Nimba County Prison Inmates



By Marcee Murray King

Any hours sitting in a prison are too many, but I still feel like I have spent far, far too many hours of my life here.

There is the preparation for going: Clothes have to be loose enough, not revealing, no leggings, no underwire bras…a checklist to complete. Driving to prison and arriving to the razor wire and guard towers scares me, as does going through the visitor clearance, being searched and going through the metal detector. Passing through the heavy locking doors with the finality of the loud click as it closes behind me always leaves me feeling like I am guilty, somehow; that I am being locked up.

This new prison he is in is much, much nicer than the last even though it is much larger. They actually make an effort with the prisoners and provide activities to make their lives a little more normal.

I am grateful for this, and can feel the difference, energetically, and am happier for him that he is here even if I get visit him less. It is 3½ hours from my home, while the last one was only 45 minutes.

This is only the second visit he has had since he has been in this new prison, and both have been with me.

Because there really isn’t anyone else in the state left to visit him, these moments are so very precious to him. He didn’t know I was coming. I try to never let him know if I plan a visit in case something goes wrong and I can’t make it. Imagine the disappointment in that for him.

I know this, because I have made this mistake in the past, telling him I am coming and then not being able to make it. I can’t call and tell him there is a snowstorm, or that I am sick, so I just don’t arrive and he is left worrying. They don’t allow calls to inmates when they are in prison. Visiting him around the holidays as his “present” from me was a goal of mine this year.

May I confess? I hate going to visit him in prison.

I love seeing Lon, but hate the going and the being there. Visiting someone in a prison is truly one the most socially awkward, uncomfortable things in the world—at least for me. I often see the tears in others’ eyes and I just get it as we walk in or out together. I just want to hug everyone and cry with them.

I’ve shed more than a few of my own while there, but I try to not let him see. It is truly a strange sort of spiritual practice to dry the tears before walking in, put on the smile, knock down the fear and find a way to not let my dislike of being there to show. And to be clear, this fear is not completely unfounded, as I was accidentally locked into the prison once at the end of visiting hours.

I make up stories about the other people visiting and their lives as I sit there, waiting for him to come out, and worrying about the slightly awkward conversations that always happen, always made more awkward by my inevitable inappropriate blurting. “What’s new? What are you doing? How were the holidays?” might be the normal conversation starters with someone I haven’t seen in five or six months, but he is in prison. We write. We talk on the phone.

There isn’t a lot for him to say, so I often start to babble. For example, as he apologizes for “hogging” the allotted $15 of junk food I am allowed to buy him from the vending machines in there (that’s right, no real food to get in there!), and I tell him not to worry, I will buy a burrito at Taco Bell when I leave. I suddenly feel oh-so-awkward, aware that I stepped into it again. We both laugh, and one of us makes a joke about how this is because I can.

I sit in there waiting for him and thinking again of how awkward and depressing it all is and I work on putting on my “happy face,” when I look around me. I mean, really look around me. A new prisoner would walk in, and someone would hug and hug him—a hug that could hold the world. Folks are talking and laughing, often playing games.

Some of the prisoners were sneaking a finger across the table to gently stroke a loved-one’s hand as I silently cheer them on, since they are only allowed one kiss and hug upon greeting and saying goodbye.

I was suddenly struck by the beauty in all of this, realizing that this room, this place, this moment was filled with more love than I probably have ever experience at one time, anywhere.

I closed my eyes and breathed, centering, and then I let myself feel the waves of love around me. Each visitor has to jump through so many hoops to just be there—this great effort motivated by one and only one thing.


The room lit up for me then, when I put my thoughts, my anxiety, my fear away and let myself be present in the love.

Lon arrived, and our two-hour visit started. At one point, he looked around the room and echoed what I had been thinking before, “Man, this is just depressing…all these family members, having to sit here…” I share with him my new insights, how that’s one way to see it but, really, this room is so filled with love!

He got a smile then, both of us knowing that even in the midst of the sadness, the grief and the broken dreams, love is always still, eternally, present.


Photo: United Nations/Flickr

Editor: Dana Gornall