Guest Columnist #71 - Spider

A Visit With an Old Friend

     Beeeeeep... The sound bounces off the brick walls as all eyes are on me. The female guard says, "Try again." She looks faintly amused, but mostly bored. Bored with her control. Grrrr ... I pivot on my toe and it beeps again as I walk back through to prepare for my second run, all the dumb redneck jokes about what would happen if I ever tried to make it through a metal detector are running triumphantly through my head. I close my hand around the bells wired to the end of a dread, pull my arms in close to my body, and as I walk fast I focus all my will on making it through that evil machine. I sigh as barrier # 1, between me and an old friend is passed.
     I am the last to remove my shoes from the xray conveyor, and the whole group waits for me to put them back on. There is a nervous tension in the air, and I wonder if maybe I'm not the only one who worries that it's all a big trick. Once they get me inside, behind the walls and the iron gates, the plexiglass and steel, maybe they'll decide to keep me.
     "Everybody in single file, and stay to the right," she announces as we round a corner, passing through a doorway which leads to a downward sloping hallway. We all plaster ourselves to the far wall, inwardly conflicted between disgust and disease at the easily assumed are of authority. Even though I have doubts as to my status within these walls ("visitor" or "Prisoner"?), it seems they know exactly who I am.
     Across from us is a tinted wall of plexiglass covered with horizontal metal bars, and hiding behind that is a room full of various surveillance equipment and guards. they stare us down, following some routine protocols I haven't yet been able to identify, then when they are satisfied, they open the gate .... whirr..whirr..whirr..whirrr ... CLANK! .."When you enter the room, keep to your left." We all crowd through the gate, passing through barrier # 2 between me and an old beloved friend, and I am feeling a lot like a cow in an overcrowded slaughterhouse corral. The motor churns and the gate slowly closes, the guards stare us down some more, some people crack the kind of nervous jokes that are meant only to divert their own sense of built-in guilt when under the scrutiny of authority figures, and then the gate on the opposite side of the room slowly starts to crank open. Whirring, whirring, like my tension building, and CLANK! The sound echoes off the walls into infinity as I pass through barrier # 3 between me and an old friend. We enter a long hallway, gleaming white with several doors at either side of it. I imagine unnamable horrors behind each one as she once again barks out," Single file. Keep to your left." We flatten ourselves against the far wall, everyone with a fake casualness about their motions, like we were all trying to convince ourselves that this was ok. This, is somewhat like the idea of giving in to a rape to take the power away from the rapist.. Like if we feign willing consent, the element of force is lessened. She unlocked a door on the end of the hallway, right side, and began ushering us through it one by one. Her face softened for a second as she caught me looking, “Have a nice visit," she sez as I pass through barrier # 4 between me and an old friend.
     Inside the Visiting room everyone is momentarily stunned. We are all deer-in-headlights taking it all in. The plastic signs everywhere displaying various rules, the guard elevated up on a platform higher than my head, staring smugly down upon us ... we, the poor feudal peasant workers, ..he, the ruffian dungeon-master, servant to the king. The same sick duality played out for centuries, using skills of mind torture gleaned from the Inquisition, with that predictable socio-economic/political twist that is prevalent in our modern day prison system. I catch his eyes and lock mine onto them, subtlety refusing to acknowledge anything but his humanity... possibly a bad idea, but I have psychological warfare skills of my own. He is painfully aware of me...... I let him go. Clutching my tokens that I got in the waiting room, I walk carefully around the edge of the room, looking for my friend. He's still not here. Who knows what barriers he's going through on his side of things, trying to get here, to this institutional middle ground, to me. I find a spot on the other end of the room to wait, aware of all the male eyes on me, my body, picking apart my every move, every curve, every gesture. The two guards, placed on separate ends of the huge fluorescently exposed room, are talking on their telephones to each other. And they're talking about me. It's easy to see in their shifty arrogant eyes, looking quickly away from my gaze in that Jr. High cafeteria sort of way. And this is startlingly similar to my Jr. High cafeteria; the same intolerably bright lighting with it's omni-present buzz, the same junk-filled vending machines lining one whole wall, the round white clocks ticking on each end of the room, the same grating feeling of being watched constantly. Except different from Jr. High cuz the clock isn't ticking out the time until the last bell of the day, it's ticking out the time of my friend's stolen life. How many times do the hands, go around a clock in 20 years? And they seem to be going So agonizingly slow as I continue to wait for them to bring him to me.
     I overhear bits of conversations of those around me. " I love you, I miss you so much." "..can't take it anymore. I just sit and stare at the walls." "You don't even wanna know what they feed us here, man." Talk of suicide, lost love, sorrow, insanity, mistakes made, lost friends/family, racism, abuses from the guards, isolation....
     Finally they bring out my friend and he looks tense..upset. We hug a surreal hug, sit down in a chair. " I thought they were taking me to the fucking hole," he sez. They never tell them anything, like to keep them guessing and constantly fearing the worst. Classic prisoner-of-war mind control techniques. We sit through a strained visit, clutching each others' clammy hands, trying to be cheerful under the glaring lights, the staring guards. It is hard to look into the tired eyes of someone you love and force a smile onto your face, knowing full well you may not see them free again until you are both almost 50. I don't even know if I'll live to be 50. I'm sometimes surprised I have even made it to 26.
     We push our way through an hour of choppy conversation until the guards give the call..."Five minutes!" We stand and hug each other tightly.. kiss with a little tongue, as much as we can get away with. Then we are both taken through the whole process in reverse, through our various locked doors and gates, behind our various degrees of separation.
     Back outside I can thing of nothing but him. Are they strip searching him as I walk to my friends van? They like to do that a lot, apparently. You think they fuck with us punks on the street, just imagine how it is on the inside, where resisting will get you nowhere but the hole.
     All that day and the next few days after, each thing I touch, every small menial task is shrouded in a new sort of morbid appreciation. He can't listen to this old Rorschach album. He would love to eat this fried tofu, to sit in front of this fire, to lie reading Ishmael in my bed, to have the freedom to be intimate with another person, to walk to the store, to drink a beer, or any of the numerous things we all take for granted every day. I wonder if I'm gonna feel like this every time I go see him.. like my heart is breaking over and over and my small little world disintegrates piece by fucking trivial little piece.
     Let's get this straight, ok? I don't go there for me. I go there for him. I hate it in there, the condescension of the guards, the exposure, the mind games ... but I do it anyways. Not out of some warped sense of duty, but for the simple knowledge that I would want the same were I in his position.
     So why am I writing this? What am I trying to say to you? What is my fucking point? Just this ... just that I can think back to other times in my life and other ways I was living and see how easily it could've been me. There are a lot of awesome people sitting forgotten in a cell right now..people just like you or me. The only difference being that they got caught and we didn't.
     Once we stop seeing ourselves as the helpless victims of society, we will stop being so limited by this definition. Yes.. it could've been you in there who I went to see the Other day.  Think about that for a minute. We've all done some dumb shit we're glad we didn't get busted for. Right? But it wasn't you, so what are we left with? Hopefully with this awareness of our daily freedoms will also surface the realization that even though we live in a police state there are still lots of things we can do to either help get people out, or to improve the daily lives of those who are in.
     once you realize it could've been you in there, you shouldn't need any suggestions from me.. Just imagine that it is you... imagine your life stripped away to a pitiless routine, a cell smaller than your bathroom, and the whims of some stupid cop jocks with guns and all the time in the world to get paid to fuck with you... just imagine... How would it feel to be forgotten? .... and ask yourself, What would I be hoping that people would do for me????

—Spider..1330 Oak St., Eugene OR.
I welcome any correspondence regarding the issue of Prisoner support.
(contact info from 2002 - ed)