“Oh who is this precious little girl? Is she your daughter?” an elderly lady asked me. Referring to the adorable pint sized princess I was hi-fiving and jumping up and down with as we celebrated her successful throw of the football.
“No Ma’am,” I said with a laugh, “I don’t have any children, her dad is over there getting his face painted.” I pointed in the general direction of the booth he was at. Her dad is actually a friend of mine who I’ve been doing time with for years, so this little girl calls me “Uncle.”
“One day your day will come…and by the looks of things, the little ones love you,” she concluded as I began to get chased and tackled by an army of little rascals, pumped full of sugar, trying to get the football from me.
Doing time can be monotonous. Especially when you consider how you know just about what to expect day in and day out. Yet, no two days are identical.
I often see men get so dependent on the order of operations and structure of prison, that’s when things change (as they always do). Their world is turned upside down. In prison you workout daily with the same people, you talk in small groups with the same people. You even sit and eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the same people. Most married couples don’t even spend this much time together.
The next best thing to being free for someone incarcerated usually is that person having the opportunity to spend time with family and loved ones. A statistical fact not often publicized is that those who are less likely to return to prison are those who utilize their time in prison to further their education., and those who receive frequent visits and consistent outside support. I like to think these facts are true because they both help the incarcerated individual realize they have a lot to lose and that their actions not only impact themselves, but those who truly love them and want the best for them.
Through the visiting department here at Stafford Creek there are a number of “family-friendly” visiting events. These events and the overall visiting environment here is one that promotes creating, improving, and maintaining positive family ties. This is done in part by allowing inmates, such as myself, the chance to participate in events ranging from “Friday Night Bingo” to “The Annual Significant Women’s Event” where the men inside get to honor the special lady or ladies supporting them on the outside such as mothers, wives, sisters, aunts, even girlfriends.
I am a fan of these events and go whenever my loved ones are able to attend. When they are unable to do so, I volunteer my services to make sure the events are running smoothly to help others enjoy their visits. That is what I did at this years Family Barbeque.
The day started with grey skies and mist from the ocean filling the air. The typical weather for an Aberdeen morning. Still I had to wonder if the sun would have what it takes to burn off all of the overcast. It was to the point that as we set up for the event we had to go over worst case scenario schematics to plan out how we could turn this outside event into an indoor one, if it starts to rain.
Once the event started our stress was in vain because no one cared about the weather. That was the last thing on anyone’s mind. The festive atmosphere created a world we have long forgotten existed. No prison tension, no racial politics, no gang rivalries. Just incarcerated men enjoying time in the company of their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or other family members both young and old.
Nothing else matters at this time except for family. It was as if for these few hours everyone has escaped.
Feelings of confinement no longer existed in the carnival-like atmosphere. Admittedly, This event in particular is for younger children, but it didn’t make a difference. Everyone was freely moving from station to station, booth to booth, game to game having a good old time. There was face painting, hula-hooping, hop-scotch, arts & crafts, air inflated blow up toys, a bean bag toss, and my favorite the football toss. The football toss was the station I was in charge of. Participants would throw a football through 1 of 3 holes varied in size.
I have learned it is best to give out of the kindness of your heart and without expecting anything in return. When I practice this in my own life, that is when I end up receiving the most. I volunteered to be of assistance to the families in attendance, but ended up being reminded of what it felt like to be a kid again. To be free. This event ended up not solely being for the kids’ enjoyment, but it became tremendously therapeutic for the men attending as well.
To think, a day full of smiles and laughter could ever exist while in prison.
The kids present were already hyped up and full of energy when they arrived. But when they got all of that candy, soda, and ice cream into their little systems, they ran me to the dirt. This combination of sugary treats was a recipe for disaster and they turned into little energizer bunnies with no slowing down in sight. I swear they just kept going and going and going…
Being chased around and chasing after the kids as they played “keep away” had me famished. I worked up an enormous appetite like no other. When we finally got to eat, they had prepared for us: cheeseburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, along with ice cream sandwiches.
But, no matter how good the food tasted, the best taste of the day was that ever fleeting taste of freedom!