The wind is brutal, the temps are hovering around 10 degrees as I cross the parking lot to SSCF.. There are more visitors in the lobby than usual, but not surprising, since it’s Christmas Eve. We wait for the the CO to show up, then take off our shoes to walk through the metal detector. Some COs will actually check the inside of the shoes for contraband, but today’s guy doesn’t.. One woman in leggings is told she couldn’t visit because leggings were on the NOT ALLOWED list. Since I am heading to my sister’s home in New Hampshire after the visit, I have a dress in my car. I head out into the frigid air to fetch it for her, and she’s able to slip it over her clothing.
There’s a certain companionship between people visiting a prison. Conversations between strangers is natural. We may not have much in common except this one thing, but it’s a big thing. Maybe similar to the unexpected friendships that can emerge between the incarcerated. We’re all whittled down to our basic humanity.
We all get checked in. We hand the CO our IDs, and he checks it against our loved one’s visitor list. If everything but one is a match, we’re not allowed to visit. If, for instance, there’s an error in the address, the visitor can be turned away. This didn’t happen today, though, and we all shuffled through the door to the next step, handing over our IDs to another CO in “the bubble” where comings and goings throughout the facility are monitored. Next, into the sallyport, and then the visiting room.
The tables are arranged in a U shape, visitors in the center of the U and residents on the outside. Today, our guys are moving from one unit to another, and they began the move around a half hour before visiting, so they have to be located and called to visiting. My husband is one of the last to arrive. Every minute he’s late is a little less time to visit, every minute hurts a little. We are all wearing masks. The usual 6-inch partition in the center of the table has been replaced by a 2-foot high plexiglass one. With the masks, and the partition, and the other voices in the room, conversation is difficult at best. At least we can see each other, be in the same space; serious talk can wait till a phone call. Most of the conversation consists of “what?” and laughter. There’s a woman and a small girl a few chairs down from us. The CO allows the child to sit next to her dad. It’s the first time I’ve seen this since the beginning of Covid. Dad and girl go off to find a book. She has braids with red bows on the end. She looks very happy in this moment.
The hour flies by, like they all do. The visitors shuffle to one door, the residents to the other. “Love you,” “Drive safe” is called across the room. The men leave to be strip-searched after our visit. We recover our IDs and head back into the cold wind to celebrate another Christmas without someone we love.
— Meg McCarthy