I went back to prison last week. I hadn't been there for more than two years. Much has changed.
Some of the faces were the same. One of the buildings had a new coat of paint. One of the living units is no longer home to men in grey jumpsuits. Instead, the residents wear the more permanent khaki outfits. R-7 has become Evergreen once more.
There's a stricter movement schedule now, and no moving from one activity to another. Instead, the route is always back to the living unit before proceeding on to a new destination.
The staff smoking gazebo that used to sit between the infirmary and administration building has been moved. It sits in front of the education, providing a viewing station for officers who can see two separate walkways and the yard, all out of the weather. No smoking allowed. Or chewing, for that matter.
Some of the staff are gone: some retired, some died, a few were fired.
Many of the changes happened since an officer was murdered at another prison almost two years ago.
I went just to touch base. I teased the men about slumming on my Christmas vacation. More than a few asked, "Are you coming back?"
They told me stories: about a father who died, a son who was murdered, about children who are supposed to have contact but someone else has decided that contact with a parent in prison is just too embarrassing for anyone's good.
"I just wrote you a letter!" "Do you like it at the jail?" "Do you miss us?"
There's much to miss about the prison, mostly the people, some of the stories. I left grateful for the reminder of why I love doing this work. I wouldn't trade it for anything. Prison has made a home in my heart.