Saturday, October 3, 2009

Visiting Cryshal

It occurred to me today as I waited at the Coconino County jail that all I know about visiting someone in jail I learned as a child in the 60s watching the Andy Griffith Show.  And man have things changed since then.  There was no deputy asleep at the desk nor prisoners within view from the front door. 

While awaiting my turn to see Cryshal, I read the visitation policy.  All prisoners are limited to 60 minutes of non contact visitation per week.  The visits can either be 2 visitors over the course of 30 minutes or one visitor for 60 minutes.  The minimum visit length is 30 minutes.  I thought “...o shit, what am I going to talk to her about for 30 minutes.”  Yeah, the temptation to just leave occurred to me, but I’d come this far and I really did want to show her some love.  I wanted to tell her too that she doesn’t have to follow the path of her mom, dad and several siblings.

After 30 minutes in the waiting area, I was called to go see Cryshal in Holding Area C.  The route there was along a winding hallway that involved climbing a set of stairs and descending another.  The floor was made of polished concrete and the walls were cinderblock with no windows.  It took me a good 3 minutes to get to Holding Area C.  I rounded a corner and there she was, dressed in dark blue surgical scrubs sitting behind the plexiglass barrier.  She looked up, surprised.  She was thinner than I remembered and didn’t possess the quick smile that I’d seen when she stopped me in the supermarket in Page or at the clinic 2 years ago.  She looked like she’d lost a little weight, had spent a lot of time crying and reflecting on her life.  We picked up our respective handsets and broke the awkward silence.  (Cryshal said later that all she knew was that she had a visitor.  She had no idea who it’d be and I was the last person she ever expected to see.)  From the moment I saw her, it was a constant struggle over the next 40 minutes to fight back tears.  She seemed to be engaged in the same struggle.

Cryshal recounted for me the events in her life over the past 3 years.  She said that when I saw her 2 years ago at the clinic, she was on a short break from a treatment program in Phoenix.  She was there for meth addiction.  She wound up in the meth treatment program because while under the influence of it one day at school she passed out and was comatose for 3 days. She was 16.  Upon completing that program, Cryshal returned to Page where she started hanging out with friends and family who were heavily abusing alcohol.  When her mom passed away a year ago Cryshal’s drinking increased.  She was taking care of her 3 younger siblings during this time as well.  Her 3 older siblings were out of the picture.  While drinking one night she was caught driving under the influence which led to a 4 month sentence.   She has 9 days to go.  Her face lit up with happiness saying “...I’m finally at a point where I’ve let myself start doing a countdown.”

About this time major drama was ensuing in the conversation stall beside ours.  The woman inmate was talking to a man who must have been her dad.  He in some way was responsible in his testimony for getting her incarcerated.  She was crying and blaming him.  He was telling her that at 33 she should know better.  Cryshal looked at the ground.  Male prisoners passed behind her.  One white guy had a massive bird tattooed over his Adam’s apple that covered most of his neck.  He was followed by a black guy who looked at me as if to ask “...who are you to her?”  I asked Cryshal if she had any friends in jail.  She told me about an older woman who calls herself Mexican but she’s of Irish descent who is a heroin addict.  She’s been looking out for Cryshal on the inside.

I asked if she ever gets to go outside.  “Only 5 times,” she said.  “It’s too depressing.”  The way she described their outdoor space it sounded like a James Turrell piece in that they can only see the sky.  Cryshal said “’s like being in a large gymnasium with no roof.”

Whenever I spoke to Cryshal she looked at me attentively and with the most innocent eyes.  I asked her why she didn’t say anything to me about her experience with meth and the treatment program when she saw me 2 years ago.  She said she was ashamed.  I told her I didn’t judge her and that if I did, I wouldn’t be there visiting her.  I referenced her birth in the back seat of my vehicle 19 years ago and said some strange collusion of fate brought our lives together and that I feel responsible for her in some way.  At that point I told her the convoluted way I’d ended up coming to visit her and how it all started in Brazil where I got inspired to start doing street art and how that led me to doing a presentation at the Navajo Mountain Chapter 2 days ago where I ran into her cousin sister.  She liked hearing about the project and said it sounded cool.

I was Cryshal’s 6th visitor in 4 months.  She said she’d remember this visit.  I told her repeatedly to contact me if she needed help once she gets out.  Her plan is to return to a halfway house in Phoenix for several months to complete the recovery program.  She’s afraid to return to Page or the reservation because of all the temptation awaiting her here.  I asked what she would do if she could do whatever she wanted.  She’d like to join the Navy so she can travel the world.  She really likes the idea of traveling the world and seeing other places, learning new things and being inspired.  I knew what she meant.

C. Thomas


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