The Day My Friend and I Visited Her Brother in a Federal Detention Center.

For unfortunate reasons that we cannot go into, quite a few years ago, my friend’s brother had gotten himself into a lot of trouble and was awaiting trial at a Federal Detention Center in Miami. My friend wanted to plan a visit to see him but the detention center had so many rules that it turned out to be a fairly cumbersome task! For example, one could only visit if they were on an inmate’s preapproved visitation list, visitors were given a predetermined time slot, and once given the time, visitors had to be outside the doors of the center one hour beforehand. There were many items of clothing that were deemed unacceptable such as: hats, shorts, flip flops, sunglasses, hair ties, sweaters or jackets. Shirts could not be beige, black, orange, striped or have any type of suggestive language or graphics on them. No skirts or dresses were permitted either! Also, certain items were banned. No cell phones, no wallets, no purses, no bags, no gifts for the inmates, no personal items of any kind were allowed. The only things permitted were: one small ziploc bag containing quarters for the visitor vending machine, a car key and positive identification.

Our time slot was on a Thursday morning from 8am-9am. Coincidentally, it was on her brother’s birthday, so my friend was determined to take her 2 children as well, and of course her partner in crime: me! My friend’s children were 13 and 16 at the time. We lived 4 hours away, so we had to gather up the kids and get in the car by 2:30am to allow for traffic, parking and any other hazards along the way.

Who could of known the hazards we were about to face?

Melvin was the watchdog of the McDonald’s bathroom!

We arrived in Downtown Miami by 6:00am and we were all exhausted. Not much sleep was had by any of us in anticipation of what was to come. We parked on the street as close to the detention center and of course, we locked all of our personal items in the trunk because the area was riddled with shady characters! We decided we should get some food into us and sauntered into a Macdonald’s on the corner. We had to use the bathroom as well so we attempted to open that bathroom door. As soon as we discovered that the stalls were locked, a gruff voice came from behind us, “You gotta get a wooden chip from the lady behind the counter!” We turned around to find who would ultimately become our new best friend. He introduced himself as Melvin. He was homeless, of small stature, gray hair, smelling a bit like vodka and cigarettes and he by far was the most helpful person to us that day! He went on to say, “The wooden chip is given only to customers and it unlocks the door.” We thanked him, got our wooden chips and used to restroom. He then offered to watch our car for us while we were at the detention center. We agreed figuring we shouldn’t argue with him. After all, we were 2 middle aged Jewish women, what did we know from this? So we got a decent breakfast and went on our way to the detention center to wait outside the doors.

It was an unusually chilly day in Miami, so we stood on line in the cold. We had paperwork to fill out while we were waiting. When the corrections officer came out to collect our paperwork she took one look at my friend’s son and declared, “He’s not going in!” My friend, taken aback, asked why. The corrections officer, quite agitated, explained that hoodies were not allowed and he was wearing a shirt with a hoodie attached. We had our first problem! (yes there were more to come). My friend, who didn’t want to lose her time slot, responded, “Do you have a pair of scissors, I’ll just cut the hood off!” The corrections officer’s faced turned slightly red, “This is a prison, We ain’t got no scissors in here!” With that, she walked away. My friend was not going to give up that easily! It was her brother’s birthday and she decided we were ALL getting in! We started to come up with a plan. We were going to find a shirt that would be acceptable to gain entry into the detention center. We had 15 minutes until our visitation time, so we had to act fast! My friend’s son, being a typical teenager, was too embarrassed to start running around downtown Miami, so he chose to hold our spot in line while the three of us took off!

We were on a mission!

I remembered seeing a church or mission on the same street as we were driving in so I told my friend and her daughter that I would head there, and meet up with them down the street near the Macdonald’s where the homeless people were congregating. Unfortunately, the mission was locked which made sense, it was very early in the morning, but at least I tried. Disheartened, I headed back to the Macdonald’s and that’s where I found my friend and her daughter attempting to communicate in Spanish to various homeless people on the street! Her daughter was using what little eighth grade Spanish she knew, which wasn’t the best. At one point, I think my friend mistakenly asked someone if they wanted to purchase her daughter instead of asking if she could purchase one of their shirts! Time was running out, and obviously my friend was getting more and more desperate. I looked across the street and I spotted Melvin with several of his homeless friends sitting outside the bus station. I noticed he had a suitcase on the ground next to him. I pointed him out to my friend. We quickly ran across the street in a panic and asked Melvin if there was a spare T shirt in his suitcase. He nonchalantly opened the suitcase and surprisingly he responded with, “Sure, what color would you like?” He then opened the suitcase and contained within it were dozens of nicely folded T shirts in varied colors! Before we could ask how a homeless man had so many different colored T shirts, my friend, without thinking about what she was saying, cried out, “Anything that can get my son into prison!” With that he took out a crisp, clean, neatly folded blue pocket T shirt. We offered him the bag of quarters, but he refused to take any money from us! My friend almost started crying tears of joy and we ran back to the detention center. She was waving the T shirt like a found treasure victoriously in the air! My friend’s son, was frantic as we showed up only 2 minutes before our entry time! He quickly changed into the shirt, left his hoodie tucked away behind a garbage can hoping to retrieve it later and we were granted entrance through the doors. Once we got in, we were instructed to sit down in chairs and wait until our names were called. There were at least 20 other people waiting with us. We sat down and felt so relieved to have found the shirt and we began to relax.

Seriously, how does a homeless man have crisp new T shirts to give away?

We really shouldn’t have gotten so comfortable yet!

A woman seated next to us leaned over to my friend and whispered, “You may not know this, but if you have any underwire in your bras, you will not make it though the metal detectors. And so, the wild rumpus continued as we discovered that my friend’s daughter had underwire in her bra! We immediately went into the women’s restroom. Her daughter was quite distressed because she didn’t want to remove her bra nor did she want to do anything to ruin it. It was at that moment that the stress of the entire situation overwhelmed my friend and caused her to have a bit of a meltdown! She began to scream, “Take the bra off! Take it off now, give me the bra! Listen, I can’t take this anymore, I’m exhausted and I only wanted you to see your uncle on his birthday, we barely slept, we drove 3 1/2 hours, I had to go running through the streets of Miami at 6 am just to get a crappy T shirt for your brother from a homeless man, I’m at my wits end and now I have to take the underwire from your bra! This is going to happen!” Seeing her mother in such distress, my friend’s daughter acquiesced and handed the bra over. My friend, after quite a bit of a struggle, finally was able to remove the underwire and threw it in the garbage can. The bra was back on and we were once again ready to go! As we came out from the restroom, we noticed everyone in the hallway staring at us. My friend’s son with his eyes wide said, ” I don’t think you are aware of this, but the bathroom door is not soundproof. Everyone out here heard every word you said and I can’t believe you got me a shirt from a homeless man!” My friend’s mouth hung wide open as she recalled everything she had said in the restroom. Before she could reply, our names were called. It was our turn to go visit her brother.

Just try to remove the underwire from a bra in under 3 minutes, I dare you!

And with that, we ended up having a lovely one hour visit with my friend’s brother. When we left, my friend’s son looked for his shirt but it was gone. We walked back to the car and Melvin was there to greet us, guarding our car just like he promised. To this day, my friend has the T shirt displayed in her home as a souvenir!