The 6AM alarm goes off. I pounce on it like an annoyed cat. I believe I got two hours of sleep tops. The travel, hectic schedule, irregular eating and even the few hours’ time difference messes up my natural rhythm pretty fast.
I estimate I’m facing a 21-hour day ahead of me, so I forgo the silk pants and strappy heels and don what I call my “purple people-eater outfit.” It’s coordinating purple sweats, and I wear a purple turtleneck under it. It’s drizzly and gray outside. At least I’m colorful.
When I get to the main gate at Fort Leavenworth, I make the goof of trying to drive through one of the center lanes – a no-no if you are not military or don’t have a normal pass for the base.
You must enter the far right lane only, so they can log your vehicle. This time, they make me pop the hood, the trunk and open all four doors of my rental car. I struggle with the hood latch, and the MP can’t help me. Autos are not my thing. Finally, I get it.
It’s not too long after that I have my “blonde moment.”
I’m allowed to have a “blonde moment” once every six months.
In my zeal to lock up my things tight in the parking lot of the USDB, I lock in my rental car keys! Doh!
It’s Sunday morning, and I’m in the very back of an Army base in a prison parking lot. The situation sounds rather daunting. I decide to deal with my mistake during the lunch break.
I check in upstairs where a female MP now mans the desk. Same routine.
Bzz. Clang. Clunk. Brother. Bear hug.
He wants to play Scrabble. Good choice for me, probably bad for him. I play all my letters more than once during the game. I also know my two-letter words.
The surrounding Visitor tables are more full this morning than yesterday. I count eight other groups.
We start off with small talk. He misses camping, would like a Jeep Wrangler, and would like to go big game fishing for a swordfish. The Amazon interests him. I tell him about vacations Dad and I took; the boys never really took any trips with Dad, nor did they go to any amusement parks with him. I did. I try to recall the details of our trips.
He remembers skiing with his brother and how they would tackle trails way beyond their ability.
We were stupid, but fearless.Ah…youth.
We both enjoy classic rock. I found the local 101.1 radio station, and it turns out that is the very station my brother listens to. He likes the music I grew up with, like Journey and AC/DC, more than current pop.
We talk about diets and exercise. I’ve dropped 12 pounds since January, and he’s leaner and fitter since then as well.
His eyes light up when I mention they have Horticultural and Nutrition classes in Dad’s prison, and they give out certificates for completion of a course. They don’t have those types of programs at the USDB.
He relates his dentist experience inside the USDB a few days after he arrived. His back gums throbbed, so they scheduled him to see the dentist the very next day. X-rays are taken. The dentist comes back and tells him he has perfect teeth. Zero cavities. What does he feel? Well, it turns out the steady throb he was feeling was due to him flossing too hard. His teeth would ache, so he would floss even harder. He stopped that.
Another tidbit – he owns six uniforms, two types. The dark brown he wears now he calls their Day Uniform, and the inmates wear these when they don’t have rec or intend to go to the weight room. For physical activity and around the Pod, they have orange shorts and white T-shirts. They have thermals and matching (brown) jackets for colder weather.
Today, my brother leans in closer to me, and occasionally holds my hand.
He thanks me more than once for coming.
The morning is light and breezy and passes very quickly.
The lunch break allows me to deal with my faux pas outside. I exit the Visitor’s Room to find three female MPs now at the front desk. I explain my “blonde moment”, and one MP notes she has a full slim jim set in her car, but is not allowed to use it for visitors. I was hoping a guard could break into the car for me, but seeing that would only get one of them in trouble, I take charge of the situation and ask them to call AAA Roadside Service. I, in fact, have my AAA card with me and have been a member for 20 years.
Insert AAA Roadside commercial.
The tow truck driver arrives 40 minutes later, and takes all of three minutes to break into the rental. (Probably could do it a lot faster, but he uses an inflatable rubber balloon to protect the window trim as he jimmies the lock.)
Buy AAA. Really, really worth it.
End of commercial.
After lunch at the PX – the usual coterie of fast food joints to clog your arteries – I make a smaller gaffe on my re-entrance. I thought I could hand the Birthday card and photos I brought for my brother to an MP, and they could process the booty through the proper channels. Again, not so.
If it was a weekday, I could pass off the package to the ISB (Inmate Services’ Branch), but it’s Sunday. They are not open. I will have to officially mail the card and photos for him to receive it all.
I ask my brother if he has shared that it’s his Birthday the following day? He responds that there is a rumor that they beat you up on your Birthday, so most inmates keep it quiet.
I really hope that’s a rumor.
Over a couple rounds of Scattegories and a few more hands of Rummy, we cover two more topics that I will note here.
The first is Visitation. Since I was so unsuccessful in getting through the USDB’s prescribed Visitation line, I ask my brother what he has to do on his end. It’s simple. They have request forms they fill out from the CTT office, and one is a Visitation form. They hand it in, days later, it’s approved, handed back, and the inmate maintains his copy. And as long as you are a pre-approved visitor on the inmate’s list, you can still show up without a pre-scheduled visit. It will take longer to wrangle the inmate, but they encourage visitors for the prisoners’ morale. But you have to be pre-approved already.
The second is a weightier philosophical question my brother brought up more than once over the two days – questions Man has been asking since the dawn of time.
Why? Why are we here? What is our purpose?Please take his question seriously, because what he is really asking is why he should go on. To him, exiting the prison at age 45, or never, is something he is having serious trouble facing, and what he really needs is someone to answer what his purpose is.
I felt very inept at answering his question. I must admit I diverted and told him how I love collecting life experiences. At least he enjoyed my enthusiasm.
Our farewell was not sad. It was the usual bear hug. I will see him again.
My flight home was delayed due to weather out of Chicago holding up my plane, and in turn, I missed my connection in Denver. Lo and behold, I was able to spend the evening with my longtime best girlfriend, who actually lives in Denver now.
We have to take the good things from where they come. And they come in unexpected ways and forms.