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On the Road to Folsom


We roll north on 80 heading for Folsom prison. We hope the traffic Gods will be kind. Today, not so much. The crawl slows to gawk at the burned hills of a California summer. The odd tree survives. We pick up speed only to slow again. The off-ramp is jammed with shoppers thronging to the malls of Vacaville. Consumers facing choices -- What color of new shirt will I choose? Do these pants look good on me? Choose between the bacon-burger or the chicken fajitas for lunch. Check Facebook. Post a picture of the burger to Instagram.


We leave our phones in the car in the Folsom Women’s Facility parking lot. We pass through the heavy doors with the blunt sound of a clunking lock. We’re inside. The inmates gather in the hallway waiting for the guard to open the door to the classroom. They wear the prison wardrobe. Blue pants with an elasticated waist. A few don jackets with CDCR Prisoner stamped on the back. Sneakers on feet. Tattoos deck arms, necks and a few faces but not everyone is marked. There is little makeup, if any. We hand out colored pens and paper, blue, yellow, and pink. Please, I want pink! Please, can I have a red pen! We run out of supplies and mouths turn down.


An inmate reads a story aloud. The piece tells of a young woman who cuts her dad’s hair in the family garage. He sports the style of Ricky Ricardo, Lucy’s husband on TV. His daughter is leaving home, soon. She keeps a lock to remind her of dad, their time together. What we take with us. And I’m left to wonder how it must feel not to be able to choose the chicken fajitas, to not waste time on screens, to wear clothes that don’t belong to me, to miss a child, to not capture moments with ones you love. Time runs out. We leave. We hope the traffic Gods will be kind on our way home.


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Alan Black