The Pain of Normal

October 13, 2013

Today was another visiting day. We are getting into a routine with this by now. It almost seems normal. My younger son and I go to meet his dad in the lobby of the prison. We sign in. We are scanned by metal detector. We are stripped of any belongings except our keys. And we are corralled like cattle from the lobby to a series of confined spaces including an over crowded elevator. Finally, we are escorted to the room where my son waits behind a glass wall much like the one in the picture above. For months now we've been doing this so we've become accustomed to the institutionalized way we are herded through the labyrinth of the prison in order to see our boy. Today, though, I noticed something different.

I noticed the children.

There are children for which this is normal, routine. Going to see Dad, Uncle, Grandpa, Brother in prison is part of their everyday lives. Like today, the children there seemed so relaxed, so casual as they were searched, jackets removed, pant legs lifted, and as they were guided through the concrete hallways of the correctional institution. For them, this was normal.

I noticed one little girl, about four years old. She held her younger brother's hand in the elevator. He was probably about three. They were with their grandmother. She seemed a bit frazzled as anyone with two toddlers waiting in a prison lobby might be. And she seemed too young to be a grandmother.  But the two little visitors giggled together inside the crammed elevator showing each other their chewed gum and giving each other what they called "bist fumps." For them, this was normal.

When it wasn't my turn to talk with my son, I observed these two tiny visitors. The girl sat on her grandmother's knee while she spoke on the phone to the inmate. She jabbered on and on in such an animated fashion using her hands to tell her stories. The inmate nodded and smiled clearly amused at what she had to say. Meanwhile, the younger brother sprawled himself out on the grimy linoleum floor flicking a dime and then chasing it. Flicking it again and then chasing it. For them, this was normal.

At the conclusion of our visit, after I'd said goodbye to my son, I looked over at the tiny visitors again. The younger brother had been whisked up by the exhausted grandmother and placed atop the table facing the inmate. "Say bye to Daddy," the grandmother said. The boy immediately put his palms up against the glass as his father did the same. The grandmother put the phone up against the boy's ear. "Bye, Daddy," said the little visitor. For him, this was normal. She then brought him back down to the floor and took each child's hand preparing to leave.

The girl let go and ran back to the table. Without lifting the phone receiver, she yelled, "Hey Daddy, I love you!" But the father never heard her because he had already fallen in line with the other inmates heading back to their cells.

This little moment made me think. We are now living our new normal so I hope that my son always hears us when we tell him we love him.

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