It was a particularly cold day in Macon, Georgia. I prepared myself for the long wait to get into Central State Prison to visit my son. Wearing my “prison uniform” and donning a men’s coat that would keep me warm enough I stepped out of my vehicle — quarters, check; driver’s license, check; patience, check.
The line was long today. What many people don’t realize is that most prisons don’t have interior areas to wait to get through security. We have a sidewalk with a small metal cover as wide as the walk over our heads. A metal railing on one side. Razor wire on the other. I can hear the clang of the gates as visitors slowly process through. I knew my patience would be tested today.
I filled out the paperwork on the clipboard — a form so copied it was crooked on the sheet. A form so outdated, but it works. It’s how they identify who I am and who my loved one is.
The wait begins. Today there was that adorable little boy who comes frequently with his mother. He is right in front of me. I always engage the children in line because they are so sweet. He sang me the Spider Man song, showed off his cool sneakers and hung from the bars — just like any 4-year-old boy would if he were waiting to go into the movies or a park ride. He was particularly well-behaved and he made me laugh.
Close to two hours have passed, my patience is running thin, but I don’t want to react — it does no good at all. My little friend was passing the time happily. He was finally the next to go in.
The steel door opens, an officer sticks her head out and declares, “We are closed for count, come back at 12:30.” A large angry groan comes from those in line. The little boy looked up at his mother and said “I’m angry, mommy.”
This is what we are doing. This is how we treat the families of those who are caught up. This little boy wanted nothing more than to hug his daddy. By the way, this little boy’s mother is white and his father is black. What color is he? He is 4.
When you love someone in prison you do what you must to survive. This mother will have to figure out how to help him make sense of this so that he doesn’t repeat a cycle that has captured generations of men in our country. Mostly men of color.
This mother, me, will have to figure out how to address the atrocities I see. The lines at prisons consist of all types of people. Elderly, handicapped, teens, babies, every color, shape and size, representing our country. Before my eyes were opened I didn’t understand their pain.
We need to stop discussing and meeting. There are solutions to this crisis of mass incarceration. We need only to collaborate and connect the resources that exist, both within government and the private sector.
Understand that I don’t disregard the realities facing the families of victims of crime and I am not insensitive to the impact of crime on our human right to feel safe and secure from criminal behavior. Nor do I suggest reducing public safety resources to protect families and communities. I simply want to address the gaps that exist that will help keep little boys like the one I met in line from becoming a victim of the system.
Kate Boccia is the founder and CEO of The National Incarceration Association and has a son in prison in Georgia.