A few hours into my first flight from Seattle to New Orleans I realized I’d been tricked. Where Did I get the notion that red eye flights were these amazing things that everyone knew about but me? Trying to sleep on a plane in an aisle seat was a bad idea. I landed in Houston at about 6AM and would connect and fly into Louis Armstrong International Airport (which is probably the dopest name for an airport btw AND it fits).
Shortly after landing I headed towards the departure drop off with my carry-on (no typo.. not sure how this happened). Nevertheless my aunt was on time to pick me up and off we went. We’d go straight from the airport to visit my uncle. Well… kind of.. We stopped at the Waffle House.
What screams southern culture more than Chicken, Waffles, and Grits!
After taking our sweet time we realized that we had gotten off schedule and needed to pick up our pace in order to make it to visitation hours. We’d drive 2 hours to Angola, LA. We’d drive down an empty 30 mile road before getting to the gate where they’d check our ID’s to see if they matched the visitor list and put us in a box where a dog would sniff for drugs. This is about the time where it finally hit me, this was maximum security.
We’d wait for what felt like an hour in the waiting room before a bus would pick us up. Although I’d tried to mentally prepare for what I’d see, there really is no way one could possibly be 100% prepared. In the waiting room I saw at least 30 black faces. Babies, girlfriends, sisters brother, mothers fathers. I’m not sure why this stuck with me but the kid who was pat down before me was asked what High School he went to by the guard, who followed up the question by asking how his football team was doing? I didn’t know what to think, but before I could it was my turn to be inspected.
“Anybody visiting death row?” a bus driver asked. Thank goodness we were not. Nevertheless I had so many questions going through my brain. What would he look like? How was his health? Did he get my last letter? Why didn’t he reply? Would I be able to keep it together? Above everything I was just excited to have the opportunity to finally see him. I had talked about making the visit happen for at least the past 9 years if not longer.
We’d get on a white bus with the same mothers, fathers, wives, brothers, pastors, children ect. and get off to once again be ID’d and searched. I looked to my right and there was a man with glasses smiling from ear to ear. My aunt said “thats him..” So I wave and he waves as he finished being checked in for our visit.
The visiting area was about the size of a high school lunch room, it was a cafeteria, no glass screens with phones attached no fist bumps through the glass, no orange jump suits or anything like that. For the most part everyone was dressed almost the same.
My aunt would leave to order food and here I was in a packed room of people looking around for a familiar face. I couldn’t help but notice the number of black males and this quickly took me back to my Criminal Justice and Sociology classes. In a room of 100+ people I saw 1 white family, a random white guy who my uncle just so happen to know, and another one who was the photographer. I didn’t see very many latino’s if any at all and the rest black faces. Not to make this post about race, but looking around seeing faces that looked exactly like me almost broke me down. Truth is there probably were many other white and latino faces, but that just wasn’t what stuck out to me.
Keep it together… I looked around for my uncle whose face I only kind of remembered, when it hit me that I was always sending him pictures, but I hadn’t seen one of him in years.
A few moments later I saw a man in his 50s walking towards me who resembled both my grandmother and grandfather, with the same smile I had seen earlier I got up I hugged him and told him how nice it was to finally see him again.
We talked about everything. Updates on family, politics, sports, the Saints, and his theory on George Zimmerman’s divorce while eating some very delicious fried catfish. I looked forward to the opportunity to take a picture with him. As we walked to the area I saw another familiar face.
As we went to take a photo my aunt and I exchanged the following dialogue:
Me: Hey, thats C-Murder.. (the one with the gold chain gold teeth and TRU beanie..)
Aunt: Who’s that?
Me: Master P’s little brother, he’s a rapper
*the conversation was probably louder than it should have been*
Uncle (in a low voice): yeah, thats him
Aunt: Oh, whats he in here for?…
Aunt: Oh… You want a picture with him, an autograph?
Me: Nah… thats okay..
Uncle: Yeah, nephew thats probably not a good idea
We’d get our pictures taken and sit back down. We’d talk for a few more minutes before we’d say our goodbyes. My uncle and I exchanged hugs and I told him that I loved him. Overall he’d seemed in good spirits and was very hopeful about the future. His health was improving from what it once was, and it was just good to see him. Watching his smile as we walked away gave me hope for the future.
We’d have to present our ID before exiting back on the bus. This was probably the hardest part of the experience as expected. While we were able to leave with our freedom, he could not.
Once again sitting next to new family members, friends and loved ones on the bus reminded me of why I fight for social justice. Its been over a week since my visit and due to how fast life moves I wasn’t able to fully reflect on this experience. I debated if I would even share the story, but somewhere in my heart I feel like I had too. The many families that were next to me reminded me that I am not the only one. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts uncles friends, and loved ones are all suffering through the pain of knowing someone who is incarcerated. After reading books like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and watching documentaries like The House I Live In that focus specifically on the inequalities in the criminal justice system I understand my story is not unique, especially in black america. As taboo as the subject may be and as far removed from incarceration I may personally be, these stories must be told. My uncle will continue to be the motivation behind my fight for social justice. Every man I saw that day is a human being, and regardless of their circumstances they deserve to be treated as such.
After leaving Angola my aunt and I headed back to New Orleans. While the ride home started a bit somber, I’d found peace in knowing that I was just happy to have the opportunity. We stop near Baton Rouge at Smoothy King to enjoy a smoothy.
Before heading to the hotel, and eating at Lanry’s for a cat fish and shrimp po’ boy, some bbq shrimp and french fries. Delicious. We’d walk around for a little while longer before the itus would kick in. It was time for bed.