Thursdays are phone visits at Chester County Prison.
This is what happens:
Check in with the Corrections Officer at the front desk with your picture ID, hand over your keys and receive a plastic numbered chip much like a coat check (I end up with 58 pretty often, maybe I should play that number?) , walk through the metal detector (BEEP!- just my belt), grab a Lysol wipe from the container bolted to the wall, walk through another steel door, and find an open phone bank.
Situate yourself at the phone (much like you may expect, there is bulletproof glass in front of you and Formica partitions on either side).
To the left, is an archaic payphone...take your Lysol wipe and dutifully wipe down the phone and every surface in your small area, including the small stainless steel stool that you may sit on.
Have a seat, stare straight ahead and wait for your loved one to come through the door on the other side of the glass.
(I always end up at phone #13...I sit and stare and try to catch a glimpse whenever an inmate comes through the door of what is on the other side. All I can see is more concrete block wall, painted pale yellow)
As you wait, sometimes a visitor next to you makes small talk. Maybe you chat about the endless winter or the weather today...maybe you just fiddle with your plastic chip or license, as you have nothing else on your person.
When your loved one comes through the door, they must check in with the CO and then find their visitor among the banks of phones.
Your loved one has a seat, you pick up the phones and are told to press one for English and dos for Espanol; you hear a message about calls being monitored and your visit commences.
For thirty minutes, you talk with your loved one...at first, you feel weird and awkward talking on the phone face-to-face, maybe you avert your eyes and glance at the sign behind them about calls being recorded except for those to their attorney.
You hear snippets of the conversations on either side of you, as visitors begin their calls with their loved ones.
You watch other inmates file in and try not to stare, but curiosity makes you observe their haircut, tattoos, whether or not they are wearing plastic rosary beads, if they are fit or pale or smiling or stern...
And, because it's prison, you can't help but wonder why they are there. For how long?
Soon, the din around you fades and so does that initial pang of awkwardness.
As you talk to your loved one, you completely forget all the things that other family members trusted you to relay or pass on (crap! I was supposed to tell you so-and-so said blah blah blah)...
Instead, you forget about the grimy old payphone and the glass partition and you fall into a totally natural, comfortable normal conversation.
At the twenty-seven minute mark, you are given a three minute warning...your head spins a little, trying to remember if there is anything really important you're supposed to say.
You continue to chat, but that's halted again with a two minute warning.
Fastidiously, you remember a piece of information that you promised so-and-so you'd share with your loved one (phew!).
With the one minute warning, all the other inmates and theirs visitors come back into focus a little bit...the buzz and drone of fifteen other simultaneous conversations becomes suddenly apparent.
You say goodbye, talk to you soon.
As you hang up your phone, your loved one also gets up from their seat...you both walk in the same direction.
You reach for the door, to exit, while your loved one signs off on their visit with the CO on the other side of the glass.
As you step out the door, you throw your hand up for one more hasty wave goodbye, but you don't look back.
You hand your plastic chip to the CO at the visitor desk and retrieve your car keys.
There is nothing else to do, except say, "Thanks, have a nice day," and leave the prison.
The visit is over.