Mission Statement

Seeking the good, the light and a smidgeon of sanity out of tragedy.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Year Two, Visit Two (Plus Two)

My second-year visit to the USDB brings a couple of surprises.

It already feels like old hat. The flight into Kansas, the late-night rental car pick-up, a mere four hours of sleep, and I’m back at the main gate to Fort Leavenworth popping the hood, the trunk and opening all four doors for my car to be inspected. But no glitches. I drive straight back to the USDB, and it’s as quiet as it was previously. Still pretty and green, contrasted only by the stark circling barbed wire on top of the high fences and stonewalls of the prison.

The entryway is still quiet and deserted. Same small yellow sign points visitors upstairs.

I check in, and smartly, based on last year’s faux pas, get a locker. Jacket and purse get tucked away.

I pass through the metal detector gate, am buzzed through the security door, which slams shut, and allows the second thick door to open into the visiting room.

I cross the stone-walled visiting room and wave to my brother, who I can see peeking through the opposite door window, where the inmates wait until their respective visitors arrive.

He enters with a surprised look on his face.

"I thought you were coming May 28th!"
We bear hug.

"No, silly. I sent you the dates I was coming back in February."

"Wow, okay… this is good timing."
Second surprise:

"I hope you don’t mind that I have two other visitors."
I know the other two. A mother and son. I haven’t seen the mother since the trial and actually have never met her son, though, of course, she talked of him all the time.

"No problem. We’ll just have to share."
My brother and I start to play catch-up. Because letters and phone calls are screened, he clarifies that his letters are more vague and general, because he doesn’t want to give out information. He has friends there, but he can only talk about them and the system in person. I discovered this protective side in him of his fellow inmates last year.

We cover family first. I still have not had any contact with my father, aside from that two-minute phone call back in December. My father apparently injured his ankle early this year and has been recovering from that accident. My Lost Brother, whom I’ll now refer to as my YC Brother, (Young Corporate, which is who he strives to be, or Young Construction), are casually in touch via Facebook. Surprisingly, I find out my YC Brother is trying is his hand at construction again, or more specifically, welding. He is taking a course to be a certified welder and wraps it up soon. I tapped a NYC contact years ago to fast track my YC Brother with a union construction job, but it took awhile to take off, and he was impatient. He left, and unfortunately, burned that connection.

But I’m optimistic. My YC Brother shows small signs of happiness, gratitude, and growing up in my handful of emails from him. I believe I got no less than five "thank-you" emails for the X-Box I sent him for his birthday. He asked for an X-Box. He is only 22 —

As is my brother in the USDB. Yes, to confirm, my brothers are twins. And yes, there is a very, very tight connection between the two, which is why my YC Brother struggled for these past years to make it on his own.

My brother in the USDB has always been the more independent, and gentle (yes, the irony of his crime, which still doesn’t fit), and stable of the two.

My USDB brother, after 18 months in the USDB, and after almost the same amount of time in County, is still actively in touch with his high-school girlfriend. I did attempt to discourage their hopes for a future together, but I give her props for standing by him all this time and still loving him. A grand testament to her character and to their relationship. She and her family visit him regularly, to this day. He talks to her weekly.

Switching subjects, he shares tidbits on prison events I reported on last year – the riot and the murder. Post riot, they put the whole general population on lock-down, and I believe they questioned no less than 40 inmates. The lead instigator, it appears, got another 40 years on top of his initial sentence.

The murder – well, he didn’t initially report it as such – so I didn’t report it as such. It was during a baseball game. A trustee inmate, who had mere months left on his sentence, was bashed to death by another with a baseball bat. I do not know why. But they no longer have baseball there.

The USDB has low crime inside its walls from my understanding, but they are not immune.

It’s about this time that the mother and son finally arrive. There are surprised greetings all around. The energy changes once again.

My brother becomes more animated and youthful again. He pulls up his chair closer to the son, a friend whom he grew up with, and the chatter turns to the Boy Scouts, adventure and travel. Meantime, the mother and I enter our own conversation.

By that afternoon, and during the second visitation time from 1PM – 4PM, the four of us attempt to play a subdued game of Taboo. My brother gets so excitable at one point that he knocks his chair over backwards, laughing, while we try to shush the boys. Mother and I are the underdogs of the game, but we catch on quick, and by the end, are holding our own as a team against the boys. It is quite fun and lively.

My brother shares that he is still cleaning offices inside the prison, but he put in a request to cut the grass outside. Silly me, I envision an old-fashioned push-mower. He clarifies – they have tractor mowers. There is a lot of grass, and fields, outside. The reward for him would be being outdoors.

It is revealed – a year later – that it was the mother who sent my brother the National Geographic subscription. He loves that magazine.

On a funny note, my brother tells us that initially fellow inmates would secretly request to read his Yoga Journal magazine I sent him. They would pretend to look at the pictures but really be interested in the articles! Now, they openly pass around the magazine. Yes, Yoga Journal. Hot commodity inside L-Pod.

I enjoyed all their company so much that I look forward to the continuation on the following day, but just as we are giving our final bear hugs during our exit, my brother asks me to only come the following afternoon. He wants time alone with the other two during the morning…