Having visitors is a weird thing in jail. It’s awesome to see your loved ones, but they are seeing you at your absolute worst and the picture in their head of you in a jail uniform talking through glass isn’t something that I think will ever leave their mind. I can understand why some inmates choose not to see anybody if they’re doing a short stint.

In my world, traditional visiting days for minimum and medium security inmates were Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Saturday nights. If you’d been there for more than 30 days, every other Sunday afternoon were “contact visits.”

I was extremely lucky that my parents visited every Thursday, sometimes bringing my son, while my wife came alone on Tuesdays. My wife and one of the kids came on Saturday nights. If I had a contact visit, she brought both.

I’m so grateful that nearly three hours of my week was spent with loved ones. I mentioned many choose not to, but the sad fact is for many of my fellow inmates, even those who were there for a long time, they didn’t have anybody who wanted to come visit or it was extremely rare.

The regular visiting room was actually two smaller rooms, with a long window in each room that was double paned plexiglass all scratched-up to shit. On the bottom 20% of the plexiglass, abutting a metal table was a large grate. It looked like a long cheese grater and that was what you talked through. There were no phones like in the movies and the place echoed like crazy.

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This is the visiting room where “contact visits” were allowed. Families would sit in the inner section, with inmates on the outer. Want to hear a terrific irony? That’s Sheriff Eric Samson. He’s the man who I replaced on the Auburn City Council when I won my race in 2011. Funny how things work out sometimes.

There were a limited number of spots for each visiting time based on the layout of the room, but we were never denied a spot. On a few days, we were the only people in the room. It’s sad, especially when someone in my pod would posture like they didn’t care, but you could tell otherwise.

Anything out of the ordinary in jail is good. I often told people I didn’t feel like I was doing hard time, I was just doing long time. Breaking up the monotony was important and seeing my wife or someone else was good. It kept me connected to the outside world. It was the same reason I called home every single day while I did my time.

If you ended up in the same room with someone who talked loud, it could be a bitch to try and communicate with the person visiting you on the other side of the glass. It was a challenge when the other inmate and their visitor started arguing, which happened a lot of the time with the younger inmates and their girlfriends. I’d see the female often carrying a baby in her arm and just know that kid already had a strike against him in the ballgame of life. I often felt more sad seeing the real-life characters from the stories people told back in the pod than seeing my own family. We were doing OK, everything considered.

The contact visit room had a couple long table running the length of the room. Visitors sat on the inside and inmates were against each wall. In both rooms, visitors were seated before inmates were allowed in. As far as contact went, it was only a hug at the end, but it was a sliver of normalcy every few weeks that made waiting until release data a little easier, and a little harder.

Ironically, it’s not until you’re put in a position to sit and talk to someone for an hour that you realize how rarely you actually do that. After a few weeks in jail, I commented to my wife that I had to think about what I was saying so I wouldn’t repeat myself because there was always two hours of visits, at least a 15-minute phone call every day and I probably wrote a dozen multi-page letters to her while I was in jail as well. There’s just so much you can say when nothing is happening in your life.

I kept having to remind my mother that fact when she’d ask how things were going. Nothing ever changed, so I didn’t have much to say. There wasn’t a lot of negative or positive to talk about. It’s hard enough to come up with an hour of material on the outside, where my life was busy, much less to try and generate talking points in a place that is all about boring routine.

I was always happy to see my visitors and several other friends offered to visit, but I was allowed just so many on my list. The best visits were when I was sitting in the contact room on one side and my kids and wife were on the other and we were near a window where we could look out and see a spot that we’d drive by multiple times a day when things were normal. We could tease each other a little, laugh and it was a brief respite from the actuality of the situation. That was like finding gold in a coal mine.

Remember, this all happened because I let my alcohol and pornography addictions get out of control. I never thought they would. I managed to hide them for 20 years, but you can’t hide things forever. If you don’t take care of your problem, jail is where you could end up. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. Get help.

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