I'd never been to the regional jail. A couple of hundred times riding the bus up to the book store and plenty of people sitting next to me or across from me were on their way to the jail to visit or to spring a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a husband, a wife. Sometimes they brought along kids. Sometimes they were only a couple of steps from incarceration themselves.
I remember the guy who was going to see his wife. She was in on a parole violation because of a domestic violence charge. She hit him upside the head with a boot with a stiletto heel. It cut an ugly gash down his face. He sat in the back with a guy, he thought, was a guard or a worker at the jail and explained to him what had happened.
The guy he told his story to worked at Target and could not get away soon enough.
I remember the tattooed grandmother with her grandkids hanging off her talking on the phone and selling drugs by the pill: Three dollars a piece for something. Pain killers. Muscle relaxers. Whatever gets you high.
There were others on that bus ride, going just a couple of stops further than I was, and I'd never been until yesterday.
In the lobby, most everybody had the same bruised and weary look. Some were on the verge of tears. Others fidgeted nervously in their chairs. Nobody really smiled.
The people waiting in the lobby had come to see people in holding; friends, lovers and family awaiting trial or transport to other facilities probably less gracious. Here and there, you could see legitimate heartbreak: a young woman 8 months pregnant; a middle-aged father and mother with hands clasped as tightly as links in a anchor chain; too many small children.
A round woman in a dirty fast food uniform came in wearing a dirty and grease spattered apron. Her skin was like a glazed donut and she had browning tic-tacs for teeth. It was her first time and she didn't know how to operate the lockers.
"You put in a quarter and take the key," someone explained to her.
Visitors aren't allowed to bring in much beyond their identification in the visiting area. Everything else has to be held by someone not going inside or else kept in a small, steel locker.
She couldn't get the locker to work and lost her quarter. It was her first time here, she said. She seemed resigned to a fate that dictated this was not going to go well.
But a couple of kids and their mother helped her. They got the locker to work and gave her the money back.
It was a little thing.
They let someone go. His sentence was up. An order was in. Time served. Whatever. It hardly matters, but a man came out from the other side, wearing street clothes and looking not relieved, but exhausted, as if he'd been pulled from the wreckage of some awful accident: a truth, perhaps. The accident being his life. His family greeted him. They wrapped their arms around him and held him. Each took their turn and nobody rushed.
He was returned to them and they, to him. Everyone was given permission to breathe again.