I just returned home from San Quentin State Prison where I visited a super talented, jazz musician friend of mine named Lee. We first met several years ago while I was volunteering for a business entrepreneurial program called THE LAST MILE in the same prison – a program which Lee had participated in at the time. I do my best to coordinate a visit with Lee at least once every three months and just wanted to share with you my experiences doing so.
While one can schedule an appt via a CDCR online program, I prefer to simply show up as a “walk-in”. I usually arrive at the prison by 7:30am with my thermos of hot coffee, a book or magazine, my cell phone, car keys and a transparent gallon size plastic freezer bag in which I have my driver’s license, two $10 rolls of quarters for the vending machines; two single dollar bills to purchase a “ducat” which is the currency to purchase a photo once inside the visiting room. Only the freezer bag contents are allowed inside; all other items are stored in a locker.
Visitors who have made appts up until 10am are allowed to be processed first. The, the “walk-ins like myself form a queue. But until such time, we all either stand or sit on hard wooden benches that line a long cement outdoor building at the East Gate area. It’s a busy place with much anticipation and eagerness to enter and not be turned away (due to a possible lock-down situation, or for lack of proper ID or improper clothing attire. Women greet each other and talk excitedly; women with children keep the little ones occupied, and the men who visit smile quietly and listen to the women talk.
The acrylic painting titled “ANTICIPATION”, which was recently on display at Alcatraz under the auspices of the WILLIAM JAMES ASSOCIATION was created by San Quentin inmate artist, Gerald Morgan. It’s a piece of art that so aptly conveys the emotional experience of the visitation waiting area.
I’m convinced that most people have a misconception of what it’s like to visit inside a prison …at least at San Quentin. Once inside, I am always struck by a profound sense of joy of family. It’s a happy place for the time of the visit. There is so much genuine caring, love, respect for others, courtesy, laughter, sharing, sense of community , patience, playing of board games (I love Scrabble), holding of hands, stolen kisses, conversations and catching up…all until 2:30pm when visitors are asked to leave and those who are within the CDCR system line up to be processed back into the mainline. The time passes so quickly, too. Until the next visit.