Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's all about me and my athletic activities (or - why they didn't let me into jail)

As some of you are aware, one of my friends is in the "Federal Corrections Institute," also known as a federal prison, also know as jail, in Sheridan, Oregon. It's about a one and a half hour drive. I've been visiting him about once every 6 months or so for the last several years, and now that I'm full time in the US, I was trying to maybe to see him just a little more often than that (not during the summer, of course, as there was climbing to be done during visiting hours!), so I arranged to see him this Saturday. His wife, Lisa, and I would carpool from a place that is about 1/2 hour from my house.

I've been through the drill several times, so I know not to wear anything that is grey or green khaki or tan khaki in color. No shorts. No metal. No guns or explosives (I wonder why? They are sooooooo picky about some things). No cell phones, computers, electronic devices of any sort. No drugs, although if one has a prescription drug, that may be brought in - although it definitely has to be declared. No paper, pens, pencils. Basically, nothing except the visitor, the visitor's clothes, drivers license, and money. The money is for the food vending machines inside. One isn't allowed to bring in any food; but, a visit on the weekend might be from about 9am (by the time one actually gets in to visit the prisoner), and can go to as late as around 3pm, so there is some acknowledgement that food might be welcome. The vending machines sell highly nutritious things like candy and cookies and chips (ok, so I'm being facetious about the "highly nutrious" part). The last time, I had prepared a nice little ziplock bag, full of money, and managed to forget it. This time, I made sure to have that nice little ziplock bag, and shove my drivers license in there, since one can't get in without the license. I also looked at the potential apparel, and chose nice dark blue nylon pants, a blue polyester shirt, black fleece, and a blue sweater on top of that, paying attention to the colors so that I wouldn't be turned back. I tend to get cold in there, and so I also was choosing warm fabrics, almost as if I were going on a climb. . .

Lisa and I met at the appointed spot, and I hauled my stuff into her car, including a treat of California clemintines for the kids and us. Upon arrival, I looked for my nice little ziplock bag, and it was nowhere to be seen. I didn't happen to have my passport, so the family went in without me, and I took off in Lisa's car to see if I've left it in my car. We'd arrived at 8:30am, and the next time anyone would be allowed in is at 10:30 - an hour to the car, and an hour back - (assuming my little bag is in my car), and I'd be back just in time for them to let me in, again. If the worst happens, I knew that I could also drive back to my house, in case the bag were still there, and still get back by 11:30, and have at least a 3 hour visit. Lisa told me that if for some reason, they don't let me in, to have them send a message to her in the visiting area, so that I don't wind up sitting out there. forever. I assure her that that is unlikely to happen, and besides, I have my laptop with me, so I'll be able to work. . . But surely, once I find my license, all will be well.

I took off in Lisa's car, and when I arrived at mine, I could see the little bag on the little arm rest between the 2 front seats. Happy, I grabbed it and got back in time to line up for the 10:30am entry. There's a place where one must stop and pick up a phone. It calls some security place, and an officer asks random questions like "have you been here, before?" It's so mechanical for the guards, that they say things very quickly, which is hard for me to hear what they are asking. This time they asked "are you aware of our contraband policy" to which I answered "yes", and then they asked the trick question "are you in compliance with our contraband policy." I was amused that the second question was asked. They must be used to literal interpretations. . . When I got to the lobby of the building, there were many people waiting. I went and fillled out the little form that wants my name and address. Lisa helpfully wrote down what her car, year, color, and model were, and her husband's prisoner number, so I used that, and paper-clipped my driver's license to the form. There's a little procedure where they call the number of the prisoner somewhere, and the visitor's name. That allows them to check on the visitor (one has to have filled out some security paperwork in order to be allowed to visit, ever), and to bring the prisoner from where-ever they are kept, into the vistors room.

While I was standing there, one of the guards yelled a name out the crowd of awaiting people, and asked "you have a perscription drug?" The woman discreetly came forward and said quietly, "yes". He asked, in a loud voice, "what is it?" She replied, again, in a quiet voice. He then repeated it, again in a loud voice. I felt so bad for her, and went over to her and said " so much for confidentiality." She said "yeah, they do what they do." When they are ready to take a bunch of people back to where we get to visit with the prisoners, we have to put our shoes, jacket, and money/key container (my little ziplock bag) into a machine just like the airport xray machines. We get to walk around and walk through a metal-detector, which must not beep, or we're not allowed in. Any belts, hairpins, jewelry, watches, money must be taken out and put on the desk. Women wearing underwire bras get the pleasure of dashing into the bathroom to take off the bra, or tear out the wires. Meanwhile, anything that goes through the x-ray machine is then meticulously examined, by hand, even if nothing suspicious shows on the monitor. I'd already walked through the metal detector, and signed the visitor's log when the guy going through my jacket found that I had gloves in my pockets. "I'm afraid that you can't take these in there" he told me, but he would let me run and put them into "my" car. Great. I went backwards through the metal detector to get my shoes (they usually pass them to us after examing them) and hurriedly put them and tied them up, grabbed Lisa's keys, and ran out to the car, threw them in,and ran back. I asked the officer if he wanted me to put my shoes through, again, and he said "hold on." Another officer came over and had me follow him to the table with the forms, and he showed and read to me a highlighted paragraph that mentioned that no "jogging" attire should be worn. He concluded, gesturing towards my pants, with "and clearly you are wearing jogging pants, so I can't let you in." I am? This was news to me. They were nylon, yes. They did have a little Nike brand indicator on them. I said, "you're kidding?!?" "No, Ma'am." This whole process had taken about 40 minutes, so after 3 and 1/2 hours of being in a car, and making it through the little metal detector, and waiting, waiting, waiting, they weren't going to let me in. I started thinking that maybe I could turn my jacket into pants. Might there be an extra pair in the car? No. Well, then, plan B. Have them notify Lisa. I said, "well, then, can you please notify his wife, Lisa, as we drove in, together?" "I can notify the visiting area desk," was his non-commital reply. Fine. I gathered the bag of money, my driver's license, and my jacket, and sat in the lobby, and then realized that that would be an utter waste of time, and went back to the car, got out my laptop, and my cell phone (all of that contraband equipment), and started making use of them.

If you guessed that they never notified Lisa, you would be correct. She, however, somehow saw the car (I never noticed that one could see some of the parking lot from the visiting room), and when people kept showing up and I never appeared, she got suspicious and went up to the guard in the visiting room, and asked about me. Oh! Yes, they had been notified, so sorry. . .

One is only allowed to leave the visiting area to go home at certain times, so she told him that she wanted to leave at the next available time. Later, we joked that they were worried that I was "the other woman" and that that was why they were afraid to say anything, as one time when I showed up, as planned, a couple hours after Lisa and the kids had been there, they called ahead, called Mike up to the desk, and whispered to him that there was "some other woman" who had arrived to visit him. He said "oh, yeah, Leora - we were expecting her" and went back to talk to Lisa. It was then that they realized that the guards thought that he had someone else on the side. It seems that it's not quite unusual for the prisoners to have a wife and a girlfriend at the same time. . .

For this trip, we tried to salvage the day for me by stopping and eating lunch at a restaurant. And when I arrived home, I changed into what *I* wear for running, and went for a run. . . While running, I was thinking about all of the things that I COULD have said to the guard like "Uh, I take it you don't run much?" or, "I suppose, that just like the pants you're wearing, one could consider these jogging pants" or "do you consider anything made of nylon jogging attire?" None of this would have helped, I'm sure, since it's all about control. This particular guard is not particularly well respected by anyone, including the other guards, I'm told. I'm sure that he had it in for me after he saw me commiserating with the poor woman whose drug he broadcast to all of the other visitors. And then I remembered back to the last time I'd visited Mike. Mike and Lisa and I were talking about when Mike would be getting out - a little over a year from that visit. I said "oh, shoot," and Lisa, who knows how I think, suggested that I was thinking about Mike helping out for next year's Hood to Coast running relay race. Yes, that was EXACTLY what I was thinking - the relay is in August, and he wouldn't be out until November (with luck). We laughed that she could read my mind so well, and then she said "yes, it's all about you and your athletic activities!" Ever since then, I keep hearing her say that as I arrange or try to arrange climbs, hikes, runs, and my newest pursuit, windsurfing. And, then, I realized, that even with this not being allowed to visit Mike, it was because the guy thought I had on "jogging pants." It's just as she said - it's all about me and my athletic activities!

Stay warm and healthy!


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