Another busy weekend here at the Tiny House. My birthday was a week or so ago and I have a now three year tradition of wild and whacky parties. It all started for my 29th when we decided to have a drag party, mostly designed specifically to invite the local hockey guys and draw them out of their comfort zones. It worked! Everyone got way more into it than we expected, and a tradition was born.
Then last year, I wracked my brain for fun parties I went to in college to try to come up with a new and fun Fraternity style party theme that would allow this eclectic group an opportunity to once again flaunt their wild side. After much discussion and brainstorming we opted for a “Rubik’s Cube” party. The gist was that everyone had to arrive wearing 5 different articles of clothing, each of a different color. Throughout the night party-goers had the chance to strip off layers and trade with their fellow attendees with a goal of becoming, well, all one color. It was a slightly more complicated and rule-centered party but was equally absurd and well received.
So starting about a month before my birthday this year, people began to ask, “So what’re you going to make us wear this year?” It was clear we needed a repeat performance. Mom, Josie, and I decided to google “Ridiculous Frat Party Theme’s” and see what was out there. While there are many options, we settled on an ABC – Anything But Clothes – party. Something that people could get really creative with, but that one could make on the day of with items they already have around the house. I had no idea just how creative people would get!
What will next year bring? Nobody knows. But whatever we choose it most certainly won’t be boring! I spent most of the day Sunday reading my book and, well, recuperating. Then this morning I set off on another visit to the Clinton Correctional Facility, luckily this time my muffler cooperated. As always, it was a fairly eventful day. On the drive up there was a beautiful rainbow framing Camels Hump and I thought to myself, “Maybe this is a sign of an easy visit!” Well, maybe. The ferry ride was choppy with waves breaking over the front of the boat. I was the only one on the boat to get out and walk around – letting the lake spray soak me through. The wind was so fierce I couldn’t stand straight. Hopefully this isn’t a better representation of what was too come!
I arrived at Clinton Correction Facility at 10:45 AM. I drove past the long, high, windowless concrete wall that makes the southern boarder of the prison. This consumes about three blocks of Main Street in Dannemora, and all the buildings across from it are boarded up and falling in.
I once again emptied my pockets except for my un-chained car key, 25 one dollar bills, and my drivers license. I wasn’t sure they’d let me in with my jacket on, but it was cold so I took the risk. I also brought down a paper bag full of groceries I brought for Leslie. She is allowed two packages of food per year, at a maximum of 20 pounds each. Imagine 2 bags of groceries per year! That’s one every six months… better savor that chocolate. Since it’s so limited I try to chose items she really likes and ensure I fill the full 20 pound maximum. I try to get in a bit of nutrition since the cafeteria at Clinton isn’t exactly known for it’s local organic produce. However, every item must be factory sealed and there are about a thousand different rules on what is allowed and what isn’t. I included two bags of chocolate chips because she loves them, even though some guards let them through and some don’t. I figured it was worth a try. They were nixed on first examination.
I entered the prison with my bag of groceries and faced the same blond woman from last visit. She again ignored me. “What’s in the bag? You bring me Chinese?” she finally asked. I put on my polite face and say “No, sorry this time it’s for my friend Leslie, she’s getting skinny in this place and I’m trying to fatten her up a bit.” I get a frown – I wonder briefly if using female pronouns for Leslie is damaging to my ease of visitation, if it’s part of the reason I’m continually harassed, delayed, and ignored during processing. As always I decide that even if it is, it’s worth it. I simply can’t indulge them in their heartless and undignified treatment of Leslie and the many other trans-women who are held prisoner within New York State’s prison system. So I say SHE and HER every chance I get. It’s small but it’s what I would want.
She has me empty the bag on a stainless steal table in the next room and goes through the items one by one. She wants to know what Leslie does with the chocolate chips. She tells me they are condiments designed for baking not eating and thus not permissible. I’m also told the two cans of Beefaroni aren’t allowed because they are in microwavable cartons instead of tin cans. I told her I send those in all the time and ask her to check with the package room on that. She huffs at me and asked the CO (Correctional Officer) at the next desk who says they are fine. A few more calories through the gate. One small win.
It’s almost noon by the time she’s examined, categorized, recorded, and bagged every item in the package. She then spends another painful 20 minutes to critique my ID, fill out paperwork, examine my coat and belt, send me and my things through the metal detector, stamp my hand, and of course recheck all of her handy-work. Finally I’m free to go through the loud sliding metal gate and into the courtyard lined with coils of barbed wire fencing atop the cold concrete walls. I’m clearly not at the ABC Party anymore!
Whether you are inside or outside these walls, you don’t have to peer very hard to see several guards pacing in each tower, carrying a sniper rifle loaded and ready. I can feel them watching my every move. I sneak glances around the yard, check out the gated truck entrances, the small building labeled “museum,” the distant yard with prisoners standing here and there. But I’m careful not to look like I’m casing the joint – I don’t want any CO’s to get jumpy with me. I enter the next building, empty my pockets again, answer a lot of stupid questions, and fill out some more paperwork. Among other things I’m grilled about why the address on my license is different from the one in their system (I guess getting a new PO Box number is a hard concept to understand).
I’m through the hurtles and in the visiting room seated at the long orange counter in seat number 7 by 12:15, an hour and a half after pulling into the parking lot. Leslie doesn’t turn up for another 45 minutes. She heard the CO get the call to bring her down and he sat there for half an hour before actually calling her. Visiting hours end at 230 so I’m forced to wonder about the delays. Are they caused by the CO’s simply not caring about anything, or is it worse than that? Could it be an actual strategic campaign to limit our visiting time? I put nothing past them.
Our time together is, as always, a pleasure. She updates me on the goings on of life on the inside. I hear about her neglected medical needs, but also funny stories of her day to day life. She devours several cheeseburgers from the vending machine – apparently they are trying to save money and have replaced all beef products with their GMO Soy “equivalent.” I fully understand that a TVP (texturized vegetable protein) burger just doesn’t quite cut it. We play Rummy, teach each other card tricks, and eat chips and candy from the vending room. Our time goes by all too fast and we are forced to say goodbyes. I promise to come again soon. I had sent her my last blog post about our visit and she was surprised to learn the hassle I go through to get in. I reassure her that it’s well worth it and it would never deter me, and we recognize that MY hassle is way less than hers, at least I’m allowed to keep my clothes on each time.
The exit process is much like the entrance in reverse. I learn that they also rejected the Oatmeal Cream Pie cookies I put in the package. Something about how they can make booze out of the raisins. God-forbid their junk food has any remnants of something that was once nutritious! As the high prison walls shrink in my rear view mirror another rainbow appears on the horizon as if to say “Get a grip Jamie, it’s a maximum security prison – that’s as easy as any visit is going to get.”