The day of thanks took on new meaning this year. A phone call is cause for thanks when it’s your connection to a loved one behind bars. It’s hard to convey how much it means to hear his voice. Ross said they were served Cornish game hens and cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, in an effort to make the day festive for the inmates. Many are despondent on holidays, away from their families. Ross says the prison is humane and decent. But the conversation is short, as so many are lined up to use the phone.
There are many acts of kindness and compassion in the prison, amidst occasional harshness and power trips. Just like life outside. Ross and I have each experienced them. He tells me that the people in there – both inmates and staff – are nice and helpful. One inmate gave him some soap. Another loaned him a book. Others show him the ropes.
Another thing to be thankful for is that finally – after 1.5 months in the SHU (“Special” housing unit, designed to punish and isolate – a grim jail within a jail with highest security) – Ross is now in the general population. Considering that he is utterly nonviolent, his confinement there seemed like punishment to us, rather than necessity. He was released from the SHU the day before his bail hearing. We found the timing interesting, since his SHU confinement was one of his lawyer’s arguments presented for bail, as he had been denied access to his attorney in there. Suddenly that argument was removed.
For whatever reason, we are grateful for it. Now he can look out a window, interact with people, play ping pong. Now when I visit I can give him a hug and talk to him over a table, instead of through plexiglass. Life for him is not so harsh and lonely. The little things we take for granted – a view outside, a conversation, a smile – become so important in prison.