By: Gunther Fiek
Posted by: Bob Chatelle
At the first facility that I was housed at, Autry S.P., I was assigned to a housing unit where my cell window allowed me a good view of the front entrance to the prison, a good bit of the parking lot and the road that led to the entrance there. Daily, I watched the staff go in and out of the facility and I particularly enjoyed watching them during shift change as they drove in and off in various makes of cars. Some raggedy looking, others probably a few years old but well maintained and clean, and a few that looked brand new. It gave me a good idea, I thought, of the lifestyle of some of the staff. I remember reading once, somewhere, that you can judge people by the car they drive.
I looked forward to the weekends and holidays because my window gave me a view of family and friends that were coming in to visit their loved ones. I could see individuals of all ages, families, elderly, children, …etc. I wondered: that is someone’s mother, father, wife, girlfriend, or kid. Needless to say, the time I really took advantage of that sight was when my family was coming to visit me. Sometimes I could see them drive in and park. I could see them going through the main front gate, walk through the open walkway to the main building where they would go through a security check and register. A few minutes later I was being summoned to the visitation room.
I had been at that facility for a couple of years and my family, especially my parents, would come and visit every other weekend. It was about a four and half hour drive from the suburb of Atlanta where they still live. As they came in, my dad at times would walk in a fast pace ahead of my mom. He wanted to get in quick so that he could get to the snacks and food from the vending machines before they ran out. He would go straight to them to see if there was any new items and grab what he knew I usually liked and what he thought I would like. My mom would also follow suit. By the time I got there, there was usually a mountain of food piled up on the very small round tables that each group of visitors had. Many times I couldn’t eat all of it and at the end of the visit any left over stuff we would either give it to someone else or my parents would take it with them. Although I was thankful, I complained to them that they should at least wait until I got there. I was concerned about the money being spent and I didn’t want it to be an additional burden. The vending machine’s goods available inside the prison are overpriced and around those years (this is early 2000’s) gasoline was ridiculously at an all time high. My mom didn’t want to hear it and would scold me by saying that when she visits me she wants to see with her own eyes that I’m eating good. It pleased both my parents. How can anyone argue that?
One particular day that I will never forget, and I still haven’t even though its been quite a few years, was a sight on a sunny but cold visitation day that got my attention as I was watching some visitors come in. An elderly couple, husband and wife I presumed, where slowly making there way through the open walkway. The elderly man walked at a slow pace — very slow pace. He looked like he struggled a bit with every step. He held a cane in one hand and his elderly wife held his other arm. They both were wearing winter cloth — each with a heavy coat on them and scarf around their necks. I could tell they were both cold and I remembered my mom telling me how breeze that walkway was. I guessed that the man was in his early or mid 80’s while the woman in her mid or late 70’s. From the distance I could see their silver grey hair. The elderly woman looked in better shape than her husband and I wondered about the old man.
I was mesmerized in thought as I continued to watch the elderly couple gradually make their way to the entrance of the main building. Realising that I have a lengthy sentence and that I would probably never get out, I became engulfed with sadness and anguish. Some years from now, that elderly couple could be my parents. With that image in mind, they both just wanted to see their loved one — probably their son — even as they walk at a slow pace. Vending machines and snacks could wait.
My mom has always been in good shape and health — and looks. She seems as someone of a much younger age. She exercises almost daily and is careful of what she eats. My dad, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. He always complaints of aches on his body (although some are just on his mind) but, since my incarceration, he has had a few close calls with his health — some life threatening. During recent visits, he sometimes says that I will one day see him come in with a walker or even on a scooter. Of course, I don’t take that lightly as the image of the picture I described above always comes to mind.
I pray for them daily as is the best that I can do from where I am. I don’t know when will God call for them, but I do believe that my petitions are what has sustained them both. As for myself, during concerned times, it has kept me strong and at peace.