Visiting is intense. I see Charlie and Katie and their beautiful, heartbroken daughters huddled together around their table, heads almost touching, hands clasped, shutting out the exterior babble and creating a brief precious space together. Everyone in the room is trying to make the best of whatever has happened in their lives that has led them to this point. No one wants to be here, and at the same time it is the highlight of our week. As soon as we loose sight of our men, we begin counting down again until the next fleeting reunion, the next fix.
When it is over we are all spent, but I have a further task to perform before we can head back, as getting the aforementioned robe and slippers through security is a mission of its own. I have to take the items back down to the visitors entrance and wait until someone can come out to take them from me. After twenty minutes or so one of the guards emerges at a leisurely amble and leads me into another waiting room where I wait a further twenty minutes and listen to him painstakingly listing off the entire contents of a prisonbag that has been brought in for another inmate.
Tala just wants to get out and is all for abandoning our package on the desk, but I manage to persuade her to stay the course and so we wait and sign the forms and watch our offerings get bagged up and tagged by the amiable, red faced, sloth paced guard who is doing his best to prove that he has a heart and is here to help, despite all of the red tape. Almost everyone that I encounter in the visiting process is unfailingly polite and kind and I am never made to feel like a criminal myself, but if they could just be fitted with a second gear. I wonder if a daily shot of valium is the only way to survive the job?
Finally we hit the road home. About half an hour in I am already struggling to keep my eyes open. Tala offers to pull my hair for me at random intervals which is helpful and does keep me on my toes, but still, the urge to sleep is overpowering. When I was a baby and my mum ran out of patience trying to get me off to sleep, she resorted to putting me in the car (in an unsecured carrycot – it was the 70’s) and driving around until I dropped off. Far be it from me to reprimand any mother for any action taken in pursuit of a quiet life, but if she does find herself relieved of her first born in a tragic car crash she only has herself to blame…just saying…
On top of the tiredness I am also feeling panicky. If something terrible were to happen to us I am certain that even this tragedy wouldn’t change Rob’s incarceration. Okha would be left dealing with the loss of us alone on the outside and he would still be trapped inside with (perhaps I flatter myself here) unimaginable grief. It’s a ridiculous train of thought, but I can’t seem to turn it off. The giddy feeling of ultimate responsibility for the children is one of things I least enjoy about this experience. I remember it well from my single mother days. It feels so much safer when there are two people at the top of the pyramid.
I’m torn between keeping up the breakneck speed that will get us home quicker and is at least providing a form of adrenalin that I hope might keep me awake, or the more sensible option of pulling into the slow lane, or stopping at the services. I stick in the fast lane. Go big or go home.
After another fifteen minutes or so of the intermittent hair puling and the occasional unnecessarily vicious pinch, I push through the tiredness and come out of the danger zone. Eventually, by eight o’clock we are back home safe and sound. I cook as we all need something real to eat. I even manage to elicit ten minutes violin practice before ushering Tala off to bed. She has very little fight left in her and is asleep within seconds.
I drag myself back downstairs to clear up. I seem to have made a strange but irritatingly binding pact with myself not to let things slide whilst Rob is gone, so I water the window boxes, put on some laundry and call his mum which is no chore at all as I adore her. I tell her truthfully that Rob is in fine fettle and actually managing to have a quite a laugh all things considered. From the anecdotes I have heard today, in many ways prison is not unlike boarding school, but with worse prospects and much naughtier friends. On the upside though, it is on the house.