a13- Running while standing still – a different angle on the prison story not often heard

By Kiki, doing time with her man serving a 25 to life sentence. She makes the drive to see him every weekend

The line is long this morning in the tube and the smell is a mixture of hair product, dirty concrete, and damp cold air along with a visceral feeling of anxiety, excitement, despair, and resignation. The resignation comes in unique flavors from aggressive to exhausted and I wonder sometimes how one concrete tube can contain so many emotions without cracking. Then again, how can any one of us stay so contained considering what we are lining up for.

If you didn’t know any better, and could ignore the obvious give-aways; you’d think this line up of women would be waiting to enter a club. It’s only 7 am and there are women who have awakened at 3:45 am to get here on time and let me tell you these women are looking good. Hair washed and coiffed, make up meticulously applied, clothed with attention, precision, an eye to attract and be appreciated. I want to tell each one of them “looking beautiful today!” just to bring some smiles to faces in this grim grey place. And considering the regulations, there are a whole lot of women with creativity and imagination to get around these rules and achieve an end result of beauty.

This is a woman’s story and not just because the line is almost always over 90% female; the wait, the silent bearing up and non disclosures, the sheer endurance. While one would hope we would feel on the same life raft together, truth be told, in arenas of scarcity fellowship is a rare commodity.

It’s finally 7:30 and the buzzer sounds. Like a herd of gazelle we become alert, ears and eyes cocked on the door, watching as the line begins to creep. Honey drips faster but love won’t give up. When I finally get through the door it’s close to 8am (only an hour this lucky morning) I have gotten through the first step. Three more hurdles of processing steps; the check in, the x-ray machine and metal detector, the clothing check and finally I am out the other door, striding down the long walk. There’s just no way to do this walk slowly. As I am getting closer, I finally allow myself to begin to get excited because we are now in the same world. In a matter of minutes, this week long wait will end. But not quite yet, one more door, two more gates, and then the last walk, with one more check in, find a table

and now pace with what I pray will only be the last few minutes.

Do this with me now: imagine someone you cherish, heart and soul; maybe it’s your beloved child, or an adored parent, or even, if you’re lucky, your mate. Imagine that love, how you can practically feel their blood coursing through their veins, how the very sinew of them is etched into yours and now imagine you cannot get to them because there is a very thick wall and multiple gates and fences in between and layers upon layers of unclear obstacles and the way in is fraught with opacity, rules which are confusing. In your mind’s eye you circle the walls with frustration and the sheer energy of having to stand still and do nothing when every cell in your body silently shrieks to move, to take action. It is the act of doing nothing with so much pent up energy which is the ultimate exercise. Believe me, the burn out is real. There is a sheer exhaustion which comes from crossing borders, from one world to another and then back again, in the space of hours, and those hours filled with crowds and lines and more lines coupled with the wanting and needing and hoping.

How do we keep that ember burning? The fact is, despite all the draining uncertainty, I have seen evidence of embers – throughout a room. Lovers, families, parents with sons, fathers with children, siblings, hunched over small tables meant for children, intent on the contact. This scene becomes primitive in my mind – tribes huddled around the fire of love, practicing the human need and desire to connect, to be seen and loved. And it is because of the setting that the embers of love take on richer hues, poignancy, and depth.

For now though, I glance at the clock. It is 8:35 and when I glance again and in the direction of my line of sight, I see him, finally, and with that all lines and time are forgotten. All that matters is that moment, that smile, that love I feel emanating from me and traveling towards me. So I do what anyone would do, I walk straight towards him, smiling.