This month I was privileged to help facilitated a visitation trip to FCC Hazelton. The Federal Correctional Complex Hazelton has three facilities that house maximum security men, medium security men and medium security women. Over 70 family members boarded two busses to take the three-hour drive from Washington, DC to visit their loved ones who are incarcerated in Brucetonmills, West Virginia. It was bitter sweet for me.
Those trips always give me a glimpse into the lifestyle my children and family once lived when I was incarcerated. For eight years my family came to visit me annually in FCI Danbury. It was an eight-hour drive. I saw my children grow up in the visiting room.
The first time I held my seven-year-old granddaughter was in SFF Hazelton in the visiting room. I can still see her crawling under the table as I sat across from my daughter. I was so excited that I had more than the 15 minutes allotted on the telephone to talk to her. Visits helped me maintain some semblance of a bond with my children.
On the trip to FCC Hazelton, I was deeply touched by the elderly people who went up to visit. There was a 73-year-old woman who went to visit her son. He has been incarcerated for 17 years. There was another elderly woman who could barely stand. She had a walker and a cane, but she was delighted to be able to go and visit her granddaughter who has been incarcerated for 15 years.
The children who were going to visit their parents were bright eyed and bushy tailed. Their faces were shining and each little boy had a fresh haircut. They were spreading infectious joy.
A six-year-old little boy pulled on my heartstrings as we prepared to board the bus. He told me, “My dad doesn’t know that I am coming to visit him. It’s a surprise!” I told him that he should hide behind his mom when his dad came out and then jump out and surprise him. He just smiled at me like it sounded like a good idea.
Of the 72 people who attended the trip, 98% of them were women and children.
It was a blessing to be able to help facilitate the visit. I was inspired by the joy the family members expressed when the bus returned home in the evening. They conveyed their gratitude and sought to get me to commit to telling them when the next trip would be. “Hopefully November, or December, around the holidays” is all I could muster to say.
I wish I could have made a more solid promise, but the funding and approval for such trips comes from the higher ups and I’m just the little guy on the totem pole. I will hope, pray and push for more opportunities like these for children and family members of incarcerated individuals.
Although I was happy that the family members were content for the moment, I understood all too well the pain hiding behind their smiles, the grief hiding behind their strength. I understood all too well their determination to endure.
Sometimes being strong is the only choice you have left.