Rexdale Detention Centre
In the holding room outside of the visiting area of the prison a nervous woman kept looking over at me. Sighing and making small sounds, she was trying to make eye contact, trying to share something without words. I smiled over at her as if we were in a hospital waiting room, “Soon,” was the only thing I could think to say. She nodded, nearly crying.
Another woman, less shy, seemed encouraged that somebody had actually spoken and started a conversation with me about geography. The man she was taking her daughter to visit was a big football fan and loved Brazil’s national squad. “I’d love to go to Brazil,” she said to me.
Her daughter was probably about 16 or 17, had a dollar sign tattooed at the base of her right thumb and having squeezed herself into an outfit that wasn’t much larger than a sock cut off at each end, was dressed to please. Ever since 9/11 she’s been scared to fly, but if she could drive anywhere in the world she told me she’d visit either Australia or Newfoundland. As she was telling me this two very tough looking men in their early 60s approached the building. They looked like they knew trouble and what to do with it– like they were born angry. One guy, covered in tattoos and with a powerful, wide upper body, pulled his shirt on as he entered the room, as if a statement of violent intent. The other man was in a sleeveless, white undershirt, his ashen hair greased back. They sat there like furious, black clouds.
The girl who was scared to travel passed slowly in front of them and then back again, at which point her mother grabbed her by the arm, hissing, “ Jesus Kat, you really gave those two an eyeful, didn’t ya?”
Walking into the prison visiting area is a little bit like passing through security at the airport. You empty your pockets and then walk through a metal detector while largely disinterested officers idle by. Once inside there are two U-shaped seating areas with the red-suited prisoners on one side of the protective glass paneling and the visitors on the other.
A woman who was wearing a hijab began to weep after speaking with her son. She was emotional and talking with her hands, her husband trying hard to steady her from beneath a heavy, masculine mustache. A young man blew streams of kisses at his infant daughter. The child’s mother, waving the little girl’s hand at her imprisoned father, was backing out of the room, stealing as many moments as she could. Nearby a prisoner sat waiting for his visitor. The man had vulnerable, heavy eyes. He was just sitting there in front of the phone, his mind God knows where, and the pull toward his loneliness was so vivid and intense that I had to stop myself from just picking up the phone and starting a conversation.
On my way out of the building I passed through a cluster of people smoking. One woman said, “I thought for sure that my other boy would be here, too, but at 24 he still hasn’t been incarcerated, praise be.” And then she added, “But he’s still just 24, so I gotta keep my prayer on!”