She seemed at first to be embarrassed by our conversation but gradually became at ease. She told me she was from a small town outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, had two small children, and struggled to get by. Her in-laws lived close and helped; otherwise, she said, with slumping shoulders, she just didn’t know how she would make it.
We talked for several minutes while waiting to be taken to the visiting area. She wanted to know why I was visiting and simply shrugged when I said I was interviewing a prisoner for a book. Her eyes said she didn’t think that was a good enough reason to come to a prison. I understood. Prisons were depressing. I would see people happily embrace when they finally got to touch their loved one, only to end up in tears as they left a couple of hours later. I tried to put myself in their place, but of course, that was not possible.
She said she tried to come up regularly but sometimes that wasn’t possible. Sometimes the prison was in lockdown and visitation wasn’t allowed and sometimes one of the children might be sick. I sensed a weariness to her words. I wished her luck and said I would keep her in my thoughts.
Inside, I saw her embrace her husband, young with a babyish face, looking like he was no more than twenty. I was constantly amazed by how young the inmates seemed.
I saw her one other time after that day, then a new woman was visiting the inmate and she was no longer there. Then, one day I was seated close to him when his mother visited, and we began talking. She said his wife had taken up with another man and the other woman I saw was his sister. She said it without anger, as though understanding the burden the wife had felt.
That, I learned, was fairly common, the dissolution of family while the father is incarcerated. But still I recalled her sorrowful eyes and hoped that somehow she and her inmate would get back together.