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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

More from Indefinite Stay by Heidi Champa

I grew up less than ten miles from a major state prison. It was set back, away from everything, a bunch of ugly buildings in the distance that looked like the worst place in the world.

I admit I knew next to nothing about the realities of prison, except for what I saw on TV, which turns out is 90% bullshit. When a dear friend of mine found herself in a situation not unlike the main character of Indefinite Stay, Rory Driskell, well, let’s just say her experiences opened my eyes to what it’s really like to have someone you love, or used to love, behind bars. 

This story, is in part, her story. As a second hand witness, I could never truly capture what she went through, I tried my best to give a glimpse into the frustration, the pain and the absurdity of visiting a loved one in jail. While my story is a love story, it shows that sometimes love isn’t an easy road, and sometimes, we make bad choices. But, that’s what makes us human. 

The motel in my story, The Broken Feather, becomes something of a refuge for Rory, a place where he deals with what is going on in his life and ultimately, where he decides how his life is going to turn out.

I hope you like Indefinite Stay and if you do, let me know! Here is an additional excerpt for your enjoyment…


The prison came into view, slate grey buildings in a sea of green, all surrounded by fences topped with razor wire. My hands were trembling as I turned into the long driveway, the guard gate stopping me in my tracks. I gave my name to the guy, the same one who seemed to always be here on Saturdays and he checked his computer. The gate slid open, creaking and clunking as the metal moved and I pulled in, but instead of heading to the parking area like I always did, I was met with two more guards, their hands up in the universal sign for stop. My window was still rolled down and one of the guards leaned down to talk to me.

“We’re going to need you to get out of the car please, sir.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, sir. Just a routine inspection. Now, please pull over to the green dot, shut off the car and get out slowly.”

I nodded and tried to smile but the knot in my stomach wouldn’t even let me fake it. I did as I was told and got out of the car, careful not to do anything that would get me into trouble. I stood next to the other guard while the first guy went through my car. I had no idea what he was looking for. I’d seen them do this to other people once or twice, but in all the times I’d visited Joel, they’d never bothered to search my car. I knew they were allowed to, so I said nothing as the guy went over everything. Glancing at my watch, I looked up to see a few more familiar faces going into the prison. In that moment, I couldn’t believe what my life had turned in to. The inspecting guard moved onto the trunk and when he popped it open, he let out a sigh and looked at me.

“You have a lot of stuff in here, man.”

“I know, sorry. I wasn’t expecting anyone to be looking in there.”

It seemed like the wrong thing to say but it was out of my mouth before I could stop it. He dug through the trash and nonsense that accumulated over the last few months until he was satisfied and slammed the truck lid shut. 

“Okay, move it along.”

They said it as if I was the one holding them up, so I hurried into my car and parked, my usual spot filled already so I had to find another near the back of the lot. I pushed through the main doors and grabbed my number. Most of the seats in the lobby were already full, so I leaned against the wall instead. I made eye contact with the blonde woman I’d seen driving in; her face looked the same as everyone else in the place. Resigned. They called my number and I went up to the desk, fishing my driver’s license out and sliding it across the counter to the guard. While he was taking my information, I signed in, pausing as I usually did to try and remember the license plate number on my car. I never could memorize it, for some reason. It was a different story with Joel’s inmate number. That convoluted sequence was burning onto my brain from the first time I’d seen it. 

The guard handed me a locker key and I gave him a quick, meaningless smile. I walked over to the corresponding locker and threw my wallet, keys and sunglasses inside. I reached into my jeans pocket and took out the folded up zipper bag and filled it with the change and singles I’d brought for the vending machines. Once I locked everything up, I put the key in the bag and returned to my post on the wall. I watched as one by one, my fellow visitors got called up to the desk repeating the same process I’d gone through until it was time for us to walk through the metal detectors. It was painful to watch the little kids, there to see their fathers or brothers or whoever, have to go through the process. Lucky for most of them, they were too little to understand what it all really meant.

Finally, it was my turn. I put my plastic bag down for them to look through it and walked through the detector, holding my breath that the rivets on my jeans wouldn’t set the thing off. It had happened to me before and I was refused entry. But, I managed to get through the first time no problem. I picked up my bag and held out my right hand so they could stamp it with their clever invisible ink. I made it to the second lobby, where we waited for our visitors pass. As I picked my chair, the German shepherd they used for drug sniffing walked into the room. One of the little girls started freaking out at the sight of him, but I sat stock still as they walked him by and let him sniff all around me. I always worried the smell of some joint my roommate Monroe smoked months before would still be in my clothes, but so far, I’d been lucky. I’d been there as they busted several people for failing their drug swab or dog sniff test. 

Once the dog had cleared us all, we were issued our passes and got to do more waiting. I looked down at mine, my name and Joel’s number on it and the word family. We weren’t family, but the state penitentiary didn’t know that. According to them, I was Joel’s cousin. He thought that would be better than saying I was a friend, and certainly they’d never be able to write who I really was. The thought of the word boyfriend on my pass made my heart go into palpitations. I sat and waited for them to call back and tell Joel he had a visitor. 

Joel had filled me in on all he had to go through to see me. I thought of him, his clothes inspected for smuggled contraband, strip searched and then put into the vile jumpsuit they made them all wear in the family room. The process on his end took a while, and I wished I had a book or my phone or something to pass the time until he was ready. My blonde friend was next to me, twirling a lock of her hair like she always did when we waited.

“Fancy seeing you here.”

I was trying to make a joke, but she merely looked confused.

“You saw me on the way in.”

Her tone was flat and I was concerned my attempt at small talk only made her angry.

“Sorry, I was trying to make a joke. A bad one as it turns out.”

“Oh, right. Well, this place doesn’t really put me in the joking mood.”

“Me neither, but I just thought, hell, I don’t know what I thought. I was trying to feel normal for a second.”

I was surprised by my own admission, but it was too late to take it back.

“Yeah, every time I come here, I think about how nice it would be to spend a weekend doing something normal, you know. Instead of hauling my ass all the way here to see my boyfriend’s deadbeat, lying ass.”

Her anger was visceral, something I’d felt but never really expressed. My one friend at home who was still talking to me didn’t exactly want to hear me keep griping about the fact my boyfriend was in jail. Monroe told me to dump him a million times, even if I did believe he was innocent. But, I couldn’t. I was all Joel had. And, when he finally got out of here, we were going to start out lives over again. I just had to be patient. But, the anger, well, it was always there, below the surface, boiling like magma looking for an escape. 

“I think the same thing too. But, here we are.”

“Who are you here to see?”

“His name is Joel. He’s my cousin.”

“You come here to see your cousin? You must be close.”

I could see the skepticism on her face, but I had my stock answer for these situations.

“I’m really the only family he’s got. His dad, my uncle, passed away and I promised I’d look after him. So here I am.”

“Wow. I wish I had family like you. My parents basically disowned me for staying married to Ray.
I never questioned someone’s loyalty to their partner in jail, so I kept my mouth shut on that subject.

“Well, I do the best I can for him. But, sometimes, it’s a real drag.”

“It’s really sweet that you do this for him. He’s lucky to have you in his life.”

I smiled and opened my mouth to reply but she was called away.

“See you inside.”


The heavy metal door on the other side of the room buzzed and she walked through quickly. I learned the hard way that when that thing starts making noise, you only have a few seconds to act. Wait too long and the guard has to do it all again, and they are not happy about that. I waited, having no idea how long I’d been sitting there, when they finally called me up. It was then I glanced at the watch on the wrist of the guard and noticed it was nearly ten in the morning. Usually, I was back to see Joel by nine. He was really late this morning. I was the last one remaining in the waiting room when I buzzed through. 

No matter how many times I walked the long hall, it still felt surreal and creepy. It was a long as a football field, with windows lining the whole thing. To the left, you could see what was called restricted housing. To the right, was the yard, where there were a few basketball hoops with no net and a few benches to sit on. It had so much fence and razor wire around it; it looked like some kind of demented playground. 

I got to the other end of the hall and stood, waiting for the next guard to buzz me through. Sometimes, it happened right away, other times, like today, I stood there for what felt like an eternity before they let me in. Once inside, I instinctively stuck out my right hand under the light so the guard behind the tinted glass could verify I was cleared to visit. I held my pass up to the glass and heard the electronic tinged voice say it’s only word.


I made my left turn and was finally in the visitor’s room. I went to the final guard station and gave them my pass. I could see Joel approach and hand the guard his ID that allowed him into the room. The guard gave me a nod and I followed Joel to a table across the room. Before we sat down, we were allowed to hug, which we did. But, it was always quick and we tried to make it look as normal and non-romantic as possible. He always slapped me on the back a few times for good measure and sat down first.

“Hey Rory. Man, it’s good to see you.”

“You too.”

I looked around the room and saw the blonde and the guy who had to be Ray, holding hands over their table and leaning in to talk. I’d seen them both before, but never paid much attention before. They appeared to be arguing, despite the hug and kiss they’s shared. The little kids who’d been in the lobby were sitting with a guy by the window. He looked like someone you might see anywhere. Certainly not like a hardened criminal. It was a weird mix of the two in the family room. 

“So, how was the drive in? No problems?”

“Nah, everything was good. Just had to leave so early, you know.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

I watched the other inmates and their families, smiling and trying to be happy with the little time they had together. All I wanted to do was touch Joel, something as simple as holding hands, but I couldn’t. There was no way we’d ever be able to show any true affection. I tried once to put a hand on his shoulder, something I considered to be a benign gesture. But, he freaked out, so I never did it again. 

“Why were you so late getting in here today? It seemed to take forever. Wasted nearly an hour of the visit.”

“One of the other inmates was trying to start shit and the guards got all pissed. So, to punish me, they took their sweet time processing me out.”

“What was the argument about?”

“Don’t worry about it, Rory. It was nothing you need to concern yourself with. There’s always someone in here trying to start shit. Especially guys who no one ever comes to see. They don’t care if they fuck up your visitation.”

“Sounds pretty messed up to me.”

“It is. But, there’s nothing I can do.”

He looked at me and for the first time since I sat down, I met his eyes. It was still impossible to believe that he was in this place. I hated everything about it.

“Tell me what’s been going on with you.”

I shook my head and tried to come up with something worth talking about.

“Not much since I saw you last. Working. Trying to keep up with the bills. Taking shit from Monroe and my parents for coming out here. Oh, and I found out that I’m not going to be able to get overtime anymore, so I might have to find something else to get that extra money.”

“What? Like a second job.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

Joel sighed. I hated complaining to him, but there wasn’t much good going on in my life at the moment. When I first started coming to visit, I tried to paint things in a rosy light, to make him feel better. But, after a few months, that stopped working.

“Sorry, Rory. I really am.”

“You don’t have to keep saying that.”

“Well, I have something that might cheer you up a bit. My lawyer was here yesterday.”

“I know. I pay for him, remember?”

“Right. Anyway, he said he thinks we have a good chance of getting a new hearing soon.”

“He said that the last time too.”

“Yeah, but this time he actually met with the prosecutor and they think it should all work out by the end of September.”

“That’s like six weeks away.”

“God, damn, why do you have to be so negative all the time? I’m the one in here. I’m the one who should be balking at six weeks.”

“Sorry, Joel.”

I reached my hands under the table, hoping he’d sneak a touch, but he didn’t. I sighed and grabbed my plastic bag.

“You want something to eat, man?”

“Yeah, the usual.”

I trudged up to the machines and stood behind a huge inmate who always sneered at everyone. When it was my turn, I pumped the change into the machine and got Joel his chips and soda, getting myself a candy bar and water. When I got back to the table, I tried to move a bit closer to Joel but he only moved away again.

“Thanks, man. Put it on my tab.”

It was one of Joel’s favorite jokes. All the money that I was spending to pay for his lawyer, the cash I put in his account so he could by things in the commissary and paying to talk to him long distance was starting to add up. He thought by saying that, it made up for it. It didn’t and the joke stopped being funny a while ago.

“Right. I’m sure that three bucks is going to break me.”

“You don’t have to be a dick about everything, you know.”

I bit back what I really wanted to say and took a sip of my water.

“Sorry. It was an early start for me and I’m tired.”

“How do you think I feel? God forbid they do visitation later.”

He smiled, but it was hard to return it. I bit into my candy and chewed slowly, looking around at the other tables. The blonde met my eyes and smiled at me, giving me a small wave. Her husband looked scary as hell, even from a distance. When he looked at me, I turned away, not wanting to cause any trouble. I eyes Joel and before I could think better of it, I said what was really on my mind for a change.

“I miss you, Joel.”

He raised his eyebrows, looking around quickly to see if anyone had heard me say it.

“Me too, man,” he said in a whisper. I hated that he couldn’t even express a simple sentiment like missing me without it being a big deal. 

We started to make useless small talk and Joel told me about something crazy his cell mate did and the latest stupid thing that happened at his job in the wood shop. I did a lot of nodding and smiling, even though inside, I wanted to run away and never come back to this place. 

“Thanks for coming to see me, Rory. It means a lot.”

“No problem. I wish it could be more often.”

Another outright lie, but under the circumstances, it seemed to be what he needed to hear.

“Me too.”

He stared at me and for a moment, I could see the man I fell in love with. The guy who stole my heart and made me feel happier than I’d ever been. But, if I shifted my eyes down a few inches, the orange of his jumpsuit ruined it all. The main guard who patrolled the room called out, everyone getting quiet for a moment.

“Alright, everyone. Times up.”

The three hours of visitation went by in a flash, but in other ways it felt interminable. I got up from the table and threw away our trash. Joel stood up to and gave me another quick hug, stiffly wrapping his arms around me and slapping me harder than he needed to. 

“See you tomorrow, man.”

“Yeah. Same time. Be careful, okay?”

“I always am.”

Before they led him away, he smiled. I knew what he was going to say, but it still made my heart swell to hear it. Since we couldn’t tell each other how we really felt, we developed a code to say it for us.

“Give Aunt Betty my love.”

I couldn’t help but grin back and give my half of the coded reply.

“Don’t worry, I will.”


Indefinite Stay by Heidi Champa is now available at Amber Allure.

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