The year was 1974 and I was just 18. A friend's mother asked me to take Christmas gifts to Jackson State Prison (Jackson, Michigan) where her son Steve was incarcerated for Armed Robbery. He refused to add her to his visitor list. Fearless or just plain stupid, I agreed to take the trip to Jackson.
It was December and a cold gray day when I arrived and found a place to park. I approached the entrance (photo above) and was stunned at the massive size of this really old building. Had to turn full right and then full left to see the entire front facade of the place. Being my first and only visit to Jackson Prison. I had no idea what I was doing.
The main lobby was loud and full of people waiting to see the clerk behind the desk. I signed in and put gift drop-off as my task for the day. Had no plans to visit with her convict son.
Spent my wait time chatting with family members of inmates while I waited for the desk Sgt. to call my name. Some of the folks visited every weekend and some had come from greater distances to visit for the holiday. They all had a sad story about their sons and what horrible injustice had befallen them.
After a long wait, maybe an hour, my name was finally called. As I approached the desk to hand over the packages from his mother I noticed the clerk was holding a visitor pass and a locker key.
He took the gifts and pointed toward the door to enter the locker room and told me to put on the badge and lock up my jacket and purse.
What? I asked the clerk,"Am going to see Steve in there?" "Yes, he put your name on his visitor list."
Well, ok! This will be a new experience to tell my friends about and I followed some other ladies into the women's locker room.
Inside I found my locker and put my things inside. All around me were about 15-20 other women primping and putting in hot rollers. They looked like they were getting ready for the Prom! I asked a girl next to me if this was normal. she explained to me how they share their phone numbers with different inmates and they "hook up" for visits.
These young women spend every possible weekend visiting different inmates. The drama created by these visits would have made for a great Netflix series.
I eavesdropped while waiting to enter the visiting area. Some of the girls were arguing as to who was the real girlfriend of whichever inmate. All kinds of gossip flying around that locker room. Dress clothes hanging on the locker doors and hot rollers plugged into various outlets.
I was just stunned that these young (18-25) women weren't out dating in the real world. Never dreamed that this type of interaction was possible, but there they were all revved up for the day's visit.
On television, people communicate with an inmate using a phone and are behind glass. This is what I envisioned my visit would be. But no! I entered the visiting room and there were about 15 groups of 4 plastic chairs in circles.
These were plastic "scoop" chairs that cannot sit side by side. Similar to the photo below. So the visitors and the inmates slide forward and interlock knees. That's what Steve did the second he walked in and sat down. Hmmm, not a comfortable place to be. The visiting room had 15-20 inmates and their visitors. No glass, no phones, and only one sleepy guard by the door.
It was a nerve-wracking place to be certain. Steve never stopped talking and giving me instructions on what I "needed" to do for him once I was back in our hometown. Our 25-minute visit seemed an internity.
At last, the guards came and escorted me through the clanging doors back to the locker room. Grabbed my jacket and purse and ran for my car in the parking lot.
Ran into Steve some 15 years later at the Ann Arbor YMCA. Still the same old Steve ordering me around.