My pops has been in prison 80-percent of my life, 20 years overall now served of his current charge. This has been a huge set back for my family, especially for my mom because she’s had to pick up the slack. I never could imagine what life would be had he been here all those years. Everything happens for a reason, so life has continued to move forward. His incarceration does not mean he has not been a father to me. He has been there for me mentally and emotionally and, despite the lack of his physical presence, he has provided for us regardless of circumstance. In the federal prison system, prisoners are shuffled between correctional institutions across the country. We are from California and Pops has been in prisons as far away as Kentucky and Virginia. Distance has added even greater challenges to his incarceration for my family. With him being out of state, there was a fourteen year period that we were unable to see each other face to face. So for fourteen out of the 20 years of my father’s incarceration we did not have any physical contact. Our only communication was by phone and letter. When he was finally moved to United States Penitentiary (USP) Atwater in Northern California, 6 1/2 hours north from my family’s home in San Diego, things got a little better, but it is still a challenge to visit him. With Pops back in California, mom works her magic so that we could visit him. It’s not an easy thing for us to visit him, but it is nevertheless worth it. Mom does the packing. After packing we usually leave San Diego on Friday morning and get to Atwater Friday night to visit with Pops on Saturday and Sunday. It takes about six hours to get there. I sit in the front seat, my wheelchair goes in the trunk with our bags. The cost of everything—gas for the way there and back, hotels, and food—normally comes to about $500-$600. The long drive takes a toll on us because we’re not getting our regular sleep. Mom drives the whole way and can’t sleep and it’s hard for me to sleep in a car. I actually feel myself fighting sleep; I guess that’s my own fear from the car accident. We usually arrive late at night, sometimes around midnight sometimes later. For a 9:30 AM visit, we have to wake around 7 AM, so that my mom can clean me up, dress me, brush my teeth and then get herself ready. If we’re late, we have to wait about another hour before the next group of visitors are allowed in because of count time (every prison counts inmates several times a day). Let me tell you, the police switch up every time. Some days they can be fairly courteous and other days they seem to hate their jobs, and it shows in the way they interact with you. You can come all the way from the other side of the world and walk in there wearing something they don’t approve of and be denied visit. Your only option is to go to a local store and buy another outfit. Sometimes denial is purely discretionary. You could wear the same outfit you had on on a Saturday visit to a Sunday visit and be denied. They did this to my mom at our most recent visit; they said her jeans were too tight despite the fact they’ve let her pass through several times with those same pants. The real reason is they had a rookie at the front desk, so she was on her best behavior. We almost got turned down, but when the rookie spoke with someone in a higher position they just gave my mom a warning for the next time.
After moving through processing, signing papers, moving through metal detectors and drug detectors, and getting our hand stamped, we are all set for our visit. As soon as the door opens there’s this nasty smell of spoiled food and a filthy cafeteria. Every time I smell it I want to barf. They’re feeding the prisoners scraps and it smells like trash. The way Pops explains his meals confirms the smell. After going through the fourth steel sliding door, we are now ready to be seated and wait for him to be released into the visiting room. Once seated we head over to the vending machine with like twenty dollars in quarters to get a few snacks because usually we have not eaten due to trying to get ready and out the door on time. In the visit hall snacks can cost three times as much as you would pay for them on the streets. It’s crazy that we deal with everyday struggles on both sides of the penitentiary walls and we come hundreds of miles away to be ripped off by a vending machine. We can’t even leave with what we buy. If we don’t finish what we bought, we have to throw it away before visit is over. Realizing they are recycling what we’ve paid for and making money off that too. The system is corrupted beyond measure. After our vending machine shopping spree, we go back to our assigned seats. The chairs are hard plastic chairs and look highly uncomfortable (good thing I come with my own furniture-chair) and the table that separates prisoners from their loved ones is no higher than the middle of your shins from the ground. Once the visitors are seated, the prisoners are allowed in; they wear a special uniform for visiting: a tan visiting jumpsuit. Everything in prison is so dull from the prisoner’s clothing to the paint on the walls. I assume that’s to keep prisoners dull and not so much in an up mood, but more slow and calm. I wonder why they can’t brighten things up a little. A simple change in colors and a little brightness can bring joy, but that is something they don’t want the prisoners to have. When the prisoners come out they are allowed to hug and kiss their visitor(s), then there’s no more touching until the visit is over and you are allowed another short hug and kiss. Being paralyzed, I can’t hug my father, but he can hug me and I can feel his kisses on my cheek and forehead. Visiting hours are from 9am until 3pm, and we’re allowed to stay the whole time, but we usually leave early on the Saturday visit because we need to catch up on sleep from the long ride up. Sometimes I catch my self nodding off here and there. I normally have my own health issues while sitting up for long periods of time, which I can deal with, but once the police crank up the air conditioning, I lose all comfort. I swear they have so many ways to make people want to leave early or not want to come back for a while, just because their having a bad day or have something else they’d rather be doing than sitting for hours watching and guarding families that are reuniting with their loved ones. It’s all a joke, but not a funny one! With all that it takes to see my father, it is more than a blessing. I do not for a second take it for granted. He hates to see us go just as much as we hate to leave without him. We all are understanding and patiently wait, knowing that our time to be together as a family without the restrictions of prison is coming.
-Mykeah D. Simpson
It’s a little past 5:00 in the morning and here I sit thiccin bacc to a day(8-9-10)that was and remains one of the two most hurtful days that I have experienced in my lifetime, the other being the day I was WRONGLY sentenced to this rediculous amount of time. I had been placed in the Special Management Unit for a situation equivalent to having your priors used against you which is just now being exposed as wrong in the form of proposition 47. You accumulate “write ups”on this end most times because of the cluttering and closeness of so many boundries with misery, blindness, fear, and uneasiness dictating most movement in this small space. But yeah, I had been taken outside to a cage that has a 6 person maximum to get a little air and exercise that we were allowed to do 1 and a half hours a day monday through Friday. Around the time for us to be taken bacc in for the day the Chaplin was walking over with the C.O which if he isn’t passing out bibles, Quran, or any other religious materials, it’s always to deliver bad news. After being notified that it was me being summoned I was handcuffed and escorted down a long hall to the chapel. The walk there although a short one, seemed to be a longer distance as I felt like was walking in slow motion with my heart beating tremendously faster and my confinement feeling as though it was more locked because I had already accepted the fact that whatever it was I was about to hear I would held from being able to give more of myself to help it be/get better. As I digested the incident of my little one being in the hospital it felt like the air was sucked out of me completely. Walking back to my cell, what I felt (to this day) is still a feeling I cant fully describe in words, but to entice an idea of it I had NEVER been hurt to that depth in my life. For (3) whole days I laid in thought, and unrest hurt to the point of being numb. My thoughts were explosive-like, and went from reaching the point of saying “F@#k everything” in the literal sense to “My baby is right there, and I cant even stand there in the physical helping to will her to being conscious. After the 3rd day I would verbally express my thoughts, talking to myself really but bringing forth responses from my cellie; someone I view as a friend. I had lashed out negatively, and he said “Loc, man you cant give up on it all now, especially since that baby is going to need your help.” IMMEDIATELY my thought process changed. So next I had to work on my emotions not being allowed to dictate my movement. Let me express that having to balance the feel of such great hurt but “having to” remain strong, and the symbol of strength in the family structure is truly a challanging feat. In most eyes, and partly understandable prison is thought of as a bad, and dark place. Which in spots it is. Prison is falsely promoted with unrealistic effects to come from it’s “actual” intentions. For example; look how in this combined construction of thoughts my littleone exposed her view of the visiting part of it, but their memos will read that that they are strong on helping to establish, and keep close family ties. So after a couple more days of getting myself to where I could start bacc thinking productively while never letting up on my strong sense of worry. I started to tell myself that “my lil trooper is strong, and a fighter.” At that time it was VERY helpful for those around me to expose the level of respect, and like I had around me because on the range of (18) cells I was on “EVERY” race extended sentimental gestures, and we all shot prayers out of that building, and a group of us even did it at the very same time on Saturdays until my baby was stable. I don’t think it will ever stop bothering me that I wasnt, and still am being held from physically helping my baby with her daily dealings with this obstacle. But at this point in our growth process me and my littleone know that no matter what appears in our paths or the angle/direction TOGETHER we are going to go and get through it TOGETHER. It was almost (3) years that it took for me to be able to look my littleone in her eyes that look like copies of mine observing the full realization of my loveones physical condition that I had already been experiencing with her in every other way that I could. It was VERY hard for me to keep the activation of my hurt inside. Now it’s like we do it more than just when we can/Our visits are always taking me on this emotional rollercoaster. First im overjoyed that we will be able to share some up close and personal space that is our own, then comes the strong concern (worry) of them getting to me safe, then there’s the experiencing the actual happiness of our huddle, next it’s the worst -like part of it of having to seperate physically, watching them leave. I never visibly show the level of my despair as I have to teleport bacc into a damn near non existence, but my loveones can look into my tight eyes and naturally feel my hurt as it’s their very same way of feeling as well. Then as if that isn’t enough, the worrying of their safe returning home kiccs in, and im not bacc fully settled until I wake up to a notice of them being home safe and sound in the form of an email. NOTHING about anything myself and my littleone is sharing is being done in hopes of enticing or receiving sympathy, short cuts, or easy routes. What we are doing is sharing a snapshot of our story to 1. Salute the high quality of our bond, connection, struggle, and unwavering fight stance. To also, expose a real live example of the ability to overcome the most difficult adversities and design our future with physical limitations still right now embracing us. Thanks for taking the time read our thoughts.Much respect and best wishes to you and yours.