Sunday I visited Travis (BB8099) for the first time in 2019. It was a clear, like-spring morning, 59 degrees, and sunny. The roads from my house to Folsom Prison are back roads. I drove past ponds, weathered barns, horses, riding stables, vineyards, orchards, ducks, and geese. Cyclists were out solo and in groups. I wanted to keep driving on these roads. I didn’t want to stop my car to walk into a depressing cement building surrounded by wire fencing and spotlights. I didn’t want to deal with X-ray machines, guards, and clanging sets of locked doors. But Travis was waiting. And Travis is housed in the depressing cement building surrounded by wire fencing and spotlights. He lives with X-ray machines, guards, and clanging sets of locked doors every single day. I only had to stay for a few hours.
As I parked my car, a young African-American woman stepped out of the car next to mine. She was wearing an attractive orange tunic, black leggings, and stylish shoes. She looked pretty. The guards agreed. She looked “too pretty.” Her leggings were “too tight.” She had to leave. Later, I’d see her, again, visiting in white slacks.
Travis walked down the steps into the visiting area with a big smile. We hugged and then cut to the chase. He was looking toward the vending machines. “Do you want to get a sandwich, Travis?” A quick nod and we were off to the opposite side of the room. Our relationship’s evolving.
Travis asked about my holidays and I described my crab feed for my family. He asked about my book. He said his mom likes the white cover better than the blue or gray. I asked him how he was after his Abilify medication was stopped abruptly. “I had a tough month of withdrawal but I’m feeling better and I like my new psychiatrist better than the old one. She seems engaged. She seems like she cares.”
“I have a new cellie I really like, too. His name is Will but everybody calls him ‘Rooster.’ He’s Hispanic, 39 years-old, and grew up in Fresno. And you know something else? Rooster has one eye. When he was 16, he was playing Russian roulette with his friends. He shot himself in the face and destroyed his eye. But he’s a good guy. He’s a christian, and he tries to help others. We read the Bible together every night.”
I asked more questions about Rooster — how he got a gun at 16 (“I don’t know”), and if he has family somewhere (“Yes”)? “Rooster is a political junkie. He watches all the stuff about the wall and the shutdown and he wants to talk about it all the time. I tell him not to. The news unsettles me and I need to take care of myself. I don’t want to trigger my depression. I’m in prison and there’s nothing I can do to change things.”
I studied the visitors and inmates sitting around the room. One inmate, older with long grey braids, held hands and spoke softly with his female visitor. Another swept the floor, laughing and joking with people as he swept around them. He seemed friendly and so all-American. How did this young man come to be in here? In the highest security block for criminal offenders? I wanted to talk to everyone and hear their stories. Wishful thinking.
For two-and-a-half hours, Travis and I chatted and sometimes sat in silence. Comfortable silence. I found out Travis likes to play pinochle and I told him I play bridge. He wanted to hear about the game. He thought it sounded like a card game he’d enjoy.
“We put on a play this week in church. One of the inmates wrote it. It was about a prisoner, John, who was denied parole and how he handled it. I played my guitar and sang ‘I lift the Lord’s name on high.’ The play ended with a big, tall, inmate (John) singing a praising song to Jesus. Everyone was swaying and clapping their hands. Even the guards. They said, ‘We usually don’t have happy stories to take home and tell our families but today was different. Today we have a happy story to take home.’”
Travis changed the subject. “When I get out of prison, I want to get a dog. A lab. A puppy to cuddle with. More than a dog, I want a wife and family. I’m a grown man. I’ve left my mother’s house. That’s the hardest part of being in here. I see a beautiful woman on TV and say, ‘Oh man, I hope I get a second chance.’”
When it was time to go, Travis wished me a good month until our next visit. I told Travis I’d try to find a beginning bridge book to send to him. Other than that, there were no promises — Travis still has five years to serve out his sentence. For the moment, however, I sensed we were both grateful for his feeling better, for his new cellie, Rooster, and for an original, jailhouse play.
A gentle day. Sometimes gentle days must be enough.
You can read more about my visits with Travis. They’re listed in the Archives on the right.
Travis looks forward to receiving mail. You can write to him at this address: Travis Christian
California State Prison-Sacramento
P.O. Box 290066
Represa, CA 95671