I am waiting in eager anticipation, checking the clock every minute or two as I sit on my bed in my state green pants and a sweater folded neatly beside me so it does not wrinkle before my visit. I must have combed my hair half-a-dozen times, checked myself in the mirror at least 20 times, repeatedly cupped my hands over my mouth to check my breath (even though I will be wearing a mask due to COVID-19). My foot continually taps on the floor until the corrections officer — the CO — calls out, “Grossman — visit!”
I quickly put on my “visit shirt”: a maroon St. John’s Bay sweater someone lent me so I don’t go in looking like a full-on convict. I don’t want to give my visitor pause by seeing me in prison colors. It’s interesting that judging someone based on the color of their skin is racist, but judging someone based on the color of their clothing is acceptable.
It is a freezing 3/4 mile walk to the visiting room. I am not allowed to wear thermals, and my jacket and hat must remain outside in a cubby-hole. Every step I take, bringing me closer to the building, is surreal. Not only has it been over a year since my last visit, but today is also my birthday. A local rabbi I have been corresponding with is my visitor; what a blessing!
Finally, I get to the visitor’s building and show my ID to the CO. He makes a note of the shoes I am wearing, so I don’t switch shoes with my visitor. I have no watch, no belt, just the essentials. I sit in the “boss chair,” a metal director’s chair, and I slide down the seat as directed. I am good to go.
Then, in an instant, the visiting room door opens — a portal to the outside world. Through it I can see people sitting and eating, and children running around. This is as close to the outside as I will get, at least for a while, so I soak it up. I check in at the CO’s desk, and from there I can see the rabbi waiting. I am reminded by the CO on duty that there is no physical contact allowed due to COVID. If there is contact, the visit will be ended immediately and I will be forcibly quarantined for fourteen days.
Arriving at the table, I inform the rabbi that I must take the seat facing the CO’s desk and that he is to sit across the table from me; the rabbi politely moves. It is awkward at first without a hug or at least a handshake, but that won’t ruin the experience. News of the second wave of the coronavirus has dominated the news, and this may be my last visit for quite some time. Visitations will surely be stopped again.
Tears begin to well up in my eyes. I can’t help it; the weight of the moment gets to me. This is my chance to speak with someone from the outside: This man who came in on his day off to visit someone he’s never met on their birthday in prison in the middle of a pandemic. I’m awestruck. He sees my eyes filling with tears and then so do his. I cannot let my emotions show because crying in prison is a no-no. As much as I want to be fully human in this moment, I cannot. After all, I am still incarcerated.
Our conversation is expansive, covering vast ground; everything from how I am doing to religion, situations I am dealing with in prison, and my plans for re-entry. The conversation makes me feel human again — what an amazing sensation!
Time quickly passes and soon the rabbi has to go. I thank him profusely for his visit, and we agree to stay in contact. He leaves the table, and per procedure I stay seated until the COs call me over to the desk. After they hand me my ID card, it’s time for the strip search.
The CO points to Frisk Room #3 as he puts on his latex gloves, popping them at the wrists as they snap into place. Time to get naked. Everything at this point is done upon CO command to ensure no contraband is smuggled back into the facility.
I open my mouth and swirl my fingers around the gums — nothing there. Then I take one boot off at a time and hand each over. One sock at a time, turn them inside out — no shaking — and hand each over. Then my sweater, t-shirt, pants and underwear. I am now fully naked. I am so used to this procedure that it doesn’t phase me. I show the bottoms of my feet and yes, I bend over and spread my cheeks — all clear. I get dressed, and I’m out the door.
This time, the 3/4 mile walk back to my housing unit is over in an instant. I don’t even feel the freezing cold. It’s still warm and cozy here on cloud nine.
Regardless of the extra COVID procedures, I really needed that. I am just grateful visits are happening at all. As I enter my housing unit, everyone asks how my visit went. There is a certain glow one has when we come back from a visit, and I have it. I say it went well and head back to my bed. As I lie there a tear drips down my face. I cannot help it. It is true joy.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.