15 June 2011

It Wasn't My Pencil, I Swear!

Before I leave my office to visit offenders on the upper floors of the jail, I check the stack of things that I'm taking with me.

Do I have my keys? The all-important keys. After years of having only pants that did not have pockets and therefore making key retention iffy, I finally found pants with pockets. My work keys are on a separate ring from the house and car keys. There's a big green clip and a plastic chit with my last name on it. The chit is a holdover from my life at the prison. I don't need chits anymore, but every now and then, it's fun to throw the word into the conversation.

Do I have the bibles, holy cards, rosary instructions, greeting cards, Catholic information that needs to go to the mail boxes? I make a trip to the mailboxes on the fifth floor at least once a day, more often twice. I can't hand anything directly to an offender if I'm visiting face to face. People have carried messages from one offender to another in the past. Not a good idea.

Do I have my green visiting slips? Are the locations current? These are handy forms on which I write a person's name and floor/wing/dorm location. There's a notebook out front with a current printout of the 1200 people currently in the jail. It's updated every day. When someone sends a request for a visit, I fill out a green slip and put down the location that was on the request. But before I go upstairs, usually the next day, I check the location in The Book. Often that person has been moved. Saves time and aggravation if I get to the right spot and the individual is in place.

I have been known to go to the right floor, wrong wing, looking for a woman, only to discover that I was on the right floor, but the men's wing is not East but South. That's my fault. The Book, however, is only as good as yesterday. Whoever I'm looking for could have been moved at seven this morning, so I could have been in the right place, but it's ten now and Ms. Jones has a) been moved, b) gone to court, c) parked herself in the visiting cubicle to see her mom, or d) gone to medical, or the caseworker, or any number of other things, or just does not want to get out of bed.

Do I have something to write with? No pens allowed. Ballpoint pens are contraband. Ink can be used for tattoos. That springy wire inside clickable pens? Makes an effective part for a weapon. My name-embossed pencil won't do. It would be great because I'd get it back; people would know who it had been swiped from. But a full-length pencil is also not allowed. Too easy to become a weapon. So I use golf pencils. And like pens that tend to collect at the bottom of my purse on the outside, golf pencils seem to multiply in my pockets. When I get home in the evening and empty my pockets, I throw all the pencils into a plastic baggie that I stow in my book bag and haul back to the jail the next day.

I was doing just that this evening when I heard a story on the news. There's a sad trial going on just two blocks away and it had to be suspended this afternoon. Seems the defendant swallowed a small pencil during the lunch break and had to be taken to the hospital. You can read the story here. But it wasn't my pencil. Really. I can account for every one.

12 June 2011

The Difference Between May and June

This year in the Northwest JanuaryFebruaryMarch dragged on through AprilMay and into June. This last week, however, is a different story. Usually there is some stately progression of flowers as spring arrives: crocus, daffodils, tulips, cherry trees, rhododendrons, iris. There are bits of green fuzz on the trees and then a week or so later, real leaves and two weeks after that, you can tell the difference between the new leaves and the old.

But spring was late in coming this year. The rain kept coming. The wind blew. It was ugly. Nasty. Depressing. Finally, we had a day over 60 degrees, the first one since last fall. At last! The t-shirts came out, and the shorts, never mind that the temperatures immediately went back to the low 50s. But in the last ten days, the gardens are lush with flowers, the bare tree branches now arch and meet across the streets with a riot of leaves gladhanding. It is light until nine in the evening and then some. Weekends are observed by the weed-whacking of lawns because even the best mowers can't handle the grass when it's over a foot tall.

And in the jail, how do you know the difference between May and June? Inside the concrete towers with only tiny windows and no fresh air, how do you tell?

In the chaplains' office, we can tell the difference by the requests that we get. In May we are flooded with requests for Mother's Day cards: for my mom, my girlfriend, my baby's mom, my other baby's mom... As quickly as the supplies come in, they go out. 

In June, there are only a handful of requests for Father's Day cards. Someone somewhere has already written about the general lack of fathers in the lives of those incarcerated. I am thankful for the heartfelt desire for the men here who want to do it differently, to be a different kind of father than what they had. They imagine more for themselves and for their children, by the grace of God.