Recently I visited my cousin in prison. He was sentenced to 15 years and so far has done about 10. I’ve remained in contact with him throughout his sentence, so even though I’d never visited him, I felt like we hadn’t lost touch.
But we had. It wasn’t until I was standing in from of him that the gravity of the years hit me. I recognized him when I saw him, but I didn’t recognize him. Everything had changed. I stood there shocked for a bit, marveling that someone I’d played with in diapers could look so foreign to me.
It hit me. Yes, we’d Skyped before he went to prison. Yes, we’d remained in contact and wrote letters and exchanged phone calls over the years, but we had not been in each other’s presence. We hadn’t heard each others voice. We hadn’t touched each others skin. We hadn’t spoken uninterrupted. We hadn’t been together at all. Not really.
Suddenly, those years felt like a lifetime and our hug felt like the longest of my life. And it felt that way even though it didn’t last long, because you know … prison.
We talked from 9 a.m. until visitation ended at 3 p.m. I now understand in a way I’ve never understood before, that no amount of phone calls and letters can compare to time together. Those hours were spent getting to know him again, because everything that was, had changed.
I’ve spent most of my life feeling like it made perfect sense to never visit anyone in prison. As I drove away from my cousin, I came to the conclusion that I had been very wrong. And then I felt overwhelmed with emotion as I thought of how he must have felt all those years, sitting alone.
I won’t tell you what to do, but I can say that I now believe it’s imperative we see our loved ones if they’re taken away for a long time. Even if only once. Even if you’re as scared to go to a prison as I was. Even if you don’t want to see them like that. Even if you’re still mad at them.
It is not our job to punish them. They are doing their time.
Understand that nothing can compare to a simple hug. Absolutely nothing.
And if you’re anything like me, you’ll sneak in a big ol’ kiss on the cheek. Just make it quick … cause you know … prison.