It's 10pm and I'm staring out the window of our hotel room on the 23rd floor of the Trump Plaza, Altlantic City. I can't see shit. America's in the middle of the worst start to hurricane season in it's history, TV is nothing but death and upside-down houses buried in piles of other houses, all I can see from the window is thick grey soup. It's like Stephen King's The Mist out there, there would be no way of telling if we were on the 23rd or ground floor if it were not for the occasional light from a building side advert screen bellow us and the emergency lights on a helicopter pad. We should have gone to Florida. It's late on a Wednesday, I've just dragged my girlfriend's impossibly heavy luggage to our room and I can't wait to hit the free drinks and shit some money away on slots. Lou's in the bathroom having a post drive shower and I absent-mindedly meander the internet and checking emails on my dog while we've got free wifi. That's when I find it, I've been approved, I need to be at MCC in New York at 11am the next morning. Fuck.
Skipping over leaving at 5am, how Atlantic City Grayhounds are full of the broken hearted and hungover at dumb o'clock on a Thursday morning and how my journey through NYC to the MCC was event free and breezy, we can get to the meat and chips. I'm the first to arrived at the MCC and standing outside on a beautiful, warm New York lunchtime I'm regretting the hooded leather coat I'm now dragging around. The guards are firm but human, they crack the occasional joke and one returns with their lunch of giant pizza boxes and calzones. I fill out the day visitor form and read over the many signs about what's acceptable and what's not. I was warned in advance not to wear anything with a logo or slogan on it, no hats, 'designer alterations' to clothing (including rips in jeans) etc. There's also an entire section of signs here about women and what's acceptable, boiling down to no flesh on display, nothing figure enhancing or suggestive, etc. As others arrive, there's a nice atmosphere. Plenty of family or women with kids (two women are sent away to get changed, one asks what's wrong with what she's wearing to be told "Oh honey, it's all wrong!") and after a wait outdoors we're allowed in to the reception area where we have our bags x-rayed and receive our locker keys to dump everything we're not taking in with us. We are then drug tested via a pocket swipe system like they use at airports and go upstairs to the visiting area. There's a couple of vending machines but I forget to bring $1 bills to get snacks for me and Tim because I'm an idiot. A guard asks if I'm on my own, I reply I am and she tells me to take a seat inside and wait for Tim. The room's got a limit of thirty odd people and is empty aside from a ring of plastic school style chairs around the outside of the room and a trash can in the middle. I'm sitting on my own watching families meet and dudes in prison grab bounce babies on their knees.
Ten mins later Tim comes in. I've not seen the guy in years but it suddenly feels like it's been months. He hug and the first thing I say is that he's looking good, cos he is. He's looking healthy and within moments of sitting to talk it's clear he's in a good place of mind. The dude's positive, relaxed and as funny as ever. He tells me the entire story from back to before he even moved to NY and I let him know what I've been doing the past couple of years. It's kind of surreal, but can't be half as weird as it is for him waking up each day in prison. He tells me loads of hilarious stories that haven't made the blog yet and I tell him about our time up and downtown. As I didn't bring any $ we both watch everyone else drink orange sodas and eat crisps slightly enviously. After an hour or two the visitors are ushered out except me and I'm the only civi left in a room of prisoners, who aside from Tim are assembled infront of us waving through the window behind us at their loved ones. It's humbling. Tim tells me we've been given additional time because he's only had one other visitor and cos I've come from England. We make use of the time talking about music and how he sometimes gets people to play tunes to him down the phone as he's severely limited in selection inside, tattoos and how two members of my old band are now good inkers, graf, magical Jamaican spices and how they make everything delicious, the limited availability of sneakers in prisons, how everything you'll eat or drink in America is really fucking sweet, you know... the usual shit mates talk about. Time goes too quickly though and before I know it we're shaking hands, hugging and then I'm waving to him from the otherside of the window like the guys before me were.
When I leave I spark a snout and get a shit coffee in Tim's honour and think about how he said he was returning to his cell to consider what happens to today's chicken. Then it starts to piss down as the storms catch NY. Time to get a Grayhound back to Jersey and get shitfaced on free gin.
Anyone reading this who's local, can or is visiting NYC should hit firstname.lastname@example.org up and get the forms. Even if you're unfamiliar with police, prisons and prisoners and feel reluctant or scared, don't be. Everyone there's human and acts like it. Even the cops and guards who were totally decent to me and much better than their British counterparts. Infact much better than the airport police who later that week decided after putting me through the body scanner that my metrocard and zip in my back pocket looked like a concealed gun and rushed four guards over to make me empty paper from my pocket under threat of getting gatted.