Driving cautiously past The Graham Correctional Center sign,
we enter an open lawn, the low cluster of far buildings
surmounted by a watchtower.
Our road circles in a long lope toward the distant parking lot,
segregated Visitor Parking at the back. .
Taking a vacant place, we exhale audibly in a mutual sigh, leave
the safety of our car and begin to walk mindfully
toward the nearest building along a barbed wire-topped
chain link fence, knowing we are watched,
the wind whipping our hair, buffeting our calm.
Recessed, like a tomb or a wolves’ den, the darkened doorway
warns all who enter of conditions, rules,
dangers unexpected outside these prison walls.
Unlike another museum of wolves of Louisiana carnival-mask fame,
tropical light does not play here in soft colors
on ancient revered surfaces. Rather,
light here glares on smooth, bare walls
stripped naked, smelling faintly of antiseptic,
flooded in utilitarian light.
The predators are segregated, watched and watching,
guarding and guarded. Behind their barricades,
mentally on all fours with their burden of security
eyes glinting hungrily,
pistols hanging like fangs from their leather belts,
two uniformed front-desk sergeants size us up.
Smells of fear and anticipation of problems pervade this holding space. Corralled,
waiting until called up, visitors sit grasping their numbers on
bolted down, spare furnishings.
Drivers’ licenses, addresses, and car license numbers are frankly demanded,
bodies patted down, pockets turned out, shoes shaken out,
tongues examined, printed statements sworn to and signed.
Finally, passage is permitted to the next holding area. Spouse is similarly examined,
then together we are buzzed loudly through the automated door
to a short monitored runway connecting to another brick building.
We enter warily, see another barricaded hallway, another set of automated doors,
another guard, secluded this time behind bullet-proof glass as well
steel caging. A manmade den.
Clanging loudly, deadbolts are released noisily as the doors slide open, a sign
warning us not to pass while the portals are moving.
Gingerly we approach the barricaded guard in the short dim hall
who beckons us to extend our palms into a small opening
in the station grill, our hands quickly stamped
with invisible ink showing up
blood red in infared light
at the next guard-station.
Buzzed through another set of automated doors, we notice down this hallway a doorway marked Visitors, and beyond the security-window a continuation of the hall not unlike a pen, with an armed guard,
and in that enclosed space sit some blue-shirted men.
We open the Visitors door, enter a well-lighted space surmounted by a raised dais
where a uniformed monitor surveys the entire room. After checking in, we are assigned to a bolted-down table, one chair of the three facing the guard
We realize we are expected to take the other (bolted down) seats. Sitting down,
we await the arrival of our son. And look curiously
at the other groups of three or less
quietly visiting at their assigned tables.
It might have been an Arby’s or McDonald’s. Machines dispensing snacks
are lined up along one side of the room.
But there is an unnatural quiet, in spite of many simultaneous conversations.
A closed in, slightly stuffy smell pervades the place,
while spacious unopened windows disclose an inviting,
unused patio, complete with tulips and daffodils in bloom.
The men, both fat and thin, wan and sturdy, balding and longhaired, clean-
shaven or scruffy, are dressed alike in blue shirts and dark trousers,
their appearance neat, behavior calm and polite.
Their visitors are mostly young women, with a few kids added here and there.
All is quiet and serene. Teeth are not bared
in these well-managed beasts.
Who are the wolves?
Which have killed, raped, stalked or intimidated children? We wonder
how these self-possessed men could possibly have committed
violence, rape or murder.
Which are the wolves?
Mike arrives! Paler, thinner, he nonetheless looks well. Hugs us, is glad to see us.
We talk of prison food (farmed fish and turkey burgers),
of prison guards (some kinder than others),
his behavior modification program-- workbooks, group talk sessions,
individual therapy interviews and lessons,
talk of his cellmate, his confession,
feeling safe at night,
prison yard derision (by other fenced off general population “wings”),
prison politics, his selection as Block Representative,
Unspoken is his loss of liberty, his lost possibilities,
life before committing sex offender felony.
Caged and cornered. Marked for life. Who is the wolf?
first published in BEHIND PRISON WALLS Chapbook
also published in University of Iowa 2010 Summer Writing Festival Anthology
©2011 Bonnie Manion