01 May, 2011
I get misty-eyed as I look at the picture of the federal prison at Leavenworth, but the would-be tears aren't ones of sadness; rather, they are ones of happiness.
I know this sounds strange to adults who never experienced this as a child, but Leavenworth was a place of happiness for me. Even as I write this, I have a smile on my face thinking of the happiness this building held for me.
When we visited my father, we stayed at one of the two hotels in town, the Ramada Inn or the Cody Hotel. Amie and I preferred the Ramada, so my mother always tried to book our rooms there. They had breakfast at the hotel and we even got to jump on the beds for a few minutes!
A bus would come to take almost all of the hotel's guests to the prison (because the prison was the only reason anyone was there), but we never rode in the bus. My mother always called for a taxi , and when the taxi came, she always said the same thing, "We are going to the federal penitentiary." She never used the word "prison"; she thought it sounded pedestrian.
We were always dressed to the nines. We visited for five days, and my mother wore a suit each day, and each day Amie and I wore $100 outfits. She said my father liked to show us off to his friends and she didn't want to embarrass him by not looking the best that we possibly could. All of that really does matter in the prison world.
When the taxi pulled into the circular driveway of the prison and passed all the guards holding guns, I always thought the same thing: The building was the most beautiful and majestic one I had ever seen, even in books and magazines.
As soon as we walked into the building, we went to a tiny window where my mother showed her driver's license and our birth certificates. Then we went into a small room where we sat and waited with all the other visitors for what seemed like hours. Finally, we heard it over the loudspeaker in the corner of the room: "Visit for Dinsio."
We jumped up and went to barred, sliding prison doors, just like the ones you see on television. We could hear them unlock (by the way, that's what "the sound" is in between scenes on "Law and Order"; anyone who has ever heard that sound would recognize it anywhere), and then we walked through a metal detector and through another set of prison doors into the visiting room.
The visiting room was a long room with rows of orange and green padded seats (it WAS the 1970's) against each of the long walls, with a small table placed in front of every fourth or fifth seat. On the other side of that table was a green or orange chair that was for the inmate.
The inmates came out of a door at the end of the visiting room. My tiny heart would beat faster every time the door opened. Then my tiny heart would sink. Finally, the door would open, and it was my daddy! My sister and I always screamed, "Daddy!" and took off running down the floor of the long room into his waiting arms.
Everything in the whole world was suddenly good.