My memory during his prison years are very blurry. Fortunately for me these weren’t years I prefered to recall. Most often dad would call us Collect. Mom would ignore many of his phone calls over the years she said it “cost too much money”. When we did talk there wasn’t much to say. I was too busy doing what little boys do with too many sisters. Playing outside. I would do anything to get away from all that fingernail painting and dress up games most of my sisters liked to do. Dad’s common source of communication was post cards. I always wondered how he got them. They were written in cursive with sentence structure of a five-year. He never cared for learning English. The cards were often printed with a religious sentiment and over time he would add a bible verse to spice it up. He always sounded very happy. My favorite card was for my birthday. He would never forget my birthday.

On rare occasions, we would go visit my dad in prison. The first visit was when I was 10 years old. Located in the center of the state my mom, Jenny, and I got up before the sun came up. We drove about two-hours North to a town I couldn’t pronounce, in an area surrounded by nothing but trees and a narrow two-lane road. I understood why they choose to put the prison here. You had to be crazy to try escaping. A death sentence in itself. There was a prison and a swamp. Nothing else for miles.

Waiting in line to check in I noticed many single mothers and their children. Prisonwives united by the failure of one mans actions. We the fatherless children just wanting to see dad; to feel loved by the other gender that created us. Before we did that though we would have to participate in the same protocol inmates went through before taking part in their visitation rights.

After checking in to prove I was the child of a prisoner,  I was passed through a metal detector and sent immediately into a private room. The door on the left labeled “men only” with the “female” entrance to the right. My mom warned me that I was going to be searched but the experience was very surreal. The process made me feel like I was the prisoner not the other way around. Though I proved I wasn’t confiscating any metal weapons into their facility it didn’t mean I wasn’t smuggling drugs into the prison. It was very common for women to hide drugs in their paintes, if not swallow small pellet containing drugs that they would dislodge after entering the facility. Maybe they thought this was a “father like son” kind of thing.

The room was small, cold, and silent. I waited anxiously for the prison guard to come in. This was the closest I had ever come to a cop! He made me take off my shoes to check inside. I had to take my belt off for inspection as well. “Place your hands on the wall”, he said monotonously. The pat down took less than 10 seconds but in the moment it felt like an eternity. He told me to get dressed and wait on the other side of the door that he was exiting toward. My mom and sister hadn’t exited from the room yet but I knew they would take longer. They had more places to potentially hide things. As I looked over my shoulder I could see prisoners waiting on the picnic benches for their loved ones. They would have to pass the very procedure I just went through.

I could see my dad but he couldn’t see me yet. He wasn’t sitting like most of the inmates. His shirt tucked in and belt buckle fixed to center. He pulled out his comb and began brushing his hair back as he always did. Habits are hard to break. I wanted to give him a really big hug but I couldn’t. A feeling I would always have about my dad.