Sunday, February 25, 2018
Dannemora has been 'home' to my husband for the past 14 months. It is infamous for the 'great escape' that took place a couple of years ago. This place sits in the middle of nowhere, near the Canadian border close to Montreal. The nearest town is Plattsburg, which has a college and is populated with younger people and features hotels, stores (WalMart AND Target), restaurants, and even a small shopping Mall. Dannemora itself features Clinton Correctional Facility, which also houses CorCraft. There are houses, a Dunkin Donuts within the general store, a gas station, a post office, and... that's it!
This past Thursday I set out to visit my husband. I last saw him on New Year's Eve and I miss him so much. I have been under incredible stress at work because I am adjusting to new responsibilities and have been preparing for two exams I need to take (which I need to pass; my job depends on it). One of those exams would be taking place on Saturday about three hours away from Dannemora, so I figured I would make a trip out of it. I got to visit with my husband on Thursday for two hours (after driving 5 and a half), but we were OK with that since I had plans of returning for a full day visit on Friday. Since he is on Keep Look (23 hours locked in his cell with no phone calls or privileges) I told him I would ask and make sure on my way out that we would be allowed to visit again the next day. As I was leaving the visiting area, I asked the C.O. at the desk if we could have a visit again. He asked me for his Inmate Number and looked him up in the computer. Then he said, "he's in keep lock... you're OK to come back tomorrow." I said thank you and was on my way.
That evening I stayed in Plattsburg. I studied for my exam, thought about our brief visit that day and excitedly prepared for the visit the next day. Any prison wife will tell you that clothes are important; you have to make sure you wear clothes that meet 'regulations', even down to your underwear... you wouldn't want to set off any metal detectors and waste precious visit time!
The next morning I studied some more and then set out for the prison. I arrived early, found parking way far atop the mountain (where there is no parking for visitors, because, as I was told, "You're on your own!"), and walked down to the front gate to begin my day. I was the third person in line and the C.O. (a short, bald, young man) who was there the day before, was having trouble with the computer, so we waited. A couple who was behind me chatted me up. They came all the way from California to visit their friend, "I hope he appreciates what good friends he has!" I said. A lady C.O. came to the rescue and fidgeted with the computer. A few minutes later, the system was up and running and the line started moving.
When it was my turn, she processed me, took my picture (for facial recognition- which slows down the system), I walked through the metal detector and was good to go... until, she said "wait, she can't go in!" Sensing that she was talking about me, I asked and was met with a very nasty, "yeah, your husband is in the SHU (solitary) and you can't go in!" I explained, or tried to explain, that I had been there the day before, etc. The other guard corroborated my story. But like a broken record stuck on "you can't go in" she kept repeating the same thing. I said that I wanted to speak to a higher up, a supervisor, someone in charge. She said that I had to leave. I repeated that I just wanted to talk to someone else and she threatened to call the police if I didn't leave. Hearing this, I am unable to explain what I felt, I just wanted to talk to someone who was not a robot. I looked at the other C.O. and said "Isn't there someone else I can talk to?" He smiled at me (a Cheshire cat smile) and said, "I'm not going to go against what she said, she and I are the same rank." At that time she repeated the threat, "if you don't leave I am calling the police!" Any other day I might have entertained her and have waited to see if she in fact would call the police. As I said to the group before me, I didn't break any laws, I am not an inmate and I have a right to speak to someone, even if I didn't get in. But that day was different, I had a very important exam to take the next day. I was between a rock and a hard place. I also thought about the growing line of people who came to see their loved ones and I didn't want to hold them hostage, I didn't want to be selfish. So I looked at the guy who traveled from California and said, "I hope you guys can get in, you came from super far to visit!"
As soon as I left the building, and as I walked up the steep hill, I began to cry. I cried because this is a microscopic example of the treatment my husband gets. I cried because those guards are so mean. I cried because 24 years is too long for someone to be subjected to this cruelty. I cried because I drove 5 and a half hours to spend time with my husband and I really needed to spend time with him (two hours was not enough)!!!! I also cried because I have witnessed this sort of thing happen to people who have traveled from farther and I can't imagine their pain. I cried because I felt powerless, because I wanted to turn into the Hulk and unleash my anger and I couldn't. I cried because I was fed up!
For the next few hours I sat across the street from the prison at the Dunkin Donuts. I called my husband's lawyer. Not because I wanted to go into the prison, but because I wanted to know what happened, why wasn't I allowed in? She was able to get some information. As it turns out, Clinton has their own rules about not allowing Keep Locked inmates get more than one visit per week. The officer misinformed me the previous day, it was his mistake (oops! right?)! I also wanted to get the message to him that I was not able to go in. His counselor was not there. I only found out after calling 6 or 7 times. During this time I also reached out to my mother in law, who, ironically, used to work as C.O. in her younger years. She gave me advice and helped me feel better about continuing to make phone calls and gave me words of encouragement. I got even more words from my prison wife sisters on a Facebook support group, they knew exactly how I was feeling!
I sat at that Dunkin Donuts and I wrote to him. I told him I was sorry that I hadn't been able to spend time with him, that I hoped he was OK. I mailed his letter from across the street. It will still take a week to get to him, because that place is gray. The guards may wear blue, but they are gray.
As I sat there, feet from my husband, worlds apart from my husband, I watched the comings and goings of C.O.s. They bought coffee, donuts, pizza... they were so blah. The people there, old, young, all so blah, so gray. I suddenly felt sorry for them. My time there was almost over. I would mail my letter and be on my way. But they remain. In a gray place, soul-less, joy-less. A giant gray wall is their land mark. The C.O.s leave the prison and what? Do they tell their families about their day? About how proud they are, the difference they are making? This makes me sad.
Rehabilitation is not possible in a place like this. It reeks of hatred and disdain. The visiting room is not a welcoming place. The last two times I have gone, there has been hardly any food there. No one cares. NYS should do better. I pay my taxes. I am a law abiding citizen and my husband is paying his debt to society at least tenfold. My experiences only speak to what I see and hear. If I were a fly on the wall inside the prison, I'd be telling a graver story... a grayer story.