It's been a very long time since I have gone through any type of "orientation". I've been at my current place of employment for almost 7 years, I haven't been pregnant in over 15 years and I haven't enrolled in educational programs so there hasn't been a need. Yep, my life has been pretty uneventful up until the last few months but my years of not participating in an orientation ended last night.
I got a letter in the mail about a week and a half ago, on behalf of Chad, inviting me and other family members and friends with valid ID and no outstanding warrants to attend a family orientation the prison conducts the first Tuesday of every month. Dad and I felt it was important to go so we did.
The meeting wasn't held at the prison itself but rather across the freeway on the mountain across from the prison. In the building there were pictures of the prison, inside and out. I started at the picture of the cells reading the footnote explaining the context of the picture. Inmates are housed in a 12x8 cell, two inmates that is. The cell has a 2 bed bunk, a toilet, TV outlet and a 5 inch window. God I can't imagine or believe my brother's life, by his choice somewhat, has resorted to a 12x8 space for a 15 to life sentence. I cannot for the life of me wrap myself around the thought that anybody gets used to living like that. TWELVE BY EIGHT.........12x8!!!!! Sounds like the epitome of hell to me.
I had NO idea there would be so many people there. I was surprised quite frankly. We all ranged in age, some of us quite young to middle aged to the elderly. Parents, siblings, friends...you name it, and we were all there on behalf of a loved one who has just entered the Utah State Prison for one reason or another. I couldn't help but ask myself as I looked around in this room filled with people if they were going through the same hell I and my family were. What exactly have they gone through with their loved one? How many nights have they been awake fearing the worst? How many of them risked everything they had and lost it all helping their loved one who has now become an inmate in the prison system. You start wondering what their inmate is in for. Is it their first time? Are they as scared as I am at times? All of us are a relative of a person who did something bad enough or enough times that jail was no longer an option so prison bound they were.
The meeting went over general information about commissary, visitation, mail, medical, education and religion, IPP (Inmate Placement Program) and the Board of Parole & Pardons. There was a representative from each of those departments there to give us information regarding their particular area and answer questions any of us might have had. WOW...what a run down! Visitation is a MAJOR puzzle of confusion. The officer was a woman, gorgeous by the way, who presented the rules of visitation that even confuse her and she has been doing this for YEARS. Hard ass in an understatement in regards to her. She was VERY informative, very nice but hard as nails as I'm sure she needs to be in her line of work. A tall but slender lady she was but those are the one's you should worry about. After all, dynamite comes in small packages and she portrayed herself with a "put's up with no shit" mentality. I guess you would have too after seeing the things she does and has in her career and the loops a person will jump through to make it into the prison. I wonder if getting into Fort Knox is this entailed.
My dad and I were blown away over the amount of information provided and the answers to questions that were asked not to mention learning a whole new vocabulary or set of terms that are referred too in the system.
While each individual and their area in the prison was interesting, the one who relieved me the most was the chaplain. He discussed the educational, work and religious opportunities offered to each inmate. But what caught my attention the most and eased my heart was when he said "don't look at this as the end but rather a 2nd chance." Of course nobody says "hey let's go hang out at the prison for a day, that sounds fun" he went onto say. He reiterated that this time in the inmates life is a time for them put the pieces back together IF they want too and get involved in programs whether it's spiritual, educational or work, that can help them become better people so they when they leave, they don't return. Again it is all in the hands of the inmate when they get out of R&O and what is offered to them in their areas of general population whether or not they want give themselves that "2nd chance" to do on the inside what they couldn't on the outside.
The rules are STRICT and rigid but necessary to secure the safety of everybody involved. Some seemed a little out there and others made sense but I understood and understand why they are the way they are. After all, we are dealing with a population of thousands of people that have indulged themselves in the game of crime that finally caught up with them. Some might be high crime, others petty crime, some are violent, others are not, but when it comes down to it, it's all the same and it landed them in the big house. The only difference is the length of time an inmate will do for their criminal activity.
In regards to parole, a first degree felony offender, as in Chad, normally doesn't see the board for a minimum of 3 years however, because there are so many offenders, they are trying to now spread that out to 7 years. It will be at that first parole hearing if Chad is denied, that the board will decide the next time he will face them. It could be 6 months, a year or twenty years. Once you enter the prison system, your life is now in the hands of the board. THEY decide your fate and when you will be "walking to the gate". That's one of the new terms I learned last night and means when you walk out of prison and into freedom.
I'm glad I went and I'm glad my dad went with me. We have to stick together and do as much as we can in this particular situation as a family. It's the only way we might get through this. It was pitch black outside when we left. The meeting was almost 2 hours. As I said earlier, the building was up on the mountain so as we were walking to my car I could see the whole valley. A valley with thousands of moving cars, millions of flashing lights, and life in general going on with a well lit, razor fenced community of buildings housing a population of criminals right in the middle of it all. Life continues to go on right around these barriers and somewhere in one of those many buildings is my brother. My brother who I miss so much and love with every bit of my soul.