By Gabeba Baderoon
there will be no visitor traffic into
or out of the institution between the hours of 12:30 and 1:15 pm.
Please plan your visits accordingly.
Visitors and inmates will sit straight, facing forward.
No arms around each other.
No sitting on laps.
No placing legs on the tables or chairs.
No sitting sideways. No touching.
Hugging and greeting is only allowed
when first meeting and upon departure.
Children are crying.
Inmates are not permitted to use the vending machines.
Inmates are not permitted to handle money at any time.
I ask for a pencil and paper and am pointed to a cupboard with
boxes of plain white paper and unsharp pencils. The whole
cupboard shakes as I turn a yellow stub in the old-fashioned
sharpener screwed into the edge of the frame. The lead stays
broken and I reach for another nub to write with.
He tells us about Code Z for “predators and prey.” I say sorry,
I didn’t hear that, and instantly wish I hadn’t when he leans
forward in his brown suit with orange trim and his soft-soled
white shoes and explains, while his mother sits next to us, that
Code Z means those who have attacked other people, or have
been raped, his trimmed white beard marking 41 years since he
first entered here while his mother sits next to us.
He doesn’t tell us he’s been on the honor block for 20 years.
We talk about Kurasawa films, prison reform and the new book
on African aid by Dambiso Moyo.
All coats and jackets will be hung in the coat rack.
All metals except gold rings, earrings and necklaces must be removed.
He says, they can take it from you at any time.
No tobacco products of any kind are permitted inside.
His mother says matter of factly, as though the sadness of it
disappeared a long time ago, you can’t get too close to other
families. They could be police informers and tell the guards
something the prisoner said. Everyone wants to get out of here.
Vehicles must stop at this point.
Hours later, I try to cut off the blue armband around my wrist
that identified me as not belonging behind the heavy steel doors,
the bars, the 5,000 lights, the laser beams covering the grass and
open spaces, the four rolls of barbed wire on the ten-foot fence,
the knocking on the walls of the cell twice a day to check for I
don’t know what. My scissors are useless and after showering
with it on, I tear the armband off in pieces.
Twenty years and they can take it from you at any time.
When I look online for blogs about the prison, I see posts
written at 4 am, 4:02, 4:06.
The prison is closed for visits on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
CELL PHONES, PAGERS, and CAMERAS are prohibited and
should remain in the vehicle.
The frequency of visits shall be a total of six visits per month.
Each inmate may have no more than three of those visits on
weekend days (Saturday and Sunday).
Each inmate is limited to a total of five visitors at one time.
THIS TOTAL INCLUDES MINORS!
Photocopies of any ID will not be accepted.
During contact visits, an inmate and his visitors may embrace
only upon meeting and when leaving the visiting area. Excessive
kissing and/or petting are not permitted and may result in
termination of the visit and disciplinary action.
Visitors are not permitted to leave anything, including gifts,
money orders, etc. for the inmate. No objects may be exchanged
between a visitor and an inmate.
All visitors (including minors) are required to pass through a
walk-through metal detector. Please dress accordingly.
From the blogs I see this means no underwire bras, no metal in
belts, no steel bangles.
Visitors must sign in upon arrival and sign out before leaving. All
information requested on the sign-in sheet, including names and
complete addresses, must be filled in completely. If you travel
by private vehicle, you will be asked to register the year, make,
model and license number of the vehicle.
I never remember my license number and invent one each time.
Food items, snacks, and beverages are not permitted to be
brought into the institution’s visiting rooms. These items may be
purchased from the vending machines located in the visiting areas.
He used to love the puripatta she brought him to eat on Christmas,
but one year the governor got tough on crime and put an end to that,
he teaches other prisoners to take their high school equivalency
exams, he learned Spanish, he referees weekend basketball games,
he meditates for two hours each morning, he calls every Saturday,
he only reads non-fiction, what use are stories, he shares his books
with his friends, two other long-termers, sometimes he has the flu
and we don’t visit, it costs him more to call his mother than for me
to call Zurich, prisoners have to call collect and she always accepts.
A photo machine is available in the Inside Visiting Room only.
Photos cost $3 each
The machine trembles when I touch it.
Gabeba Baderoon is a South African poet and scholar. She is the author of the poetry collections The Dream in the Next Body and A hundred silences. She teaches women’s studies and African studies at Pennsylvania State University.