Sunday, November 11, I visited Travis Christian for the second time. He’s a prisoner in Folsom State Prison, Sacramento. Prisoner I.D. BB8099.
As I drove to Folsom on backroads, the air was thick with smoke from the Camp fire 80 miles north. I noted extended areas of dry grass and dry trees along the way. Prison property, up to the visitors’ entrance, offered more dry grass and dry trees.
The Visitor’s Center, unlike my first visit, was empty. One mom, with her teenage son and young daughter, stood at the registration desk — the only other visitors in the room. I purchased tokens for photographs, registered, and boarded the shuttle bus with the family. The mom said to her daughter, “Let’s fix your hair so you look nice for Daddy.”
Once I arrived in the visiting room, I was told to go to Table Four. Two couples spoke quietly at nearby tables. A woman, sitting in a different area, talked to a man through a house phone. He stood behind glass. Travis would tell me, “He’s in the hole.” Solitary confinement.
Travis didn’t appear for about twenty minutes. “I was outside. I came in and took a shower. My cell door was open but no one told me I had a visitor. I had to ask.”
We hugged, sat down and began chatting away. Travis’s mom flew up from Orange County last weekend to visit Travis but she wasn’t allowed to see him. “We were on lockdown. We couldn’t leave our cells. I couldn’t call my mom to tell her not to come. That’s why nobody’s here today. Many are still on lockdown.”
“What happened? Why was everyone on lockdown?”
“No one tells us anything but we hear stuff through the grapevine. One of my fellow inmates (Travis is in a block for mentally ill prisoners) was attacked by mainliners from another block. They’re assigned yard duty and we have to walk by them on our way out to the yard. Four of them stabbed the inmate from my section. They must have severed his spinal cord. He’s permanently paralyzed from the neck down.”
“Why did they attack him?”
“I don’t know. Another inmate probably ordered them to do it.”
The attackers are now in the hole. Travis told me, “Every prisoner you see in the visiting room has been in the hole. I live in the toughest security area. I try to stay out of trouble.”
We talked a little about being in the hole. “When I was there and I went to group sessions, we were locked in cages. Think of a phone booth. A cage like a phone booth for each prisoner.”
I changed the subject. “I bought tokens to have our photo taken today but we can’t do it. The guard told me the camera is broken. We’ll have to wait until next time.”
I brought five photographs of Pat (counted at the inspection area) to show to Travis. I can mail photos to him but can’t give them to him in person. Travis studied the photos. “Pat looks like a movie star in this one.”
“Pat acted in community theater as a teenager and modeled professionally for about a year. That photo is from his modeling portfolio.”
Travis held another photo of Pat taken a year before he died. He was playing his guitar. “I’m feeling a real connection with him. He reminds me of me.”
“You remind me of Pat, too, Travis. He had blue eyes likes yours, the same coloring, glasses, and loved music and guitar.”
We were quiet for a while. Suddenly, Travis said, “I’m starving.”
I’d brought a “credit card” to use for food. Travis paused in front of some vending machines and considered his options. He spotted a selection of fried chicken pieces. “That looks really good.”
Travis pushed buttons for fried chicken and a coke. He heated the chicken in a microwave and we sat back down at Table Four. “This is so good. This is really, really good. We never get fried chicken in our cells. My mouth is watering. This is so good. Thank you.”
For the next hour and a half, we talked about everything — Travis’s getting a top score on a TABE test (a diagnostic test to determine skill levels and aptitudes), his anxiety and depression as a kid, his smoking marijuana to ease his anxiety, and how he thinks marijuana got him into trouble. “I had a prescription for medical marijuana and I was doing fine. It really helped me feel less depressed. I was managing a motel and a man offered me a bag of street marijuana in exchange for a room. I took a couple puffs and then I felt terrible. I thought the man was the devil. I thought a friend of mine was the anti-Christ. He’s the person I stabbed. Later, I asked the police to check the street marijuana for chemicals but I don’t think they did. That’s how I ended up in prison — for attempted murder. I took a plea deal because I was afraid to go to court. I got 10 years.”
Travis has about six more months before he’s transferred to a less restrictive prison setting. “I hope I get sent to San Diego or Los Angeles. I’d be closer to my mom. My mom spoils me. She flies up to visit me every month and lets me call her everyday. She got me a TV and a hot plate for my cell. Most prisoners don’t have those.”
Travis walked back to a vending machine to get a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup for dessert. “This is so good. Thank you.”
I asked Travis if he’s still receiving mail from readers of my blog. “I got a letter from your friend, Joan. She was a teacher. I wrote her back.”
(As I’m writing this, I receive an email from Joan: Hi Dede. I got the sweetest letter back from Travis after I wrote to him. He told me how much your friendship and support have helped him and he can’t wait to get out and find a way to help in his community. Very positive. Thanks so much for helping him. Joan)
It was time to go. Travis and I decided to continue our visits. We hugged goodbye. As I was leaving I turned, and, like last time, Travis turned. We waved.
A well-dressed Latino man was exiting as I was. He said, “I wish I could bring my son home.” His 22-year-old son has another year-and-a-half to serve of a three-year sentence. “He hasn’t been diagnosed with a mental illness. He had ADHD as a kid. He sees a counselor, not a doctor.”
Mmm? His son’s housed in the block for mentally ill prisoners.
“I hope when your son gets out, he’ll be checked for mental health issues.”
“I’m going to try. I’m hoping he’ll come back home and live with me for a while.”
Outside, a dark sky hung low. A van with two prison employees was pulling away from our waiting area. They offered us a ride to the parking lot so we wouldn’t have to wait for the shuttle. “Too much smoke out here,” they said.
So many mixed feelings on my drive home through the haze — sorrow, anger, hope, love. Travis had said, “I love you, Dede.”
Thank you, Travis. I love you, too.
You can write to Travis at the following address:
Travis Christian BB8099
C.S.P. - SAC
P.O. Box 290066
Represa, CA 95671
See posts about my previous visit with Travis:
10/17: Going To California State Prison to Meet Travis
10/18: Talking With Travis