A few times when I was waiting in the visiting room for a visit to start, the unit would get locked down and I would be stuck sitting there. Visiting at MCC was slightly claustrophobic for me. I previously mentioned that I had to take an elevator to get up to the the room. When you cleared security, all visitors sat in a waiting room until there was a big enough group, then we would line up for the elevators. Basically you exited the elevator and waited in a windowless hallway while the guard unlocked the main door. There was a locked door on the left that led to a staircase and a locked door in front of us that led to the visiting room, which is the one we entered.
The visiting room was really two small rooms connected by a third tiny room, all separated with bars and cell doors. The two vending machines were in the tiny middle room which is also where two guards sat the whole time. There was a bathroom connected to one visiting room. I tried to avoid sitting near it, otherwise your entire visit was punctuated by the opening and closing of the door since in order to use the bathroom you had to ask the guard to unlock it. In the other visiting room was a locked door that led back to the actual unit. Dan would get called to visiting and come through that door. There were chairs arranged around the room in a circle, against the walls. Inmates couldn't sit next to each other so it was visitor, inmate, visitor, inmate. The room would get insufferably hot and LOUD. There was an ancient wall fan that they would turn on, but it was so loud, it made talking and hearing each other more difficult.
Dan had requested to change units, the fighting was too risky to be around. The unit was still on lock down and he hadn't called all day. When I got a letter the next day from him, he wrote that he had been told he would transfer to the new unit (5 North) in a few days. This meant visiting was changing again, to Thursdays. When he transferred, he carried his possessions with him but couldn't take his feather pillow that he had bought from commissary because he could only take what he could carry. It was supposed to be brought down to him later, but the pillow never made it to 5 North. Fortunately, Dan did. I told him to splurge and buy another pillow when his commissary limit reset.
The new unit was much better. Because the 5th floor was the cadre floor, most of the inmates there were nicer and easier to get along with. They valued their jobs in cadre and the fact that they were allowed to be in a better unit. There was no fighting for food and the phone and shower lines were easier. Dan somehow joined the Italian Food Club. It consisted of him and three Italians who pooled their food together and created gourmet meals. Dan met so many high profile people, sometimes he would tell me about them and not even know who they were. Jackie the Nose was in his unit, he had been John Gotti's partner. I met his family waiting for visiting and they were extremely sweet towards me.
Dan became friendly with a guy in the unit nicknamed Tank. He was called this because he looked like one- just a giant solid rectangle of a man. Tank made a mean banana pie with nutella and he would give some to Dan. He also knew how to draw and would decorate the envelopes for Dan to mail me letters. Dan's bunkie had a theory about the wives of inmates. He said they were experiencing "false death syndrome". Since their husbands are away and there is so little contact, it is like they are dead to them, except during visits. I didn't like the concept and felt there were a few flaws with it. Even though Dan was away and we had such limited contact, there were so many issues and things I had to deal with BECAUSE of Dan that wouldn't exist if he had actually passed away. If anything it is more like having a loved one in a vegetative state- they are constantly present but you don't know when or if they will return to you the way they were. It was a bizarre conversation to have.
And then, just like that, it was August 11th, 2009. Dan had been in prison for a year. I had a weird thought that I didn't want to have to repeat a date on a letter. Somehow I had imagined that by the time that happened, he would magically be home. Impossibly, the year had dragged by so slowly and yet sped past us almost too quickly to fathom. How could it already be a year? And had it been ONLY a year? I found and mailed Dan a cute card that had a picture of a monkey on it, holding a phone, looking sad and dejected. The caption read "Keep Hoping It's You". I couldn't have said it better myself.
On Thursday, August 20th, 2009, I went into the city for my weekly visit with Dan. I had gotten my sister and her husband on the approved visitor list and she was going to meet me there for her first visit. She was also bringing her two sons, one of whom Dan had never met since he had been born after he went into prison. Earlier in the day a lawyer of ours had gone to visit Dan for the first time too, and he had emailed me that it went well. So, when I handed in my visiting form a few hours later to go through security for my visit (my sister would be joining us later) it was an absolute shock when they handed it back to me. The CO told me that I could not visit today, Dan was in SHU.
He what now? I could barely hold back the tears. Again??? Why. Why now, what happened. I once again had a million questions and zero answers. I called my sister and told her not to come, thankfully she hadn't left Brooklyn yet. Then I called every lawyer and rabbi and asked them to find out what and why and go visit Dan. I got on the subway and went to the house and dragged a wet/dry vac to the back deck and started vacuuming dead leaves out of the gutter. The fury and anger built up in me and physical labor was the only thing I could do. I knew if I talked to anyone I would blow up.
A few hours later one of the lawyers called me, he had managed to run to MCC and see Dan. No one knew why Dan was in SHU, and they weren't sure how long it would last for. The good news was SHU at MCC still had visiting, so if he was still there by Monday, I could go see him at 5pm. And lawyers could visit seven days a week. Two days later I got a letter from Dan basically explaining the same thing- that he had visited with one lawyer that morning and after the visit been brought to SHU without explanation. He felt awful that he knew I would be showing up for a visit and not know in advance that I would be turned away. He wrote how grateful he was that I had called the second lawyer and asked him to see Dan right away. They had sat in a legal visiting room and the lawyer bought Dan cookies and ice tea from the vending machines.
Later, back in his SHU cell, Dan was able to get a funny little rubber pencil and paper to write to me. There was a Lieutenant who was fairly decent and he went to Dan's property and brought him his radio, extra batteries, his watch and more paper. Dan was in much better spirits at that point, until 11pm rolled around and he realized he was in a cell that had a permanent light. Always on. It also had a camera monitoring him. And no desk or shower- just a little sink/toilet combo unit. Birth baths for everyone! A bird bath is the prison version of splashing yourself with water from the sink in an effort to not smell.The next day he was given a mini pen. He found both his writing utensils hilarious and eventually mailed them to me. I still have them:
The lawyer went back the next day as well and sat with Dan for a while. He bought Dan a lot of snacks and let him know that we were all working on getting him out of SHU. Food was always a problem in SHU and if not for these lawyer visits Dan would have been very hungry all day. He also confirmed that I knew about visiting and was planning on coming for the Monday visit if Dan was still in SHU. Later on the Lieutenant came back and asked Dan to sign a form that he was in SHU for his own safety. He didn't feel he was in danger in the unit, but the Lieutenant told him he would get out of SHU much more quickly if he signed it. No one would tell him why he was there though.
I got a letter from Tank. Throughout all the different prisons, all the different bunkies, Tank was the one guy that actually helped Dan the most. He was a good guy, just had a rough life, and he wrote to tell me Dan was in SHU. He didn't have to do that- he used precious paper, an envelope and a stamp for me.
He wrote: Hey, I'm just letting you know that your man is in the box. I'm not sure why he went to the box, but if its possible write me back and let me know what's going on. His visit day is on Monday just so you know. Let him know I send my love. Take care of yourself, but don't forget to let me know what's going on. Take Care.
p.s. He told me to write this cause you had a friend but since he is in the box I'm sending it directly to you for one of your friends. Thanks"
Tank had been asking Dan if I could set him up with one of my friends as a pen-pal. After I read his letter I asked a few of my friends if they would write to him. He included a letter of introduction for me to give to my friends. I will always be thankful to Tank for being good to us. He looked out for Dan so many times- there are so many more Dan and Tank stories coming your way. He had his back and that's not something that would typically happen between a white Jewish inmate and a Puerto Rican. I will always and forever be grateful and thankful for Tank. I should have bought the puppy.