I recently joined my eighty-nine year-old grandfather at an event known as “yoke fellows.” This is a program at a minimum security prison where the general public may freely interact with inmates.
I was glad to go with my grandfather, since he already knew many of the prisoners, and I had little enough to talk about without being a complete stranger. My grandfather was a hit. He is an active participant in a program where people take prisoners out for brief periods. They may have a meal with them, or bring them to a church service, or even include them in a games night.
Even though I personally was not able to contribute much to the conversation, I was very glad to have gone. My work and my choice of social activities limit my exposure to only a very limited selection of the general population, so it was good for me to get outside my bubble. Since I was a stranger, the inmates didn’t tell me all their most interesting stories right away. Instead, let me share some of the stories my grandpa told me.
One inmate is someone that I may very well have been able to meet before he ended up in prison. He spent all of his time at work building his business. At one point, one of his business deals got him on the wrong side of the law and he ended up locked away. However, at the prison his wife and children visited him on a regular basis. As my grandfather related, this man said that prison improved his life by helping him to connect with his family. This was an entertaining and heartwarming story.
A more intense story, one time Grandpa brought a 45-year-old inmate to his house and sat down to supper. The inmate was blown away. My grandparents could not figure out why he would be so amazed by a simple supper until he confided that he had never before experienced the quintessential “family supper” where a group of people who cared about each other sat at a table and shared a meal.
People may visit once without approval. If I want to go back again, I will need to attend a training session to get a “blue card.” If I do come back, it will be to share this experience with my other privileged friends.