Continued from yesterday’s post:
Travis walked up to me. We each reached out to give one another a hug. Travis sat down on the outside chair. I said, “I think you’re supposed to sit in the middle chair.” He moved to the middle chair. I was a newbie and trying to do everything “right.”
“I’m a little nervous,” he said. “I’m really glad you came. It’s nice to meet you.”
I said, “I wanted to come. I’ve enjoyed your letters and I wanted to meet you. You sound like a really nice person.”
I don’t remember the exact sequence or all of the disjointed comments we exchanged. Our visit would last two-and-a-half hours. I do remember blocks of topics we covered.
“How are you getting along here, Travis? With the other inmates and guards?”
“I kind of keep to myself. I don’t talk much to the others. I don’t get involved in groups or drugs. I smile at everyone and they seem to like me. They leave me alone. Besides, I keep busy with activities like AA and Sunday church. I play my guitar for the church service and sing the songs I write. I’m also taking a computer class about Word and Outlook and other programs. Every class I take earns me credits toward an earlier release. Tell me about Pat.”
I shared some stories about my son. It’s four-and-a-half years since he died in a hospital psych ward. I thought I could do it. I couldn’t. I had to pull a Kleenex out of my vest pocket. Travis began rubbing my back which made me nervous. I thought there was supposed to be no touching.
“My mom rubs my back all the time when she visits me. It’s okay.”
Travis’s mom, Kathy, flies up from southern California once a month to visit him. “I love her so much. She’s my best friend. She’s my advocate. She knows all my medical stuff and medications and I’ve signed papers for her to have access to all the information and to talk to the prison staff and to my doctors. She fights really hard for me.”
Travis looks like his photos with dark blond or light brown hair and compelling blue eyes. He’s not a big man. He and I are about the same height — around five-feet-six inches. He’s been working out and trying to lose weight he gained from his prison diet and his medications.
This was definitely a two-way conversation. Travis said, “Tell me about your book. I want to know all about it. I want to write, too, someday. I want to read your book.”
I filled Travis in on the publishing process I’ve begun. “I’m self-publishing my book after lots of research and long deliberations with myself. The publishing world is difficult and no traditional publisher wants to take a chance on a 74-year-old unknown author. And I don’t have time to fool around. I can’t spend ten years looking for an agent and all the rest of it. But I feel good about the direction I’m taking. I have control over the cover design, interior design, and content. I’ve made a decision and that is invigorating. I’ll give you a copy when it’s published.”
“My mom and I will buy your book. We want to help you.”
I asked Travis, “Do you ever get angry about what’s happened to you?”
“I’m not an angry person. I think I’m on the path I’m supposed to be on. I think I help some people here.”
Nonetheless, Travis is counting the days until he’ll be free again. “Do you have job skills for when you come out?”
“I have lots of job skills. I used to manage a motel. I can do plumbing work and heating and air work. I want to go back to college and get a degree. When I get out, I can help my mom with her thrift shop business. And her boyfriend with his pool cleaning business. I’ll have a place to go.”
Travis’s cellie is being released in a month. “He grew up in the foster care system and was abused by some of the caregivers. He has no one. He’s been in prison four different times and has a mental illness but he says he’s not coming back here. He hopes to find a girlfriend who has a job. I like him. I worry about him.”
It was one o’clock and Travis was missing his lunch hour. I offered to buy him something from the vending machines. He picked out a jalapeño hamburger and a coffee drink. He heated the burger in the microwave behind the “Out of Bounds” line on the floor. “This is really good.” I asked him about prison food.
“I don’t look forward to meals. It’s pretty much the same all the time. For dinner we get broccoli, beans, and something they call ‘chicken’. We never get dessert. Maybe jello. But it’s sugarless jello.”
I asked Travis to tell me a little about being in solitary.
“It was terrible. I really lost my will to live. I just didn’t want to live anymore. And then I got your letter. And I began to get letters from people who got my address from your blog. The letters kept coming. And coming. The letters were coming from all over the country. I had cards and letters all over the walls of my cell. Those letters gave me back my will to live. They saved my life.” (Thank you everybody.)
“Did you write return letters?”
Out came my Kleenex again. This man, with a serious mental illness (he’s on three medications), is handling things better than I would in the same situation. “Travis, how’s this going? This is probably more talking than you usually do in one day. You have to tell me when you’re tired or need to go back to your cell.”
“I’m good, Dede. I’m glad you came to visit me.”
“So, if this is going okay, would you want me to come again? I could bring some photos of Pat and, now, I know where to buy the tokens for the photo booth. We could take a photo of us together.”
“I’d like that.”
“Once a month I visit a friend in her assisted living facility in Grass Valley. We’re the same age but she has MS and can’t walk. She’s in pain or discomfort much of the time. When I started visiting her, I thought maybe it would cheer her up. As time went by, with more and more visits, I wasn’t sure who was helping whom? (who/whom? — I never get it right.) She’s an awesome person and always smiles and says ‘hi’ to the other residents. She gives me as much or more than I give her. That might be what would happen if I visited you every month.”
“Yes,” Travis said. “You could help me and I could help you.”
“Shall we try that? Shall I plan to come again next month?”
“Yes,” Travis said.
We hugged each other goodbye. I headed for the exit and turned to see Travis walking up the ramp. He turned, too. I waved. He waved back. I hurried through the maze of double locked doors, dark hallways, elevators, concrete walkways and high, rolled-wire-topped fences. I needed fresh air. A perfect fall day, with soft sun, met me outside. Canadian geese stood here and there on strips of green grass. I waited 20 minutes for a shuttle to take me to the parking lot.
And so we began.
You can write to Travis at this mailing address:
Travis Christian BB8099
C.S.P. - SAC
P.O. Box 290066
Represa, CA 95671