by Madeline Laughs
I’m sitting in the waiting area. I have to be onsite because I’m supervisory status and I have a partial team finishing up inside. It’s the beginning of visiting hours.
The room across from me is Video Visitation. I’m watching people come and go. Two ladies walk in. They check in at the desk. One of them is having a hard time walking in her high heeled flip flops. They’re Mexican, so it’s a struggle for the guard to understand what they want to do.
Finally they get admission to the Video Visitation room.
Another woman walks in.
I say woman, but she’s tried very hard to dress like a man. She’s wearing a man’s sized polo shirt, short sleeved, with another long sleeved teeshirt underneath. Her pants are too big and look like a man’s work pants and she’s wearing high topped work boots. She’s older. Her hair is completely gray with some black streaks here and there. It’s cut in a long mullet, short on top, long in the back.
I can tell she’s never been in a place like this before. I can feel her anxiety and I can see her embarrassment. She isn’t sure which window to go to or who she should give her money to. She’s come to bail someone out. Finally after nervous laughter and many questions, she settles into the chair next to me. I guess out of all the other chairs the one next to me looked the safest. A large black man enters. His skin is the color of eggplant and he’s wearing his black wool ball cap with the brim just a bit to the side. He looks jovial. In his hand is a large black case. It’s the kind shaped like a box with the two flaps on the top that fold over the handle.
He nods to the skinny white guy who’s also wearing a ball cap. They move to the other side of the room to do business. The large man is obviously a bail bondsman. The skinny white guy pulls a bank envelope out of his pocket and starts to count out money.
I wonder to myself what he pawned to get that money.
In the foyer there is an ATM and a payphone.
I look around the room. Many people have bank envelopes in their hands. People are also at the windows giving the clerks money. Everyone has a cellphone and they’re either talking on theirs or they’re holding it in their hands. Not one person is using an iPhone. This isn’t an iPhone demographic.
The two Mexican ladies come out of Video Visitation. One of them is still carrying the ziplock baggy she came in with. In it I can see prescription contacts and saline solution. Evidently she’s not allowed to give it to the inmate. The other lady’s eyes are red and her face is splotchy. She’s been crying.
The lady sitting next to me fidgets. She wants to get out of here as fast as possible, but she has to wait.
An inmate exits and makes his way over to the skinny white guy that is still sitting with the bail bondsman. They high five each other, then everyone hugs.
Another woman is frustrated because the fine is $200. She didn’t bring that much money with her. Her cell phone rings again and again as she sits there trying to raise the money she needs to get to the $200 mark. She’s wearing white sneakers. They look new, but not expensive. On the sides are hearts made out of rhinestones. Everything else she has on is black. Her phone rings and she jumps up to take the call outside where she can hear better.
A young man exits Holding. He has his head down, but I can see a familial resemblance. The lady next to me gets up. Her demeanor has changed. She is no longer the anxious one. Her embarrassment has turned into red, hot fury. I turn in my chair because I want to watch them walk to their car.
I can see her stomping ahead of him. Every few steps she turns and I can see the anger on her face. She’s yelling at him. He continues walking behind her, making sure not to catch up so he can keep some distance.
I hope he never comes back here…for her sake.
In comes a gentleman with a small child. The child is wearing his slippers and carrying his favorite toy.
They are admitted to the Video Visitation room.
The lady in black has paid the fine. A young man comes out of Holding. He’s still putting his belt on and he’s making a remark about being free. I want to watch them walk to the car too so I turn in my chair as they leave.
In the parking lot they walk far apart. I can see her face and I can tell she wants him to walk close to her. She reaches for him and he ignores her.
They get in the car.
A young man sits next to me now .
I catch his eye and he says “Wow, there’s some real crazy people in here.” I look around before responding. “Do you really think so?” I ask. He nods and then he laughs. He’s uncomfortable. I look at him until he looks at me again and I very slowly say “This is a jail, you know that, right?” He nods, then he gets up and moves away from me.
I have brought back the reality of where we are and he had wanted to forget that part. How dare I remind him. How dare I take the fun out of making fun of these folks doing the best they can in a hard situation.
Yes, how dare I.
I can’t take much more so I get up and walk outside. It’s chilly, but I don’t care. I want the breeze to whisk away the patina of poverty and sadness I have had to sit in these past three hours. Sometimes I wonder if the judicial system was created to keep the poor and the uneducated down by continually arresting their family members and fining them to within an inch of their lives.
Does our justice system reside on the backs of lower class Americans?
And yet I stand here wearing my plastic government badge. I have a security clearance. In order to work on the last three studies, I have been vetted. They have looked at my criminal record, my driving record and my credit history. They have talked to my neighbors, my past employers and my schools. They have tested my urine, my blood and snippets of my hair.
My humanity, the very essence of my existence has been put under a microscope both metaphorically and physically.
This is supposed to be a privilege.
And yet I stand here wearing my plastic government badge.
I can’t help these people.
I can’t bend down and whisper in their ear “The world is not against you”, or “You are your own worst enemy”, or “Stay in school, study hard, it’s all worth it…trust me”, or “Don’t bring small children here”.
I watch the man and the small child leave.
The little boy skips along. He seems happy. I wonder who they came to see on the small monitor in the Video Visitation room. I wonder if he knows where they are, or what’s going on.
I wonder if the young man will ever know how hard the lady in black worked to get the money to free him. I wonder if she’ll find a way to tell him.
My team members exit. It’s time to go back to the hotel. We smile, everyone is tired. It’s been a long day. We have each, in our own way, found a balance. We have taught ourselves how to cope with this slice of Americana we’re served each day. We don’t ridicule, we don’t correct, we don’t assist. We are here to observe and to record.
One day what we observe will improve.
Until then I will take my protein pills and put my helmet on.
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you.
*thank you Mr. Bowie