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Life Arts    H2'ed 8/1/14

BOP: 'Til Death Do Us Part?

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When visitation ended, there was the reverse "processing" after we were allowed a single kiss and a brief hug as I again had to leave my innocent husband in prison, knowing he was being subjected to unspeakable abuses. There has never been a single time, not even now that Gary is in a better prison, that I don't battle tears as I leave him to return home alone. The truth is that every day, my heart breaks. Back in the car, emotionally upset and drained, I began the return drive home, again fueled by gasoline and caffeine.

If I left Gary and prison by 2:00, I could stop for gasoline and a caffeinated drink, make a second snack-and-bathroom-break stop, and usually get home by 8:00. After emailing and speaking with Gary, taking the dogs out and feeding our pets, taking care of the mail, taking a shower and starting laundry, I tried to get to bed by 10:00, 20 to 21 hours after I had started the day. In those 20-hour days, I have usually been able to spend only five hours or so with Gary. Sometimes it was only two hours, when the prison employees were being particularly horrible. Those hours together, though, had to last until the next time we were together.

And while I tried to visit every week I was allowed to visit, because of medical issues and recovery, at times it was much longer and even more unbearable. While visitation was usually both Saturday and Sunday, visiting both days was not something I could do often, because of the added expense of hotel rooms and meals. Having Gary so far from home and making such long trips to visit him also made home life much more difficult or, really, impossible. Of course, we would have loved to see each other for more than one day a week, and while technically I may have been allowed to visit more often, financially, I couldn't.

On the long drives, I often had to deal with road construction and closures, detours, heavy traffic, accidents and lots of road hazards, particularly troubling being a vulnerable woman traveling alone except for Lee, my traveling companion and constant guide. Lee is the name of my GPS's voice and I feel kind of conflicted now that I don't need Lee/GPS any more.

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It was usually dark again and sometimes 20 or more hours had passed by the time I made it back home, only to have a few hours to sleep before going to work the next day. It has been physically and emotionally exhausting, even brutal. Because while seeing my husband is as necessary as oxygen for survival, spending all that time on the road and away from home and family has taken a heavy toll, causing our children and extended family to be neglected. Every choice to spend a holiday with my husband has also been a choice to not spend that holiday with our children and family. Our family has been wonderfully supportive but it has been rare when other family members have been able to go see Gary, and our family hasn't been all together at all since this nightmare began. Gary has missed every holiday and family occasion. I have missed most of them.

Aside from neglecting our family, it has been impossible for me to keep up with all my other "life" responsibilities.

JB: What are you referring to here, Judy?

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JW: Keep in mind I had to assume the responsibility for everything Gary used to do, too. We both had jobs and shared home responsibilities. Gary did all the "man" stuff, such as taking care of the car, yard work and cutting the grass, taking out the trash, and he was the "Grill King", but he was also good at helping with cleaning and vacuuming, especially after my back injury and later surgery. He loved to walk with the dogs. Dixie still looks for him sometimes and after I come home from visiting Gary, Annie knows - she sniffs me intently and I believe she smells Gary, even from us sitting next to each other, something we are now able to do for the first time since before Gary was moved from Millington to Forrest City.

Gary was also officially in charge of handling every insect emergency and the wild animals that threatened our family. Since he has been imprisoned, it is up to me to deal with all of that. The first time I had to leave work a bit early to come home and shoot squirrels, my attorney boss stared at me speechlessly for a moment before asking me to repeat myself. He's originally from Connecticut so it struck him as odd that shooting squirrels was a necessary part of home maintenance, until I explained that there were literally hundreds of them running wild through the trees and some were trying to gnaw their way into the house so they had to be dealt with. Then there was the coyote incident, with two coyotes strolling through the back yard. I called the non-emergency police line to ask for advice, only to encounter a dispatcher who said, "We don't come out and handcuff and arrest coyotes." Ultimately, I was told by both a state agency and a police captain that I should shoot them to protect myself and our pets. Gary was much better at fulfilling all those responsibilities, but they became mine when he was imprisoned.

Something else we really miss is being able to participate in our church and community organizations and activities. Gary and I used to sing in our church choir, but even making it to church has been difficult (if not impossible) for me most of the time, both because of traveling to visit Gary, family, home and work responsibilities.

The worst heartaches have been connected with deaths. Gary's mother died without him ever seeing her or being able to speak with her after his imprisonment began. We have also lost some friends we loved, as well as Lexie, our peke-a-poo, and Forrest, our cat, who died this year on the Fourth of July, which had been Gary's daddy's birthday. (Gary's daddy died before imprisonment.)

Back to Gary's newest place of imprisonment, the shorter trip is also much better and especially appreciated by my car, which has accumulated almost 150,000 miles worth of prison visits, along with 5,000 or so gallons of gas, lots of gallons of oil, wearing out two sets of tires and other wear and tear, not to mention the wear and tear on me! Over the past four years, I have had some unfortunate health issues, including five major surgeries. Other family members have suffered health problems without Gary being home to help. I'm not a wimp, but I don't believe anyone could not be badly affected by all the abuse and stress we have experienced. We still have "unfinished business" with Forrest City and other previous prisons that we'll share later, if you're interested.

JB: Of course I am.

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JW: Aside from the improvements in driving conditions and shorter distance, early indications are that some of the prison employees in Alabama may actually be ... human, if not somewhat humane.

JB: I certainly hope so, Judy. You and Gary deserve that, at the very least. Thanks once again for giving us another glimpse deep into your lives. It's always an education.


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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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