The Newcomer

A thousand stories in the naked city

There's a thousand stories in the naked city and at least several dozen on any visiting day at the Sunnyside Jail.

Detainees at the jail are allowed to receive visitors twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Visitors start lining up well before the 2 p.m. Sunday visiting hour in an attempt to cut short the wait.

It's all very low key, this line-up at the reception desk where ID is checked. You watch the feet in front of you shuffle slowly forward. The white boots with stiletto heels, the grungy tennies, the stompin' boots, oxfords, the gold stilettos worn with jeans neatly rolled to calf-length.

I'm seventh in line and I think my comfortable Nikes make no particular statement. But do others attach them to a reporter with a pad and pen waiting to interview a trustee who's agreed to tell his story, if it will help even one other drinker from following in his footsteps?

Or does anyone but me even question what any of us are doing here?

I'm guessing women are there to see their men-husbands, brothers, sons, sweethearts or friends. Men to visit their women, daughters, sisters, wives, sweethearts or friends.

Some-the nervous ones-certainly are first-time visitors, being put through this wringer by someone who messed up. Others slump in boredom. Some scented, coifed, some appearing resentful at giving up an hour of their sunny Sunday.

There's always one well groomed, young man with razor-cut hair-not the same young man, but always one-dressed in gleaming new shoes, baggy jeans and oversized T-shirt fresh out of the package. Has he earned the money for these threads in the same way as his buddy behind bars or is he a model of a better way of life?

The flow of folks through the Law and Justice Center resembles an Easter parade with stoplights. An Easter parade because of the wide variety of dress styles that pass through, and stoplights because only a certain number of visitors can gain entry to the inner sanctum at a time. Which means the waiting room chairs fill up and vacate as visitors rotate their way to their penned up ones.

On one visiting day, I contemplated that thousand stories in the naked city bit as I watched young and not-so-young ladies prance in dressed, or scarcely dressed, their blouses slipping off shoulders, their décolletage revealing belly button piercings, thongs peeping out of hip-huggers. More skin than material on view. The stuff, I thought, of an inmate's dreams.

The scuffed tennies, sweat shirt and faded black jeans on a painfully thin woman told an entirely different story.

As we wait our turn to enter the visiting cubicle and view our inmates through a thick pane of glass and talk to them via telephone, we sit quietly. There is little talking, no exchange of pleasantries.

This isn't a pleasant situation and no use pretending it is.

Children cry, snot runs down their cheeks and whoever it is they're hanging onto seems not to notice or care. Soft drink spills dot the floor in sticky patches and M&Ms get ground into the linoleum underfoot-a job for the janitor who won't have to be told it was a visiting day.

Visitors who entered smiling soon adopt the vacant stare that comes into every eye during the wait, which is usually no longer than 30 minutes. A stare that looks off...into what? The past that brought them to this room or the future that could hold more of the same, if lessons aren't learned and changes made.

A new sign posted in Sunnyside's Law and Justice Center is going to make a drastic change in visiting days, I'm thinking.

That sign proclaims a dress code is now in force. Visitors can no longer bare the flesh. No more mini-skirts, no more outfits that reveal underwear.

Now old, fuddy duddy grandmas can relax, and, perhaps, even the inmates will be relieved.


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