Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Day

Tent City 3 was invited to the school gymnasium at Our Lady of the Lake in Wedgewood from 3-7pm on Christmas Day. Five fold-out banquet tables were lined up to create a beautiful long buffet. There were china plates and silver silverware. It was general seating at paper-wrapped, decorated banquet tables. Dinner was ham, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, fresh green salad, spinach salad, caeser salad, cranberry sauce, gravy, fruit, buttered rolls. A young woman was seated on the stage playing solo violin. There were wrapped presents under a Christmas tree. Those who served dinner later sat and ate with us. We all dined together in a warm, dry, well-lit space. It was civil and orderly and felt like a relief and something we'd earned. It felt right to be dining inside together. A warm, dry space solves so much and we were all so thankful for it. Merry Christmas! And everyone went home with a wrapped present, which are reported to having been useful items such as long johns. TC3 residents worked with the crew from Our Lady of the Lake to break down the buffet and tables and to package and transport the leftovers. We were all so wonderfully full and happy. 

Medication Walk
Earlier in the day, Dan Smith of Tether Design Gallery and his girlfriend Jaga joined us for the weekly meditation walk. Wayne called it a medication walk. Two campers joined this week! I led it and walked us into the Meadowbrook Wetland Preserve across from the Meadowbrook Community Center. Thornton Creek tumbled happily through the park as  we walked over. It's a peaceful park with a lot of environmental art and educational signs about the wildlife and a pond and trees and birds. After the walk Dan gave me a stack of poster-sized broadsides that Tether had letterpressed with the words "Song of Tent City" in orange at the bottom. The hopes is to fill them with original art before the gallery show next week. That's a tall order, but I'm willing to try. Christmas Day seemed like the most logical choice of days to work on such a project as I knew we'd be indoors. While we may have to resort to dark, wet, frozen conditions, it'll be nice to begin with something a bit more pleasant. After dinner, I interested seven artists in preparing maps/graphs of their lives. Below is an example of one that was presented as a board game. Ingenious!

King County Correctional Facility
After our walk I was made aware of a man who had gone to jail, someone I'd met recently in the shelter system. I didn't ask why or what. I only knew he was in custody and it was Christmas Day and he hadn't seen anyone yet. I was told it was unlikely he'd receive any visitors between now and his court date nine days away. I said I'd visit. I didn't know what to expect. Would I be allowed? Would he welcome my visit? What would we say? This wasn't a person I know well, but I wanted to let him know he wasn't forgotten. It being Christmas, the meters were free and parking was plentiful. I parked two blocks away on 5th Avenue and walked to the facility. Rules prohibit you from bringing a cell phone into the building. I would have had to pay for a locker, so I walked back to my car and pared my personal belongings down to a wallet and keys. Once I was cleared through security, I went up to the check-in desk on the second level and filled out a visiting form. On the way up, I passed Drew Daly's public artwork, Reverb, a playful line of white chairs, connecting like paper dolls. Suzanne Beal says, in Sculpture Magazine, Daly's life is a series of repetitive gestures. To see such play here, inside a fortified entrance guarded by two armed men and cluttered with security gates and x-ray machines, one wonders, who is likely to sit and enjoy these? Who is going to play here? I loved them and wished I could take them out to a green field with a view of the mountains. In light of these chairs, stretched out accordion-style, I considered the population here and the repetition of visitors and they assumed a more ominous role.

Waiting Room
I wasn't the only one. A grandmother and her two grandkids were also waiting. One was reprimanding the other. The older sister was the warden. The little boy was the prisoned. Whenever her brother stood up, she made him sit down. No please. No thankyou. There was another couple at the window. And another couple arrived as I was leaving. When I was approved, I was directed out the building and back in through the west entrance. They called the west entrance a courtyard. I'd call it  a back access area. It was nondescript and lazy looking. All the doors were metal and locked. After I buzzed, a door snapped open. It startled me. The interior was low-ceilinged, cream-colored, concrete block. The visiting room was bleak, like in the movies, overly bright, claustrophobic, made of concrete block and, again, poorly painted. Plastic chairs waited around in front of the four plexiglass windows. Telephone receivers perched on short ledges under the windows. They didn't ft on their hooks, which were placed too high on the wall under the shelves. Either the phones were poorly installed or the shelves were added later without thought to their integration.

America Sucks
A shallow inner hallway ran around the outside of the room, behind of the windows. One metal door, quiet and closed, led to that area. It is through this door inmates are issued. A free-standing table, dead center, in the middle of the room, had a chess board painted on it but no chess pieces. There was no one in the room but me. I sat in a chair facing a window, waiting for the door to open. Eventually, the door opened and the person I came to see emerged. He was in blood-orange scrubs (King Country prison uniform) and had a wristband on. He sat across from me wondering, I guess, why I'd come, but then he expressed relief about my visit. It had been six days since he had seen anyone. He had knew very little about his court date. I could see the stress and fear and worry in his face. He mustered a smile here and there, but mostly talked about the monotony of life inside--no windows, constant tv, uncertain future. We used the telephone receivers to talk, separated as we were by the scratched plexiglass. In front of me someone had scratched, "America Sucks." Yup.

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