Visitation Prose From The Tattooed Minister

I see inspiration as a light that survives in spite of darkness.
I see it as a glimmer that refuses to fade, and no matter how slight its light may seem; it will never go out and it will never give in.
Never . . .

I drove passed the buildings surrounded by tall chain-linked fences with razor wire spooled around the top links. I turned right into the entrance, and as I approached the visitor’s trailer, I felt an old frightening, but familiar feeling.
I felt an old uneasy stir—the kind that comes with sitting in a small cell with dingy lighting and everyone around you has a different story with the same ending. Everyone is innocent and everyone says the same thing.
“I didn’t do it.”

This time I was on a different end of the system.  This time I checked in, and like those on the inside, I was identified by a number.
I waited with the rest of the friends and loved ones. I waited with the wives and girlfriends. I waited with the parents, as well as the mothers and children of different inmates, and we sat in the visitor’s trailer, most of us with the same expecting facial expression, and we waited for our numbers to be called.
And as it was when I waited on the inside of a cell, I could tell who was new to the system and who was familiar with it.

I was raised not far from the county jail. As a wild teenager, it was often pointed out to me by my teachers and people of authority.
They said, “Mark my words. That’s where you’re going to end up one day.”
I came close several times. I saw the inside of overnight holding facilities and I sat in the back seat of more than one police car, but for some sort of grace, I never fulfilled that prediction. There were some, however, like my old friend for example. His luck was not as fortunate as mine and his awareness came later in life.

After leaving the visitor’s trailer, I walked through a gated path, across the driveway, and over to the main building where along with the friends and loved ones, I waited on line to speak to an officer behind a white, barred cage.
Although no one in the room was a convict, there was still an obvious difference between the officer and visitor. Same as the inmate was on an opposing side to the correctional officer; the visitor was also on a different side.
There was no real smell in the room, but yet, I smelled a familiar odor that perhaps most would never notice. It smelled the same as when I was in a cage. It smelled the same as when I was in the bullpens and waiting for my time before the judge.

I forfeited my identification at the security checkpoint in exchange for a key to a locker. I removed my belongings, and I emptied my pockets into the locker.
Then I stood in front of an automatic door.
The door slid open from right to left. But it moved slowly, and when the door closed, it locked firmly into position.
I submitted to a walk-thru beneath a metal detector. I removed my shoes so they could be ex-rayed, and then I put my hand, which was stamped beneath a black light to reveal an invisible number. After which, I moved through another door, which moved equally as slow, and locked equally as firm.

The visitor’s room is a series of tables with a half-partition of thick Plexiglas that separates the inmate from the visitor. You can touch. You can shake hands and hug hello. But that’s it.
The rest is separation. The rest is conversation in a room with stagnant air and stagnant lives, waiting for their time to end, and hoping for an early release.

My old friend did not recognize me at first. It had been two decades since we saw each other. We were still young then. We were young and the threat of consequences did not seem real to us. But now as grown men, consequences are painfully real.

There is a terrible fact when going away. Your name sits alone on a shelf, as if it were in some form of social hibernation.
Meanwhile, all of your friends go on with their life . . . and you . . . you sit alone and pay for your consequences.
Though my place of sentence was different, I was away too. My name was forgotten and life went on.
To those who forgot me, it was nothing.
But for me; it was painful and lonely. I felt unimportant and disregarded.

It is inaccurate to believe that a man held in a cage is without feeling. It is inaccurate to say he is without fear or regret, and it is inaccurate to consider him an animal. And though inside, my friend is serving his punishment, it is inaccurate to say that he is alone and he is not cared for.
And that was the reason for my visit.

I often quote Matthew 25:40 “Whatever you do unto the least of my brethren, you do unto me.”
My friend and I have been separated by more than 20 years, but he is still my brethren, and he is far from the least.

After reliving the old laughs, we talked.
We talked and I broke down. Rather than allow pride or image to decide the course of our conversation, I allowed my emotions to show.
Teary-eyed, and heartfelt, I spoke with my old friend about my path with God the Father and my sobriety.
And though it was him on the inside and me on the out; it was him who inspired me.

I see inspiration as a light that survives in spite of darkness.
I see it as an undying voice that speaks from anywhere—even from inside the Nassau County Correctional Facility.


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