Going to Prison
The following was featured in the most recent Jail Ministry newsletter.
BY: Keith Ciplicki
I am still not sure if there is something wrong with calling him my friend. I met him in the fall of 2015. He had been arrested on serious charges and was being held in the Justice Center. He denied the charges from the first day I met him, but I am not sure if that should really matter. I can’t remember how I first ended up visiting him, but we had a good connection from our first meeting and he seemed very desperate for any type of stability and consistency, so I thought it best to continue to visit. He was on the mental health unit the entire year-plus that he was there and often we talked through the small cell door window. He cried some-times and was very, very scared of going to prison. I told him I understood. I didn’t know what else to say, except that I would be there to support him and continue to be there for him no matter what happened.
He had lost contact with almost all of his family due to the nature of the charges. I spoke with his twenty-one-year-old daughter several times and saw her in court on many occasions. I stopped by his house once when I needed to drop something off. I met his eighteen-year-old daughter at the door. The house was dark and the shades were all drawn. Marylou Ziegler, one of our visitor-advocates, also visited him regularly and was in touch with his family. The seriousness of his charges and the extremely difficult situation he was in made it so helpful to share this with another person. Marylou was always there for him also, and for me.
After many months of visits, whenever he was out of his pod he would hug me when he said goodbye. I knew this was a se-curity “no-no,” but he did it with such genuineness that I took the chance. I was never reprimanded for it. Not sure how that happened.
My friend, if I dare call him that, ended up taking a plea on the opening morning of his trial. He got ten years to life. I felt sad. I cried. Whether he had done the crime or not, the reality of going to prison for ten years to potentially the rest of your life, at 50 years of age, is a hard concept for me to accept for any individual, and even more for someone I had spent so much time with. I had no words that could comfort him or help him believe things were going to be OK.
But I continued to visit. I told him that I would continue to support him no matter where he went or what happened.
He asked me if his guilty plea made me feel differently about him. I told him the truth. It didn’t. I never saw evil in him. I only could see his spirit. His broken spirit. His human frailty. His aloneness and fear were more important to me than anything else.
The morning after Thanksgiving I woke up early. I was in Saratoga, NY, with my family for the holiday and planned to travel to Coxsackie Correctional Facility to visit my friend for the first time at his prison home.
Marylou drove all the way from Oswego to meet me at the rest area near the prison so we could visit him together. She brought him all his favorite treats and long johns. It was so thoughtful of her. This was my first visit to a maximum security prison. I was nervous and a bit scared. The visit went smoothly but the barbed wire was real. As was the security.
Marylou and I sat and visited with him for about an hour and forty-five minutes. He was so happy to see us. I was so happy to see him. He talked non-stop about his case, his feelings, his days in prison, and the hope of living long enough to one day get out. Marylou bought him a pizza pocket and a bottle of juice. He kept look-ing over my shoulder at the clock as the minutes ticked by. He asked us how long we would stay and pleaded for us to stay just a little longer. He waved and smiled as we left the visiting area. I plan to visit my good friend again after Christmas. I look forward to it.