties with family and friends often weaken. Plus, I found it hard to relate to my family anymore because we lived in two different worlds. It’s like having a penpal who lives in a hut in some third-world country: your environments are so different that you have trouble finding common ground.
My grandfather had previously driven my family down for visits, but after his death, they couldn’t come down to see me as often, averaging about one visit a year. I could have requested a “hardship” transfer to a prison closer to home, but due to the publicity the local media had showered upon my case, I didn’t want to go to a prison where I would be a social pariah.
At the end of the visit, I went around and gave hugs to all my family members, and we exchanged “Love ya’s.” Then I went to wait in line to leave recreation, and my family was escorted out to their cars. As I was standing there, waiting in line, watching my family walk away, they turned around and we waved good-bye to each other.
I sighed. This day had been bittersweet. It was great to see my family in a somewhat normalized environment, but after they left, I felt their absence even more, and I noticed how desolate prison was–something I had gotten inured to on a day-to-day basis. It was like going into an air-conditioned building on a scorching-hot summer day: you enjoy the air-conditioning while you’re inside, but when you go back outside, it seems even hotter than before.
I was quickly slapped with the harsh reality of prison life, for after this visit we had to endure a strip search–something you never got totally used to. When my turn in line came, a CO wearing gloves ushered three of us into an empty room. I was glad that neither of the two inmates with me were known creeps. “Strip down,” the CO ordered.
All three of us took off our clothes. Because the room was empty, I had to put my clean clothes on the floor, and I stood on the dirty floor barefooted. After the CO examined our clothes, he said, “Okay, you know the drill.” He then gave us a series of commands to examine our various body parts and cavities.
“Open your mouth.”
“Lift your nuts.”
“Back of your feet.”
“Spread ‘em and cough.”
“Okay, get dressed.”
Having endured the strip search, I quickly got dressed and went back to my block. Family Day was an amazing event, and it was one of the best things about Madison. It benefitted not only the inmates, but also the whole institution. Because inmates had to have a good disciplinary record to participate, they would try to stay out of trouble, reducing problems within the prison. Family Day also benefited society as a whole. By strengthening ties between inmates and their families, this event helped these returning citizens reintegrate into society, thereby reducing recidivism. Unfortunately, Family Day seemed to be an event that was unique to Madison. Considering the positive impact this event had upon the institution and society, the ODRC should hold similar events at other facilities.
A few days after Family Day, I was walking around my track, alone, ruminating about things, feeling a little down. It was a cold, gray, windy evening–stereotypical prison weather. As I rounded the corner by the chalk-marked wall of the handball court, I searched for Brandy’s drawing. Ah, there it is, I thought. Seeing the pink heart, I smiled. Every time I went by that corner during my walk that evening, I would glance at the heart. It helped lift my spirits, reminding me that there were still people out there who cared about me. I was disappointed when, about a week later, a strong rain washed it away.