In a few hours my daughter and I will make the hour and a half drive to a small Kansas town and to a modest, slightly antiquated jail to visit my only son; her only brother.
He has been housed at this particular detention center for just under three months, although he has been a resident of two others previously since his arrest in early December. So far, this one has been the worst.
I've groomed my outer sensibility to adjust to our visits ,such as they are, in these dim and claustrophobic places, and I've even acquired a sense of humor about the situation to help ameliorate the raw reality that begs my attention then mocks my attempts to sustain it.
As I sit in the waiting area beneath the high front window where the visitors of the inmates must sign in and relinquish their driver's licenses or I.D.'s, I can look through the glass partition past the bored and mechanical movements of the officer on duty and scan the black and white security monitors that canvass the various sections of the facility.
I do this every time hoping to catch a candid glimpse of my son as he moves among the caged populace. I want to see if he is smiling or laughing perhaps or whether he is in conversation with anyone. I want to make sure he is not alone.
He is a very large young man standing nearly 6 foot 6 inches and weighing well over three-hundred pounds, so I comfort myself with the thought that certainly his size alone might help keep him safe. I purposely don't make an effort to find out visually if I am wrong.
In spite of his physically mammoth frame picking him out from a grainy image among a dozen or so identically-clad men is more difficult than one would think.
When I see him we joke that far from the illusion of making him appear even larger, those horizontal stripes tend to produce the opposite effect. In this jungle that uniform is camouflage. In this jungle, he disappears.
I have been making these journeys to various facilities for three years now with the exception of a short year-long respite between his first eighteen months and his current term.
As an addict to prescription pain medication, he cannot seem to quiet the accelerated cravings or stem the rampaging voices within him that tell him he is no good in this world just as he is, so that before too long, he is back in the crooked and loudly mad game of prescription fraud, outwardly hoping he will not get caught; silently praying he will.
I know far more about the conditions and protocols of detention centers than I ever wanted or believed I would know.
I know that when someone you love with all of your soul is locked inside, you also reside there.
I know that when you are looking through bullet-proof glass into the eyes you have known since birth and yet are unable to touch the hand or face or feel the faint trace of mottled air against your cheek after a son's kiss, holes are rent in your soul that applied optimism cannot repair.
I know that people judge; that in spite of themselves they can't overcome the grimy prejudice that those who heave in the belly of iniquitous delusion are immured by a mendacity only God can forgive.
I know that the guilt of the sinner is distributed among his loved ones like boxed meals of sorrow to be eaten without shame and carried without complaint. It is the sacrificial supplication.
But out of reach I know lies the simple promise from The Cross. The one that admonishes saints and sinners alike to put aside all pretension and disband the belief that in order to get to what is holy and good in this world one must be perfectly holy and good; that one must live only among the blessed and serve the meek.
I've seen the hollow eyes of ignorance as I move between the commonly accepted practice of moral living and the disturbing impenitence of those who share with my son the stagnant air of consequence in these inhospitable pens.
And I know now that these barbed and self-righteous appraisals of who is just and who, condemned, are far more abundant outside of the prison walls.
I do not fear the gaze from those others sitting alongside me in this sad institution awaiting our fifteen minutes of feigned happiness with our sons, daughters, husbands and fathers. We greet each other in the subdued and humbled voices of the exposed.
Why we are there is never questioned. How we survive the ride home always is. But we don't speak of that. It is rare that we speak at all.
But today I am making the long drive against the flat landscape of the Kansas plains and against the acceptance that I will be making many more of these sodden trips for an indeterminate period of time.
My son had court this morning and rather than being remanded to the extensive inmate rehabilitation program as was recommended by two other courts, he was sentenced to prison.
In August he will turn twenty-eight years old. I will not know him again as a free man until he is well into his thirties.
There is a weighted measure of redemption here in spite of the staggering burden of hope denied, however; and it comes in the form of dignity.
To find within ourselves that thin offering of grace as it evolves within the purgative splendor of deep grief is crucial and is the determinant factor in a life well lived.
To recognize the inherent perfection of every soul on earth and refrain from judgment actualizes this principle.
To forgive is imperative and necessarily unceasing.
To know these things and to live by them liberates everyone no matter which side of the penitentiary walls we course.
Today will be hard, but not allowing myself to become transformed by this journey would be where the real shame would lie. I can shoulder the rest.