Wednesday morning began as any other excpet the undercurrent of excitement rippling under my skin. I was, in fact, almost sure it was visible there just beneath the surface as the hour of my departure drew near. Going to Texas is always an adventure for me. I worked until 1 and travled south to Tallahassee to pick up my rental before heading west. The drive is long but easy; it's freedom from work, from the responsibility of parenthood, from school...it is almost another life completely.
The panhandle was cloudy....warm still and wet. Alabama began to cool me off. Mississippi brought the night. Louisiana held her mystery, and Texas, as odd and death filled as it is, has become a part of me. Recognizing the roads, the towns, the landmarks creates a stirring in my soul much like the one that comes from making my way back to my childhood home.
I arrived in the wee hours to the guesthouse on Mangum Rd....lights from the prison (Polunsky) visible from my car's spot in the dirt parking area. I am greeted at the door--people excited to meet me and show me in. Eileen owns the place and Renate is in from Germany to visit her special someone over the next few weeks. We talk for a bit before I retire to let friends and family (few of them actually know where I actuall am) that I'm still among the living. I pick up a book as if reading is an option after so much time on the road. It never even gets opened before I decide I should get some much needed sleep. I have full days ahead.
Texts wake me early in the a.m. making me smile a bit before the alarm sounds (M! <3). I go through the motions I usually take to go anywhere--shower, makeup, hair, smell goods and let's go. I meet Weibke. Her husband was scheduled to be executed but he was granted a stay. His case is exactly why we need to relook at this system of ours (www.larry-swearingen.com). She's somber. It was a close call and attending vigils for other executions this week has brought things even closer to home. Renate holds me up needing a ride to the unit but not quite ready to go. Finally, we arrive. I'm nervous as always and excited. The watchtowers loom over me. The fencing, the vast grayness, the palpable sense of angst all remind me just where I am. The car is searched and I sign in. The guard checks every nook including under the hood of the car (I don't even know how to pop the fucker to begin with...I had to search for ages). We park and go through the front check in process: metal detector, spread 'em and get felt up, take off your shoes, take off your coats, getting the wand...., then I step up to sign in for my visitor's pass. DR visitor #9.
There is an electric door which warns that no hostages will go beyond this point to pass through...another door, an electric gate...an 'open' walkway to the next building and 2 more electric doors to get to visitation. Mrs. Tucker is friendly as always and knows me by name now. That's oddly pleasant for me. There are tiny cubicles lined up one after another opposite vending machines. each cubicle has two phone booth phones and a chair. thick glass separates visitors from inmates...their side is a tiny cage. This is what I stare at while I wait...an empty dog kennel. Renate's nervous chatter drowns out my tension--almost. It takes forever, but then I hear a familiar clang and click. Guards. Robert--wearing his 'serial killer' glasses to boot (inside joke). I am all smiles when I see his face light up. The next four hours speed by. The electricity has been off, so half the vending machines aren't working. We pig out on candy and chips and all sorts of junkfood. What I have to do is wait at the vending machine, deposit my money, and let the guard bag up the food I'm getting for him. I'm not allowed to touch it. Then it gets taken to him and handed in through a tray slot. We talk about some things I can do to help raise awareness about his case. He has a website that doesn't get enough attention...time to redo it. I get some ideas for how to contact journalists there in texas...We discuss the merits of contacting the ACLU and Amnesty Int. We also laugh, talk, joke...discuss anything and everything, really. He's become a friend to me since we first started writing and he probably knows me better than most people could. It's easy to open up in a letter, but it's more than that.
A lot of people wonder why i do this...fuck, I often wonder why I do this to myself. It would be easy to forget about it all...to not become involved, to not care, to not be a friend...but haven't I cheated myself by treating them like they're already dead? Life is about learning and also about hardships on top of the happy, joyous occasions. Life is also about experiences. So, fuck it. I'm L-I-V-I-N.
to be continued.