I'll be heading out to Texas again tomorrow morning for another weekend of being driven across a state I have no love for, to see a man for 2 lots of 4 hours who is so much more than his crime, or an inmate, or recidivism waiting to happen, or just another statistic.
I'll be flying across and ocean and a large part of a continent. He'll be walking around 200 meters.
I'll be dressing to placate the TDCJ policy but still look as nice as I can. He'll be trying to get a clean shirt without stains and will be avoiding breakfast so that the guards don't put a thick black marker-pen line on the front of his shirt.
I'll be the one buying the food. He'll be the one eating it.
I'll be the one walking out of the gate at the end of our visit.
Most of the time, I am stoical about this. I knew what I was getting into when we were married, I'm under no illusions that Texas will drop its hostility to inmates and their friends and families and its desire to extract every ounce of flesh it can. But having done 7 years now, and seeing my husband's progress from a battling addict to a calm and reflective older man (who is still trying to help his younger addict brother beat the demons that plague them both, and who is desperately wanted home by their mother) I see less and less justification for him to have to stay there for another 13+ years. My European mentality is at complete odds with his keepers' Texan one.
It's not that we are in any way down-playing the gravity of his actions. It is simply that in his case, and so many others, the length of his sentence serves little purpose. Or at least, the length of time that he has to serve before he can see parole. He will be no less "dangerous" in 13 years time than he is right now, today; he's no more dangerous than you or I. Yet he will be far less productive in 13 years time because he will then be in his mid 60s.
He will also be, despite all our efforts, institutionalised. I see it now in small ways when I'm with him. His hesitation and sometimes inability to make a decision on what to eat or drink. His involuntary habit of looking down rather than at the person talking to him. By the time he leaves prison, he will have not done up a zipper or button for 20 years. Can you even imagine that? How can anyone be "rehabilitated" when all decision-making beyond whether to eat or not has been removed for so long?
It would be better for everyone if - as part of the sentence - inmates spent less time in isolation and more time in the community, still under supervision but actively involved in work or volunteer programmes. But Texans have a peculiar mentality that means they would prefer to have these inmates hidden from view for ever, regardless of whatever crime they had committed, although Texans never come out and say who is supposed to pay for the warehousing of inmates. Even if you keep them in the sub-poverty conditions that many Texans would like, there is still the cost of security supervision, building maintenance, clothing etc.
The more I think about things like this, the more obvious it becomes that I cannot live in Texas. Nowhere is so diametrically opposed to my own views. So our only other recourse is to investigate the possibility of an inter-state transfer, something that few people know exist and fewer Texan inmates ever get to use. But if that is a way, then we will try it.