For fifteen months my wife and I have endured a separation most couples never have to. We have not shared a single moment alone. There was no honeymoon. After six months of being legally married we could apply for the privilege. That was in the form of the Family Reunion Program. A program offered by corrections to strengthen family ties. During this time the Lord’s grace kept us.
It happened on a Thursday. The humidity was suffocating. I waited for the 10:30am departure to the electric gate. This is where prisoners go to pick up packages sent from home. You also meet with different staff in the guidance unit. That’s where I was headed.
I had been placed on a new counselors case load, and scheduled to meet her that day. The call to go came at 10:45. In quiet lines, the other inmates and I marched down the sticky corridors that led to A-Block. Our sneakers and boots lifting from the cement floors sounded like someone was peeling off a piece of tape repeatedly. Some men carried green net bags to put their packages in, others toted folders of paperwork to share with their counselors. I had a pen and a half of an envelope I used to scribble down a few notes that I wanted to discuss.
Six of us split as we were waved through the gate by an officer who didn’t seem interested at all in carrying out his duties. He sat at a podium outfitted as a desk. The Buffalo news crossword puzzle in front of him. A plastic soda bottle with a small amount of brown liquid was in his hand. Every few moments he brought it to his mouth and spit more of the liquid out.
The officer grabbed our passes without acknowledging our presence, then directed some to the right and the others to a holding pen on the left. I was sent to the pen to wait on the counselor to escort me back to the office.
Just sitting in that area is draining. Dozens of people converse at one time about some of the most bizarre topics. That day was different. There were only three men waiting, and were all spread out, staring off into the blank whiteness of the walls.
Two men entered in just after me, speaking quietly to one another. The taller of the two had a red beard down to his chest and a long ponytail. His companion was short, stocky, and years younger.
“I mean I’m in here for that too, but it wasn’t a minor. He’s a pedophile for crying out loud, ” the taller one said, as he looked up and scanned around the room. His associate nodded, but didn’t make direct eye contact with anyone, as if he had a secret to hide. The two continued their conversation in the back, away from the ears of the rest of us.
A few moments passed and the steel doors slid open. Standing on the other side was a woman with blonde hair descending just past her ears. The first year counselor took me back to a wing with a dead-end. There were rooms on each side of the hallway resembling rows of cubicles with higher walls, and doors with plexiglass windows.
Her office seemed meager. A bulletin board was screwed on the wall with posters of exotic vistas; white sand beaches, waterfalls, and thick green forests. There were shelves full of binders, and one filing cabinet on the back wall. All in easy accessibility of her squeaky wheeled chair. There was a hole in the back wall no wider than a sheet of paper. It looked into a brightly lit larger room with more filing cabinets and desks. It reminded me of a drive-up window at a fast food restaurant.
She asked me a series of questions in relation to my safety in the facility. We spoke about my program needs and what I had accomplished over the years. We even set a couple of goals on my case plan. When I saw an opening I asked about the status of my application for FRP. I prepared myself for the usual answer of, “It’s still being processed.”
She typed something into her computer, then mentioned I had been approved since November 2015. I quickly brushed it off and explained that was when my application was sent to Albany for review. She offered to ask the coordinator of the program. Stunned by this generous offer I shook my head yes.
Leaping from her seat she told me to follow her. We made our way to another claustrophobic cubical. “I have a guy here who wants to know the status of his FRP application.”
After hearing my name the coordinators hands went up as if relieved. She picked up a form from her desk and began explaining to me that I had been approved.
Every ounce of me lit up. I sat elated as she told me the next steps my family and I had to do to complete the process. I shook my head in agreement to everything she said, excited to finally make it this far.
I must have floated back to the block. A weight had been lifted and all I could do was thank God. When I arrived back I was able to call my wife and deliver the great news.
We were finally approved.