Alisha was in much better spirits during this visitation (aside from her cello performance) and that may have been due to the fact that she had been released from segregation after 5 days. A conversation with her mother, Sherri, resulted in her placement into isolation- not an incident, an altercation or any type of “misbehavior” on her part. We were afraid we may not be able to see her on Sunday, but with the help of some callers inquiring about Alisha’s whereabouts, she was released on Friday. Sometimes it only takes outside pressure from our comrades and a major law firm to help reverse a rotten decision.
I was feeling pretty giddy on our way to Decatur Correctional since their visitation process is less arduous than Logan and the environment is a little less abysmal. After making a quick stop at a Barnes and Noble to grab a few magazines for our girl, the three of us sauntered into the building with our IDs and some cash for the vending machines. The amount of time it took to get from the entrance doors to the visiting room wasn’t much more than 5 minutes and Alisha met us almost immediately. There was a rendition of musical chairs before we could settle at a small, square table adjacent to the supervising C.O.’s desk. Aaron could not sit on either side of Alisha- the rule is women must sit across from male visitors. (I do not know how this would apply in the eyes of this facility for folks who do not fit into the gender binary or are/have transitioned).
We jumped right into personal updates, stories, and conversations about Alisha’s desires and goals upon her release. Although Rauner finally passed a state budget, there is still a lot of catching up to do from the damage created over the past 2 years. Alisha dreams of cosmetology school and fashion design- honing her artistic abilities and getting creative with her hands. However, there are no such programs for her to enlist and she has been trying to keep busy through reading, working out, styling hair for other prisoners, and developing personal relationships with her roommates. She has even found a couple of C.O.s who make her life inside the prison slightly less intolerable. One of these C.O.s happened to be working the desk next to us and Alisha, much more at ease during this visit, was bantering back and forth and even joking around with her. This friendly exchange would not have been something we would have ever witnessed at Logan. Unfortunately, we were also given the names of C.O.s who have made Alisha’s day-to-day very uncomfortable and difficult- officers that have singled her out for harassment and bullying. Decatur has a documented history in regard to male prison guards abusing their position, so this is not abnormal behavior.
During her time in segregation, Alisha was suffering from too much cold air blowing in from the cell’s vent. The cold air was causing her to tremble and shiver throughout the day and night and multiple requests for an extra blanket were denied. To relieve herself of serious discomfort, Alisha wadded up wet balls of tissue and stuck them in the vent- a trick that worked, to the dismay of the C.O.s. We then lamented over the recent news out of the St. Louis workhouse jail- prisoners calling out in desperation from the insufferable heat, extreme temperatures, and no A/C units. The St. Louis prisoners screamed for help out of the small windows, hoping folks along the closest public road would hear their calls. A video posted to facebook captured the voices inside the jail and A/C units have been installed- without temperature control, causing the opposite extreme of too much cold air. Red chimed in about the typical practice of prisons to use climate as a punishment- making folks miserable and prone to sickness and physical exhaustion. Shameful.
Of course, we talked about Alisha’s family and how much she misses them. Since most of them live in Ohio, it is not easy for them to visit- it is both expensive and hard to get time off for the whole family. Alisha especially misses seeing her mother who has not been permitted to visit Decatur due to some arbitrarily enforced rules. Sherri has accompanied her family members for visits but has had to sit and wait in the car just outside the building. Another shameful and heartbreaking aspect of prison. The four of us considered ways of trying to convince Alisha’s family to relocate to Illinois so frequent visits and greater connection could be possible. We also guaranteed that Sherri would have an established solid support system if such a move was made. This led to an emotional moment of appreciation and pause for how lucky each of us was to have one another’s back. Alisha was in near tears while she disclosed to us how much we meant to her and her family and she insisted, “god must be watching out for me.”
Throughout this visit there was plenty of shared food and soda from the vending machines- better food than Alisha can get from the cafeteria during meal times. We also spent more time laughing and joking- a clear indication of our strengthening relationships with one another. Our girl is quick witted, silly and much better at dabbing than myself (although my dabbing is done ironically, it’s still not good). Since the visitation room at Decatur is one large, open room (similar to Logan), you inadvertently witness incredible displays of raw emotion from the other prisoners and their visiting families. A couple of us caught one of these moments and I felt an intense sense of invasion into another’s very private encounter: a mother reaching out as her three small children rushed into her arms and an unrestrained release of emotional turmoil poured out of her. I could hardly imagine another type of situation that could produce the same magnitude of relief this woman felt when reunited with her loved ones.
Nearly four hours had flown by when we realized we needed to begin our trip back to the city. Before leaving, I collected a pair of Alisha’s shorts from the “nice” C.O. It is still unclear why she could not keep them- something about having one too many pairs than she is allowed. We all took turns hugging our friend and comrade and walked out of the room to check-out with another officer. Again, this process is simple and relatively pain-free compared to the medium security of Logan. The three of us, however, won’t be satisfied until she is FREE.
-Dab definition (urban dictionary): “Atlanta term used to describe dance move (bowing head into elbow) which represents confidence, accomplishment, and pride.”