This article was published in collaboration with Vice.
Just before he went into prison, in a rare moment of levity, I said to my husband, “I can’t believe you’re going to Florence without me!”
We had always planned a trip to Italy together.
I recently deposited him at a minimum-security facility in Florence, Colo. He was self-surrendering, meaning that when the judge sentenced him to 30 months, he was given the opportunity to report himself to prison on the day the U.S. Marshal’s office told him to be there.
We had almost six weeks from the time of sentencing until he had to report. Talk about a countdown.
Here are some of the things you do as you wait to go to prison: drive whenever you go anywhere, plant your spring garden, get your financial house in order, finalize your will, take baths, and cry.
My husband had no prior criminal record, and at 56, he never thought prison1 would be part of his life story. After the trial, we were in financial trouble, and we had to put our house up for sale, so we chose new carpet, painted the basement, cleaned the garage, purged closets, went to the hazardous waste dropoff — all to get the place ready for buyers.
It got harder as his prison date got closer. I’d wake in a panic at 4:00 a.m., my heart already pounding. Three more nights, no, wait, only two—hang on, what day is it?
The best advice he got was, “Do your own time. Don’t do anyone else’s.” That made sense to me. Just keep your head down and get through it as fast as you can.
The prison is a two-and-a-half hour drive from our house. South, and west, through a couple of cities and then out to the hills. Since he was self-surrendering, we thought I could go in with him, drive up to the parking lot, say goodbye.
As I pulled up to the gate, the guard told him to get out of the car, stand to the side. “You can’t stay, ma’am,” he said politely, as the tears slid down my cheeks. “You need to pull the car around and leave.”
In the chaos we both forgot the one thing he was allowed to take in with him: his reading glasses.
I turned the car and pulled out to the gate, stopping on the side of the highway. I looked back to see him standing there in jeans and a black T-shirt. He waved and gave me a thumbs up. I drove home to my empty house, the new “For Sale” sign up on the front lawn.
I went to visit him the next weekend. He had told me I could bring a Ziploc bag with cash for the vending machines, as well as my ID, but nothing else.
The visiting room had molded plastic chairs, the vending machines, and a water fountain. No locks on the bathrooms, just a sliding sign you move from “vacant” to “in use.” The space was noisy, with kids, families, and inmates in green pants and shirts. (Any visitor wearing green gets turned away.)
My husband and I sat side by side in the blue plastic chairs, our legs pressed together.
I tried to get him a coffee, but after several rounds of clattering quarters, an inmate told me the machine hadn’t worked for two years. When I went to the food vending machine at noon, all the salads were gone.
Then I realized why guys had food stacked up beside them at 9:00 a.m. — the good stuff, like those prepackaged salads, goes first. Best to get your food as soon as you arrive and save it for later.
You learn systems.
Six hours later I left with the craziness of this 30-month situation banging around in my head. Yes, I would see him for a supervised visit in another week, with my Ziploc of quarters, my non-green clothes, my stack of stories for him about our kids, our dog.
And I would wait for several hundred nights.