Sunday, July 22, 2007

Another Wisconsin Visit

It seems like yesterday, but it was the week of the 4th that I visited my family in Wisconsin. My thanks to you who expressed concern about my dad. He seems to be doing alright. I think he wanted some way to take matters out of his own hands, and the structure of jail was suiting him for the moment. I went for a short visit, my days off from July 1st to the 5th.

I took my mom and grandma out to lunch several times, and they took me out.

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My grandma is much more confused and forgetful, but still able to take care of herself. To recap: she's 89, has slow-growing lung cancer that she's elected not to treat, visits her doctor every two months, and my mom and her sister call her every day. I went to visit because my grandma kept asking me, "When are you coming to visit again?" She's full of stories of old, and I recorded some so they may end up here.

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There was a small bit of drama on the plane as I traveled there. I had one stop in Phoenix, and the daily temperatures at the time were 115 degrees. We were all seated, ready to disembark when there was a small delay. The plane was hot, and we were told the air conditioning piped in from the airport lost its efficiency at around 105 degrees. Delay over, the captain announced our imminent departure. As if on cue a woman across the aisle from me threw up on her feet. The woman next to me worried the smell would get to her too.

Of course that caused another delay. They brought in a maintenance man, who cleaned it up, sprayed, threw some coffee grounds on it, and came back a second time to sweep them up. The flight attendant and others around me chatted about the smell-reducing merits of coffee grounds. The woman had been ushered to the front where they gave her a bag of ice for her neck. The man sitting next to me stirred fitfully.

Floor cleaned, woman given her seat back, we were ready to go again. Not quite. Now the jet engine wouldn't start. It stopped working as efficiently at temperatures higher than 105 degrees. They were sending a jump start machine, it would take about 5 minutes to get there. The woman held her head in her hand, ice still on her neck, occasionally exclaiming, "I was just so hot!" The man next to me stirred again. "Are you alright?" I asked him.

"No, I don't feel well at all."
"Do you need to get out?"

He responded by reaching for his bag, and I and our other seatmate stood up to let him out. At the front of the plane he spoke a few moments to the attendants, then dropped like a stone to the floor. They sat him there, got another bag with ice, and soon he was let out of the plane. I hoped he would be well. Me, I've learned the less I fuss, the less extremes will bother me, and then I enjoyed the empty seat next to me.

Back to my visit. My first order of business on the 2nd was to find out if I could visit my dad. I called the Sheboygan County Detention Center. The woman answering the phone was less than cordial. She confirmed my dad was housed at the detention center, and informed me the only exceptions to Saturday visitation would have to be approved by the Captain. She patched me through. I was cut off. I called again, and she patched me through to his voicemail.
When my dad first tampered with the fire sprinkler and was sent there, my brother Eric wasn't allowed to visit "due to his mental state." Later, when Eric was finally able to visit during the short visiting hours on Saturday, they told him my dad was moved to the jail. He wasn't allowed yet to visit dad at the jail.

Later that day I talked to my sister-in-law. She asked me to call the DA, that maybe I could find out what was going on. So I did, and I got the phone number for my dad's lawyer. He actually answered the phone himself. He was originally court-appointed, but when the court discovered my dad's money, the money was requisitioned (or whatever legalese term they use) to pay the lawyer's fees. That took care of my dad's worries over the burden of that money. His lawyer informed me that the DA was offering a plea that would mean only probation, and they were also looking into the possibility that my dad could be declared "mentally incompetent at the time." Something, he said, that would be complicated to establish, but would mean no charges. Either way, it sounded, mental health facilities would be involved. When I said my brother and I didn't try to raise bail because we wanted our dad where he could be watched, the lawyer agreed, saying that's why he didn't try to get the bail lowered.

The usual way one could get an exception to the Saturday visitation rule was if the inmate asked for a visit. I couldn't call my dad, only he could call me. Since I have only a cell phone, he couldn't call me collect. The only way for me to communicate with him would be through a letter. I was informed of this by the rather cold telephone operator at the Sheboygan County Detention Center. I asked the lawyer if he could get a message to my dad about visiting him. He readily agreed.

I never got a call back from the captain, so the next day I called the Detention Center again. The cold operator informed me the captain would not be back for the week, and if he didn't contact me, I obviously didn't have permission to see my dad. Wasn't there anyone else who could help me? No.

On the off chance my dad was in the jail, not the detention center (I don't know the difference either, just that they're two different buildings) I looked up the number and called the county jail. Yes, my dad was there, and yes I could visit him...someone was supposed to have contacted me. Wow. Excuse me, but what a bitch that other woman was. The holiday? Actually a holiday visit would be better for staff. I already had plans to meet my brother at my dad's apartment to pack some things, and it turned out the jail was not too far away. (There would just be a 4th of July parade blocking my way from one to the other, but I was prepared.)

My brother told me he'd received similar cold shoulder treatment at the county detention center. What did these strangers think of us? My mom told me her friend C. worked at the jail, as opposed to the detention center. Perhaps that was the kind person I spoke to that set up my appointment. Years back, we'd made horseradish together.

I was allotted a 20 minute visit at 11 am on July 4th, no physical contact. My dad was the only one there, we were alone in the row of booths. There was no phone, just an automatic intercom built into the separating wall.

They let us talk for 40 minutes instead of 20. My dad was still saying the Christian path was no longer for him. He knew he needed some kind of structure, couldn't really live in the city...unless it was a group home situation. He was doing better at the jail. The week before he'd stopped eating and taking his meds, so I wonder if that was why they moved him. We talked about his cat. He agreed that my brother could give it a try giving it a home at "the farm." (That's what we call my brother's place, even though it's more of a woods and orchard, with barn.) I was relieved the cat wouldn't be put to sleep. He'd seen his lawyer once. As far as he knew, the trial, if there was one, would be set at the end of the month. I suppose I should call his lawyer again and find out the latest.
My dad looked much older, scraggly with his beard grown out. When I asked if I could take his picture, he stood up, straightened his prison reds, tucked in his shirt, and stood back next to the wall.


He seemed to me to brighten a little, but that doesn't necessarily show in the photo. His glasses were still back at his apartment. Later that day my brother told me he didn't think they'd let dad have his glasses, so he hadn't tried to get them to him. Probably not, as my dad wasn't yet allowed even a pencil.
So that was my first, hopefully only, visit to a family member in jail. Here I've been facing the mortality of my grandma, but now I wonder how much longer my dad will be alive. All these years of taking meds, years of lithium, then the newer drugs I can't keep up with, I wonder what these do to him physically, and then there's always the allure of checking out. My brother bears the brunt of this. I am glad Eric has become softer, kinder in the face of this illness. More on my visit with my brother later. Hopefully not too much later, but I've got a zine to finish and other articles to write before the second week of August.

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