Sister’s reunite after a decade on the Prison Yard
A friend and co-worker, AJ, recently confided in me that her sister was going to be sentenced to prison. AJ was so excited that her sister was going to be arriving soon to Perryville Women’s Prison. It seems odd that anyone would actually be excited at all to have their sister come to prison.
AJ has already served 8 years of a 20 year sentence. The last time she had seen or even spoken to her younger sister was over nine years ago. Unfortunately for both sisters, their last meeting was in county jail. AJ was awaiting her sentence 9 years ago when her sister got in trouble and spent a short time in jail with AJ.
Every day for an entire week I would watch AJ stalk the prison counselor to have him check the arrival list to see if her sister had arrived. Finally one Thursday afternoon AJ came back ecstatic after finding out that her sister had been processed into Perryville that morning.
When new inmates arrive they are brought to Lumley Unit where we are housed. They are housed in a different yard, however, and are segregated until they are assigned to their permanent housing units depending on their crime. Lucky for AJ, our kitchen is located on the same yard as the new inmates. The “newbies” just happen to arrive around the same time that our yard is served “chow”. AJ and I never attend chow during the week because of the contents (bologna or salami sandwiches). Yuck! This night though was different and we anxiously waited for the call for chow.
Walking down to the chow hall we could see the newbies lined up at the main gate. Any moment they were going to take the long walk down to the yard to receive their cell assignments. AJ and I stayed at a table in the chow hall, eagerly watching out the window. AJ wanted so badly to only hug her sister and speak to her, if only for a brief moment. This was not allowed, of course, because we are not the same custody level as the new inmates. I urged AJ to ask the officer if she could see her sister, and check their last names if he had questions. The worst he could say is “No”.
Finally the newbies in their tattered orange jumpsuits came trucking up the hill into the gate. AJ was pressed up against the glass, eagerly scanning the faces of these tiresome and saddened women. At first, she did not see her sister, but finally spotted her second to last in line.
The officers filed them in and had them seated on picnic tables outside. AJ finally got the nerve to ask the officer to see her sister. Unsure of what was being said, I watched AJ as she spoke to the officer, hoping for the best. He walked away towards the new inmates and I thought for sure that she had said “No”. Then, to my surprise, he tapped a woman on the shoulder and instructed her to come with him.
As the woman turned around to walk towards AJ, I could see the tears in her eyes. Both AJ and her sister, Sandi, hugged one another while in tears. AJ kissed her sisters cheek at least a dozen times. I watched behind the window in the kitchen with tears of my own -- tears of happiness, sadness, and hope. In such a terrible place there is still compassion and hope. It was such a small gesture, but it was a gesture of compassion from the officer to have allowed these sisters to embrace. For myself and other women who are incarcerated, it is small acts of kindness such as this that help keep our own hope alive.