The alarm went off at 4:45am on December 25th, 2009, but I had long been awake. My flight from JFK to LAX touched down nine hours earlier. I was tired, jet lagged, and anxious about the day ahead. I had that “first day of school” feeling. Mom fed the cat while my younger sister packed a cooler of refreshments for the day.
We took off in Mom’s car a little after 5:30am.
Usually, the family spent Christmases on the beach in Maui. Now we visited Dad in prison. Prison? How did this happen?
The trip to the maximum security Corcoran Prison clocked in at 3 hours. Having been turned away before, we called the prison visitor center hotline to make sure the inmates weren’t on lock-down.
Mom turned on the radio “To listen to traffic,” but it was really to drown out the silence. We drove by Magic Mountain and I remembered the Free Fall ride from my high school trip, dropping 50 stories in half a second and leaving my stomach back at the top. That’s how it felt driving to prison.
We made a pit stop at the county line in Bakersfield for one last restroom break: prison restrooms, even at the visitor center, typically had no toilet paper or soap. I’d seen Himalayan out houses that were cleaner.
The only things visitors were allowed to bring in were money, an ID, car key and an unopened pack of tissues. Sometimes I smuggled gum in my bra. Dressing for prison was a constant costume conflict, and I had to come prepared with a suitcase of clothes in the car. I liked to dress for the holidays. Years prior, I rented an Easter Bunny costume and wore it to visit Dad in jail. Oh jail. Life was so simple then.