An integral part of BOP transit is the absolute secrecy. Inmates awaiting a transfer can wait for weeks to months to move, and then they get no warning- and neither do their families. You literally disappear in the dark hours of the morning. By October 1, 2008, it became very clear to me that Dan had disappeared. We had implemented our calling system, where he would call me in the morning so I would know he was alive, and instead of pressing five to accept the call, I would hang up after saying I Love You. He would call again in the evening and we would have two minutes to talk quickly. The deal was if he missed two calls in a row, I needed to panic. Since the prison knows when travel is set for, they will turn off your phone the night before- so when he missed calling me that night and then again, the next morning and for a few days after that I knew he was either on his way, or in SHU. Or dead.
They woke Dan up at 4am, shackled him and then moved him down to a holding cell along with thirty four others. A few hours later they all loaded onto a bus and drove to Stewart Airport. From there they got onto an old plane and flew to Pennsylvania, where 1/4 of the inmates got off, and then they flew on to Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, sixteen of the original one hundred travelers, including Dan, boarded another bus and headed to Grady County Jail. Twenty hours to get from Brooklyn to Oklahoma, and for fourteen of those hours Dan was shackled. He should have been sent to the Oklahoma Federal Detention Center, but it was too full and the county jail handled the overflow.
Traveling courtesy of the BOP is by far the most hellish way to see the country. Inmates of all security designations are lumped together to travel in groups. It does not matter what your crime, or your sentence- to travel you get to wear a paper jumpsuit (yes, paper) and you are black boxed. Black boxed means that your wrists are cuffed and a black box is placed over the cuffs and will remains there until you either get to your destination or unload into a facility for the night to resume travel the next day. Your ankles are cuffed as well, and then a chain joins your ankles and wrists together. To reduce bathroom issues, inmates don’t eat much if they know they are going to travel- but since the BOP rarely does anyone the courtesy of giving them advanced notice, you can never quite know when you are going to actually travel. The food during the trip is not great anyway- mushy sandwiches and some water plus maybe some cheese or something if you are lucky. I was horrified when later Dan told me of the hours the guys all spent standing in the hot sun on the tarmac in their paper clothes, chained up and waiting to load or unload onto whatever the next mode of transportation was.
Because I wasn't 100% certain he had actually transferred, I called MDC a lot. Every time I called to ask if he was there because I hadn’t heard from him, the CO who would answer the phones would get all cagey and avoid answering. They would ask if it was a family emergency or if I was a lawyer. After calling multiple times for a few days, one officer finally took pity on me and answered without answering directly that they were sure I would get a call from him eventually. It did not allay the fears and worries but at least they were not saying he would not be calling. That special form of torturous response is the kind they reserve for inmates who have gotten the shit kicked out of them, are in the medical ward or who have been punished, and are in SHU. Turns out, this time, he was on his way. Westward Ho!
Grady County, Oklahoma
Dan liked Grady a lot more than the other guys he was traveling with did. They complained about being in county non-stop. He felt the guards were much cooler and as long as you were respectful and started your sentences with "Sir" or "Ma'am" and spoke respectfully, you could get a lot done. The general consensus was that they would be held over for two or three days but other inhabitants at Grady warned the new guys that reality could be more like two to three weeks before they transferred on. I looked up the facility and realized I could order food items and extra stuff, like a mini chess set, that they would deliver to him same day. It was an online system and there were no limits. County jail is really different than Federal prison!
A few of the more outrageous stories happened during his time in transit. One such story involved an ex-NFL player, Adrian Cooper, formerly of the 49ers. This guy was legit out of his mind. He was so mad that he was in prison. So angry that life was unfolding this way for him. He would pick fights with anyone and everyone and one day he lost it and made some sort of move to go after a CO, so he was stripped naked, locked in a bare cell with a skinny window in the door and left there to ‘cool off’. It is county jail, remember, although some of these guys are doing Federal time, they are still classified as "in transit" so the facility they are in dictates how they are treated if they end up breaking rules. He was lucky actually, because had he been in a true Fed place, he would have been up a creek without a paddle, with rocks tied to his body and someone pushing his head under. No not really. Maybe. I don't know. You get the idea.
Anyway, this dude was naked and completely furious about it. He kicked the door, pounding on it, yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs to let everyone know of his intense displeasure at the entire scenario. There was nothing in the room - no sink/toilet, no bed- just the in ceiling light fixture, the door itself and the emergency fire sprinkler. Guess which of the three items Einstein decided to take his rage out on? If you guessed the sprinkler, then I probably already told you this story once before. Yup- he somehow finagled his fingers up into the fixture and pulled. I should remind you that they construct these places with people like this in mind- so every surface is flat, there are no screws or pieces or really any access of any kind. If they could lock them up in a giant rubber bubble for the duration of the sentence, they would, because inmates will find a way to convert anything into literally anything. So the fact that this guy was even able to get his finger up into the sprinkler was pretty remarkable. Even more so was what happened next- he yanked it out of the ceiling. As sprinklers are apt to do, it set off the system and water started gushing into his cell. Fast. In my head, I imagine this huge guy holding onto a tiny bit of sprinkler, suspended from the ceiling naked with water pouring over him. Apparently, that is a pretty accurate visual… well, after this went on for a short time, an officer noticed water seeping across the floor of the hallway. The officer, realizing this was not normal, followed the water right to the door of the cell.
Radios and PA’s suddenly came to life as people hurried around trying to shut off the water at the main and find someone with a key to open the door and alert the Sergeant (or whoever was in charge at the moment) of the situation… utter pandemonium. I assume they eventually managed to turn off the water and get Senior Fix-A-Lot into a dry cell. They also rounded up a few inmates to mop it all up, so Dan got to see it firsthand. The way Dan described it to me I remember thinking that this was either the most comedic thing ever or the most schizophrenic bizarre nightmare anyone could fathom. I hope I laughed at the time, because this one is one of the more humorous events.
Another randomly funny quirk about Grady County Jail was the system of assigning beds. Common sense would indicate that perhaps they would keep the actual Federal inmates housed with other Federal inmates. Just keep apples with apples and make the oranges live on another floor. Nope- the BOP (the guys nicknamed it Backwards On Purpose… BOP) just sort of allowed the guys to room however the person on duty when the inmates were brought in saw fit. And so it was that Dan ended up bunking with a murderous Indian named Big Brown.
That was not a joke. Big Brown actually did murder a person, I do not recall if it was in self-defense or what (although ask any murderer and 95% of the time it is ALWAYS in self-defense) but yup, he had killed. And he was a Native American Indian. I assume his name Big Brown was an indication of both his size and nationality. Dan wasn’t sure what to make of the whole thing at first, whispering into the phone that this was the first time he was going to sleep in a cell with a murderer (that he knew of) and while the guy seemed nice enough, they hadn’t really talked. Actually, Big Brown did not talk to Dan at all. The entire time he was in Grady, he played chess with Big Brown; they made food together, cleaned up their cell together…not a word. No one else wanted to bunk with Brown, he made everyone mad and had raging episodes. I didn't know most of this until I read Dan's letter telling me all of the details after the fact. Oddly enough, the two of them did ok as bunkies. Then Dan disappeared again.
Dan was incommunicado for a little over a week and finally on October 9, 2008, he popped back up again. Her stupid commands “If you would like to accept the call, press 5 now", teasing me over the phone. LADY - I ALWAYS WANT TO ACCEPT THE CALL! He was in a place called Victorville in California. I looked it up. Then immediately wished I had not done so. Victorville USP. United States Penitentiary. It is approximately 1200 miles away from Oklahoma, give or take. I actually have driven this route myself, when I drove from New York to Los Angeles and in hindsight, that is a pretty awful trek. From his telling of it, that part of the trip sucked the most. From Grady they took a bus to an airplane hangar, boarded and flew to New Mexico, took off and landed in Arizona and then Victorville. At every stop some inmates got off and new inmates would get on. Dan was black boxed the entire trip in his blue paper suit and it was freezing.
One of the other funniest stories he ever told me happened at Victorville. There are different kinds of stories- epic, horrifying, outrageous, scary- the funny ones were always by far the best obviously although they always seemed bittersweet at the time. I remember thinking for most of them that while it hurt to hear it now, I’d probably laugh in years to come… this has proved over and over to be true.
So, Dan is in Victorville after a harrowing trip and, as was the case in most prisons he experienced on his national tour, it was extremely full. They had stopped over for the night and would hopefully continue their journey in the morning, or in a day or two. The officials there decided to cram 12 low/camp men, including Dan, into Activity Room 2 in the maximum security SHU unit because the entire prison was full and there was no where else for them to go. Dan wrote that the guys in Room 2 felt lucky- at least they were not the other 12 guys crammed into Activity Room 1- because if there was a fire in the building all the 300+ SHU max security inmates would go into Room 1 first, per fire escape protocol.
These guys have all been on a bus for a significant number of hours, they are hungry, tired, dirty, exhausted and in prison. Its lights out in the facility so they hunker down on the floor or if they are lucky, on the bench, and try to sleep.
There is an old guy who seems to have an ongoing, unending incontinence issue and the most potent horrendous gas you have ever encountered in your entire lifetime. He has spent the last few hours talking about everything that has ever happened on earth ever, since the beginning of time, which he was likely present at. It does not matter that no one is interacting with him or responding, he keeps talking as if he is being paid for every word. Sometimes he will nod off, and then it turns out he also snores. And passes a lot of gas. Often. These men are in an enclosed, crowded space, crammed shoulder to shoulder with bio hazard grade fumes enveloping them. They proceed to spend a miserable night trying to sleep through the noxious stench that has totally permeated the entire room. In the corner, huddled up against the wall is a young kid, early twenties, nicknamed Cocho. He is in transit to some place where he will serve a fairly lengthy sentence for being a drug dealer. The old man continues the retell the history of the world, unabridged version, and the smell gets worse and worse too. This kid, Cocho, he has been sort of a tough guy throughout the journey but finally he breaks, cradles his head in his hands and in complete anguish with the pain of someone who has suffered a thousand punishments and has reached the limit of what is humanly possible to cope with, he cries out in absolute anguish:
“My god! I promise I will never deal dope again!”
As the story was told to me (over the phone when Dan told it to me he was giggling so hard I had to join in) that young man was as fully repentant as they come and had learned the consequences to his actions, albeit perhaps a bit after the fact. Best of luck Cocho.
Victorville was scary to me, actually it still is. I had found a chat community where you could post about different prisons and from Victorville everyone always posted about fights, lock downs, and just major negativity across the board. You immediately got the sense that it was a much rougher group than whatever we thought was rough before. As I came to find out, California Federal Prisons tend to be that way- you might get the true crazies in New York but the California inmates are trying to follow the footsteps of the inmates before them and in additions to the racial tensions and gang issues, it is just so completely unpleasant to deal with the majority of the individuals you encounter both serving time and working at places where time is served. I debated trying to fly out to visit Dan there, but quickly realized that it was not remotely possible and also even if I could somehow be approved and get in before he moved again, it was going to be really scary, so I decided to wait until he arrived at Terminal Island. He had only been in prison for three months and I had already experienced enough to write a book. A short one maybe, but don't worry- there is much, much more!
Up to this point in the journey, I had been staying at my parent’s house in Long Island so I could see Dan once a week while he was waiting to transfer out west. I flew back and forth to LA a few times to take care of some issues but I always made it back to New York by Wednesday for visiting. We still had not told anyone what was going on and the plan was to keep it that way. I think my parents thought we had broken up or were fighting, and they mostly left me alone without asking too many questions. To be fair, I didn’t really let them ask me questions, I was too afraid of trying to figure out an answer. I was getting ready to go back to my apartment in Los Angeles for good, instead of doing the bi-coastal commute, which left me neither here nor there. By October 15, 2008, Dan arrived in Terminal Island... a.k.a. TI.
It would be weird for me to say that I was relieved Dan was finally in a ‘regular’ prison but that is really the only way to describe it properly. Being in the detention center in Brooklyn and then the various facilities while in transit took a toll on him both physically and emotionally. Everything is designed to break you down in prison and while there were many things they completely messed up, the BOP definitely got that part of it right. You just become this number, without a name- a body that is told what to do and when and there are consequences for not following everything exactly as it has been decreed. In a letter Dan wrote me he said "In prison you are doing time, just not on your own schedule". I always liked how he phrased that.
TI taught me very quickly that this was real prison and it was definitely not going to be smooth sailing, no matter how nice I was to everyone. I should describe TI first- it is located between Long Beach and San Pedro, right after the bridge. You know where the Queen Mary cruise ships dock? Just across from that is this tip of California that juts out into the water, and built onto this peninsula of land is a Federal Prison complete with barbed wire and concrete fences and guard towers. This was the first prison I saw with guard towers. Frankly the image never gets easier, it is always unsettling and puts the fear of god into you when you suddenly realize you have driven into a restricted area with armed guards in towers pointing weapons at you, as was the case on my first visit.
There is a myth that various California residents tend to travel past TI by boat and take part in that phenomenal Spring Break-ish tradition of flashing oneself at applauding male inmate onlookers. As I saw firsthand one time, this is in fact, less a myth and more of a humorous reality. To the unknown females who have participated in this sport, the inmates of TI thank you, as you saw when they ran up to the fences and waved, applauded, cheered and whistled.
Because TI is located on the water, you get lulled into a false sense of ‘this isn’t so bad’-ness. The truth is, it sucks.
TI is a classified as a medical facility, meaning it has a wing dedicated to the health and treatment of sick incarcerated individuals. What this actually translates into is a predominantly elderly and ailing population. A number of the men in TI were wheelchair bound or had canes and the pill line usually included the majority of the inmates. The idea of actual healthcare in prison is a complete misnomer- you learn very quickly not to bring up ailments. For instance, the solution to a toothache is to remove the offending tooth. If you can even get in to see the dentist. After you sign up to see him and get wait-listed for a few months. I think you get the gist of it. Any inmate who is on the west coast and requires actual medical surveillance will get designated to TI, mostly because it reduces the BOP’s liability in case something should occur to the inmate in another facility where they may not be equipped to handle whatever ailments the individual in question has.
There are famous inmates who served time at TI, among them Al Capone, Charles Manson, John DeLorean… and a guy named Robert Manning. I have short little blurb about him- he was in prison for sending a bomb to a computer company executive’s office in 1980 and murdering the secretary who accidentally opened it instead of the intended target, the CEO. Why did he mail the bomb? Well according to the prosecutor, a friend of his was upset about a business deal involving the sale of a house and hired the ex-JDL associate to kill the guy. Mr. Manning is approximately 60+ years old and in October 2012 was still serving his time in TI… Dan once watched him get into a fight with another inmate on the grounds. He was upset about something and wobbled over to the other inmate, who was wheelchair bound and started shaking his cane at him, yelling. The way Dan described it; it was like watching a fight in slow motion. With old dudes yelling at each other. In slow motion. Yelling. The mental picture still makes me laugh a little bit to this day.
So you have old guys with various handicaps and issues (seemingly major issues sometimes), and the young guys who have to put up with them. And the different races. And the different gangs within each race. Did you know that Hispanics, for instance, have multiple gangs depending on what part of the world they are from? I got a first class gang education through the duration of prison and learned exactly why it is that wearing a specific colored bandanna can get you jumped in various neighborhoods or what different symbols and hand gestures mean. I also got my first real taste of being treated like a third class citizen at TI. Both by staff, by other inmates, AND by their visitor’s. That part blew my mind.
I had never in my life experienced any kind of racism or blatant outright anti-Semitism and suddenly it was this unavoidable obstacle I was unprepared to cope with in addition to the staggering weight of being alone in a city where my husband was serving time 45 minutes away and no one on the earth knew about it or was there to help me deal with it. The one part of the hatred I never really accepted was when guards would yell at me or make me wait to go into visiting even if I was there before other people, just because I was a young, Jewish, white female. I wasn't an inmate, they didn't have to be that way with me, yet they showed no kindness, no sympathy, and made my days difficult and hard. And I just had to take it. It was not like there was a suggestion box I could drop a note in to verbalize the injustice of it to some higher ups.
Visiting at TI was an entirely new experience with an entirely new set of rules and restrictions. To start with, when you drove up you were not allowed to enter the parking lot until the posted time. To paint an accurate picture of what this meant- you drove along this road with nothing but warehouses and boat slips and then suddenly passed through this gate with a guard tower and barbed wire fences. There is literally nothing else around unless you go back down that road, past all of the warehouses and boat slips and back to civilization. You are not allowed to wait on the road either (although depending which guard is posted you can get away with it). So I drove up the first time, pulled into the parking lot, started gathering my things- and suddenly jumped out of my skin as a mean looking officer rapped loudly on the window and told me I could not park there. But the sign said visitor parking and I am a visitor...? He explained to my dense self that no visitors are allowed on the property until visiting hours commence. Interesting that they never tell you where you ARE allowed to go, only where you are not.
Once the clock struck 9am and the lot was officially open, all the visitors walk in to the front lobby and fill out their paperwork (HAH! I know how to do this part already!) Then get lucky enough to sit in the dozen or so chairs or just sort of hover around the general chair area waiting for the always pissed off CO sitting at the front desk to motion you forward. Each place has its own system- at TI visitors just sort of keep track of who got there first and go up in that order. You do not, ever, EVER, cut the line. Ever. If you do, don’t worry- the other visitors will all make it known that you are not going to get away with it. It resulted in the offending visitor and some of the offended ones as well being kicked off the premises a few times when I was there. To this day, I do not ever cut lines. Ever.
TI also had a pretty strict drug rule. As in, make sure you do not have even the slightest trace of a drug on, around, in or near you because you won't pass the inspection. It was such an extreme rule that previous visitors warned me not to even touch money before you come to the facility because if the ion scanner (I swear to god this is true) picks up an iota of drug residue on you when you are being checked by the CO, not only do you not get to visit that day, you also get banned for six months. I learned to bag my money the night before in a Ziploc baggy and not touch it until safely in the visiting room. I also started asking the bank for gold dollar coins instead of dollar bills- much easier to deal with (less likely to have cocaine residue on them!) and they had the added effect of cheering me up on the sadder days because they looked like gold treasure all shiny and pretty in the clear plastic pouch. You learn to appreciate the little things.
Then there was the matter of the dress code. In Brooklyn, they would make us walk through the metal detector and turn out our pockets so they could check them for holes- yes, I said holes. Believe it or not visitors would cut holes in their pockets so they could hold their loved ones hand and allow them to slip fingers near their, ah, nether regions. Resourceful if nothing else. TI took it to a more extreme level where you had to go through the scanner, turn out your pockets, someone would pat you down (always with gloved hands as though we were at TSA security about to board a flight) and if they felt there was anything remotely amiss they would ask you to come into the next room and you would actually get searched more thoroughly. Considering my luck, I am extremely surprised I never was called in for that, but I know many women who did and it left an impression on them and on me. I still get a bit edgy when I need to go through an airport; security makes me nervous to this very day. There was also a different restricted color palette at TI. You could not wear white, khaki, and tan, green, brown or grey because that was what inmates wore. Once an officer tried to tell me I could not wear black or blue either because that is the color the officers wear. He was wrong, but he did turn some people away for wearing navy that day. The issue I had with this was that it really limited what you were permitted to wear. I mean, essentially they only left reds, yellow and oranges (and their corresponding variations) on the table. The usual no jerseys, bandannas, sweats, cleavage baring tops, skirts to the knee (no shorts) and nothing sheer or see through… I am sure there are more rules I cannot remember now but basically I lived in jeans, t-shirts or long sleeve sweaters and sneakers. I also always kept a change of clothes (a few actually) in the trunk because you just never knew.
So in TI you had to wait outside, then wait in front with your paper filled out and your pre-bagged money and your ID (everything else gets left in the car except your car key- there are no lockers or anything) and then you get scanned by the ionic scanner thing (but not everyone, they do it randomly) and then you put your shoes, ID, money bag, car key and any sweater or jacket you might want to bring in to the visiting room into the plastic bin and it gets scanned through the x-ray thing. Assuming all goes well, you pass through the metal detector where you are not allowed to beep- any beep at all and you cannot come in so wear your cheapest jeans- these tend to beep less although I have not quite figured out why and avoid bras with under wires. Trust me on this. Then you gather your stuff up and walk into a second waiting room where you have to sign into the visitor’s book and then wait in silence while they process enough visitors in for an escort to the actual visiting room.
The reason you need an escort to get to visiting is because once they have assembled a group of us visitors, they walk us across an open courtyard - then you suddenly realize the building we just came from was actually the pre-prison so to speak, as the courtyard separates that building from the actual prison itself. They walk us across the courtyard to this outdoor hallway literally called the sally port- it is fenced in and made of steel bars with barbed wire on top. An officer unlocks the door with a giant key and then another officer waits inside the sally port with us while the first officer locks us all in. It is surreal- because your back is against a concrete wall and you are facing a barbed wire metal bar fence with a spectacular view of the ocean, but you are literally locked into a giant cage. We wait there until the visiting room officer opens the next giant steel door and lets us in. Sometimes they allowed us to choose our seats, sometimes they assigned them. The visiting room at TI was much more pleasant than what I had experienced in Brooklyn. It was a little bit larger but this time the room itself had windows and if you were lucky enough to be in the first group, you could even snag a table right next to a window so your entire visit was with a view of the ocean. There were many little tables with two chairs, one on either side and then there were bigger tables with four chairs, two on each side. The BOP limit for visitors is three adults, plus the inmate (so four) and depending on the place usually up to four children. Once you picked a table, you had to stay there, no switching- unless the guards decided you needed to be closer to the front or away from another group.
At the end of the visit, the guys all sit in the chairs on one side of the room and the visitor’s line up against the wall. It occurs to me now that I should be grateful we learned how to line up in kindergarten because that skill actually came into play in my adult life in a way I never expected. And stop laughing- you’d be surprised how many grown ups simply don’t know how to line up - it’s called personal space asshole, stop stepping into mine- basically if I can feel your breath or smell you, we are too close for comfort. Also, it is single file genius. That means stand behind one another, not in a group… blah. The end of the visits were rough because we would have to leave and know that our guy was just sitting there watching us go.
I got a taste of what that felt like to sit there and watch Dan leave during count- there was one count during visiting that they made all the inmates leave the room for. They would have to line up in the hallway they came into visiting from (where they also got stripped searched before and after each visit) and wait to be counted, and couldn’t come back into the room to rejoin us until count cleared throughout the entire facility.
Ah, yes, I mentioned strip search so now nothing else will hold your attention until I discuss it. Ok, you asked for it. Because TI was in fact a LOW and not a Camp, there was limited movement- meaning the hourly moves. Once an hour all the doors would open in the facility and inmates could move from wherever they had been for the past hour to a new location. They were then stuck in that location until the next move, an hour later. There was also much more security, so before each visit the inmate had to remove his shoes, show the officer the bottoms of his feet, then step out of his clothes and do what is called in the slammer ‘a cough and squat’. Exactly what it sounds like cupcake- you squat and while some CO is looking at your rear end, you cough. The science is simple- if in fact you are hiding anything within your aforementioned posterior, the act of squatting and coughing should expel said foreign object. Or cause it to puncture your intestines if you were for instance trying to smuggle a sharp shiv like object into visiting. Safety first, always. The guys usually did not have to strip down totally coming into visiting, usually just a quick pat down occurred but after visiting they got the full monty because you would be AMAZED at how many visitors smuggled stuff into visiting for the inmates. I was shocked when I heard the stories of the pills, amounts of money and assorted objects people brought.
One nice thing about visiting at TI was that the inmates could buy photo tickets and there was an inmate whose job at the facility was official visiting room photographer. There was a ‘cheerful’ little corner where you posed and he snapped a picture and a week later, you would get it mailed to you by your inmate. Dan and I took many pictures there and I am undecided at present time if I am going to include them here or not. If I do, stop making fun of me- I was very creative with my outfits because I had to balance clearing the metal detectors with being as cute as humanly possible without pissing off the guards or getting the unwanted attention of others. I also had to make my makeup last for hours without touch ups and withstand the possibility that I might end up crying in the visit. So much harder to do than you would think! The funny thing was Dan hated it when I cried in visits- he would look around and say I had to stop because the other inmates might see. I was never sure if that was because he did not want to appear like he had a wimpy wife or if he did not want them to think he made me cry. Ironic since it was usually the treatment of the other visitors prior to entering the room, or the CO standing there writing notes on our behavior (I swear, they would write down if I cried and later someone would ask Dan why I was crying in the visit) had yelled at me or made me feel awful. Nevertheless, the pictures are something that I look at now and think about just how much has happened since they were taken, and how different I am today compared to then. It is surreal and also extremely real at the same time. Plus, we were cute, what’s not to like?
Another nice thing about TI visiting was the vending machines had a better selection of food. You still had to be smart and get what you wanted at the start of the visit or you’d be left with slim pickings- those machines emptied quickly. This brings me to the most fantastic food I ever ate in a prison. This magical food was called Eddie’s Kitchen Grill Cheese Sandwiches. You can laugh- I swear to you now they are utterly fantastic. They come in these plastic sealed pouches and you pop them in the microwave, they come out perfectly toasted- a little crunchy, and lot cheesy and super yummy. I probably gained the most weight while Dan was in TI as opposed to any other place due to those damn things. Every morning I would rush to place my keys on a table by the window then run up to the machine and buy at least two of them, sometimes four. Those sandwiches and two cups of French vanilla coffee from the coffee machine… as close to perfection as I could get given what I was working with.
Visiting worked by a system of points at TI- I believe you got 12 points every month and weekdays are worth 1 point, weekends are worth 2. Dan figured out the schedule based on allowed visiting days, usually weekdays to maximize our points (although there were certain days that the facility itself did not have visiting) and I would always come to every single one. I did not start missing visits until the last year he was in. I literally formed my entire life around the visiting schedule. This is a huge part of why I was unable to get a job during the time he was incarcerated. It was a point of contention between us because he insisted I should do something to fill my time and I agreed- but he occupied all of my time and when I wasn’t actually at a visit, I was writing him a letter or waiting by the phone- just totally dysfunctional and holding down a job would have been impossible for me at the time. In hindsight, I absolutely wish I had put his needs a little bit less before mine in the sense that I could have been creating a life/career that would have probably helped us get through the time in a healthier way.
I do not remember our first visit in TI really, I mean, I can guess how it went after the initial getting to the visiting room itself but I do not recall exactly what I was wearing or where we sat. I do know that I sat waiting in my chair, knowing I had not seen Dan since he left Brooklyn and not sure what to expect. He walked out in this hunter greenish uniform, looking like a member of the air force. Or the Israeli army. I do not care which nation’s army you want to credit, he looked hot. And skinny. And his hair was longer, and gelled. This was something that cracked me up every time I saw him- the prison made the guys wear their ‘greens’ for visits, but the guys took it upon themselves to literally get as dolled up as they possibly could. That meant the abundant overuse of this cheap hair gel and lots of cologne came into play as well. If they were not restricted, the guys would also shave, maybe get a haircut, and trim their nails (that last one was always iffy- you had to get permission to check out a nail clipper and then return it before visiting…not always a sure thing).
So he walked out in these green pressed slacks and button down collared shirt… very cute. He was allowed to wear his sneakers although usually you were not allowed into visiting unless you were wearing prison issue work boots. Visitors also had to wear close-toed shoes with an ankle strap- no flip-flops or slide on shoes of any kind. I typically stuck to converse sneakers just to avoid any hassle but a few times I wore boots and they were just a pain (remember, take em off for the x-ray machine, hop around in your socks till they get through then carry them till you sign the book and get them back on… just easier to wear sneakers really). He was much skinnier than before, but he also had more muscle- his arms were very very built up. And so we started our California leg of the BOP experience, eating too much grill cheese and wondering what the next five years would be like. I predicted a lot of Western Union transactions in my immediate future.