To be honest, they have been asking me to visit them for 5 years. I never wanted to go so I just ignored the request or I would make up an excuse. I did take the information from members of their group and printed some of the letters, the stories and the like. However, going to visit was not on the top of my radar. I had too much to do. Well not really… I always tell others to be honest and present with themselves but I was not doing it. It is great to tell people what to do and what not to do but when it comes to yourself, well sometimes, your own rules do not apply.
Since 2010, I have actually been undergoing sort of a mental metamorphosis. I have been really looking at what I want and the promises that have made to myself. It is great to be there for everyone else but sometimes you have to consider the things that you are least likely to consider. The bottomline is the least likely considerations should be on the top of your list. Sounds confusing? Well it should not be. Do something different.
I took my own advice and wrote back and told the National Lifers of America that I would come in for a visit at Gus Harrison Correctional Facility. Mr. George R. Betts-Bey would be my point of contact as the President. He has been incarcerated since early 1976.
My work with families of murder victims has been a large part of my life in the last couple of years. In 2007, I somehow found myself at the funeral of Brandon Williams who was murdered at 17. I knew none of the family members but I was compelled to be there. Lansing Church of God in Christ on Wise Road was packed with people. I sat and I watched; but moreso, I absorbed the pain of those who were there. I thought this too would happen again. It has so many times over the past couple of years. Senseless murders and violent crimes plague every community but this was my community. I love Lansing because this is where I live. I was curious, what is the impact on some who have committed the crime? I was inquisitive, why would someone do that to a family or their family?
After letting people know that I was finally going to visit the prison, the response was less than positive. Not one positive word from anyone. I have never been the type of person to let others negativity stop me. I put it all aside and called Vivian Bodiford and asked her to come with me. Her son, James E. “Jillz” Jones, III was murdered in 2008. She immediately said yes. I did a story about her experience years ago. They say that you should not get involved with those you write about but I was a caring human being before I became a journalist. Many of the families of murder victims are now my family and friends.
We chose a Sunday because prisoners do not work that day. I am not sure if we were nervous or just anticipating something that we had never experienced. I have not figured out a word yet for what we were experiencing. Neither of us had an idea of what to expect. I will tell you that nothing that was said about our visit could have prepared us. The mere fact that we were going was positive in my book. I was doing something different. I was glad that I chose Vivian to take my first trip with. She has always been supportive of The New Citizens Press Community Action Network, Inc. (TNCP CAN). She always has a light around her. Together we were confronting our fears, reaching beyond what we thought was possible and being courageous all bundled into one emotion.
We left at 10:00 am, Vivian with her amazingly beautiful with such a warm spirit began to chat immediately. I smiled internally, I was a jumbled ball of nerves. With Mapquest in hand and a full tank, we were on our way. This trip sponsored by The New Citizens Press Community Action Network, Inc. (TNCP CAN). We put $70.00 worth of gas in the tank and we were on our way. While driving you get to know a lot about people. Vivian's voice is automatically soothing. We talked about our lives. On the way to the we realized how beautiful Michigan is. The weather was perfect. We saw things that were firsts for me, like a llama farm, wild turkeys and grazing buffaloes. We talked about the questions we would ask while fumbling occasionally for the Mapquest directions. Yes, I know we should have used a GPS but I have not gotten to the box with it in it yet. After this trip, I think I will finally try and tackle the instruction manual.
We finally made it to Adrian and decided to get something to eat. Of course, we could not eat a lot. Our bill was under $5.00 for the both of us. We asked the manager at Wendy's for instructions to the prison, ate our food and posted to facebook about our excursion. I showed Vivian the “Lansing Stop the Violence Page” on facebook and how after four years members were still posting pictures of her son. Her eyes were glistening and her heart was somewhere between pride and sorrow. I could feel it. She was happy that the community was still remembering him. I was happy that they were too and all of the others who are given honor on the “Lansing Stop the Violence Page”. As of the writing of this column, there are almost 7,770 members. It is astonishing indeed. Another reason why I went because I was tired of seeing women posting concern and no men, especially African American males who only wanted to do something when a murder or violent crime occurred. I wanted to go straight to the source. I did not have time to work for three years just to get one African American male to a meeting or to become active.
We finished up our food and made our way through Adrian. We were a little turned around and called the prison for directions. It was interesting looking for a prison. We were in an industrial area and every building looked like a prison. When we finally made it to Gus Harrison Correctional Facility, we were both shocked that it was such a nice building. It was better looking than some of the factories we passed. The only thing that stood out was the rows and rows of barbed wire. It was quite intimidating.
While preparing ourselves to go in, I thought about all of the prison shows that I saw on television. I looked to my right and saw a beautiful bush with red flowers. I thought something beautiful is blooming here. Vivian and I were in the truck taking off our jewelry, finding drivers licenses and looking surprised that the grounds were so clean. I kept looking at her to see if I could read her mind. Her voice was calm and still. She was the perfect person to go with.
When we went in the building we were given a gate manifest form and we listed what we were bringing in with us; a note pad, two pens and five sheets of paper. It was 1:13 p.m. and we stayed in the waiting room until they called us to go through the gates. The metal door clanged behind us.
Part II in the next edition: October 21 - November 3, 2012.
This was printed in the October 7, 2012 - October 20, 2012 Edition