The invitation to come forward and confess the sin of bitterness and an unforgiving heart was extended sincerely from the pulpit last night. I considered taking the long walk down the aisle to the front of the church, but stopped myself because I knew I’d have to confess those sins all over again tomorrow. I’d like to be able to confess, forget, and never experience it again, but that won’t happen. I’m traveling to the federal prison tomorrow to see my brother and even after more than a decade of these trips the hostility wells up and overtakes. I suppose if I weren’t made to face this situation every day I might be willing to rush to the pulpit knees bended and heart contrite, but that’s not my reality.
Let me tell you what it’s like. Visiting hours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.. I need to arrive at the prison at 7:30 a.m. to start standing in line to get a chance to see my brother. It’s cold at that time in the morning and the waiting area in the prison won’t open until 9 a.m. on the nose. You can’t wear a coat because you can’t bring a coat inside the prison. You’re not allowed to park your car in front of the building. Parking is more than two blocks away so the idea that you can toss your coat in the car before you go in is not an option. Once inside the building an array of paperwork needs to be filled out and you have to surrender your driver’s license to the hostile guards on the other side of an imposing desk. I am allowed to bring $25 in quarters with me for the vending machines and the quarters must be inside a clear, plastic bag. The dress code is black pants, tennis shoes, and a blouse. The guards could change their mind about the dress code at the last minute and send you home if they don’t like what you’re wearing. They may decide your pants are the same shade of black as the team working in the dispensary that day and turn you away. They may decide the emblem on your tennis shoes is too bright and turn you away. They may decide the sleeves on your blouse are too big and turn you away. The guards can and do whatever they want. Humiliation is their motivation and they are exceptional at their job.
If I’m still waiting in the reception area to see my brother by 9:30 a.m. I’ll be made to wait for another hour. At 10 a.m. the prison officials have to count all the prisoners and no one is allowed in. That takes about fifty minutes. If you decide to leave and come back you lose your place in line. The guards may not let you back in at all. From the reception area you go through a screening process, pat-down, metal detectors, etc.. If all is clear I’ll be escorted to another waiting room where I add my name on a roster with other people hoping to see their loved ones. When my name is called I’m led into a smaller holding area and the door is locked behind me. Another surly guard behind a massive, bullet-proof glass reads my name off my driver’s license and I step forward. After they look me over my hand is stamped and I wait a little while longer. Eventually I am escorted outside to a cage. I can only describe this area as a dog run. I’m locked inside the dog run and I wait again. After a bit another guard unlocks the door to the visitor’s room and I am escorted into the area and led to another guard sitting at another elevated station. I am told where I can sit and wait.
In the meantime, my brother has already been waiting. The guards have given him a full cavity search and shackled his hands and feet. He has Parkinson’s disease and struggles with walking and moving his arms and this only adds to the aggravation. He has no teeth because they’ve been beaten out of his head and he’s going blind. His face his huge because of the medication he is on and his head is misshapen from the multiple beatings he’s taken. He waits and shakes. He can’t help it. Parkinson’s is a vial disease.
When I finally see him I can give him a short hug. I use my quarters to buy him orange juice. It’s $5.50 for a small bottle of orange juice. Citrus is at a premium in prison. When my brother has to use the restroom he has to raise his hand until the guard decides to call on him. Rick will have to endure another full cavity search before he can be returned to the spot across from me in the visiting room. It’s loud in the visiting room. Rick can hardly talk at times and it’s hard to hear what he says, but I’m not allowed to move my chair closer to him. I wait for him to repeat his thought and watch him shake uncontrollably wanting to cry and never stop. In that moment I’m crushed. In that moment I demand justice. In that moment I am terrified of how unforgiving I truly am and if I could make his ex-wife and her daughter pay for what they’ve done by making them experience this scene over and over again I would.
As I walk back to the vending machine to purchase another bottle of orange juice I’m reminded of how much I have been forgiven of. I’ll reflect on the magnificent Savior and marvel at His grace. As I watch my brother struggle to swallow I’ll remember that I’ve been shown mercy by my Heavenly Father. I’ll remember what His Word says about forgiveness and I hang my head in shame. I will never be able to realize that here. Not here in this room, not seeing what I see, and not knowing Rick dies here – blind, shaking, and waiting.